James Reuel Smith.

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

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followed Bhagiratha as he took his way to the unsprinkled
ashes. As they were passing the place of St. Jahun, the
river carelessly swept away some of the sacrificial pots
that were near the path, and the Saint in the heat of his
anger drank up the offending stream. Later, at the inter-
cession of the gods, the holy being was induced to restore
the river, which he did by letting it run out through his
ear, and the ashes of the sixty thousand were wetted with
its sacred waters.

In another poem, the Vishnu- Parana, the Spring of
the Ganges is set in the great toe-nail of Vishnu's left

A third account places the Spring in the moon, around
which the river flows, giving the satellite a large part of its
brightness, before falling to the earth.

Still another legend exists, and it describes the river as
flowing from the mouth of Siva, the third deity of the
Indian trinity.

The Indian god of war, Karttikeya, is called the son of
the Ganges, and the miraculous manner of his birth is
strangely suggestive of the creation of Mars and of Urion
as Ovid relates them in the fifth book of the Fasti.

Many hymns are addressed to the Ganges, and the
holiest of properties are attributed to it wherever it flows,
but especially at Allahabad.

It being accepted that the muddy color of the river is
really due to the unguents of the celestial nymphs who
bathe in the stream in heaven, it is easy for the devout to
believe that ablution in its waters washes all sins away;
but even those who live a thousand miles from the river


will have their offenses forgiven by merely crying " Ganga,

The Ganges is now said to burst out from a glacier
more than halfway up a Himalayan mountain four miles
high, in 30 54 north lat., and 79 7 east long.

Ten miles from the source it reaches its first temple,
that of Gangotri; in that part of its course it is called
Bhagiratha, after Sagara's descendant whose efforts
crowned the pious works of six hundred centuries, and it
does not receive the name of Ganges until it has run
120 of the 1500 miles that it flows to reach the Bay of

According to modern measurements, there are some
stretches of the stream that average four miles in width,
and some places where it has a depth of 78 feet.

Pilgrimages to the holy source have long been made,
the round trip occupying six years, as the devoted are
required to measure some portions of the distance with
their bodies prone.

Pliny; VI. 22. Strabo; XV. i. §57.
Ovid; Fasti; V. In. 235.




When Homer in despair went to the Oracle at Delphi,
to ask where he was born and what was his Fatherland,
the Oracle endeavored to minimize its evident ignorance
by minutely particularizing concerning his death; by a
pun upon Mother Earth; and by dark hints that he would
solve the riddle of life in failing to guess a children's
conundrum. The latter seems to have been of the
What-was-it kind, with an entomological answer, to the
effect that; —

What we caught, we left upon the shore;
What we couldn't catch, away we bore. 1

When the Oracle had virtually admitted it did not know
where the Poet was born, there was nothing to prevent a
number of towns with a yearning for a poet's birthplace
from opening their portals to show where the homeless
cradle had been rocked. This led to an appeal to internal
evidence, which, more acute than the Oracle, and speak-
ing principally from Homer's dialect, though perhaps
aided by the supposition that he must have lived not
far from the plains of Troy, and maybe helped by the
law that seems to have ruled from the days of Hesiod —



that great writers must be born by little rivers — enabled
ancient historians to select Smyrna as the place where
Homer first opened the eyes that by losing their sight
gave him the name which for well on to three thousand
years has taken the place of Melesigenes, the natal name
given him by his mother.

1 Herodotus; Life of Homer.



Now, after the lapse of so many centuries, the reading
world might almost forgive Fate for the affliction that
substituted a short and simple dialect designation for the
blind in lieu of Melesigenes, which his mother selected to
convey the message that her son was ' ' born on the banks
of the Meles."

The Father of History, who was his fellow countryman
of a later age, asserts that Homer was a very successful
school teacher, at Chios ; that he amassed a fortune ; and
that he married and had two daughters.

If he was born in the year 950 B.C., then he appeared in
Smyrna just one hundred years after the descendants of
the son of Apollo and Creusa founded Ionia and started
the Grecian settlement of which Smyrna became a cele-
brated city, and a city that has flourished almost con-
tinuously to the present day when, with a change of only
a few miles in location, it has nearly two hundred thou-
sand inhabitants, and a volume of traffic that supports
several steam railroads.

