James Reuel Smith.

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

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that Rameses sent south to locate the Spring of the Nile ;
for Moses was a member of one of the expeditions that
Rameses sent to Ethiopia in which country he married
his first wife, who was a daughter of its ruler and the
cause of the upbraidings of his sister Miriam.

Another Egyptian king, Psammitichus, was so anxious
to have the Spring discovered that he carefully bred up
a band of boys for an exploring expedition, and accus-
tomed them to live solely on fish so that they would
neither have to cumber themselves with provisions,
nor be forced to interrupt the search and leave the
stream to hunt for other food than the river itself would
provide.

Alexander the Great, who turned aside to see the Spring
of Scamander, was no less interested in the fountain of
the Nile, and might, perchance, have drunk of it if his
unfortunate draught from the Spring of Nonacris had not

447



448 FOREIGN COUNTRIES

cut short his career of conquest in Africa and on the
earth, June 30th, 323 B.C.

Cambyses, too, leaving the highways that led to booty,
turned his steps to the south intending to wrest from the
river the secret of its birth; but a wider acquaintance
with death was the chief result of his quest, for the heat
and lack of food caused such mortality among his men
that he was obliged to turn back no wiser than the pre-
vious seekers.

Cassar, chasing Pompey in the Civil War, having
reached the mouth of the secretive river, said that the
greatest of his great ambitions was to know the cause of
the stream, and its unknown head that had lain hid
through so many centuries. "Let me have an assured
hope," said he, "of seeing the source of the Nile, and I
will forego civil war."

Even Nero, amid the distractions of his horrible orgies,
took an interest in the search and sent an expedition of
surveyors to locate the source of the Nile, and, if, as it is
recorded, they reached latitude 4 degrees north before
being turned back by impassable marshes, they won
nearly as close to the Spring as Livingstone did in 1 86 1 .

Not only was there the incentive that has secured the
success of nearly every human enterprise, the incentive to
do what others have failed to accomplish, but there were
the strange mysteries of the stream to excite seeker after
seeker — the wonder that a river that flowed through a
rainless land should expand to the size of a sea every
year at nearly the same hour ; and the uncanny fact that
the Nile broadened out in summer while other rivers
swelled in the spring when the snows began to melt. Ex-
plaining that this was proof that the Nile was not fed with
snow only increased the anxiety to see a snowless source
that could produce such a vast volume of water; and age



EGYPT 449

after age responded to the call of the Nile Spring, as in
subsequent years the multitudes went to Niagara.

But all the explorers failed.

Even the poets with their vast and unlimited resources
were at a loss, and their best contribution to the subject
was an explanation of why the source had so cunningly
concealed itself; in this, they affirmed that when Phaeton,
frightened by the Dragon in the sky, lost control of the
horses of the Sun and set the world on fire, the Nile fled in
terror to the remotest parts of the earth and hid its
head.

Then the scientists found the abandoned ground a
fertile field for raising theories, as the product of any
man's guess was as good as another's.

The Spring as pictured by some of those guessers was
of a character in keeping with the great mystery of the
mighty river, and was such a fountain as never was seen
on land or in the sea. Indeed, as some of them conceived,
it was the sea itself that somewhere on a faraway coast
broke into the land and gave rise to the river, the salt of
the ocean becoming tasteless in the lengthy filter of the
river's course.

Some guessed that it ran from the South Pole. Another
faction attributed it to a common source ; a secret cavity
somewhere in the center of the globe, to which all waters
tended and from which all rivers were fed.

The African king, Juba II, guessed that the germ of the
Nile first appeared on a mountain of Mauretania near the
Atlantic, in a stream that wandered south, and east, and
eventually north, sinking several times in the sands of
the Sahara and elsewhere, and as often reappearing,
sometimes a thousand miles away, as various lakes and
rivers, one of which was the Niger, until, after its last
disappearance, it came up to be known as the Nile and to
29



450 FOREIGN COUNTRIES

remain above ground for the rest of its course, the whole
of which apparently formed three quarters of an ellipse.

As the brook of the Mauretania mountain Spring ran
into a lake that contained crocodiles and three sorts ot
fish that were also found in the Nile, Juba's theory was
adopted by many of the best geographers; for the con-
vincement of such as might have doubted even a king, a
specimen crocodile from the Atlantic lake was preserved,
consecrated and exhibited in a temple of I sis, about the
beginning of the present era.

