James Reuel Smith.

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

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been described as resembling more than anything else 14
the house of a western-farm Spring!

11 JEntid; VI. 43, 126 et seq.; VI. 237.

Ia ^neid; VI. 296.

*3 Fionas; Roman Hist. I. 16.

U E. R. Pennell; "Italy of Virgil and Horace."



The source of Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness, that
Virgil says ^neas found skirting the Plains of Elysium,
was completely ignored by the poet, although its water
contained man's only hope of resurrection.


Fortunately Ovid, one of Virgil's friends, gave the
world a full description of this most important of all
Springs, and his account of it is summarised in No. 396.

Lethe was also a name given to one of the Springs of
the Cave of Trophonius on the banks of the river Hercyna
which flows in Boeotia.

Virgil; JEneid; VI. In 703.


The Springs of Rome

A number of the Springs of ancient Rome are still
living and sparkling in Latin literature, and doubtless
there were many others, that were praised in poetry and
prose, whose eulogies are either irrevocably lost or have
not yet been discovered; Springs that issued from the
Seven Hills and made the neighborhood a place of ' ' mur-
muring streams, " and much of the site of the present city
marsh land and meadow. Even among the names of the
streets there is testimony that the charioteer, in later
times, rolled over the course of a highway that in the
beginning had only borne boats.

To those times the poets, and even more serious com-
posers, never tired of referring, and numbers of these
little sketches of the bucolic beginnings of the great city
may be found tucked away here and there among the
pages of Rome's most famous writers.

' ' All the present extent that you see of mighty Rome
was, before the time of Phrygian JEnea.s y a grassy mound;
and where the Palatine, hallowed by the temple of naval
Phoebus, now stands, the cows of Evander strayed and
fed, and the Tiber met on its way our oxen only."

"This crowded neighborhood pleases me. The Tiber


once flowed this way, and they say that the sound of oars
was heard on the waters."

"The Velabra were once overspread by their own
marshy stream, and the boatmen sailed over waters that
have given place to what is now part of the city."

"Here, where Rome now is, a forest untouched by the
axe used to flourish, and this state so mighty was a place
of pasturage for a few oxen."

"Here, where now the city stands, was then but the
city's site."

"Here, where the market places now are, you might see
boats wandering about — where too thy valley now lies, O
Circus Maximus."

"Here, where now is Rome, the capital of the world,
there were then but trees and grass and a few sheep, and a
cottage here and there."

"This place where now are the markets, formerly
fenny maishes covered; and a ditch was here swimming
with water from the overflowing of the river. That spot
formed the Curtain Lake which now supports the altars
on dry ground. In the spot where the Velabra are now
wont to lead the processions into the Circus, nought was
there then but willows and dense reeds."

The laying out of streets cuts the arteries of the Springs
and destroys them, so that it would be idle now even to
speculate on the exact location of many of the old-time
Springs of Rome ; those that are mentioned in the follow-
ing pages, however, were probably all but one within a
mile of the Capitoline Mount, the smallest but most
famous of the city's celebrated Seven Hills, and under
whose shadow Romulus tossed the first clod from which
the city sprang.

In those days, and indeed during 441 years after the
founding of the city on the 21st of April, 753 B.C., the


Springs of Rome and the water of the River Tiber sufficed,
and were the sole sources of supply, for the needs of its

Appius Claudius Caecus who, in 313 B.C., made and gave
his name to the Appian Way, built the first aqueduct
which brought in outside water, called Aqua Appia; it
was 1 1 miles long and partly subterranean, and ran from
the direction of Prasneste.

The River Anio's water, taken near Tivoli, was next
drawn upon thirty years later ; and when Marcus Agrippa
had piped in the Aqua Virgo for the purpose of supplying
his baths, the craze for aqueduct construction and con-
tracts was no doubt well on the way to the stage that
Juvenal noted as a settled mania, making monied men as
rapidly as the water- and site-purchasing schemes of the
most proficient politicians of the get-rich-quickly age, in
which one aqueduct is hardly begun before pipes are laid
for another and a longer one, that shall draw from the
public treasury a more solid stream than was ever fur-
nished by the waters of any Spring ever tapped in the
far away hills.

