James Reuel Smith.

Springs and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations online

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but even births were prohibited, so that the death rate
for some time became absolutely nil.

The island was only a few miles in circumference and
its city, Delos, lay about the base of a 450-foot high
granite crag that was named Mt. Cynthus, after which
Apollo's twin sister Diana is sometimes called.

The city was respected by pillaging heroes of several
eras, but was laid waste in the Mithridatic war, and then
steadily crumbled away until, now, only traces remain of
its large temple and its enormous statue of the god who
made it great by selecting it to be his birthplace; for,
several centuries ago, shipfuls of rescued fragments of its
beautiful architecture were carried away to adorn sur-
rounding cities on the mainland, from Constantinople to

It is now called Dili, and its few inhabitants are raisers
of sheep and goats; but its immemorial Spring still flows,


no less clear and amply than it did before men came and
went; their sole effect upon it being shown in a small
segment of artificial wall which they added to its original
semi-rim of native rock.

Theognis; Maxims. Line 6.
Callimachus; Hymn to Delos.




The fountain of Burinna was made to issue from a rock
by Chalcon a son of Clytia, the daughter of Merops, a
queen of the island of Cos.

Chalcon planted his knee strongly against the rock
and made an opening for the water with his foot.

Poplars and elms growing beside the rock shaded the
fountain with waving green foliage, in whose cool shelter
fire-colored cicalas worked and chirped while thrushes
in the thorn bushes warbled, and tufted larks and golden
finches sang to the cooing of turtle doves and the hum of
tawny bees over beds of abundant flowers.

Those who reclined to rest in the musical shade
breathed the incense of fruit time when the summer air
was filled with odors from myriads of apple, pear and
damson censers suspended from heavy-laden, low- droop-
ing boughs, that acolyte-like breezes swung to and fro.
And if the resters tarried while the waters of the Spring
were cooling wine the years had aged, the mellow notes of
Lycidas the goatherd might reach them, and perhaps the
words of his pastoral recounting the worship Comatus
the herdsman accorded the Muses, and how they pre-
served him when shut in a chest by his master, so that
after three months Comatus was found none the worse,
and surrounded with honeycombs built by the bees the
Muses had sent to supply him with nourishment.


COS 415

Cos was an island in the Myrtoan Sea near Cnidus, and
was the birthplace of Apelles the painter, and of the
physician Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, who was
born in 460 B.C., on the 26th day of Agrianus, possibly
July; he became one of the world's oldest men, reaching
the age of 109 years, — and it may be noted as a curiosity
of literature that he was the author of the apothegm,
Life is short and Art is long.

Cos, however, was more popularly known through its
Coan cloth, a silk gauze which was first made by Pam-
phila and soon acquired a vogue among well-formed
women on account of its glass-like transparency.

The island was also known as the home of the light-
weight poet Philetus who is said to have had to put lead
in his shoes on windy days in order to maintain his

Theocritus; Idyll VII. line i.



The Hot Springs of Nisyrus were at the northwest of
the island of the same name, and they are still to be found
about half a mile from the town which bears the name of
the Springs.

The island became one of the Sporades, and it produced
porphyry and millstones, and manufactured wine.

The island was the result of an incident that occurred
during the war between the gods and the giants. When
the ranks of the human monsters were broken and they
sought safety in flight, Poly botes was the one that Posei-
don pursued, and when he waded into the sea the god
with a stroke of his trident broke off a fragment from the
island of Cos and hurled it at the fugitive, with such
accurate aim that he fell and was pinned under the rock.
That was the origin of the island, and presumably Poly-
botes made many attempts to shake off his burden, for
Nisyrus was subject to frequent earthquakes. Outside
of its geographical interest, the feat was worthy of record
as the missile fragment is more than seven miles from Cos,
and is ten miles in circumference and nearly half a mile
thick. According to old reports and pictures, Poseidon
was on horseback when he pursued the giant.

Strabo; X. 5. I 16.




There was a fountain by the banks of the River Lithgeus,
at Gortyna in Crete, which served to identify the nearest
plane tree as being the one celebrated in Greek annals as
that under which Zeus and Europa held their love con-

That particular tree retained its leaves throughout the
year. Slips from it were planted in different parts of the
island from the earliest times, and, later, one was reared
in Italy by Marcellus ^Eserninus, during the reign of the
Emperor Claudius.