How far away the Spring was, or how long the river
was, apparently no one attempted to guess until about
139 a.d. when the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy, as if
juggling with the law of averages, guessed the Spring to
be in a southern latitude that may yet prove to be the
actual site — and the most wonderful guess of antiquity.

The surmise was said to have been based on reports
made in 50 a.d. by a merchant named Diogenes, and it
might be hoped that the light he shed on the Nile Spring's
true whereabouts may add additional luster to that name
of seekers after truth, when the number of different
designations given by successive discoverers to the same
bodies of water is finally reduced to one.

While all the rest of the world admitted that the source
of the Nile was unknown, Egypt was calling a spot near
the modern Assuan, "The Springs of the Nile " ; this was,
however, little better than an egotistic Egyptian pun on
the annual rise of the river, which was first observed at
that place in Egypt after the Nile had crossed the fron-
tier from Ethiopia.

Wearied with walking and glutted with guessing, man-
kind then rested for a long time under the impression
that all-powerful Nature had willed it that men should
forever wonder but never know where the river rose ;



EGYPT 451

and for the larger part of two thousand years men did
actually wonder in ignorance. And then, what with
alleged discoveries about the White Nile and about the
Blue Nile, mankind at large remained still more or less
in the dark that always results from the combination of
those two colors, and had but a hazy idea about where
the first drops of the river's current came out of the earth ;
for it was not until 1875 when Stanley circumnavigated
Lake Victoria Nyanza which Capt. Speke had discovered
in 1858, that the near neighborhood of the source of the
Nile was reached. In the next forty years more progress
was made in tracking the river to its lair than in the pre-
vious forty centuries.

In 1889 Stanley located the source in four-mile high,
snow-capped mountains that made the Semliki River,
though that stream is merely the connecting link between
two nyanzas or lakes, Albert Nyanza and Albert Edward
Nyanza.

In the year 1914, however, it was generally accepted
that the Nile starts as a little stream, near lat. 3 degrees,
45 min. south, and Ion. 29 degrees, 50 min. east, that
rises approximately a mile and a quarter above sea level,
in the northern tract of the mountains that border the
northeast side of Lake Tanganyika of Central Africa.

Of the leading atlases of 1914 that best depict this
region, the one giving the most detail is Andree's. It
shows with delightful German minuteness what a magni-
fying glass discloses to be a blue speck labeled the Nile
Spring (Nil-Quelle), from which runs a twisting hairline
(the Lavironza River of others) that becomes (or accord-
ing to others joins the Ravuvu River and becomes) the
Kagera River that Stanley named the Alexandra Nile;
the Kagera enters the western side of Victoria Nyanza
which, through its sole outlet, the Nil (the Victoria or



452 FOREIGN COUNTRIES

Somerset Nile) feeds Kioga (Ibrahim) Lake, from which
Albert Nyanza is formed ; out of the latter runs the River
Bar-el- Jebel which expands into Lake No to accommo-
date the Gazelle River, and together they issue from
Lake No, transmuted into the White Nile.

The Blue Nile rises in Abyssinia at 1 1 degrees north
lat., 37 degrees east Ion., and joins the White Nile at
Assuan, from which place, with no nominal distinction
as to color, they flow united as the Nile to the Mediter-
ranean. But it is the sediment, which gives the Blue
Nile its color and name, that the consolidated river fur-
nishes to fertilize the Egyptian farmers' fields.

The Nile's trip covers a few leagues more than 4000
miles, and the river makes it in about two months ; but
the discovery progressed at the rate of only a mile a year
in the journey to the southernmost source.

Herodotus; II. 19.

Ovid; Meta. II. line 253-

Athenaeus; VIII. 35-

Lucan; Pharsalia. X. line 40-326 .



324

The Well of Syene

The town of Syene is known to everyone who has heard
of the syenite stone to which its quarries gave name ; but
its Well is perhaps seldom mentioned outside of scientific
circles, in which it has always been famous for having
shown that the sun was vertical there at the summer
solstice, and that consequently the Tropic of Cancer
crossed the town.

This geographical truth was found at the bottom of the
Well of Syene when someone noticed there what few
have ever seen in any other deep Well — a picture of the



EGYPT 453

midday sun reflected from the surface of the water in its
depths.