In fact it was only a few generations later that Pliny
wrote; — Preceding aqueducts have all been surpassed
by the costly work recently commenced by Caligula, and
completed by Claudius. Under these princes, the Curtian
and Caerulean Waters, with the New Anio, were brought
from a distance of forty miles, and at so high a level that all
the hills on which the city is built were supplied with water.

The sum expended on these works was three hundred
and fifty millions of sesterces, which, as they were con-
structed with slaves for laborers was the equivalent in
purchasing power of probably considerably more than the
fourteen million dollars the same weight of gold would
represent in modern money.


Nineteen aqueducts are said to have been built in all, of
which eleven have been located; —


of 312 B.C.


Of 33 B.C.

Anio Vetus

" 272 "


" 29 "


" 144 "


" 38 A.D.


" 127 "


-38 "


" 33 "

These nine supplied Rome with more than 332 million
gallons of water daily. Eventually, the Marcia, Tepula
and Julia conduits were placed above each other in that
order; and the Novus was placed over Claudia.

Later, two more w r ere built; —

Trajana of no a. d. Alexandrina of 226 a. d.

Besides the arches of the aqueducts that are still in use,
long stretches of others that have survived time, war and
earthquake, stand in picturesque and graceful lines upon
the Campagna, like regiments of massive sentinels mount-
ing vigilant and ceaseless guard beyond the city walls.

The Spring of Pitonia (No. 461) was the principal
source of the Aqua Marcia, though the waters of the
latter were increased by those of a Spring that were
brought to it through the Aqua Augusta.

The Aqua Virgo, in addition to the flow from the
Spring of the Virgin (No. 440) received supplies from
several Springs that it encountered during its course

The Aqua Claudia's water, as said by Pliny, was taken
from two excellent and bountiful Springs, the Caerulus
and the Curtius near the 38th milestone on the Via Sub-
lacensis; later, it drew from a third Spring called the


Albudinus; and many of its ruined arches still curve
across the Campagna.

The Aqua Crabra was supplied from a source near Tus-
culum, fifteen miles from Rome; it was strangely subject
to changes from good to bad, apparently at the bidding of
the wealthy villa owners at Tusculum, being under one
administration too bad for Rome and therefore diverted
to Tusculum, where it was good enough for such people
as the epicure Lucullus; and Cicero, who seems to have
taken a large share of it for his $25,000 villa, as he was
made to pay an "acknowledgment" for its use. After
that, it became good enough for Rome to which its water
was again diverted.

The Aqua Felice's water is understood to have come
from a Spring called Alexandrina.

The other aqueducts which did not start from Springs
drew their supplies from rivers, lakes, and similar sources.

Supplementing the aqueducts, either as useful or as
adorning features, there were 700 wells; 500 fountains ; 130
reservoirs ; 300 statues of marble or bronze, and 400 marble
columns; and at one time there were 856 public baths.

Propertius; V. Elegies i, 2 & 9.
Ovid. Fasti; —

I: In 242. II: In 280 & 391. VI: In 405.
Pliny; XXXVI. 24.


Bona Dea

The waters of this Spring had long been in sanctified
use in the days of Hercules, who came upon it as he was
returning from Gades, in completion of his tenth labor,
with the human-flesh-eating oxen of Geryon.

Many beings have been suggested by different scholars
as the original Bona Dea, even including an old woman


whose husband beat her to death for drunkenness. Her
Spring seems to have been on the Palatine Hill, possibly
on the Aventine Hill which adjoins it, but, at any rate,
near the Forum Boarum, which Hercules so named
because his charges for a time there pastured.

Cacus, a desperate three-headed and resourceful robber,
who lived in a fearful cave near-by, managed unobserved
to get the oxen into his hiding place, using the crafty
expedient of pulling them in backwards by their tails,
so that the direction of their tracks would not betray him.
The subsequent lowing of the animals, however, apprized
the hero of their whereabouts, and he killed the robber
and rescued them.

The contest was protracted and strenuous, and at the
end, the victor's mouth and parched palate were racked
with thirst, and no teeming earth supplied him with
water. ' ' Suddenly he hears some girls laughing in retire-
ment, at a distance, where a grove had grown into a
forest with shady circuit, containing the secret shrine of
Bona Dea, and the Springs used in sacrifices and the rites
profaned with impunity by none.

"Purple fillets covered the retired abodes; the time-
worn shrine glowed with burning incense ; the poplar, too,
ornamented the temple with its masses of foliage, and
many a shady bower sheltered birds as they sang.

