James Reuel Smith.

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

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been born with grey hair, and with all of the sagacity it
is supposed in maturer years to indicate. His name was

Sinuessa was the last town in Latium near the border
of Campania, and on the Via Appia where that road left
the seacoast at the Sinus (whence Sinuessa) or Gulf of
Gasta in the Tyrrhenian Sea, which was named after one
of the descendants of Hercules and Omphale who
colonized the places about its shores. Horace describes
a visit to Sinuessa, on one of his trips to Brundusium
when he had a very affectionate meeting with Virgil, and
received fuel and salt from the public officers, who were
required by law to furnish those necessities to travelers.

The ruins of the town are now seen just at the foot of


the Hill of Mondragone, and the Springs, which were
also known as the Aquae Sinuessae, are at present called
I Bagni.

Pliny; XXXI. 4.
Horace; I. Satire 5-
Martial; VI. 42.

Pliny's Laurentian Springs

The younger Pliny's Laurentian villa was on the sea-
shore, some seventeen miles from Rome, where forests of
bay trees, lauri, had suggested Laurent um as the name
of the. place long before ^Eneas landed in the neighbor-
hood and met Latinus, who was then king of the sur-
rounding country.

Here, where ^Eneas wooed and won Lavinia, the
daughter of the king, the healthful and pleasant odor of
the bays, and the mildening influence of the salty air on
the snow-nipped winds from the Alban hills, in the course
of time drew together a winter colony of Rome's best
society, who dotted the shore with sumptuous private

Pliny's villa was supplied with water from Springs on
higher ground some distance away, but no attempt was
made to use the water for fountains and streams as was
done so effectively in his summer villa in Tuscany. It
was used only in a spacious bathroom that had swim-
ming pools at each end; and in another pool that was
heated by steam pipes.

Besides, Pliny here at the seashore was at the edge of
the Mother of all Springs, in contrast with which the
others are puny and insignificant, and minor fountains
would have offered no attraction.

Mentally he saturated himself with the sea; and he


dined in it, as nearly as might be, for his banquet room
was built on a tongue of land that jutted out into the
ocean, as his bedroom at Como jutted out into the lake,
so, as he writes, that one seems to see three oceans from
it, and on windy days one dined to the music of the
spray that dashed against the glazed windows and the
wide folding doors.

Pliny (Younger) Letters; II. 17.


The Springs of Labanae were on the Via Nomentana
fourteen miles from Rome; they were cold sulphureous
waters, and, in their medicinal qualities, lesembled those
of Albula near by.

Formerly called the Aquae Labanae, they are now
known as the Bagni di Grotta Marozza, three miles
north of Mentana the ancient town of Nomentum, where
Seneca had a country house and farm, and where Martial
lived, next to a temple of Flora.

Martial has given several glimpses of his country
dinners the menus for which form, very unconventionally,
a part of his invitations, so that the guests enjoyed a
double pleasure, in having something on which they
could feast their eyes in accurate anticipation.

He also explains that he lives at his humble domain
because there is no place in Rome where a poor man can
either think or sleep; he enumerates some of the sources
of the city noises, unknowing what he escaped in the
racket of elevated railways and flat wheel surface cars,
and the automobile with its heart-scaring horn. There
were the dronings from the schools in the morning, and


the rumble of the corn grinders' mills at night, while the
hammers of the braziers, not then unionized, kept up
their metallic clanging both day and night.

The money changers rattled their piles of Nero's rough
coins on their dirty counters to attract attention, and
beaters of Spanish gold belabored their stones with
resounding wooden mallets.

Rollicking soldiers clamored in their swaggering way;
and shipwrecked sailors cried aloud to gain pity for
their destitution, and banged together such pieces of
the wreck as they carried slung across their shoulders to
testify to the truth of their noisy tales.

Jew boy-beggars monotonously whined their miseries,
and the hawker of matches had a cry that made his
presence known to the people in the topmost stories.

For the dinner, seven guests aie invited to come at
two o'clock. The opening course, whets to the appetite,
consists of Mallows; Lettuces and sliced Leeks; Mint
and Elecampane; Anchovies dressed with Rue and
crowned with slices of eggs; and Sow's teats swimming
in Tunny sauce.

The entrees are a Kid with Tid bits that need no
carver; Haricot Beans; and young Cabbage Sprouts.