The Poet's existence started amid the joyous revels of
a frolicsome night-fete around the Springs of the Meles, 2
forming a small but most beautiful river now known as


the Sarabat, in Asia Minor; and it ended, during a jour-
ney to Athens, in the island of Ios, a tiny particle of the
Cyclades that is now named Nio. There, close by the
sea, his body was laid at rest ; and there, perhaps because
of not appreciating the Oracle's pun, that while he had
no Fatherland that island would be his Motherland, the
natives soon claimed that his Mother, Clymene, had
lived, and showed a tomb to make good their asser-

One may pleasantly imagine the life that intervened
between these two events. It was no doubt, as the Oracle
predicted, both fortunate and unfortunate, as many at
home could have told to the saving of a tiresome journey
to distant Delphi, to hear it in hexameters which the Poet
probably improvingly recast as he listened to the me-
chanical drone of the mouthpiece of the Oracle whose
words, reduced to writing and hung near a brazen statue
of the enquirer, became a part of the Temple's permanent
exhibits. 3

Homer had traveled much before he became blind, and
had seen the sites and the cities that he sang of; and the
loss of his eyesight naturally made even more vivid and
absorbing the images and recollections that a wonderful
and crowded memory redisplayed before his mental eye,
to the accompaniment of the low music made by the little
Springs of the Meles as he ruminated in the cool shelter
of his favorite cavern study — for the Springs had an ad-
joining cave, and in that cave Homer was wont to com-
pose his poetry, much as Numa prepared his laws to the 4
tinkle of the Spring streams, and the soft, sinuous ripple
of the flowing water in the cave of Egeria; and here, in
childhood no doubt began that affection that grew to the
love of Springs which constantly flowed from his stylus
and traced in every book of the Iliad and the Odyssey


their names, or descriptions of their beauties, or a refer-
ence to their traditions, though nowhere in his writings
has he mentioned the Meles, or even Smyrna itself by
their names.

The Iliad was not only composed beside a Spring but
it might be said that it begins and ends in a Spring. A
Spring is mentioned in the very first line of its version in
English — the "Direful Spring of woes unnumbered,"
from which flows the subject of the whole epic; and half a
page of the last scene, in the last book, is devoted to
Niobe and her Spring on Sipylus.

In both poems, Springs are referred to more often than
any other beauty of nature, except possibly the sky; but
those of his own creation seem, for the most part, to be
fancy fountains that never rose through either Earth or
Sea, for when they are not placed in fabulous or unknown
lands they cannot be found in what should, presumably,
be their present locations. In them he may possibly have
described Springs he had really seen, but if such was the
case it is a pity he concealed their actual whereabouts,
for more charming fountains with lovelier surroundings
it would require great effort to imagine.

He sometimes devotes the better part of a page to the
enumeration of their attendant beauties, and these
pictures are gems of minutely executed word painting
that seem to be done in chromatic inks and with all the
vividness and detail of a finely focused color camera.
The genius of these gems in the Greek has perhaps been
best reproduced by Pope, and the extracts that follow
are therefore from his English translation.

The Iliad's chief Springs are those of Mount Ida.

2 Pausanias; VII. 5.

3 Pausanias; X. 24.

4 Pausanias; VII. 5.


Fountains of Mt. Ida

Mt. Ida, which he repeatedly mentions as, "The fair 5
nurse of Fountains," or, "The Fountful Ida," or, "Ida
whose echoing hills are heard resounding with a hundred
rills, " produced many streams, but of all the rivers that
rose from those hundred rills, the two that flowed nearest
to Troy were the Scamander and the Simois.

s Iliad; VIII. line 55- XII. 120. Iliad; XIV. 340.


Scamander. Simois

The Scamander, as it was named by men, was called
Xanthus by the gods.

Its source was near the top of one of the crests of the
five thousand-foot high range, but Homer has placed it
by the city's walls, and in telling of the combat betweer
Hector and Achilles, he describes its remarkable hot and
cold, double Springs; these have been the despair of
identifiers, but they may really have existed in former
times for there are still hot Springs near the Tuzla River
which falls into the ^Egean Sea north of Cape Lectum.