The genuineness of reproductions was manifested by
their retaining their original leaves, a characteristic with
which Europa perhaps found no fault, although it came
to be considered an imperfection, as the warmth of the
winter sun was thereby shut off.

One of the places that have been suggested as the site
of Gortyna is near the town now called Haghius Dheka ;
and a cavern in the neighborhood is considered to be
the labyrinth through the intricate windings of which
Theseus found his way, by following Ariadne's thread,
after he had killed Minos' stepson Minotaur.

Minos himself had none of the bovine characteristics

that his great-grandparents Zeus and Europa exhibited

for a time; but he became connected, through his wife

Pasiphae, with two beings that were bovine in part or in

27 417


whole, her son Minotaur who had the body of a man
and the head of a bull, and Minotaur's father, who had
no human physical characteristics.

Theseus killed the Minotaur to relieve Athens from
contributing to the composite brute's keep by sending
every year seven youths and seven maidens for the
monster's manger. The contribution was levied by
King Minos as a punishment for the killing 'of his son
Androgeus who, having outpointed all the Athenian
athletes, was assassinated by some of those he had

Crete is now called Candia and, with a spread of 160
miles, is the longest island in the Mediterranean east of
Italy: it lies near the intersection of the 25th Meridian
and the 35th parallel of latitude.

Three towns, of any size, are all that remain of nearly
a hundred cities that Homer knew ; but all of the domes-
tic goats in the world today are believed to have sprung
from a Cretan ancestor, perhaps the one named Amal-
thea that supplied the milk that nourished Zeus in his
infant days. (See No. 83.)

The island still abounds in Springs, some of which
appear even at the side of the sea.

Theophrastus; Hist, of Plants, III. 3- § 4-



The fountain of Sauros was near Gortyna.

It was surrounded by a grove of black poplar trees
which had a peculiarity of their own that made them
as noteworthy as the evergreen plane tree that
shaded Europa on the banks of the Lithaeus River;


this peculiarity was a fruit that they produced, the
general belief being that this kind of tree was ordinarily

Other parts of the trees were useful in medical practice ;
— the seeds, taken in vinegar, for epilepsy; the resin for
making emollient plasters; the leaves, boiled in vinegar,
for gout; and the moisture from the clefts of the trees,
for removing warts and pimples.

The Spring was called The Lizard's Spring on occa-
sions ; it was twelve furlongs from the mouth of a cave on
Mt. Ida, and every cavern on that mountain has perhaps
been associated with Zeus' birth.

Theophrastus; III. 3. §4.


Ceres' Spring

"Not from every river do the Melissse carry water for
Ceres ; but a small fount from a sacred Spring which rills
pure and unpolluted, the choicest of its kind, from this
they draw."

Melissa was a daughter of Melisseus, a king of Crete;
she was one of the nurses who brought up Zeus, and
possibly the nymph who discovered honey and made
bees the symbols of the nymphs, and the Melissae one of
their designations.

The designation was afterwards transferred to priest-
esses in general, and particularly to those of Demeter or

From Melissa's birthplace, one might be disposed to
look in Crete for the small sacred Spring; but it seems
more likely that the passage is only a poetical form ex-
pressing the idea that the priestesses of Ceres, wherever


their offices might be performed, drew their water from
the Spring that was the choicest of its kind in that locality,
and that the reference is not to any one particular Spring
that can be located in Crete or elsewhere.

Callimachus; Hymn to Apollo, line 107.



Springs of Africa

Africa, as the Libya of the ancients, did not reach to
the equator the heats of which were supposed to make its
neighborhood impassable.

The divisions of it that lay along the Mediterranean
may be marked approximately on a modern map by the
meridians of 5, 9 and 26 degrees, as Mauritania, Numi-
dia and Cyrenaica ; with Ethiopia below them and Egypt ;
Egypt running from meridian 26 to 34 and down to 23
degrees N. Lat. was not a part of Libya any more than
was Arabia which extended east of meridian 34.