For the roast, there is a chicken; and a cold Ham which
the host frankly admits has already appeared at table
three times.

Ripe Fruits are served for dessert, together with a
flagon of Nomentum wine some ten years old.

Even the accessories of the dinner are named in the
invitation, which states that the conversation will be
seasoned with pleasantry free from bitterness; that
nothing will be said that will bring regret on the morrow;
and that criticism of people will be confined to opinions
about the rival factions among the charioteers of the


circus. And a promise is made, on the part of the host,
that neither the strength nor the quantity of the wine
will tend to induce the guests' tongues to trench upon
tabooed topics.

Another dinner is varied with the addition of Eggs
slightly poached; Cheese hardened on a Velabrian
hearth; and Olives not plucked till touched by the cold
of winter.

Oysters, too, were added; and a Fish course; and a
course of Wild Game; and on this occasion there was
no cold shank of an overworked Ham. One would hardly
imagine that this was a dinner given to one guest only,
but such was the case, and he was a poet named Julius
Cerealis whom Martial advised in advance that he would
not read any of his verses to, and that he would gladly
listen to those of his friend.

It is much to be doubted whether, after all that,
Cerealis could have balked at accommodating, just till
the publishers rendered their next account.

For another dinner, given to three, there is mentioned
Cauliflower, hot enough to burn your fingers; and
Sausages floating on snow-white Porridge; and Pale
Beans served with red streaked Bacon.

For that dinner's dessert there were ripe Raisins; and
Pears that throw a homelike light on the fruit trade, be-
cause described as "such as pass for Syrian"; these were
accompanied with Chestnuts from Naples that were
roasted at a slow fire. During this dinner a small reed
pipe was to be heard.

All of the dinners were prefaced with warm baths,
which were taken in the house of a nearby neighbor
named Stephanus.

Strabo; V. 3. ยง11.

Martial; XII. 57. XI. 52. V. 78.


The Golden Water

At Tibur, twenty miles from Rome, there was a beau-
tiful, clear Spring called The Golden Water, so popular
that the appellation was applied to all of the surrounding

The place was founded by Tibertus, a son of the Seer
Amphiaraus, in the century before the Trojan war, on the
site of a settlement that was older still. Its quarries
furnished the Travertino stone with which the two largest
buildings in the world were made, St. Peter's and the

Pliny the Younger mentions his having a villa at Tibur,
but he has left no description of the fountains that it
doubtless contained, for the numerous villas of the neigh-
borhood were abundantly supplied with water, not only
from the Spring, but, from the river Anio which was
tapped by an aqueduct built for their owners' especial ac-

Neither is there any mention of the fountains in
Pliny's villas at Praeneste, the modern Palestrina, twenty-
three miles east of Rome, and at Tusculum, twelve and
one half miles from Rome.

Smith's Die. of Gk. & Ro. Geo. "Tibur."

44 8

The Neptunian Spring

The Neptunian Spring was a fountain, at Tarracina,
that caused the death of those who thoughtlessly drank of
it, for which reason the ancients are said to have stopped
it up.

Tarracina is about sixty miles south of Rome, on the


Via Appia where it first touches the sea, the nearness of
which doubtless had something to do with the name of
the fountain the ancients, as an ancient writer calls them,
filled up.

To the moderns, of two thousand years ago, Tarracina
was famous for a salubrious fountain that drew to the
place villa owners, among whom weie the Emperor Domi-
tian, and the parents of the Emperor Galba who was
born there.

The name of this latter fountain was Feronia. (See
No. 449.)

Vitruvius; VIII. 3.


The fountain Feronia, white with health-giving waters,
was named after a Sabine divinity to whom its surround-
ing grove was dedicated, and to whom a temple was
erected, which became an object of special veneration to
freedmen and freedwomen.

In the temple there was a stone seat, and a slave could
secure liberty by occupying it.

As there is no mention of any sudden and large de-
crease in the number of slaves in Italy in the time of the
temple's prestige, there were doubtless some hard and
fast conditions to be fulfilled before those to whom bond-
age was galling could take a seat upon the stone and
obtain their manumission; but unfortunately no writer
has thrown any light on the subject to make clear to the
cuiious what method of procedure was required.

