James Reuel Smith.

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

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Spring as marking the site of the contest, with which they
were sufficiently familiar to add that the giants engaged
in the battle had dragons instead of feet.

Trapezus received its name, meaning table, from an
early and unheeded expression of Zeus' disapproval of
human sacrifices, for it was at that place that the offended
god overturned a table on which Lycaon had laid meat
of human beings for his entertainment.

The people of the town claimed to have founded the
city of the same name on the Euxine Sea, which, as Tre-
bizond, was the residence of Anthony Hope's Princess.


The modern village Mavria lies below the site of the
Arcadian Trapezus.

Pausanias; VIII. 29.



The first source of the Alpheus river was at Phylace ;
it was the chief river of the Morea, both in fact and in
fable, and in its short course of less than one hundred
miles it frequently changed its character, being a Spring
at one place, a river at another, and often an unseen
underground watercourse.

It was a virile and impulsive stream and when it finally
reached the Ionic Sea at Cellene, even the Adriatic though
a big and stormy sea could not bar its passage or change
its nature, and it continued to flow through the salt
water until it reached the shore of Ortygia, in Sicily,
where it bubbled up in the form it assumed at its birth —
ending its course as it began it, in the shape of a Spring.

Not far from its source, at a place called the Meeting
of the Waters, it was joined by another river in company
with which it traveled until it dropped with a loud roar-
ing sound into the earth in the Plain of Tegea.

It reappeared five stadia from Asea near the source of
the Eurotas with which it united; after flowing together
some twenty stadia, they retired through a cavity to an
underground bed and, while out of sight, separated, the
Eurotas coming up in Laconia and the Alpheus making
its reappearance at Pegse in Megalopolis.

The Asean Spring of the Alpheus is now called Frango-
vrysi, Frank Spring, and gushes out copiously on the
present Mt. Kravari near what the Fountain has located
as the ruins of Asea.


Where the streams flowed together they acted as very
intelligent common carriers though, unfortunately for
general merchandise shippers in the zone, only for the
delivery of crowns; but these, when a certain charm had
been uttered over them, had merely to be cast into the
common channel in order to infallibly insure their ap-
pearance as desired, either in the Eurotas or the Alpheus
when they reemerged separately.

The efficacy of the charm in causing crowns to float
might seem to be quite as notable as its power to direct
their course ; but the crowns were not of metal ; they were
garlands which at first were made of ivy or myrtle, and
called crowns because revelers bound them about their
heads to ward off aches that might follow wine drinking-

They were invented as ligatures by the man who first
reflected upon the relief he felt when pressing his hands
about his head after a carouse. The crude crown was
improved by interweaving herbs with a scent that offset
the fumes of wine, and then beautified by the addition of
colored flowers that made it an ornamental garland.

After one period of seclusion the Alpheus rose as a
Spring called The Wells in a deep ravine near Tricolini;
and after another disappearance it came to light again at
Carnasium in Messenia and absorbed two new rivers.

By the time it had reached the Adriatic it had become
a plethoric stream, a notable River Trust, that had ab-
sorbed a score or more of competing tributaries and con-
trolled the product of 74% of the Springs of Arcadia
which it distributed to the ultimate consumer, the Sea.

It passed a third of its existence in the district of Elis,
and at Olympia two altars were erected to it. In that
neighborhood it was held in special veneration; women
of Elis were forbidden to cross it on certain days under
penalty of being hurled from Mt. Typaeum, and at one


time even flies were allowed access to only one side of it,
being driven from the Temple side by a special sacrifice
that Hercules instituted, although it is not explained
why the fresh carcass of the ox in this sacrifice was sus-
pended on the other side of the stream.

Its banks were noted for the production of the wild
olive tree, and towards the end of its course in Elis it
flowed through flowery groves filled with many images of
the gods, and many lovely little temples to the goddesses.

Its early name was bestowed on it from its beneficent
property of curing a form of leprosy called alphi.

At its source, the Alpheus is now called Saranda; then,
the Karitena, and, after its junction with the ancient
Ladon, the Rufea; and its old time vagaries may still be
observed where, the ancient names having been changed,
Phylace has become Krya Vrysi ; Asea, Frangovrysi ; and
Pegae, Marmara.