' ' Hither rushed Hercules and sweeping the ground with
his beard, dry 'and matted with dust, he poured forth,
before the door, words beneath the language of a god;
' To you I pray, O ye that are sporting in a sacred grotto
in the grove, open your shrine, in hospitality, to weary
travelers. I am wandering in want of water, and that,
too, about a country of murmuring streams, and as much
water as I can hold in the hollow of my hand is enough.'

11 ' Have ye heard of one who has borne the world on his


back ? I am he : the rescued earth calls me Alcides. Who
has not heard of the bold deeds of the club of Hercules,
and of his arrows powerless against no beast that is born,
and of the Stygian darkness opened to him, only, of


'"Receive me; at last this land is open before me,
weary one that I am.'

" ' Though ye were offering a sacrifice to Juno, my bitter
enemy, even she, stepmother though she is, would not
have shut up her water from me. But if any one of you is
frightened by my looks, or my lion's skin, and my hair
scorched in Libya's sun, I am the same one that per-
formed servile offices in a purple robe, and spun my daily
task with the Lydian distaff; my hairy breast has been
confined in a soft girdle, and though my hands are hard,
I made a handy girl. '

"And the venerable Priestess answered him as follows,
having her gray hair bound with a purple fillet: ' Gaze no
longer, Stranger, and withdraw from the hallowed grove :
quickly begone and fly from our threshold whilst thou
canst leave it in safety ! The altar that protects itself in a
retired shrine is forbidden to men, and profanation of it is
punished by a fearful penalty. At a great price did the
Priest Tiresias gaze on Pallas, while she laved her stal-
wart limbs, having laid aside the Gorgon shield. May the
gods send thee other fountains; the Spring that flows
here, out of the way, and with secret approach, is peculiar
to maidens!'

"Thus said the old woman: he pushed with his shoulder
the door that hid the fountain from his view, and the
closed door was not proof against his assault, angry and
thirsty as he was.

"But after he had fairly drained the stream and
quenched his thirst, he laid down severe laws before


drying his lips; 'This corner of the world,' said he, 're-
ceives me, in the course of fulfilling my destiny; at length
this land is open to me, weary as I am. May this great
altar, dedicated by me on the recovery of my flocks, made
great by my own hands, never be opened to the worship
of women, that the thirst of the great Hercules be not
unrevenged. '"

The altar referred to is the Ara Maxima. (See No.

Propertius; V. Elegy 9-



The fountain of Tarpeia is the first that appears in the
mythical history of Rome, and dates back to the times
when the Sabines, still seeking redress for the loss of their
stolen daughters, attacked the little Roman stronghold
and secured admittance through the disloyalty of the
impressionable Vestal Tarpeia, whose father, Tarpeius,
commanded the fort and lived on the Tarpeian Rock,
a part of what was afterwards called the Capitoline

Propertius has thrown another and a softening light
upon the character of the Commander's daughter, under
which she would seem to have been carried away by the
attraction of her heart and not by a sordid love for
jewelry and soldiers' bracelets.

According to this version, Tarpeia fell in love with
King Tatius, of the invading army, whom she saw for the
first time while she was getting water at this Spring, and
it was in purchase of his promise to marry her that she
betrayed her city and opened the gate to its foes.


Propertius says ; — ' ' The Tarpeian Grove was enclosed
within an ivy clad ravine, with many a tree rustling in
concert with the plash of native waters, the shady abode
of Sylvanus, whither the sweet pipe called the sheep out
of the glare to drink.

"This fountain Tatius bordered with a fence of maple,
and placed his trusty camp on the crest of the elevation,
and the war horse drank from a fount where now is the
enclosed Curia, while the Sabine arms were grounded in
the Roman Forum.

"From this Spring Tarpeia drew water for the goddess;
an earthenware urn was balanced on her head.

"She saw Tatius exercising on the sandy plain, and
brandishing his flashing arms about his helmet's yellow

"She was struck dumb at the king's beauty and his
royal arms, and her urn fell from her careless hands.