Tarracina lay on the route that Horace used to take
on his trips to Brundusium, and he wrote an entertaining
account of the incidents connected with that part of the


journey which, possibly from motives of economy, he
made through a canal that left the Appian Way at Forum
Appii and, passing through the Pomptine Marshes, re-
joined it at Tarracina.

The canal boat, drawn by a mule, made the passage
during the night, and the incidents were all concentrated
within the long drawn out time occupied in getting under

The irritating slowness of the stevedores, in putting
the cargo aboard, led to an interchange of curses between
them and the passengers' servants which, alone, would
have put out of the question any chance of shortening the
time with a nap, even if dozing had not been made im-
possible by the nagging of the gnats of the Marshes and
the noise of the frogs in the fens; in addition to which
there were the songs of a passenger and the mule driver,
who vied with each other in chanting the praises of their
lady loves until, under the action of plentiful draughts
of thick wine, they were drugged to sleep, during which
they substituted for their songs an even more intolerable
duet of snoring.

After waiting until nearly daybreak without seeing any
signs of starting, an over-choleric passenger then leaped
out of the boat, and, by indiscriminately drubbing with
a willow cudgel both the driver and his mule, which had
been tethered to a stone in the starlight to graze for his
supper, a start was at last effected. Thus, pei force, it was
well on towards noon of the following morning before the
eighteen-mile trip was completed and the canal boat
reached Tarracina where, after draughts of the fountain's
holy water, and a traveler's meal, the journey by the land
route was resumed, and, three miles farther on, reached
Anxur, a name that the poets sometimes use for Feronia
when it suits their meter better.


The site of the sanctuary is pointed out on the Appian
Way, 58 miles from Rome, at a place now called Torre di
Tarracina, where a beautiful and abundant source of
limpid water breaks out at the foot of one of the hills
that hem in the Pomptine Marshes, and where the re-
mains of a temple are still visible.

In Etruria there was another fountain called Feronia
which was connected with a temple of times still more
ancient, and in which prodigies were performed.

Horace; I. Satire 5- Livy; XXII. 1.


Ghost Laying Springs

There were three nights in the year when Springs were
used in the ceremony of driving away the Roman family
ghost. The ceremony was as old as the city itself, having
been ordained by Romulus, upon complaint of his foster
parents that they were terrified by the appearance of the
bloody ghost of Remus who visited their bedside, and
gibbered about his murder and about his wrongs.

The ceremony was called the Remuria from Remus'
name; afterwards, for the sake of euphony, the name was
changed to Lemuria, and spoken of as the Feast of the
Lemures, the ghosts themselves being called Lemures.

The nights of May 9th, nth and 13th were designated
for the rite, which began at midnight when one of the
family, making a noise with his hands to frighten the
Spirit, proceeded barefooted to the Spring and, having
washed his hands with its water, threw nine black beans
behind him, saying at each throw, "With these I ransom
myself and mine."

Then washing his hands again with the Spring's water,
and making additional noises with the brass basin, he


repeated nine times, "Shades of my Father, depart," it
being understood that by this time the ghost should have
picked up the feast of beans and departed as bidden.

It is not stated which one of the Springs of Rome was
used in the first performance of these rites, but doubtless
in the course of time there were few Italian Springs that
had not been called into requisition, according to the
ritual, to free some premises of the ghost of a being who
had met with the sad fate of Remus.

Ovid; Fasti; V. In 435-



The Springs of Baiae appear to have been first known
to the ailing, and those who in search of health found,
among its numerous fountains with their diverse ingre-
dients and temperatures, reliefs or remedies for many
bodily troubles.

Rising within sight of each other were Springs of vari-
ous natures, some containing sulphur, some alum, and
others of an acid character.

The neighborhood abounded in beautiful locations for
outing residences, and, in the couise of time, wealthy
idlers and luxurious pleasure seekers built villas on those
charming locations, along the coast an hour's ride west of
Naples; and then, for centuries, life about the Springs of
Baiae moved in that eccentric round of opposite purposes
that seems to become its natural orbit in most of the
world's gay watering places, where a part of the visitors
are feverishly seeking a respite from sickness in draughts
and baths, while others, without maladies, are plunging
into every variety of dissipation and depravity that
conduce to the destruction of health and sow the seeds of

The Springs were on the southwest coast of Campania
between Puteoli and Picenum, and the place was sup-
posed to have derived its name from one of Ulysses' com-
panions, Baius, who was there buried.