As Hector, now a piteous spectacle of panic, frantically
endeavors to escape from Achilles the heroes dart about
the field; they spring, now here, and

Next by Scamander 's double source they bound, 6
Where two famed fountains burst the parted ground ;
This hot through scorching clefts is seen to rise,
With exhalations streaming to the skies;
That the green banks in summer's heat o'erflows,
Like crystal clear, and cold as winter snows;
Each gushing fount a marble cistern fills,


Whose polished bed receives the falling rills;
Where Trojan dames (ere yet alarmed by Greece)
Washed their fair garments in the days of peace.
By these they passed, one chasing, one in flight,
(The mighty fled, pursued by stronger might) ;
Swift was the course; no vulgar prize they play,
No vulgar victim must reward the day ;
(Such as in races crown the speedy strife) ;
The prize contended was great Hector's life.
Thus three times round the Trojan wall they fly,
And gazing gods lean forward from the sky.

In summer many of the Grecian rivers are shallow, and
often nearly dry, but a heavy rain will suddenly swell
them to deep and rapid torrents, and Homer utilized this
peculiarity to make it appear that even the rivers of Troy
were loyal and rallied to the defense of their city; thus,
in battles on their banks, combatants, who had just
saved themselves from the sword, were often swallowed
up by the sudden and swift expansion of the streams.
The Scamander is even given voice sometimes and shouts 7
to its ally, the Simois, instructions how to act and whom
to overwhelm, and indeed the final obliteration of the
city is credited to the rivers themselves, in whose sands it 8
was buried from sight ; —

Now smoothed with sand, and leveled by the flood,
No fragment tells where once the wonder stood ;
In their old bounds the rivers roll again,
Shine 'twixt the hills, or wander o'er the plain. 9

The Scamander received its name of Xanthus because
of its yellow color, a color that led to its recognition in
the modern Mendere ; it possessed the power of imparting
a beautiful tint to hair and wool ; and it added a subtile
grace of loveliness to the skin of those who bathed in its
waters; and for that reason Juno, Minerva and Venus
repaired to it to heighten the effect of their charms when


preparing themselves for the exhibition that yielded to
the handsomest the much coveted prize of Paris' golden
apple; the apple that, as disastrous to its country as the
apple of Eden was to the world, led, first, to the fall of
Helen, and, finally to the fall of Troy.

The story of Troy will always be alluring to anyone of
English blood who likes the legend that Brutus, a son, or
great-grandson of ^Eneas, founded Britain when the
country was occupied by a small number of giants, and
built himself a castle on the banks of the Thames in the
city that he called New Troy.

Three hundred years before the Christian Era the
remains of Troy had not disappeared, and Alexander,
while there were still worlds to conquer, turned aside and
left his army to the care of others, and went by himself to
drink from the Springs of Scamander and view the ruins
of the ancient city, but in the second decade of the
Twentieth Century the discussion begun seventeen
hundred years before, about the site of Troy, is not yet
settled, and zealous excavators are still burrowing to get
at the root of the question. But, according to the
weightiest authorities, so far, the ten years' war ended in
1 184 B.C., and the city stood by the present ruins of
Hissarlik, 3^ miles from the Dardanelles: the old course
of the modern Mendere River was the bed of the Sca-
mander, and its tributary the Dumbrek Su was the
Simois: Mt. Ida is now Kaz Dagh, and Gargarus is its
highest peak.

After the destruction of Troy, it took Ulysses ten years 10
to find his way back to his home in Ithaca ; but seven of 11
these years produced only one new Spring, for all of that
period was spent in one place, the Island of Calypso. If
that had been his first stop the peoples of the ^Egean Sea
would have had no cause for regret, for at the outset his


people overran and robbed many settlements. But 12
occasionally they met what they richly deserved, as they
did at Laestrygonia.

6 Iliad; XXII. 187.

7 Iliad; XXI. 381.

8 Iliad; XII. 32.

9 Iliad; XII. 43.

10 Odyssey; XIII. 343-

11 Odyssey; VII. 346.
12 Odyssey; IX. 44.


A reconnoitering party having been landed was pro-
ceeding along the road to the city of Laestrygonia,

When lo! they met, beside a crystal spring, 13
The daughter of Antiphates the king;
She to Artacia's silver streams came down
(Artacia's streams alone supply the town) :

This delightfully dissembling little damsel of the crystal
Spring cheerfully guided them to her royal parents who
turned out to be giant cannibals and ravenously eat up a
large part of the party before the fleet could be got to
sea again.

Being driven into unknown oceans by a nine-day
tempest, Ulysses touched at the land of Lotos, "and 14
Springs of water found" ; and then reached Lachaea.