The love that led this fresh water stream to undertake
its long journey through the salty sea is referred to in the
account of the Spring of Arethusa. (No. 486.)

Pausanias; VIII. 54.



The Springs of the river Ladon were sixty stadia from
the town of Clitor, and fifty from Lucaria; it was said
that they were reappearances of the water of the marsh
at Pheneus which escaped below ground there through
pits under the mountain.

The Ladon excelled all rivers of Greece for the beauty
of its stream, and it was famous for its legend of Daphne
with whom Leucippus fell in love, and to whom he made
his advances in the guise of a girl. Letting his hair grow


long, and adorning himself in the garb of a maiden, he
succeeded in winning so much of Daphne's friendship
that Apollo became jealous and brought about his ruin
by a mental suggestion to Daphne while she and her
girl companions, together with Leucippus, were one day
swimming in the Ladon. It thus suddenly came into
Daphne's head to start so strenuous a romp in the water
that when the joyous party came out of the river their
clothing was little more than tatters.

Thereupon their joy gave place to furious anger and
they attacked Leucippus so viciously with their imple-
ments of the chase that he was overwhelmed and killed.

The Ladon is now known as the Rufea, and the same
name is applied to the Alpheus after it receives the old
Ladon; before the junction, the Alpheus is called the

The Island of Crows was formed where the Ladon
flowed into the Alpheus.

Pausanias; VIII. 20.



The Erymanthus River had its sources in the mountain
Lampea, which was sacred to Pan, and was a part of Mt.
Erymanthus so named after a hunter who, according to
Homer, was a lover of Lampea.

Among other wild beasts of this river's neighborhood
there was a boar which so much exceeded all others in
size and strength that the killing of it was made one of
the labors of Hercules, and was the fourth that he

Another big pig, however, has become more prominent
because the chase of it was made the occasion of a large


gathering like the family parties that used to make up an
old fashioned Southern fox-hunt ; the elite of Mythology,
both men and women, met together on that occasion by
the river Evenus in ^Etolia. The party included Theseus
who destroyed the Crommyon sow, the dam of the Caly-
donian boar that the party assembled to hunt, and finally

Nearly all of the parts of the Calydonian boar except
the bacon were preserved for ages in places wide apart;
but of the Erymanthian brute only a few teeth seem to
have been kept as souvenirs. These were stored up by
the people of Cumae in the temple of Apollo; but a well
informed ancient antiquarian said of them that there was
very little probability that they were genuine.

The curious association of this name of Erymanthus
with boars is seen in the story of Venus and Adonis, in
which Apollo, metamorphosed into a wild boar, killed
Adonis because Venus had blinded Apollo's son Eryman-
thus for having seen her in the bath.

The Erymanthus was absorbed by the Alpheus two
and a half miles below where the latter received the

Pausanias; VIII. 24.

Brentheates River

On the right of a large plain between Gortys and
Megalopolis were the ruins of the town of Brenthe from
which the river Brentheates flowed to join the Alpheus
five stadia farther on.

This little stream, less than a mile long, is now the
modern brook called Karitena.

Pausanias; VIII. 28.


Buphagus River

The river Buphagus rose at Buphagium beyond

This river flowed into the Alpheus after forming the
boundary between the districts of Megalopolis and

Buphagus offended Artemis and she, in her quick-
tempered way, shot and killed him with an arrow.
As her anger was caused by persistent attentions
that she was not disposed to favor, the victim was
probably not that nephew of Rhea's who bore the same

The identity of the Buphagus has not been agreeably

Pausanias; VIII. 26.


Helisson River

The river Helisson rose in a village of the same name
and flowed through the city of Megalopolis which it
divided into two parts.

The Helisson was indebted to no less than five Springs
in the town of Megalopolis for additions to the volume
of its current :

(36) one that had its rise in the hill Scolitas within the
city walls;

(37) the Spring Bathyllus which came out of another
small hill in the city ;

(38) a perennial Spring that rose in the theater which
was one of the most remarkable theaters in


(39) a Spring that was held sacred to Dionysus and
which appeared not very far from the theater;

(40) a fifth Spring that rose from a third hU with-
in the city limits, near a temple of iEsculapius
in which were stored the bones of a giant.

