James Reuel Smith.

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

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A brook running down to the highway leads one
directly back to its source, the Spring, which is, however,
not visible from the road, although it is but a few rods

The secluded precinct of the fountain was well adapted
for use as a praying-place for predatory traders, a place
where they could make damaging admissions and con-
fess themselves without fear of being overheard by their


customers passing along the highway close at hand. The
Spring's concealed nook is perhaps, even today, quite as
retired as it was formerly, and it might still be used for its
ancient purposes, if the rogueries, and the trade trickeries
of former degenerate days had not entirely disappeared
under the overspreading growth of honesty that now
happily covers all fields of modern merchandizing.

Ovid; Fasti; V. In 673.

Springs of the Apostles

In the first century of the Christian Era there were
added to the Springs of pagan Rome four orthodox foun-
tains that sprang up miraculously, one of them at the
feet of St. Peter, and the other three at the head of St.

St. Peter's Spring

It is a matter of uncertainty, according to some
skeptical writers, whether the Apostle Peter ever resided
at Rome ; and it would be a curious instance of the irony
of fate, if, as some of the Roman artists claim, a large
part of the Christian church is today paying homage to
the pagan's Jove, in reverencing the statue that stands
for the Apostle in St. Peter's church; while anothei part
is venerating the mother of Antichrist, in the form of the
bronze Madonna in San Agostino.

Whether or no the Apostle was ever at Rome in the
flesh, he is now ubiquitously in evidence there, in name
and effigy and relic. The Chapel of the Confession claims
his body, and the Lateran his head, for he met, though


painlessly, the fate of St. Paul in addition to his cruci-
fixion. A church was built over the spot where his cross
stood, and other sanctuaries are entrusted with the keep-
ing of his chair, enclosed in another of bronze; his table;
his chains; and many minor mementoes.

Even from the blur that represents the city at a dis-
tance, the first outlines that resolve into form and fix the
pilgrim's eye are those of the towering dome of the
Apostle's church; and the little chapel, whose flooring
still preserves the footprints of Jesus, where Christ inter-
cepted him shamefacedly fleeing from martyrdom, and
which takes its name from the now classic query, "Quo
Domine Vadis'" welcomes the wayfarer, sometime
before he has entered the gates of the city, to find inside
the statue of the poor fisherman topping the column that
first supported the effigy of an emperor.

According to Church history the Apostle not only
visited Rome, but was constrained to reside there by
being imprisoned in what is now known as the Career
Mamertinus, a little cell that is still shown intact by the
north-east corner of the Forum, and which though one
of the oldest rooms in Rome is in a much better state of
preservation than any other ancient building of that
classic confine, not even excepting the Colosseum, which,
next to the pyramids, is perhaps the most solid of all
built up structures of the ancients that have survived the
wreck of time and man and the throes of the earth.

The cell is a little westward of Romulus' black marble
tomb, and but a few feet from the arch of Severus which
marked the ideal center of the city.

It was in the lowest part of this cell, a small dungeon
that is reached today by descending a spiral stairway to
nearly a score of feet below the level of the Forum's
pavement, that St. Peter was confined, maybe, about the


year 64 a.d., and that, in earlier times, had perished
Jugurtha, Vercingetorix, and other of the victims of

Rome. In his account of the execution of the Consul
Lentulus for his connection with the Catiline conspiracy,
Sallust, writing 63 years before Christ, says this cell,
then only twelve feet underground and called the Tullian
dungeon, was a part of a prison, and that its absolute
solitude and darkness were made all the more horrible
by the disgusting stench from the accumulations of filth
that it contained.

A small church, called San Giuseppe dei Falegnami,
has been erected ovei the Career which latter was possibly
originally a Wellhouse or tullianum, and was peihaps
thence traditionally attributed to Servius Tullius, it
being afterwards used as a place of confinement. The
little duplex apartment consists of two quadrangular
chambers, one below the other; the lower one accessible
only through the ceiling.

After paying an admission fee of twenty-five centesimi,
one enters through an iron pipe turnstile and descends
by stone steps to the floor below the level of the entrance;
a further descent by a curving flight takes one a story
lower and into an irregular shaped room 19 ft. where
longest and 10 where narrowest that is brightly lit with
electric light, and the ceiling of which, somewhat rounded,
is about 6 J A feet high.