'3 Odyssey; X. 119.
'•i Odyssey; IX. 97-



After leaving the land of Lotos he stopped at Lachaea
where he found a cavern fountain, and one seems easily 15


to discern the impress and picture of the Meles cavern
Springs in nearly all of the Springs that the Poet created,
for almost invariably the Homer-made fountains are
furnished with grottos. Of Lachsea, he says; —

Opposed to the Cyclopean coast, there lay
An isle, whose hills their subject fields survey;
Its name Lachaea, crowned with many a grove;
And here all products and all plants abound,
Sprung from the fruitful genius of the ground ;
Fields waving high with heavy crops are seen,
And vines that flourish in eternal green.
Refreshing meads along the murmuring main,
And fountains streaming down the fruitful plain.

High at the head, from out the caverned rock,
In living rills a gushing fountain broke;
Around it, and above, forever green,
And bushy alders formed a shady scene.

Leaving this lovely home of caverned fount and falling
water, the party visited the island of the god of the Sun.

*S Odyssey; IX. 161, 133 & 156.


Apollo's Isle

At this island the party make another stop, and,

Then, where a fountain's gurgling waters play, 16
They rush to land, and end in feasts the day,
Where in a beauteous grotto's cool recess
Dance the green Nereids of the neighboring seas.

Here the wanton and cruel crew killed the god's sacred
cattle by heaps, and as soon as they put to sea again the
offended deity revenged himself with a nine-day storm 17
that destroyed the bark of the depredators, and everyone


in it except Ulysses who clung to a plank and was washed
ashore at Ogygia.

16 Odyssey; XII. 314 & 361.
': Odyssey; XII. 532.



All sense of locality having been lost in the turmoil of
the tempest and the many shiftings of its raging winds,
Ulysses can only say of the position of this island, on
which the waves providentially cast him alive, that it is ;

Ogygia named, in Ocean's watery arms; 18
Where dwells Calypso, dreadful in her charms!
Remote from gods or men she holds her reign,
Amid the terrors of a rolling main.

It was not until he had been detained here seven years
that Pallas' persevering importunities induced Jove to
send Hermes to the charmer to compel Ulysses' release.

The messenger journeyed by air to, and then through
the sea, and ; —

Then Hermes, rising from the azure wave,
Betrod the path that winded to the cave.
Large was the grot, in which the nymph he found,
(The fair-haired nymph with every beauty crowned).
She sate and sung; the rocks resound her lays,
The cave was brightened with a rising blaze;
Cedar and frankincense, an odorous pile,
Flamed on the hearth, and wide perfumed the isle;
While she with work and song the time divides,
And through the loom the golden shuttle guides.
Without the grot a various sylvan scene
Appeared around, and groves of living green;
Poplars and alders ever quivering played,


And nodding cypress formed a fragrant shade;

On whose high branches, waving with the storm,

The birds of broadest wing their mansions form, —

The chough, the sea-mew, the loquacious crow, —

And scream aloft, and skim the deeps below.

Depending vines the shelving cavern screen,

With purple clusters blushing through the green.

Four limpid fountains from the clefts distil; J 9

And every fountain pours a several rill,

In mazy windings wandering down the hill :

Where bloomy meads with vivid greens were crowned,

And glowing violets threw odors round,

A scene, where, if a god should cast his sight,

A god might gaze, and wander with delight !

Calypso having been forced to release him from this
delightful retreat, Ulysses constructed a raft and, after
seventeen days on the ocean, reached Scheria, then "the 20
favored isle of Heaven" and now Corcyra, and landed 21
near the city of Phaeacia.

« Odyssey; XII. 532; VII. 328.
^Odyssey; V. 90.

20 Odyssey; VII. 353; V. 438 et seq.

21 Odyssey; VI. 290.



Here, in a suburban mead, he met the king's beautiful
daughter, Nausicaa, washing by a Spring. A very pleas-
ant acquaintance was immediately established and, after
an interchange of numerous courtesies, they set out for
the town, and he says ; —

Nigh where a grove with verdant poplars crowned,
To Pallas sacred, shades the holy ground,
We bend our way: a bubbling fount distils 22
A lucid lake, and thence descends in rills,


Around the grove, a mead with lively green
Falls by degrees, and forms a beauteous scene;
Here a rich juice the royal vineyard pours,
And there the garden yields a waste of flowers.
Hence lies the town, as far as to the ear
Floats a strong shout along the waves of air.