The first two Springs were on the north side of
the river, and the last three were on the south side
of it.

Thirty stadia from Megalopolis the Helisson gave itself
up to the Alpheus river.

Megalopolis was founded by Epaminondas 370 years
B.C. Planned, as its name indicates, on a huge scale
that was to extend for twenty-three miles, forty town-
ships were drawn upon to start its population; and it
became the capital of Arcadia.

The road that led from Megalopolis to Messene fol-
lowed the path taken by Orestes after murdering his
mother, and temples and mounds marked the sites of
various incidents that occurred during his passage ; they
indicated, where he became insane; where he cut off his
hair; where he bit off his finger; and finally, where he
gained his senses.

The modern village of Sinanu has grown up among
the old city's ruins; these were examined in 1834, when
all of the five Springs gave efficient aid in identifying the
places of the ancient structures with which they were
connected. A deep pile of dampened rubbish was found
to conceal a Spring which led to the discovery of the
foundations of the theater where it occupied a prominent
position in the orchestra.

And the other Springs were equally useful in pointing
out to the excavators where the temples stood, and in
giving the names of the hills.

Pausanias, VI11 30-32.



On the borders of Methydrium at Thisoa were the
sources of one of the coldest of all rivers. It was known
as the Gortynius, except at the Springs, where it was
called Lusius because Zeus had been bathed in it after
his birth near the Spring of Neda.

The name suggests that this was an extra bath given
by Thisoa, one of the infant's three nurses.

This two-name river was another tributary of the
Alpheus, and the place where they united was called

A nervous and excitable leader in the expedition
against Troy came from the district of Thisoa. His
name was Theutis, and he should be accorded the dis-
tinction of having fired the first shot in the Trojan War,
a shot that wounded a no less redoubtable antagonist
than the goddess Athena, and that unfortunately ended
his career.

Irritated by a long delay at Aulis where the fleet was
windbound, Theutis suddenly decided to march his
troops back home, and when Athena attempted to change
his decision he, in a boiling rage, ran his spear through
the goddess' thigh. On reaching Thisoa he was seized
with a wasting disease which extended even to the
fruits none of which would ripen in the neighborhood
of the Spring until, by advice of the oracle of Dodona,
a statue of the speared divinity was made which
showed the wound bound realistically with a purple

Methydrium was 170 stadia from Megalopolis, and to
the north of it. and the river is said to be the one that now
flows by the village of Atzi Kolo.

Pausanias; VIII. 28.



A Spring called the Well Nymphasia was found thirty
stadia from Methydrium; the latter town was 137 stadia
from Tricolini.

Tricolini is supposed to have stood within a mile of the
town of Karatula.

Pausanias; VIII. 36.

Tragus River

In the plain of Caphyae there was a reservoir of water
that was absorbed into the ground. Afterwards that
water came up at what was called Nasi, near the village
of Rheunos, and formed there the perennial river Tragus.

The stream now named Tara is believed to be the
ancient Tragus.

Pausanias; VIII. 23.



After passing the small town of Cleone on the way to
Argos, the road became narrow and ran between for-
bidding mountains at one time the haunts of fearsome
beasts, man-eating dragons, frightful felidae of which the
most noted and dreaded representative was the Nemean
Lion, whose lair among those mountains was still pointed
out in the second century of the Christian Era to touring
travelers who gazed at it with awesome dread, hundreds
of years after Hercules had dispatched its murderous

At Nemea, only fifteen stadia distant from the lair, was
the cypress grove where Lycurgus' little son Opheltes,
left alone on the herbage by a thoughtless nurse, was
devoured by a dragon.

Amphiaraus the Soothsayer saw in this little tragedy
an omen of a larger one near at hand, but his warning
that might have averted it was disregarded. This all
happened on a pleasant day in the year 1225 B.C. when
The Seven Against Thebes, on their way to the assault
of that city stopped to ask the nurse where they could
find water.