It was not strictly an absolute truth, as one four-
hundredth of an up and down object's shadow might still
have been noted there at noon, but the heavily handi-
capped geographers of old may be cheerfully pardoned for
not noticing so small a fractional error.

The assistance that the Well of Syene thus gave to
the scientists is however expected to be immeasurably
exceeded by the boon that Syene's later and larger
reservoir of water is relied upon to confer on all of the
people in the lower Nile valley; for the great two mile
long dam at Assuan that was completed in 1902 was con-
structed to lay forever the two terrible specters of
Drought and Famine that have menaced the Egyptians
from time to time since long before the days of Joseph,
and the shortage of grain that followed the dream about
the lean kine, and the river's failure to overflow the fields.

Assuan, the modern name of Syene, is 774 miles from
the mouths of the Nile, and its dam was designed to
conserve water that would ordinarily go to waste, so that
a larger acreage than ever before might be irrigated, in
addition to controlling a reserve supply for use in years of
insufficient rainfall.

There was another very ancient and useful Well
opposite Syene in the island of Elephantina. It was on
the banks of the Nile, and was built of close-fitting stones
on which lines were drawn marking the greatest, least,
and mean risings of the Nile, whose waters flowed into
and formed the Well, so that its surface was always level
with the river's; and from records of the dates of previous
years' levels it was possible to make forecasts of the
height the river would probably reach in the current
season.



454 FOREIGN COUNTRIES

This Well was called the Nilometer, and was similar
to one at Memphis which was used for the same purpose.

Strabo; XVII. I. §48.



325

Blackthorn Spring

The Blackthorn Spring was in the vicinity of Thebes,
in a piece of woodland about thirty-seven miles from the
Nile, and it watered a grove of Blackthorn trees, the
wood of which was valued for ship-building; the flowers
for the beauty their colors added to garlands; and its
gum for various uses. The Blackthorn of the Spring is
supposed to be the Acacia which produces the modern
Gum Arabic.

Thebes was the No Amon of the Bible and was in its
prime centuries before the Trojan war.

There is an unfinished discussion as to whether Thebes
or Memphis was the older, but as they were both founded
by the first mortal monarch, Menes, the difference may
perhaps be measured in months.

The city was said to have had seven million inhabitants
and its army of six hundred thousand gained, among
other tributaries, peoples as far away as the Colchians
on the Caspian Sea.

The Thebans erected a statue of the god Toth, the
inventor of letters, and one of his wife. The Chinese
claim to have invented the characters of writing as well
as the art of printing, and there is no more reason to
doubt that they devised their own peculiar and numerous
signs for words than there is to question their statement
that the marks are copies of the tracks left by flocks of
birds on a certain seashore.



EGYPT 455

It is not denied that birds taught men how to sing,
but a frank avowal that birds were their first writing
masters is made only by the Chinese and the Romans,
the latter's Mercury, the counterpart of Toth and the
inventor of their alphabet, having copied the flight of
cranes when forming his characters.

Several nations, however, seem to have secretly con-
veyed, in a symbol, the admission of a debt to the birds,
the Romans, by placing a rooster beside the representa-
tions of their inventor; and the Egyptians by giving Toth
the head of another bird, the ibis, which is also the
hieroglyph of his name — indeed nearly a fifth of the
Egyptian letters were pictures of birds.

The letters that Cadmus carried to Greece were those
made by the Phoenician god Taaut, who was probably
the same as the maybe older Toth of the Egyptians.

No peoples, however, except the Egyptians, were
gallant enough to acknowledge the assistance that woman
would naturally be expected to have been anxious to
give in the inventing of letters, and her work in the
achievement was chivalrously proclaimed by the The-
bans who designated their statue of Toth's wife as the
Lady of Letters.

The dwellings of Thebes were four and five stories
high, and that it was the best adorned and most beautiful
city of the world may be opined from age-old descriptions
of its numerous palaces, temples, obelisks and statues.
Temples more than three hundred feet long were sup-
ported by columns nearly twelve feet thick and seventy
feet high; and some of its statues were more than nine
times life-size, the vocal statue of Memnon, and its
companion, being sixty feet high. Fortunately, however,
one is not required to rely alone on the ancient estimates
of the artistic embellishments of Thebes, for numbers of



456 FOREIGN COUNTRIES

them now adorn streets and parks in the capital cities of
the world, or beautify their museums and galleries of art,
and their glories are as familiar to millions today as they
were to myriads of Thebans in their prime ; though per-
haps Thebes' share in producing them is unknown to
many beholders to whom they are only the ruins of Kar-
nak, or the obelisk of Luxor at Paris, or that on the
Thames embankment near Blackfriars' Bridge, the name
of Thebes being lost in the designation of this or that
village of nearly a dozen that have sprouted among the
ruins of the old metropolis that are found in the neighbor-
hood of the Spring of the Blackthorn grove.