While Nausicaa, to prevent gossip among the towns-
people, proceeds to the city alone, Ulysses rests here for a
short time and then follows her. He describes how

Close to the gates a spacious garden lies,
From storms defended and inclement skies.
Four acres was the allotted space of ground,
Fenced with a green enclosure all around.
Tall thriving trees confessed the fruitful mould:
The reddening apple ripens here to gold.
Here the blue fig with luscious juice o'erflows,
With deeper red the full pomegranate glows:
The branch here bends beneath the weighty pear,
And verdant olives flourish round the year.
The balmy spirit of the western gale
Eternal breathes on fruits, untaught to fail :
Each dropping pear a following pear supplies,
On apples apples, figs on figs arise:
The same mild season gives the blooms to blow,
The buds to harden, and the fruits to grow.
Here are the vines in early flower descried,
Here grapes discolored on the sunny side,
And there in autumn's richest purple dyed.

Beds of all various herbs, forever green,
In beauteous order terminate the scene.

Two plenteous fountains the whole prospect crowned : JJ
This through the gardens leads its streams around,
Visits each plant, and waters all the ground ;
While that in pipes beneath the palace flows,
And thence its current on the town bestows:
To various use their various streams they bring,
The people one, and one supplies the king.


These fountains passed, Ulysses gains admission to the
palace. The king, Alcinous, entertains him royally; loads
him with a great store of precious gifts; and finally fur-
nishes a boat and crew who in less than a day convey him
to his own dominions.

32 Odyssey; VI. 351.
2 i Odyssey; VII. 169.


Island of Ithaca

The landing is made in a bay near the port of Phorcys; 24
the rocky shore slopes upward here to where ; —

High at the head a branching olive grows,
And crowns the pointed cliffs with shady boughs.
Beneath, a gloomy grotto's cool recess
Delights the Nereids of the neighboring seas,
Where bowls and urns were formed of living stone,
And massy beams in native marble shone,
On which the labors of the nymphs were rolled,
Their webs divine of purple mixed with gold.
Within the cave the clustering bees attend
Their waxen works, or from the roof depend.
Perpetual waters o'er the pavement glide; 35
Two marble doors unfold on either side;
Sacred the south, by which the gods descend;
But mortals enter at the northern end.

Ulysses, who is sound asleep, is canied ashore to the
cave by the crew who then unload his treasure of presents
from Phaeacia and, having piled them up under the olive
tree, row away. He is awakened by Pallas who tells him
that he is in Ithaca, where

Soft rains and kindly dews refresh the field,
And rising springs eternal verdure yield, 26


and adds,

Behold the port of Phorcys! ferced around
With rocky mountains, and with olives crowned.
Behold the gloomy grot! whose cool recess 3 '
Delights the Nereids of the neighboring seas.

Ulysses, having hidden his treasures in the cavern,
learns, in a talk with the goddess under the olive tree, all
about Penelope, his wife, and her numerous hungry
suitors. Pallas then changes him into a wretched looking
old beggar in rags, and he goes to the house of Eumaeus, 28
his loyal swineherd, "Where Arethusa's sable water 29
glides, " to whom he passes himself off as a Cretan. 30

*• Odyssey; XIII. 114.
*s Odyssey; XIII. 132.
*6 Odyssey; XIII. 298.
2 7 Odyssey; XIII. 395.
J 8 Odyssey; XIV. 5.

2 9 Odyssey; XIII. 470.

30 Odyssey; XIV. 229. XVI. 61.


The Pharian Isle

Shortly before the king's return to Ithaca his son Tele-
machus, who had become more and more anxious as the
years rolled by and extended Ulysses' long delay in reach- 3 *
ing home, had set out to make enquiries in Sparta, where
he visited Menelaus from whom he received an account
of that monarch's adventures after leaving Troy with 32
Helen. This account was to the effect that he had been 33
blown to the Egyptian coast and was weather-bound
where ; —

High o'er a gulfy sea, the Pharian isle
Fronts the deep roar of disemboguing Nile:


Her distance from the shore, the course begun
At dawn, and ending with the setting sun,
A galley measures; when the stiff er gales
Rise on the poop, and fully stretch the sails.
There, anchored vessels safe in harbor lie,
Whilst limpid springs the failing cask supply. 34

There, after three weeks' detention, Menelaus cap-
tured the sea-god Proteus and compelled him to tell how-
to propitiate the winds, and also what had happened to
his friends in the storm-scattered fleet. With news of
Ulysses thus obtained, Telemachus, evading an at- 35

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 34 of 46)