She, only too glad to prolong a parley with the martial
party gaudy in their bright array of shining armor, having
laid the child down, piloted them around a screening
clump of bushes, and pointed out the fountain of Adras-



tea. Standing entranced with the sight of the brass-
armored band of soldiers drinking from their helmets at
the Spring, she was startled by the infant's cries and,
rushing back to where she had left him, her own piercing
shrieks filled the air as the sounds from the infant sud-
denly stopped.

The soldiers, running around the obscuring screen of
bushes to learn the cause of the cries, were only in time
to see the murderous monster disappearing in the dis-
tance, and a few splashes of bright red moisture shining
in the sunlight on the herbage where the infant had been
chewed up by the dragon.

It was then that the Seer, himself a soldier, and one of
the party, read the warning that Fate had set in the scene
that she had staged before them, and explained that
Thebes was the dragon, and the infant's end their

But his warning was in vain, and the martial blood of
six of the heroes in a few days glistened in lakes on the
green grass around the gates of Thebes.

Through King Creon's cruelty, the corpses of the
heroes were left for a long time unburied, but the few
pieces of the bones of Opheltes that were rescued were
carefully placed in a tomb raised on the blood-sprinkled
spot by the Spring near the base of the mountain Apesas.
Both the dragon, which the heroes killed, and the Ne-
mean lion must often have quenched their thirst at this
fountain and washed down with its waters many a cruel
feast that made the human population smaller, for
neither the Inachus nor any of the other neighboring
rivers had water in their channels in rainless seasons.

The vicinage was not only made picturesque by the
numerous mountains that formed the valley in which the
Spring took its rise, but was endeared to the hearts of the


Grecians through classic memories long and carefully

Not far away, and in the direction of Argos, were the
ruins of Mycenae, the first and the oldest town of Argolis,
which was there founded by Perseus, because his scab-
bard dropped from his sword on its site. And it was
quite in keeping with this circumstance that the spot in
the woods so pointed out by the naked sword, should
afterwards, as a city, furnish leaders for the Trojan war,
and more than a quarter of the martial heroes whose
swords wrote in blood the stirring and enduring story of

Mycenae was in Agamemnon's time the capital of his
kingdom, and the chief city in Greece, and a list of its
principal citizens in those days, nearly a thousand years
before its fall in 468 B.C., reproduces the casts in the most
dreadful tragedies of ^Eschylus and Sophocles, with such
names as Atreus, ^Egisthus, Clytemnestra, Orestes, and
many others, against each of which is written some
marrow-freezing crime, from infant killing and cooking to
murders of relations of all degrees of kinship.

It might seem as though, long ago, germs of courage
and ferocity were bred in this Spring, and in the one
called the fountain of Perseus which rose in the ruins of
Mycenae, as, nowadays, other germs are cultivated in the
broth of the bacteriologist, germs that made the men of
Mycenae no less hardy and fierce than the four-footed
terror that in earlier times ravaged Nemea until Hercu-
les, as the first of his labors, dispatched it and freed the
country from its depredations.

So strong were this lion's muscles, and so hard was its
hide, which no arrow could pierce, that the hero was at
last forced to throw away his weapon and squeeze it to
death in his arms. Afterwards this hide became the con-


queror's sole and imperishable armor and garment with
which he is pictured by the poets and painters of pos-
terity, except during the period when, under the domina-
tion of Omphale, he laid aside his club and lion's skin and
adopted the distaff and dress of a woman.

Here also, by this Spring, gathered the finest athletes
and artists of Argolis and elsewhere in the first and third
year of each Olympiad to celebrate one of the four great
festivals of Greece, the Nemean games — sports and con-
tests that aroused such widespread interest that no less
than eleven of the Odes of Pindar were composed in
honor of its victors, some of whom contended for promi-
nence in musical and in metrical composition.

The first of those Nemean games were held in connec-
tion with the funeral ceremonies of Opheltes; they con-
tinued to be held every two years thereafter, and the
prizes were always crowns of parsley, because it was in a
patch of parsley that Opheltes was devoured.

Owing to Amphiaraus' forecast, the poor child was
afterwards spoken of as Archemorus, that is, The Fore-
runner of Death.