Over a small table or altar is a relief in bright brass
representing Paul and Peter chained to the wall, one with
raised hand, and the other baptizing the jailor, while,
between them, there gushes, almost knee high, the mi-
raculous fountain that furnished the baptismal water.
The fountain is represented as gushing in somewhat the
form of a diminutive sheaf of wheat.

Just at the left of the altar is a worn stone post about


3 feet high, surrounded and covered with an iron railing;
this post is like the one in the Trappist building at Tre
Fontane. Above the post is a tablet incised, all in capi-
tals, that reads, "Qvesta e la colonna dove stando legati
SS apostoli Pietro e Paolo convertirno i SS martiri Pro-
cesso e Martiniano custodi delle carceri et altri XLVII
alia fede di Cristo quali battezzorno coll' aqua di questo
fonte scaturita miracolosamente."

Two feet from the altar is the Spring, over which theie
is a circular dome two feet in diameter with a brass cover.
Raising this cover there appears what resembles a section
of earthenware drain pipe, some twelve inches in diameter
and two feet deep.

The water in the pipe is clear and about twelve inches
deep; the bottom is of white, well worn, smooth pebbles,
but there is no motion in the water, and, although it is
nearly twenty feet below the level of the Forum, it is of the
temperature of the water in two marble shells on the en-
trance floor, while the water in the Rome hotels and foun-
tains is quite cold. The ceiling and walls of this cell are
of good sized stone blocks, as are those of the room above.

Opposite the altar is a low, rusted iron door that cannot
be moved; this door is the only visible outlet for water,
and as its sill is several inches high, the baptismal paity
must have been ankle deep in water unless a miraculous
exit was furnished together with the Spring. It should be
recalled, however, that during the Middle Ages the Forum
became buried in rubbish, so that the ancient pavement
is at places 40 feet below the present level of the ground.

The iron door is said to open into a 240 foot long pas-
sage that was discovered in 1872 to lead to the Lautumiae,
"the quarries, " the designation of an ancient prison cut
out of rock, and which when discovered formed the cellars
of houses in the Via Marforio.


As there is no outlet for the water, even if it needed one,
and as it is perfectly motionless, glass clear, and without
sediment or any sign of stagnation, it would seem that it is
kept constantly supplied with fresh fluid, and attended to
as carefully as its enemy element used to be by the pagan
Vestal Virgins who fed fuel to their ever burning fire on
the altar that stood a few hundred feet away, at the other
side of the Forum.

In the wall near the top of the winding stairway to the
cell may be seen an impression like a rough mold of a fat
cheeked face four inches across ; it is said to be an intaglio
of the side face of the Saint in one of the stones which
softened sympathetically and received the impression
when, upon a certain day, he rested his weary head
against it for a moment, and then resumed his way, per-
haps to the cross upon which he was fastened inverted, at,
as some say, his own request, because in his humility he
did not deem himself worthy to assume the position of his
crucified Master. His wife was crucified with him, but there
is no record of her humility or of how far she was guided
by the example of her husband — the first of the Popes.

Over this impression is a little iron grating to protect it,
and a metallic inscription recording the miracle and
vouching for the identity of the stone.

In this dungeon today, lit with the latest patent of
electric lights, scrupulously clean, and looking with its
fittings like a comfortable little chapel, one needs to re-
call the description that Sallust has left of this cell in
order to apprehend adequately the total darkness, the
disgusting filth and the nauseating odor that made it,
prior to Peter's time, the most horrible place of confine-
ment in Rome ; so horrible that some have imagined that
its abominations drove the Saint to try to dash his life
out on the stone that holds the likeness of a face.


The chains with which the Saint was shackled are
kept in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, a few hundred
feet distant from the prison, and are shown to the public
on the first day of August.

St. Paul's Springs

(Tre Fontane)

The three Springs that rose at the head of St. Paul
originated more sensationally than the single one that
furnished water in the old Roman well-house for his
brother- Apostle, Peter; and their first appearance was
even more dramatic than that of Hippocrene, the Spring
that sprang from the stroke of the hoof of the winged
horse Pegasus on Mt. Helicon.