Pliny; XIII. 19.
Athenaeus; IX. 43.



326

Memnon

The Memnonian fountain was at Abydos in the palace
of Memnon, the ruins of which are supposed to be those
now to be seen at the hamlet of Mensieh.

The palace was built on the plan of the Labyrinth; it
was entirely of stone, laid in a singular manner.

The fountain was within the palace at a great depth,
and was reached through an arched passage built of single
stones of remarkable size and workmanship.

Menes, the first mortal monarch, was born at Abydos;
and Osiris was buried there, in consequence of which the
place was selected as a cemetery by prominent Egyptians
in order that their remains might repose in the company
of the great god. Herodotus considered him the Egyptian
Bacchus; others called him a son of Rhea, and, as such,
he was either a brother of Zeus or, Zeus himself. Perhaps
the most simple solution of the perplexity is, that Osiris



EGYPT 457

occupied among the Egyptian gods the position that Zeus
held among the Grecian deities.

The father of Rameses the Great is supposed to have
constructed the palace, and also a neighboring temple of
Osiris, in which was discovered, in 1818, the Tablet of
Abydos, a list of Egyptian kings, that is valued as the
most precious document that has come down to modern
times regarding perhaps the oldest country in the world.

Memnon has been identified with a number of promi-
nent people, including Ham the son of Noah, and the
Egyptian King Amenophis. As the son of Tithonus, he
was killed by Achilles at Troy, and a river called Paphla-
gonios was produced by the flow from his wounds.
Tithonus was granted unending life, but having failed to
ask for the absolutely essential accompaniment of con-
tinuous youth, he shriveled up as he grew old, so that
finally little was left of him but a shell and a voice;
whereupon he was mercifully and appropriately changed
into a cricket.

The grief of Memnon 's mother, Eos, more widely
known as Aurora, or, the Dawn, is the most enduring
sorrow that has ever been described, for her mourning
never ceased, and well-informed early risers are reminded
of it by the dewdrops, which are the tears she still con-
tinues to shed in her nightly lamentations.

It is not stated that this was a salt water fountain, but
it is said that along the road to the temple there were a
number of salt Springs bubbling up, and a vast number of
salt beds, and of mussel, oyster and scallop shells, —
deposits, it was supposed, of an ocean that covered this
land before the waters of the Mediterranean broke
through a barrier, at the Strait of Gibraltar, and ran
out into the Atlantic Ocean, which was then at a lower
level than the Mediterranean.



458 FOREIGN COUNTRIES

Some of the ruins of Abydos are near the Arab village
of Arabat el Matfoon.

Strabo;XVII. i. §42.

Strabo; I. 3- § 4-

Ovid; Meta. XIII. line 575- et seq.



327

The Wells of Apis
(The Fountains of the Priests)

There were two or more Wells of Apis ; one, from which
his drinking water was provided, at Memphis ; the others,
sometimes called the fountains of the Priests, were his
burial places, and their locations were known only to the
initiated.

The Golden Calf that the children of Israel adored was
not regarded with more veneration than Apis, who was
the sacred Bull worshiped by the Egyptians, and was
supposed to represent a reincarnation of the god Osiris.

He was maintained at Memphis in a court surrounded
by a colonnade full of sculptured figures and statues
forming the pillars of a Piazza, a part of the sacred pre-
cincts being reserved for the use of his mother.

There were two temples in his recreation court where
he appeared from time to time, attended by a choir of
boys who sang hymns in his honor, and where he gave
ocular responses to inquirers who judged whether fate
was propitious or the contrary, either, from his going
into one of the temples or the other ; or, from his taking
food from their hands, or refusing so to do.

At the age of twenty-five Apis was drowned in one of
the secret Wells or fountains of the Priests, and the coun-
try was carefully searched to secure his successor, if he
had not previously been discovered.