The nurse whose carelessness was the cause of so many
untoward events had a sad story of her own. Before she
became one of the slaves of Lycurgus, she was a Princess
and the daughter of Thoas, king of Lemnos. When the
women of that island decided to kill all the men, and had
actually dispatched them, they discovered that Hyp-
sipyle had concealed her father Thoas and had saved him;
and in punishment of her defection they sold her into
slavery, and Lycurgus became her owner.

It was, of old, uncertain whether the Spring received
its name because Adrastus was the first to discover it, or
for some other reason; but as Nemesis, the power that
stood for justice, and punished unfairness, was also called


Adrastea, a more appropriate name could hardly have
been found for the Spring by which so many rival athletes
spent their time while training, and during competition;
so called, at every draught the name of the goddess would
be on their lips, and in their minds, to warn them from
subterfuge and urge them to fair and honest effort in
striving for the prize for which they entered.

At the foot of Mt. Apesas, now named Fuca, are the
remains of the stadium of the ancient games, and to the
right of them is found the Spring of Adrastea whose water
supplied an artificial fountain structure the connection
with which is now out of order.

Pausanias; II. 15-16.

The Spring of Perseus

Mycenae, the oldest town in Argolis, was in ruins before
the year one a.d., but its Spring of Perseus, or Perseia,
still retained its youthful vigor amid the wreckage of
what it had seen built up in its virgin valley to become the
first city of Greece and the residence of Agamemnon.

The town was founded by Perseus who, having acci-
dentally killed his grandfather Acrisius during a game of
quoits while on a visit in Thessaly, returned to Greece in
very low spirits and, giving up his former kingdom,
started out to divert his brooding thoughts and establish
a new capital.

This he did where some water flowed out when he
pulled up a fungus, a growth that in his language was
called Mycenae. That this was the proper site for his
new city was fully confirmed when the scabbard fell from
his sword and slipped to the ground, an unusual happen-
ing that was palpably a double indication of what the


city's name should be, for mycenae meant scabbard as
well as fungus.

The town of Argos was founded seven miles south of
Mycenae, and they are sometimes spoken of as though
they were one city, each being called by the other's name.
In and between the two towns there were a number of
tombs of celebrated people; Agamemnon's was in My-
cenae, and that of his wife and murderess, Clytemnestra,
was considerately separated from his by the city walls;
and between the two towns, at a place called The Rams,
was the tomb of Thyestes whose children were slain by
his brother Atreus and served up to him at a feast.

The neighboring village of Kharvati is now supplied
through an aqueduct with water from a stream on the
north side of Mycenae's old acropolis, and one may fancy
that its source is the age-old Spring that took the name
of Perseus.

The city of Argos lay three miles north of the Argolic

Pausanias; II. 16.


The Fountain of Amymone owed its existence to two
cases of poor marksmanship.

Amymone having shot at a stag and hit a satyr, he
while expressing his indignation was made the mark for
Poseidon's trident; that weapon in turn going astray
pierced a rock instead of the satyr.

These two incidents occurred during a search for water
that Amymone was making at the command of her father
Danaus who had recently arrived in Argos during a
drought and a scarcity of water.


After making acknowledgments for her rescue, Amy-
mone pulled the trident from the rock and was surprised
to see a three-stream Spring follow the weapon's with-
drawal. It should, however, not be concealed that a
pleasant impression of Poseidon's gallantry in this case
must be formed in the face of some indications in the
story that possibly he exacted the acknowledgments as
inducements to show how the water might be obtained.

The modern location of this fountain is assumed to be
in the neighborhood rendered marshy by a number of
Springs and where seven or eight of them, instead of the
classic three, unite to form the Amymone, also called the
Lerna river. It broadens into a deep pool several hun-
dred feet in diameter which is supposed to be the Alcy-
onian Marsh whose depth Nero was unable to fathom.

Modern millers, who have walled the pool to make a
waterhead, also declare it to be immeasurably deep, as it
must have been back to the time when Dionysus de-
scended through it to the lower world to recover his
mother Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, when she was
stricken by Zeus' brilliancy.

Danaus had come from Egypt to Argos to escape his
brother ^Egyptus who desired to have his fifty sons
married to the fifty daughters of Danaus, and the latter,
though fearing a prophecy that he would come to his end
at the hands of a son-in-law, was finally compelled to
consent to the unions; though he secretly attempted to

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 4 of 46)