"Often she made a pretext of ominous appearances
in the guiltless Moon, and said she must dip her hair in
the stream ; often she took silver-white lilies to propitiate
the nymphs that the spear of Romulus might not hurt
the face of Tatius; and while ascending the Capitol,
built among the clouds, in the early smoke of evening, and
returning thence, she scratched her arms with the rough
brambles; and when she got back from the Tarpeian
citadel she wept over her love pangs. 'Ye Roman hills,'
she said, ' how great a guilt am I going to lay upon Auson-
ian maids, I, a faithless attendant on the Virgin hearth
to which I have been chosen ! If any one is surprised at
the fire of Pallas being extinct, let him pardon me; the
altar is drenched with my tears. Tomorrow, so says
report, fighting will be going on all over the city; do you
follow the wet edge of the thorny ravine. The whole
way is slippery and treacherous, for it conceals, through-


out, the waters that trickle noiselessly in their unseen

' ' ' Oh that I knew the strains of magic verse ; this
tongue, too, would then have helped you, beautiful
Sabine, to whom I bring no mean dower in the betrayal
of Rome.'

1 ' ' And now the fourth trumpet is heralding the coming*
of light, and the very stars are sinking into ocean. I will
court sleep; I will desire dreams about you.' She spoke,
and dropped her arms in sleep, and Vesta, trusty guardian
of fire brought from Troy, fosters her guilt, and puts more
fires into her bones.

"There was a holiday in the city, it was the birthday
of the city walls.

"It was the shepherds' yearly feast, a merry time in the
city, when the village dishes reek with delicacies, and the
drunken rabble leap with their dirty feet over loose
heaps of blazing hay.

"Romulus ordered the pickets to rest, and the trumpet
to cease sounding, and all things combined to lull the
garrison to sleep.

"Tarpeia, thinking this was her time, goes to meet the

"She had betrayed her trust at the gate, and her
sleeping home, and she asked leave to name a wedding
day at her choice.

"But Tatius, who, though a foe, paid no honor to
villainy, said : ' Marry at once and ascend the marriage
bed of my kingdom.' He spoke, and overwhelmed her by
throwing his followers' arms on her.

"This, O Naiad, was fit payment for thy services."

In the time of Propertius the site of Tarpeia's house
on the Capitoline Hill was occupied by young ladies as
susceptible to the allurements of bracelets as ever Tar-



peia could have been. But in 1912 a.d. it was occupied by
the office of "The Custodian of the Rock," for whose
perquisites, at cut rates, there was a lively competition
among the children of the adjoining houses whose back-
yards also commanded a full view of the famous rock,
from which the Spring no longer flows.

Propertius; I. Elegy 16. V. Elegy 4-


The Spring of Ausonia, the second in the history of
Rome, came into bright prominence by promptly coun-
teracting the trouble that Tarpeia's Spring had brought
upon the struggling nation, through the introduction
of the susceptible Vestal to the charms of the Sabine

It merits precedence over the cackling geese, for it
saved the Capitol nearly four hundred years before those
valiant birds, in 390 B.C., repulsed the Gauls who
were climbing the same rugged, steep, and slippery path
that Tarpeia followed in her frequent visits to her Spring
to catch a glimpse of her scornful charmer.

It appears to have been located near the Porta Vimi-
nalis, so called from the vimina (osiers) that grew plenti-
fully about it, no doubt under the nourishing influence of
the waters of this identical fountain.

Ovid says of it that the Naiads of Ausonia occupied a
spot near the Temple of Janus at Rome, a place be-
sprinkled by a cool fountain.

When the Sabines attacked the city and had succeeded
in noiselessly opening one of the gates, the Naiads first
caused an unusually large flow from the Spring, in order
to flood the roadway to the gate; then, in addition, "they


placed sulphur, with its faint blue light, beneath the
plenteous fountain, and they applied fire to the hollowed
channel with smoking pitch."

"By these and other violent means, the vapor pene-
trated to the various sources of the fountain; and the
waters which, before, were able to rival the coldness of
the Alps, yielded not in heat to the flames themselves.
The two door posts smoked with the flaming spray,
and the gate was rendered impassable by this new
made fountain, until the Romans had assumed their
arms," and were ready to contend with the Sabine

The happy result of this fearful contest, with its un-
usual ending in belated wedding feasts, seems unfor-
tunately to have overshadowed interest in the remarkable
natural phenomenon of a cold Spring's being tempor-
arily, and at a very opportune moment, converted into
a flooding and boiling geyser.

