James Reuel Smith.

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

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The Rubicon River rose from a small Spring, and the
ruddy stones abounding in its bed suggested its appro-
priate name.

In summer it crept along with humble waves, but when
swelled by winter rains it became a torrent.

When Caesar reached its banks in the latter part of
January, a three days' rain had swelled the stream to its
winter size, but by placing his cavalry obliquely across
the current a dam was formed behind which the infantry
waded through in comparatively quiet water.

The act of crossing required more moral than physical
courage, and even Caesar's hair, what there was of it, is
said to have stood on end when, taking the standard, and
thus prominently assuming all responsibility, he led, in
the passage. On reaching the other side, he exclaimed,
"Here do I leave peace behind — henceforth, far hence be

This liver, so often mentioned alike by the well-read
and the unread, is as closely linked with the name of
Caesar and his immortal passage as the Delaware is with
that of Washington and his celebrated crossing. Yet to
be suddenly challenged to say where it is would probably
be, first, a cause of pain as an innuendo of ignorance, and,
then, of puzzlement; for though, oddly enough, when its
location was known to everyone the source of the Nile



was a mystery, now, that the Springs of the Nile have
been discovered and are accurately charted, no one knows
where the Rubicon rises !

At the time of the Roman civil war between Caesar and
Pompey, a small stream of this name divided Italy from
Gallia Cisalpina, and formed the southern boundary of
the province of Caesar whose passage of it was practically
a declaration of war against the Republic, so that to
cross the Rubicon became the equivalent of the phrase,
as shortened from Shakespeare, about Casting the Die.

Today, those who live on the banks of the River Luso
call it II Rubicone, as they are entitled to by a Papal
decree of 1756 declaring their river to have been the
ancient boundary stream; but among others opinion is
divided as to whether the Pisatello a little north of it, or
the Fiumicino was the original Rubicon.

Lucan; Pharsalia; I. 183.



In a letter to Romanus, Pliny the Younger says; —
"Have you ever seen the Spring at Clitumnus? If not
— and I think you have not, or else you would have told
me about it — go and see it, as I have done quite recently.
I only regret that I did not visit it before. A fair-sized
hill rises from the plain, well wooded, and dark with
ancient cypress trees. From beneath it the Spring issues
and forces its way out through a number of channels,
though these are of unequal size. After passing through
the little whirlpool which it makes, it spreads out into a
broad sheet of pure and crystal water, so clear that you
can count the small coins and pebbles that have been
thrown into it. Thence it is forced forward, not because


of any declivity of the ground, but by its own volume and
weight. So what was just before a Spring now becomes a
broad, noble river, deep enough for ships to navigate,
and these pass to and fro and meet one another, as they
travel in opposite directions. The current is so strong
that a ship going down stream moves no faster if oars are
used, though the ground is dead level, but in the opposite
direction it is all the men can do to row and pole their way
along against the current.

"Those who are sailing for pleasure and amusement
find it an agreeable diversion, just by turning the ship's
head round, to pass from indolence to toil or from toil to
indolence. The banks are clad with an abundance of
ash and poplar trees, which you can count in the clear
stream, for they seem to be growing bright and green in
the water, which for coldness is as cold as the snows, and
as transparent in color.

"Hard by is an ancient and sacred temple, where
stands Jupiter Clitumnus himself clad and adorned with
a prastexta, and the oracular responses delivered there
prove that the deity dwells within and foretells the future.
Round about are sprinkled a number of little chapels,
each containing the statue of a god. There is a special
cult for each and a particular name, and some of them
have Springs dedicated to them, for in addition to the
one I have described, which may be called the parent
Spring, there are lesser ones separated from the chief one,
but they all flow into the river, which is spanned by a
bridge which marks the dividing line between the sacred
and public water. In the upper part you are only allowed
to go in a boat, the lower is also open to swimmers. The
people of Hispellum, to whom the place was made over
as a free gift by Augustus, have provided a public bath
and accommodation; there are also some villas standing


on the river bank, whose owners are attracted by the
charming scenery. In a word, there is nothing there but
what will delight you, for you may study and read the
numerous inscriptions in praise of the Spring and the
deity which have been placed upon every column and
every wall. Most of them you will commend, a few will
make you laugh. But stay, I am forgetting that you are
so kind-hearted that you will laugh at none. Farewell."

This Spring, now known as Clitunno, still continues to
attract attention, and to evoke admiration for its size and
its clarity. Rising at the roadside, in a sheltering grove of
poplar and willow trees, four miles from Trobeia in
Umbria, its channel soon leads it into the river Tinia, and
through that river its waters empty into the Tiber.

Anciently the Spring had a temple, and there were
several lesser shrines about it, as Pliny describes, so that,
when the place came to be a Roman post station, it was
given the name of Sacraria.

What is now shown as the Spring's temple is said to
have been originally a tomb that the Christians of the
Middle Ages economically remodeled for use as a church.

Pliny (Younger) VIII. letter 8.