While every surrounding of St. Peter's Spiing by the
Forum is charged with memories and remains of the
glory and the grandeur of Rome, the locale of the foun-
tains of St. Paul, some four miles away, is devoid of all
interest save that which is furnished by the fountains

The way to them, after leaving the brownish green
Tiber, leads through the Via Marmorata and a region of
junkshops, low saloons, flourmills, soap factories, found-
ries, and metal-works; it dips under the stone arch of a
steam railway's bed, passes a modern gasometer, and runs
into the Via Ostiensi, which, beyond San Paolo where is a
basilica of the Apostle, becomes a road that is lined on
both sides with eucalyptus trees. These trees in their
winter bareness, aie hardly less depressing than the
junkshops, for they recall that the Abbadia delle Tre
Fontane, to which they lead, having become a prey to


malaria was in consequence abandoned until, in 1868, it
came into the hands of French Trappists who brought
about a semblance of sanitary conditions, through drain-
age and the planting of these same dreary looking trees
along the road, and in the grounds where is located the
building marking the site of St. Paul's martyrdom, by

This building is a twenty minute drive from San Paolo,
and bears on its front the inscription; — "S. Pauli Apostoli
martyrii locus ubi Tres Fontes Mirabilitur eruperunt, "
in allusion to the legend that where the Apostle's severed
head first touched the ground a blood-warm fountain
gushed up, and that in two other places that the head
bounded to, before coming to rest, two more fountains
appeared, the second one tepid, and the third cooler.
In the course of time the Springs seem to have lost these
variations, for Romans, of the present generation, who
visited the fountains before they were covered up, were
unable to detect any difference in the temperatures of the
three waters.

The entiance to the rectangular building, erected over
the Springs, is through one of its long sides, and against
the opposite wall are three altais. In the stone floor in
front of each altar is a grating covering a Spring. These
gratings are about ten feet apart, and at about the same
distance to the right of the first grating is a small stone
post ; it stands in the corner of the room and is enclosed
by a high railing, and it presumably marks the spot where
St. Paul stood at the fatal moment, on the 20th of June,

68 A.D.

The third Spring is thus some thirty feet from the post,
so that the blow must have been delivered with consider-
able energy, and with a peculiar force that made the head
travel the same distance at each bound.


There is at present no sound of water, nor any evidence
of it in this room, and the explanation is, as given by the
monks, that during an outbreak of sickness that occurred
about the year 1910 it was deemed best to seal up the
Springs by nagging them over. In the grounds, some
two hundred yards away, there is a fountain with a large
basin, and, nearby, on a sidepath, the water of a Spring
issues from a pipe.

Why these ordinary, secular waters should remain
exposed without fear of sickness, while the holy Springs
were mistrusted, the monks would no doubt be able to
explain, if they were not more particularly interested in
selling pictures and sacred wares from a long row of show-
cases in a stone-flagged store near the spring-room.

Formerly they sold wine as well as the sacred wares
in which they still deal; it was credited with the power
of awakening the faithless to belief in the miracle at
Cana; and the beverage that was later on manufactured
in its stead was locally supposed to possess such acute
apprehension that it could reveal even the mystery of
what became of the foliage of the leafless eucalyptus

In the room of the three altars is a small wooden table,
and two low cane-seated wooden chairs; and in the wall
above them is a tablet reading ; —


de la



Saint Paul


pour le




On the wall just within the entrance door are two small
marble sculptures; the one on the right representing the
crucifixion of St. Peter head down; and the one on the
left the scene at the moment St. Paul was about to be

A large rectangle of the pavement in the center of the
building is enclosed with a chain, and the immediate in-
ference might be that the remains of the Saint repose
beneath the stones of the enclosure; the bodv, however,
is said to be preserved in a much grander building, the
Basilica of St. Paul, wmile the head rests with that of St.
Peter in the Lateran.