The earliest travelers quoted in works still extant,
when giving accounts of Africa, from the west beyond
Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean, did little more than men-
tion the existence of the Springs that were there seen.
The travelers were perhaps obsessed and awed by the
human wonders that surrounded them, and the remark-
able physical characteristics of the people who inhabited
the country no doubt engrossed their attention and ex-
hausted their powers of description; for the annotating
traveler of antiquity seldom passed a Spring impassively.
A Spring was one of the great mysteries of nature in those
days when even learned men knew less of chemistry and



physics than a modern school girl. The marvel was,
that water which everywhere else tended to fall should
in a Spring force a vertical passage for itself, and bubble
upward in a violent effort to travel in a direction that
other waters refused to follow. A grazing lion, or a lamb
snarling over a feast of raw flesh would have caused no
greater surprise than the Spring's abnormal action.

Apes, gorillas and baboons, seen at a distance fleetingly
and uncertainly, and the exaggerating propensities of
the native Negroes and Moors in giving imaginary par-
ticulars about them and about distant tribes, may easily
account for a large part of the incredible in the records ;
records not likely to be questioned by those familiar
with the histories of the Gorgons, the Hesperides and
the adventures of Hercules in Libya; histories that had
come down to them as gospel from prior ages ; histories of
monstrosities that might have made Homer's foresight
seem to some as astonishing as the later Leverrier's in
locating the unseen planet Neptune at the exact spot in
the sky where it was found in 1846.

The apparent plagiarism of those who traveled in the
East in ante-Christian years may no doubt be accounted
for in some measure by the many africanoid animals that
India produces.

The monstrous forms of the animals and the supposed
men were readily attributed to heat, whose power of
melting and changing could, as everyone knew, alter the
shape of even the metals.

These effects were shown in various ways in the peoples'
faces, producing some without noses; or, without upper
lips; or without tongues.

One tribe had neither mouth nor nostrils, but had a
small hole somewhere through which they breathed ; and
sucked, through an oat straw, their drink and food.


The Sesambri district was earless; the people and the
quadrupeds, even the elephants, were earless.

The king of the Nigroae was like the Arimaspi who had
only one eye, which was in the middle of the forehead;
they were in continual warfare with Eastern monsters
called Griffins, beasts, that were like lions with the wings
and the mouth of an eagle.

The Monocoli had only one leg; but they leaped with
surprising agility, and held the foot over themselves as an
umbrella when they lay in the sun. Next to them lived
a tribe without necks, their eyes being set in the shoulders.

The feet of the inhabitants of Abarimon, like those of
Mt. Nulo, were turned backwards; but no specimen was
offered in proof, because they could not breathe outside
of their native country.

The Artabatitae had four feet ; they inhabited what is
now Nubia on the frontier of Mauritania.

There were men with tails; and others with ears that
served also as cloaks and covered the whole body.

There were women whose bodies were covered with
hair, as was proved by the skins of two of them which
were exhibited in the temple of Juno at Carthage.

The Pigmies were mortal enemies to the cranes; the
little people were about two feet high, and their cavalry
corps, armed with bows and arrows and mounted on
goats, hunted the cranes and their eggs. It has been
suggested that the Pigmies were only the cat-size Bar-
bary apes that still retain their fondness for eggs. But
these apes are surrounded with modern mysteries no less
interesting than those of the Pigmies and their unique
cavalry; for they are the only monkeys of Europe and
are found only at Gibraltar, to which they are said to
have come, from Africa, through a tunnel that may still
be open under the straits.


These little apes are carefully protected and a severe
penalty is imposed for killing one of them, because the
government knows the tradition, so say the natives, that
when none of the animals are left the British will lose
possession of the rock.

Some other races were twelve feet tall.

The Mserobili, like the Cyrni of India, lived 400 years
in the heats of Ethiopia; but the Calingse lived only
eight years, becoming parents at the age of five.

The Sauromatae eat only two or three times a week.
The Androgyni were hermaphrodites.

Some had no language and expressed themselves in

The Ptoenphae selected a dog for their king, and under-
stood his edicts from the movements he made ; while all
of the Cynamolgi were dog-headed, and perhaps, like the
120,000 men near Mt. Nulo, who were also dog-headed,
barked instead of speaking.