The Eridanus of the Greeks rose at its source in a
manner that well merited inspection by the curious, for,
in the middle of the day, as if reposing itself, its Spring
was always dry.

After a time it hid itself in a subterranean channel until
it rose again in the country of the Forovibienses. Its
length, with its windings, from the source was 388 miles,
and it conveyed into the Adriatic as many as thirty
streams; and where it discharged the vast body of its
waters it was said to form seven seas.

About its source there grew a number of pine trees,
called padi, whence the name Padus; and in turn it gave
the name Transpadana to the region on its northern

At Ravenna it was called Padusa, having formerly
borne the name of Messanicus. The Ligurians called it
Bodincus, signifying bottomless.

iEschylus placed the Eridanus in Spain and called it
Rhodanus which was confounded with Radanus, which
discharged into the Vistula, and then with the Eri-

When Phaeton, for the first time driving the chariot
of the Sun, was frightened by the menacing fangs of the
constellation Scorpion, and, dropping the reins, allowed
the unguided horses to leave the zodiac track with their



load of heat, and scorch the Negroes black, and set fire
to the world and to Phaeton himself, it was the Eridanus
that quenched the fire in his burning body when it fell
from the careening chariot. And it was the Eridanus
thai: received the tears shed on its banks by Phaeton's
sisteis, Lampetie, ^gle and Phaethusa, tears that formed
the first specimens of precious amber.

The Po, less classic than the Tiber although it is the
largest river in Italy, was the Eridanus of the Greeks, and
is the Padus of present day Italians.

It takes its rise in latitude about 44" 4' N., from two
Springs on the north and south sides of Mt. Viso (of
old, Monte Vesulus), which is a part of the Cottian

The stream at its source is 6400 feet above the sea, but
it falls a mile before it has gone twenty-one, and, in-
creased by rains and melting snows, it becomes navigable
for small barges 60 miles from the Springs.

Absorbing the waters of Italy's largest lakes, and
taking in, from both sides, the contents of more than a
dozen rivers, it attains a breadth of half a mile and a
depth of some sixteen feet; and after running a generally
eastern course across the country for four hundred miles
it enters the Adriatic through marshes, and through
several branches that begin to form a delta fifty miles
from its debouchment.

It is estimated that the Po drains 40,000 square miles
of territory, and that it is lowering a large part of that
area at the rate of a foot in 729 years. With this vast
amount of detritus it is pushing forward its delta at an
increasingly rapid annual rate, which in some parts
amounts to three hundred feet.

Pliny; II. 106. III. 20. XXXVII. n.
Ovid; Meta. II. Fable 1.


Aqu.e Statiell^e

The Aquae Statiellae were hot sulphur mineral Springs
that belonged to the Statielli, a Ligurian tribe that lived
on both slopes of the Apennines where they form the flare
of the valley of the Bormida River.

The Romans subjugated the tribe, sold its members as
slaves, and transformed their place by the Springs into a
large and populous town, in which they constructed baths
of costly magnificence, the remains of which are still to
be seen at the modern town of Acqui, where invalids give
the old Springs a numerous patronage.

Pliny; XXXI. 2.


Green plants were produced in the warm Springs of

The town was founded by Antenor, after his flight
from Troy, and his sarcophagus is shown in the church
of S. Lorenzo.

Attila razed Padua to the ground in 452 a.d., but it
was rebuilt, and is now twenty-three miles, in a south-
westerly direction, from Venice.

Pliny; II. 106.


The Aponian Springs

The Aponian Springs, as their name indicates, were
cures for fatigue, as also for various disorders and


They rose steaming from the earth by the Euganean
hill six miles southwest of Padua, where they are now
called Bagni d'Abano, and Aquae Patavinae, and the
Springs of Aponus.

The numbers who visited them, even from distant
parts of the Roman empire, for the relief of bodily ail-
ments were largely increased by others who, mentally
troubled, flocked to the nearby oracle of Geryon to have
their doubts or fears resolved; and the oracle, after hear-
ing what was on the mind of the inquirer, sent him to the
Springs to judge, by the luck he had in tossing tali into
the waters, whether Fortune would favor or cross him.
A talus was the astragalus or knucklebone, one of the
seven bones of the ankle of the hind leg of small cloven
hoofed animals like the sheep and the calf. Whether or
no the superstition, connected with the left hind foot of
the rabbit, can be traced to a classic origin, the childrens'
games with jackstones were originally played with tali
by Greek maidens, and their pretty postures at the games
are frequently pictured in the decoration of ancient vases.

The bones, modified in different ways, became dice,
and, later, dominoes, bearing numbers; then other sub-
stances were substituted for the bones, sometimes even
paper, as in the Chinese game of Tin Gow, the predeces-
sor of Sniff and other American games, which is played
with a pack of cards bearing domino numbers. The tali
as used at the Springs were numbered only on four sides,
the 2 and the 5 being omitted.