Returning from the Abbey one passes, when near the
Porta San Paolo and the crossing of the Civita Vecchia
Railway, a small chapel that marks the place where
Peter and Paul had their last meeting, and a tablet affixed
to it represents pictorially their parting. Twenty
minutes later the visitor comes again into an atmosphere
more congenial than that where the neighborhood is
charged with memories of a bloody beheading, and mer-
cenarv monks, and malaria.

The Spring of the Virgin

There are no religious associations connected with this
Spring, and it was probably called as it is because the
name of the virgin to whom its designation was due was
unknown. She was only a little Italian girl who did a
deed of ordinary kindness more than twenty centuries
ago; but as long as the Spring continues to flow that only
known incident, in all her life, will continue to be read in
the water as clearly as though the record had been written
in brass.


A body of Roman soldiers had become exhausted
during a summer march and craving water to quench
their thirst were unable to find it until this little maid,
who happened to pass their halting place, discovered
their plight and furnished succor by showing them where
this clear and very cold Spring lay concealed, in an out
of the way place known only to the few neighboring
herders of sheep.

And the soldiers in gratitude called it The Spring of the

Its source lay far beyond the boundaries of the town,
and towards Praeneste, but an aqueduct was made,
mostly underground, through which its waters were
brought into the city for use in the baths of Marcus

Later, the waters again sought concealment and for a
long time were lost somewhere in their subterranean
channel, until Nicholas V. recovered them and recon-
ducted them to the city where now they are not only
allaying Roman thirst, as in the long-ago days of their
military finders, but are gushing out copiously in the
extensive and impressive fountain of Trevi, and in a
dozen more of the many fountains for which Rome has
always been famous; Pliny counted 105 of them in his
time, and today there is no city in the world that pos-
sesses more beautifully ornamented and striking jets
of water in its streets and avenues.

The old aqueduct which, with others, was ruined in
the sixth century, and some remains of which have been
found underground near the church of St. Ignatius, was
repaired and now carries the only old-time water that
flows into the town, the water of the little Virgin's Spring,
whose quality, unstaled by age, compares favorably with
supplies that the city receives through newer channels.


There is a superstitious belief that one may assure his
return to Rome by drinking of this Spring's waters at its
city fountain of Trevi, provided always that the draught
is taken when the moon is at its full, and that a piece of
money is thrown into the depths at the foot of its spread-
ing cascade; and this belief is sedulously and confidently
fostered by those who have charge of the fountain, for
they themselves have had many repeated and convinc-
ing proofs that, when the formula is followed out strictly
to the end, the waters may be relied upon to insure most
pleasing returns.

Pliny says that the waters of this Spring were brought
from the bye-road at the eighth milestone from the city
along the Praenestine Way, and that near them was the
Stream of Hercules which the former shunned to all
appearances, from which circumstance they obtained
the name of Virgin Waters.

He adds, and it may throw some light on the "conceal-
ment" of the waters before referred to, that for a long
time past the pleasure of di inking these waters has been
lost to the city, owing to the ambition and avarice of
certain persons who have turned them out of their course
for the supply of their country seats and of various
places in the suburbs, to the great detriment of the
public health.

Pliny; XXXI. 25.



One of the Springs that flowed into the Lake in the
Grove of Diana near the city of Aricia was denominated
Egeria after Numa's divinity. When referring to it,


Ovid says; — "A Nymph and wife of Numa was wont to
minister to the grove and the Lake of Diana. The lake
is in the Valley of Aricia enclosed by a dark wood sancti-
fied by ancient religious awe; here lies concealed Hip-
polytus torn asunder by the madness of his steeds, for
which reason that grove is entered by no horses.

"There the threads hang down veiling the long hedge
rows, and many a tablet has been placed to the goddess
found to be deserving of it. Ofttimes, the woman hav-
ing gotten her wish, her forehead wreathed with chaplets,
bears thither from the city the blazing torches.

"With indistinct murmur glides a pebbly stream; oft-
times, but in scanty draughts, have I drunk thence; it is
Egeria who supplies the water; a goddess pleasing to the
Muses; she was the wife and the counsellor of Numa."

The legend recounts that upon the demise of Numa the
Nymph left the city and went to the vale of Aricia, and
became hysterically inconsolable; her lamentations re-
sounded continually through the woods to the great dis-
turbance of the other Nymphs, and even Diana herself.