EGYPT 459

There were twenty-nine features by which the right-
ful successor of the drowned Apis was to be distinguished
and verified, although the principal one, that of pedigree,
was itself of such phenomenal character that the other
twenty-eight might almost have been taken for granted
when any animal had been found with the pedigree
required.

This condition pedigree was that of an only calf, the
issue of lightning with a cow that could never have other
progeny.

Some of the other features for distinguishing the calf,
and guaranteeing the connection with Osiris, were; — a
predominating black color ; a square spot of white on the
forehead ; a peculiar figure on the right side in the form of
a white crescent ; a representation of an eagle on its back ;
double hairs in the tail; and a peculiar growth that was
called a beetle, under the tongue.

The founding of Memphis has been assigned to the
year 4455 B.C. and is credited to the first mortal monarch,
Menes, who was, however, preceded by lines of prehistoric
kings who ruled for 18,000 years prior to his birth.

Ancient authors eulogized the magnificence of Mem-
phis, and its ruins were graphically described by an
Arabian writer in the XHIth century; after that they
were forgotten until 500 years later when, their location
having become unknown, they were rediscovered on the
banks of the Nile, south and within ten miles of Cairo,
which was built in 638 a.d. with wreckage from its ruins.

The canals and the pyramids tell in two words what the
Egyptian engineers could accomplish, but no one, even
2500 years ago, could say what means they employed to
raise and transport masses weighing very nearly a thou-
sand tons.

The Egyptian obelisk in New York weighs only 70



4 6o FOREIGN COUNTRIES

tons, but XlXth century engineers of the year 1881 re-
quired several weeks to move it three miles on land with
the aid of steam power, while the Egyptian engineers
moved masses twelve times as heavy and transported
them many miles farther from the quarries to their
present sites ; one of those masses at Thebes was a statue
of Rameses II carved out of a single block of syenite, the
feet of which, though more than three and a half yards
long and one and a half yards wide, are perfectly propor-
tioned for a man 75 feet tall, such as the statue repre-
sented. Works of almost equal magnitude at Memphis
are the colossal statues of Sesostris, his wife and four
sons, of different heights that range from 30 to 50 feet.

After seeing the marvels the Memphis builders per-
formed, it is difficult to select instances in which modern
members of their profession have shown greater ability,
and one is quite prepared to believe that Memphis had
subways before Rome had elevators, for the statement
that Memphis was built on arches, under which its armies
could pass out of the city without being seen, may be
taken as a very terse description of not only large but
even numerous subways.

Memphis was called the City of the Pyramids, and
within a few T miles of it some thirty of them, including
the largest and most celebrated, are still to be found more
or less well preserved, and with the Sphinx among them ;
but earthquakes, the elements, the destruction of enemies,
the requirements of other cities' builders, and the zeal
of collectors, have worked havoc with all but the most
gigantic parts of Memphis, and it is now difficult to
identify the Wells of Apis, or even the site of his temples,
among the numerous heaps of shattered stone around the
little palm-shaded village of Matranieh, which represents
the old city with its circuit of fifteen miles.



EGYPT 461

But, from numbers of granite caskets containing
embalmed bodies of bulls that have been found outside
of the city, in a rock-cut gallery many hundred feet long
and twenty feet high and wide, it may be judged that the
remains of the pampered animals were all carefully pre-
served after they had been drowned in the sacred Wells.

Pliny; VIII. 71.
Herodotus; III. 27.



328

Pyramid Well

In the interior of the largest pyramid there was a Well
eighty-six cubits deep, which was believed to be con-
nected with the River Nile.

The shaft of this Well is now thought to have been
made to give the workmen a quick exit from the pyramid
to the ground.

Pliny; XXXVI. 17.



329

Marea

The fountain called Marea took its name from Maro,
one of the companions of Bacchus.

The district about the fountain produced a popular
wine that, in recognition of the Spring's irrigation, was
called Mareotic Wine.

The district was in the vicinity of Alexandria and of
Lake Mareotis, to which the fountain may have con-
tributed more than its waters.

Athenaeus; I. 60.



462 FOREIGN COUNTRIES

Cairo

There was a fountain where Cairo was afterwards
founded, near which there was a temple of Neptune; its
waters changed from salt to sweet, and the reason was
because of the many thunderbolts that fell about it.



Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 29 of 46)