Afterwards Janus attempted to secure credit for heat-
ing the waters of this Spring, and pointed to his chapel
and altar nearby as having been erected in acknowledg-
ment of his assistance. He said; "I showered forth
sudden streams of water; but first I mingled sulphur in
the hot streamlets, that the boiling flood might obstruct
the passage of Tatius."

And this short and graphic account is worth noticing,
as it may take this curious incident in the life of the
Spring out of the mythical, by immediately suggesting
that it was due to some of those volcanic commotions
that affected the near neighborhood in the era when the
vents of the fires that supplied Rome with building stone,
and the Alban lakes with beds, still frequently furnished
heat and flame.

A somewhat similar occurrence took place in the


province of Elis, in Greece, as late as 1909, when, after
an earthquake in the month of July, hot water flowed
from many of the Springs in that stricken district.

Ovid. Fasti; I. line 269.
Ovid; Meta. XIV. line 786.

Faunus and Picus

This Spring rose at the foot of the Aventine, a hill
which was frequented by Faunus and Picus, two very
ancient demigods of the country.

The hill since those times has had a varied and fre-
quently unsavory history; in its groves took place the
mysteries of Dionysus and the pranks of the Maenads,
until the growing scandals of the proceedings compelled
the Senate to suppress them.

Later on, St. Paul is supposed to have lived on the hill,
prior to his imprisonments and subsequent execution,
among the Christians accused of setting fire to the city
in the time of Nero, who, it was rumored, accompanied
the conflagration with his lyre and a song of the sacking
of Troy.

Of this Spring, Ovid says; " It was in a grove dark with
the shade of the holm-oak, on seeing which you might
readily say 'Surely a divinity dwells here.' "

"In the center was a grassy plot, and covered over with
green moss a constant stream of water trickled from the

"From this stream Faunus and Picus were wont
generally to drink alone."

While interest in this fountain has been overshadowed
by the Spring of Egeria, it is more closely and strikingly
connected with the life of King Numa Pompilius, the


sovereign who first succeeded Romulus, the founder of
Rome, than even the one that watered the field, and that
he hallowed for the use of the Vestal virgins, and for
cleansing their sanctuary and its appurtenances; that
Spring having probably been farther north and nearer
the temple of Vesta that he constructed.

Numa, in many respects, forcibly reminds one of
Moses. Their rulerships were identical in length of time
and may be characterized as eras of practically perfect
peace with surrounding peoples.

They were the lawgivers of their followers and claimed
divine inspiration for their enactments, and both of them
forbade the representation of God in the form of man or
beast. They were fond of solitude remote from their
fellow men, and both performed miracles, among which
the changing of Numa's earthen dishes into precious
stones was both more petrifying and more practical than
the transformation of the rod into a serpent.

The one received from above the stone tables, and the
other received from the same source the brazen shield,
and both founded a Priesthood.

Moses dreaded the fire of the burning bush, and Numa
feared the fire of the lightning, and sought means to avert

He consulted Egeria as to how this might be done, but
even her wisdom did not pretend to such extreme heights
of science, and she was obliged to advise him to apply to
Faunus and Picus; thereupon Numa repaired to their
fountain, and, after sacrificing a sheep, drugged the water
with wine, and waited nearby until the two, having re-
freshed and fuddled themselves with copious draughts,
fell into a heavy sleep.

Then Numa sprang upon them and bound them
securely, and when they had awakened from the effects


of their debauch, compelled them, as the price of their
liberty, to furnish the information he desired.

They told him that Jove alone had full power over his
weapons and then, with ineffable incantations, they drew
down the god of lightning from heaven, in which proceed-
ing some suppose there is a veiled reference to a discovery
not unlike that made by Franklin with his key and kite
and wetted string.

At this descent, the tops of the Aventine forest
trembled, as Mount Sinai quaked, and then, as Moses
argued on Mount Horeb, Numa engaged in a discussion
and sharp-wit contest with Jupiter, and learned that the
lightning might be averted by means of an onion, some
hairs, and a fish; a formula that suggests an impersona-
tion, by one of the two gods of the Spring, before the
effects of its winey mixture had been thoroughly slept

At other times, when Numa was in need of new knowl-
edge or information, he followed a more lazy and leisurely
course; dressing himself in fresh fleeces, and wreathing
his temples with the beechen bough, he would go to
the grove and sacrifice a sheep to Faunus and another

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 36 of 46)