Their most delicate sympathy having failed to relieve
her grief, Virbius endeavored to divert her mind with
tales of previous sorrows, and bade her in brusque
language, almost the counterpart of some modern argot,
to "Put an end to it, and consider the like calamities of
others," — particularly his own.

But neither condolences, nor the relation of the mis-
fortunes of others, were able to mitigate her repining,
and, throwing herself down at the base of the hill, she
dissolved into tears, until Diana, moved by her affection,
formed a cool fountain from her body and dissolved her
limbs in ever flowing waters.

The proof of this story is no less indubitable than that
furnished by Jack Cade's brick, for the people, on going


into the grove after Numa's death, could find no trace of
Egeria — but only this fountain, the clear evidence of her

Still, notwithstanding this, St. Augustine believed in
an earlier and more natural origin for the Spring, and
thought that Numa used its waters in his divinations by
hydromancy near the temple of Hippolytus.

The Spring of this stream was near the Aricia at
which Horace was wont to stop on his journeys to Brun-
dusium. It is now called Fonte Gerulo and its water was
said to rush forth in such a poweiful and impetuous tor-
rent that it immediately turned mills, a change one would
hardly credit in Ovid's pebbly stream flowing with an
indistinct murmur and furnishing but scanty draughts.

Aricia was twenty miles from Rome on the Appian
Way. Beyond it was the Grove of Diana, and a
temple, consecrated to Diana Taurica, where barba-
rous rites were practised; the temple and the Lake were
in a grove in a deep ravine, the grove being called Ar-
temisium and Nemus. The Lake is still considered one
of the most beautiful of the Italian lakes, and the town
of Nemi on its eastern shore is the descendant of the
ancient Nemus. (See No. 434.)

Ovid; Meta. XV. In 478-552.
Strabo; V. 3- § 12.
Ovid: Fasti; III. In 264.



The Spring of Albunea was buried in gloom and
exhaled a noisome stench. Below it was the Oracle of
Faunus and a temple of Albunea, one of the ten sibyls
whose prophecies were carefully preserved in the Roman
Capitol until 400 a. d., and were consulted on all mo-


mentous occasions, in the confident belief that they
would provide proper counsel for the contingency.

When y^Eneas reached Italy after his flight from Troy,
Albunea heartened him with her predictions of the great
city with which his descendants would cover the seven
grassy hills that were then the grazing ground of cattle.
That she was living many centuries later when the
Romans in the end bought from her one book of prophe-
cies, at the price they refused, in the beginning of the
negotiations, to pay for a number of volumes, is ex-
plained by the fact that she had taken advantage of
Apollo's affection for her to secure from him as many
years of life as there were particles in a handful of dust
which she picked up. The dust particles were equal to
seven ages and three hundred harvests, and all of them
beyond the usual term of life were embittered by shrivel-
ing age and decrepitude, as it had not occurred to
Albunea at the proper time to ask that the attributes of
youth should continue as long as the years.

The Spring is now called Albulae Aquae because of its
white waters which were formerly carried even to Rome
for their curative properties, the noisome stench being
an unduly strong expression for the odor of sulphur with
which they were impregnated.

The remains of the Sibyl's temple may still be seen six-
teen miles from Rome near Tivoli on the banks of the Anio.

iEneid; VII. In 83.



On one of Horace's properties, near Rome, there was a
Spring that helped to swell the stream of a little river
which he calls the Digentia.


The poet was personally indebted to the fountain for
other effects, as he frankly acknowledged when praising
it in one of his Epistles, to which fuller reference is made
in alluding to another of Horace's Springs, that of
Bandusia, No. 459.

Horace; Epistles I. 16. 18.



The warm Springs of Sinuessa were the most popular
curative waters among the Romans, until the growth of
gay life around the thermal Springs of Baiae offered
greater social attractions.

The waters were of a relaxing nature, and their bene-
ficial effects covered a wide field, ranging from the cure of
insanity in men to the increase of progeny among women.
Their neighborhood abounded in snow-white snakes;
and one of the Governors of the district was said to have

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 38 of 46)