The Springs are mentioned by Livy in connection with
events in B.C. 176. when they were called Aquae Cumanae,
and they and their baths continued in popular use for
some 700 years thereafter.

The neighborhood now contains little but fragmentary
ruins of small interest, and the Springs have lost favor,
fickle Fashion having found other fountains in new
fields for its amusement.

Ovid; Meta. XV. In 713.


The Posidiax Springs

The Posidian Springs were at Baise; their waters were
so hot as to cook articles of food.

They were named after a freedman. of the Emperor
Claudius, Posides. Pausanias calls them the waters of
Diea?archia, and says they were so hot that in a few years
they melted the lead pipes through which they flowed
to the baths in which they were used at Puteoli.

Pliny; XXXI. 2. Pausanias IV. 35.

Cicero's Water

The spectacular advent of Cicero's Water, and its
magical power of healing, should entitle it to a place
among the miraculous Springs, and to a niche in some
future hall of famous fountains.

The kindly intent of the sponsors makes ample amends
for the inaccuracy conveyed in the name, as the Spring
did not come into existence until after the orator's head


and hands had been cut off in the year 43 B.C., when it
burst out suddenly near the entrance to one of his villas
that he had called Academia, in veneration of Plato.

This villa, in the suburbs of Naples, lay on the seashore
between Lake Avernus and Puteoli, and was celebrated
for its portico and grove, as well as for being the place
where Cicero composed his work entitled Academica and
modeled on the Dialogues of Plato.

The grounds became the property of their previous
owner's friend Antistius Vetus, and he, the first proprietor
of the Spring, may almost be sensed as a contemporary of
today and as the presiding genius of the present work
of the Swiss engineers in rendering the river Rhone
navigable throughout its entire course, a work that was
begun nineteen centuries ago by one of Vetus' family
who, while in command of a Roman army in Germany,
conceived the project of connecting the northern ocean
with the Mediterranean through the Rhone, and then
kept his soldiers busy at it between battles.

The new Spring proved to be remarkably effective in
the treatment of eye troubles, and quickly acquired great
popularit yon that account . With what acclamations any
remedy like clean water was received by people, who
needed an eyewash in those times, can best be appre-
ciated by reading the recipes of their medical men and
magicians for compounding specifics of ineffable putridi-
ties, not alone for outward application but even for use
internally, though many of them seem better adapted
for producing intestinal troubles than for improving the
eyesight ; a few of- the least obnoxious of the prescriptions
are;โ€” Wearing a snake's right eye as an amulet. Carry-
ing about a dragon's head. A diet of immature storks.
A mash made of long-legged spiders. The gall of par-


Powders compounded of vipers' ashes. A liniment of
boiled hawks. Salves made of horned owls' eyes reduced
to ashes, and of vipers that had become more than gamey.

The foregoing were some of the remedies for which
sufferers could substitute the waters of Cicero.

Laurea Tullius, one of Cicero's former freedmen, wrote
a poem describing the Spring's sudden birth and its
virtues; and the prevalence of eye troubles at that time
may be inferred from its concluding line; โ€” "May eyes
unnumbered by these streams be healed."

Pliny; N. Hist. XXXI. 3. XXIX. 38.


Martial mentions a fountain of Salmacis as one of the
Springs that fed the Lucrine Lake.

Martial; X. 30.


The Springs of Araxus issued from the declivities of the
hill called Leucogaeum from its white color ; they were at
Pozzuoli, a few miles beyond the Posilipo hill of Virgil's
tomb on the outskirts of Naples.

They were also called Fontes Leucogaei, and are
thought to be the Springs now known as the Pisciarelli.

The waters of the Spring were peculiarly efficacious for
strengthening the sight, healing wounds, and for prevent-
ing the teeth from becoming loose.

The hill itself produced a chalky substance which was a
necessary ingredient in making, from seed wheat, a most


delightful food, a kind of pottage, called alica; and the
city of Neapolis received annually a sum of 20,000 ses-
terces for the substance that was taken from the hill to
make the dainty.

Pliny; XVIII. 29.



The waters of the cold Spring of Acidula were a cure
for calculi.