Among animals, the Satyrs had human faces, and
walked either on four feet or erect; though they were
probably looked down upon by the breed of horses that
possessed wings and horns.

The Crocotta could break anything with its teeth, and
digest everything as soon as swallowed. A still more
peculiar animal was the Leucrocotta : it was the size of a
wild ass, but had the legs of a stag; the neck, tail and
breast of a lion ; the head of a badger : a cloven foot ; a
mouth slit up as far as the ears ; and one continuous bone
instead of teeth. It ran with incredible swiftness — and
could imitate the human voice.

The Mantichora, an animal of the color of blood, found
among the Ethiopians, had a triple row of teeth ; the face
and ears of a man; azure eyes; the body of a lion, and a
tail ending in a sting like a scorpion's. It was also ex-


ceedingly swift ; its voice resembled the sound of the flute
and the trumpet united — and it doted on human flesh.

The Monoceros had a stag's head, an elephant's feet,
the tail of a boar and the body of a horse. A single black
horn a yard long grew out of the middle of its forehead.
This strange animal made a deep lowing noise, and could
not be taken alive.

Among the Springs of the travelers who perhaps in
perfect good faith reported the strange people and ani-
mals, were the fountain of Nigris and the Serpent Spring.

Pliny; VIII. 30.


The Fountain of Nigris

One record says that the fountain of Nigris was among
the Hesperian Ethiopians, and immediately goes on to
describe the Catoblepas that was found near the fountain ;
a wild beast of moderate size and sluggish movement,
but with a head so heavy that it was forced to carry it
always bent down towards the earth — which was re-
garded as a most fortunate circumstance for the human
race, as all who beheld its eyes fell dead upon the spot.

In addition to the same power which lay in the eyes
of the Basilisk, the latter, a serpent only twelve fingers
long, had so active a poison that the venom ran up the
spear of any horseman who impaled it, and killed both
the rider and the horse.

The Amphisbsena had a less potent poison, but was
compensated with a larger quantity; it had two heads,
the second one at the tail, as though one mouth were too
little for the discharge of all of its venom.

Pliny; VIII. 32-


The Serpent Spring

The Serpent Spring was a single fountain in a district
of intense heat, but such a multitude of snakes swarmed
about it that the spot could hardly contain them, and it
was both difficult and dangerous to approach the water.

There were Sepses whose bite caused the body, bones
and all, to dissolve as snow is melted by the sun. And
in the water itself lay Dipsas, whose sting induced a
lethal thirst that drove the victims to open their veins
and drink their own blood.

These serpents had been generated from the blood of
the one-eyed Gorgon Medusa whose look turned every-
thing into stone, as Atlas even now bears witness, for
that rocky mountain still rising above the clouds is the
giant of old who continues to hold up the heavens as he
was doing when petrified by Medusa's glance. Perseus
while cutting off her head used his burnished shield as a
mirror to direct his sword strokes and save himself from
the consequences of an eye to eye view. Coral owes its
formation to the change made in some seaweed by the
petrifying properties of the head which Perseus laid
upon it for a short time ; and a part of the blood pro-
duced the team of flying horses, Pegasus and his brother

The neighborhood of this fountain was inhabited by the
Psylli; they were serpent proof and they knew how to
cure others who were stung. They had a variety of the
African odor that was at least useful inasmuch as the
scent of it made the snakes flee in horror. The Psylli,
perhaps rendered over confident by their power of putting
serpents to flight, undertook to drive away the south wind
because it had dried up their water or filled up their


watering places with sand, and gathering their forces they
sallied out into the desert to frighten the wind which,
however, met the onslaught with such mighty blows that
the Psylli were overwhelmed and buried in the sands.
Their depopulated territory then passed into the posses-
sion of the Nasamones.

This Spring was beyond the Syrtes, somewhere south
of Tripolis.

Lucan; Pharsalia. IX. line 605.
Ovid; Meta. IV. Fable 10.
Pliny; VII. 2. VIII. 35-


Springs of the Sandhills

The Springs of the sandhills appeared at intervals of
from ten- to thirty-day journeys across that part of the
African continent between the western border of Egypt
and the eastern limits of the present Morocco, within
which latter limits was the region of Atlas where he lifted
his head, not as formerly reported to the neighborhood
of the moon, but still to the respectable mountain-height
of 13,000 feet.