The Spring was four miles from the most populous
town on the Via Latina, Teanum, now represented by
Teano where there are several mineral Springs known as
Le Calderelle, instead of as formerly, Aquae Acidula?.

Pliny; XXXI. 5.

Well of Ac err a

"Mayst thou die like those whom the Punic general
drowned in the waters of the well, and made the stream
white with the dust thrown in."

Those words form a mild part of the curse that Ovid
pronounced upon some unknown person designated as
Ibis and who had defamed him and his wife while he was
in banishment; for at the age of 51 Augustus banished
him to Tomi, now Tomisvar, on the confines of civiliza-
tion near the mouth of the Danube.

It was a bleak and cheerless place, without trees and
where one sluggish winter was always joined to another
It was subject to attacks from bandit horsemen whose
viper-venomed airows were always to be seen protruding
frcm the walls of the houses, so that Ovid described his


life as a struggle against cold and arrows. It was more-
over associated with Medea's cold-blooded murder of her
brother by chopping him to pieces.

There, after years of ineffectual effort to secure his
recall, he died and was buried at the age of 60, and with-
out ever revealing the real reason of his banishment, al-
though its ostensible cause was the publication of his
book on The Art of Love.

It was during the last nine years of his life at Tomi that
Ovid wiote the terrible anathema which Southey perhaps
had in mind when he penned The Curse of Kehama, and
which is a condensed summary of nearly all horrible
happenings and deaths that had been described either as
facts or as fancies; and the fate of those who were
drowned in the Well of Acerra was one in the long list of
pains and tortures that he desired for Ibis.

The Punic general was Hannibal who, in 216 B.C.,
during the second Punic war that he waged for fifteen
years in Italy, having gotten the members of the senate
into his power, threw them into the Well of Acerra, and
made sure of their deaths by crushing them down with

Hannibal's act, at the Well of Acerra, seems to be
better attested than the account of the stratagem by
which he won a naval victory over Eumenes, whose
sailors and marines he is said to have destroyed by throw-
ing into their ships vessels filled with poisonous snakes.
Though this account is regarded with suspicion, no one
has questioned the statement that Hannibal poisoned
himself to escape capture by the Romans to whom his
existence, although he .was then 65 years old and an exile
was a constant source of uneasiness.

The city of Acerra was abandoned and plundered and
burned, and there are no remains of it; but a modern


Acerra occupies its site which was some eight miles north
east of Naples.

Ovid; Invective (Ibis).


The Fountain of Sarnus

The fountain of Sarnus rose near the town of Nuceria,
at the foot of the Apennine mountain of the same name
as the Spring which was one of the chief sources of the
Sarnus, a placid and sluggish river that flowed under the
eastern wall of Pompeii, and emptied into the bay of
Naples nine miles from Nuceria.

At present, the river reaches the bay two miles east of
its former mouth, a change no doubt due to some divert-
ing obstruction raised by Vesuvius, either in 63 a.d. when
Pompeii was partly wrecked by the volcano, or, 16 years
later, when the city was so completely covered with
cinders that, during a thousand years, its location in the
ashheap was unknown.

Epidious Nuncionus, a rural divinity, presided over the
Spring and was worshipped on the banks of the river.
There was a legend that, as a man, he fell into the foun-
tain, and, not being afterwards found, was reckoned
among the number of the gods.

C. Epidius, a Roman rhetorician who was one of Mark
Antony's teachers, is said by Suetonius to have claimed
descent from the deity of the Spring; and Pliny reports
that Epidius also professed to believe that trees could
talk when occasion arose to communicate with mortals.

The river was called Draco by Procopius, and it is now
known as the Sarno.

Suetonius; Lives of Rhetoricians; IV.
Pliny; XVII. 38.



Horace addressed his thirteenth ode to this Spring; โ€”

"O, thou fountain of Bandusia, clearer than glass,
worthy of delicious wine, not unadorned by flowers; to-
morrow thou shalt be presented with a kid, whose fore-
head, pouting with new horns, determines upon both
love and war in vain; for this offspring of the wanton
flock shall tinge thy cooling streams with scarlet blood.

"The severe season of the burning dog star cannot
reach thee; thou afTordest a refreshing coolness to the
oxen fatigued with the ploughshare, and to the ranging

"Thou, also, shalt become one of the famous fountains,

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 39 of 46)