The large tract of the continent thrusting itself out far
beyond the British isles, as South America bulges out
eastward beyond New Foundland, was not concerned
with the Sandhills; the latter were in a stretch of the
desert which was separated from the fertile tract along
the northern coast by an intermediate strip called the
Country of Wild Beasts, the three strips undulating
across the continent like stripes of a monster banner
spread over the ground.

The sandhills were strewn with large lumps of salt in
white and purplish blocks with which the natives


fashioned their dwellings; and from the tops of these
hills the Springs gushed up, cold and sweet. Between
the recurrent Springs stretched the desert, dry and

The following five Springs of the Sandhills were men-
tioned, in addition to the fountain of Ammon; — Springs
of Augila, Garamantes, Debris, Atarantes and Atlantes.

Herodotus; IV. 181.


Springs of Augila

Their neighborhood produced dates in great numbers
and of a large size. In summer the Nasamones lived
around these Springs and gathered the dates for a change
in diet. They were a numerous race of cattle raisers who
subsisted at other times upon powdered locust r stirred
in milk.

Herodotus; IV. 183.


Springs of the Garamantes

The Garamantes occupied the largest of the Sandhill
Spring tracts. They made shift to cover the salt and sand
with layers of earth in which they raised crops that were
shaded by fruit-bearing palm trees.

They raised cattle with an unusual downward curve
to their horns which forced them to walk backwards while
grazing, to prevent the horns from sticking in the ground
and stopping them as they nibbled.

In four-horse chariots this tribe made war on the Trog-
lodytes who fed on lizards and screeched like bats ; though
perhaps neither of these offenses against right living and


speaking would have brought on them their neighbors'
reproof if the offenders' country had not produced the
precious carbuncle.

Herodotus; IV. 183.


Springs of Debris

If Pliny did not misread a parenthetical sentence of
Herodotus, and make two series of Springs out of one
series, these Springs were also in the domain of the
Garamantes, at a place called Debris; they were as re-
markable for their extraordinary changes in temperature
as were the Springs of Ammon, and more particularly so
because they reversed the order the latter followed, being
boiling hot between noon and midnight, and freezing
cold during the other twelve hours of the day.

Pliny; V. 5.


Springs of the Atarantes

The Atarantes were a tribe who had no individual
names; every member of it was called "Atarante," a
custom that would seem to have necessitated consider-
able descriptive ability when speaking of people who
were not present.

Herodotus; IV. 184.


Springs of the Atlantes

These lay at the western end of the strip running
towards Mt. Atlas beyond which were the confines of


the earth down to so few years ago that Columbus was
the first to cross them, and, traversing the "Sea of
Atlas," look upon that other half of the world that its
giant supporter had so long held out of sight.

The homes of these Sandhill Springs were oases which
were sometimes called "Islands, " and one may speculate
whether the supposedly lost Island of Atlantis is not still
to be found in the oasis near Mt. Atlas, instead of sunk
in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, for the original de-
scription of it as being near the Pillars of Hercules excludes
all connection with any part of the American continent.
Not that the story did not probably have some founda-
tion, nor that the architecture of Egypt may not have
had its beginnings in South America; and not that, on
the eastern side, China and Japan did not owe something
to the North American Indian and the Eskimo.

The oasis, or Island of Atlantis, furnished as it was, on
the western side, with an abundance of trees and water
and numerous fruits, might well have accounted for the
charms of the lost island of Plato's dream.

No one can read the epitome-like passages of Hesiod
without feeling that he was but summarizing well-known
data that had come down from previous ages, nor without
regretting that they are all lost save a sentence or two,
such as the Egyptian hint, which might have furnished
the basis for Plato's dream, that more than 9000 years
before the Christian Era, a people, crossing the confines
of Atlas, had overrun the African continent and pene-
trated Europe until they were stopped and defeated by
the predecessors of the Athenians ; and another hint that
the progenitors of the Arabs and the Moors were brought
from India by Hercules.

There is a weird fascination in that line of Morocco
coast that was once the limit of the living, and where the


shades of the departed disappeared in the mists of its

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 27 of 46)