Tiberius, on his march to Illyricum, stopped to consult
the oracle of Geryon and was signally honored by being
directed to cast golden tali into the waters, and the suc-
cessful outcome of his expedition was indicated by his
throwing the highest numbers. The gleaming blocks of
gold remained untouched for years, and the figures on


them could be plainly seen through the crystal waters.

Another form of divination at the Aponian Springs was
by means of sortes, which were, in this instance, inscribed
oblongs of bronze pierced with a hole for stringing them

Other kinds of sortes were made of wood, or some light
material, and were drawn in various ways, often from an
urn containing the Spring's water; the tablet that floated
out first when the urn was tilted being the one from which
the answer had to be ascertained.

The Springs varied in temperature; and they were
averse to having young women derive benefit from their
healing powers, for it was well understood that any
maiden who entered the waters would be scorched.

Claudian, in one of his longest idylls, devoted three
pages to describing and praising these Springs; and their
cures possibly suggested the enchanted fountain from
which the three sons of St. George drew the water that
revived St. Anthony, of the neighboring city of Padua,
from his deathly lethargy.

Lucan; Pharsalia; VII. In 195-
Martial; VI. 42-
Claudian; Idyll VI.


Pliny's Wonderful Spring

Pliny the Younger had several villas around the Larian
Lake, now called Como.

He was the nephew of the Elder Pliny, the Pickwick
of ancient times who, even after writing his Natural
History and a number of other books, had left over
165,000 unused notes as material for other volumes. He
expired with his tablets in his hands, overcome by the
gases from Vesuvius as he was making notes of the

The uncle's passion for making notes had a counter-
part in the nephew's fondness for writing letters, and to
those describing the destruction of Pompeii in 79 a.d.,
the world is indebted for its minute knowledge of that

In other letters he has given delightful glimpses of a
wealthy and cultured Roman gentleman's homes, and
his manner of living and spending his time.

Near one of his Larian Lake villas there was an inter-
mittent Spring of which he wrote to his friend Licinius
Sura as follows ; —

"I have brought you as a present from my native
district a problem which is fully worthy even of your
profound learning. A Spring rises on the mountainside;
it flows down a rocky course, and is caught in a little



artificial banqueting house. After the water has been
retained there for a time it falls into the Larian Lake.
There is a wonderful phenomenon connected with it, for
thiice every day it rises and falls with fixed regularity of
volume. Close by it you may recline and take a meal, and
drink from the Spring itself, for the water is very cool,
and meanwhile it ebbs and flows at regular and stated
intervals. If you place a ring or anything else on a dry
spot by the edge, the water gradually rises to it and at
last covers it, and then just as gradually recedes and
leaves it bare; while if you watch it for any length of time
you may see both processes twice or thrice repeated. Is
there any unseen air which first distends and then tightens
the orifice and mouth of the Spring resisting its onset and
yielding at its withdrawal? We observe something of
this sort in jars and other similar vessels which have not
a direct and free opening, for these, when held either per-
pendicularly or aslant, pour out their contents with a sort
of gulp, as though there were some obstruction to a free
passage. Or is this Spring like the ocean, and is its
volume enlarged and lessened alternately by the same
laws that govern the ebb and flow of the tide ? Or again,
just as rivers on their way to the sea are driven back on
themselves by contrary winds and the opposing tide, is
there anything that can drive back the outflow of this
Spring ? Or is there some latent reservoir that diminishes
and retards the flow while it is gradually collecting the
water that has been drained off, and increases and
quickens the flow when the process of collection is com-
plete? Or is there some curiously hidden and unseen
balance which when emptied, raises and thrusts forth the
Spring, and, when filled, checks and stifles its flow?
Please investigate the causes which bring about this
wonderful result, for vou have the ability to do so: it is


more than enough for me if I have described the phe-
nomenon with accuracy. Farewell."

This Spring still continues its vagaries about a mile
and a half from the village of Torno on the eastern side
of the lake.

Pliny's fourth suggestion explains the cause of the
intermission which may readily be reproduced with any
receptacle having a large syphon outlet below a smaller

As the ducts approach each other in size, the inter-
missions are shortened; when the sizes are made equal,
the outflow becomes continuous.

Of Pliny's villas around this beautiful sheet of Lom-
bardy water, his special favorites were two that he called
Comedy and Tragedy; and he wrote that from one of
them, perched on a rocky ledge above the lake, he could
watch the people fishing; and from the other, which was
on the shore, he could fish from his bedroom — and almost
from his bed.

Pliny (Younger) IV. letter 30. IX. 7.




From the Springs of the Timavus River a whole sea
burst forth with loudest din through nine mouths, accord-
ing to Virgil.

Strabo described them as seven Springs of fresh water
which flowed into the sea in a broad and deep river,
although he admitted that six of them were said to be
salt, and that on that account the place was called "The
source and the mother of the sea."

Later, the number was reduced to six, and then to four,
which were said to be salt only at high tide, whence they
were inferred to have some under-earth connection with
the ocean.

The wondei s that surrounded the sources of the Tima-
vus were increased rather than diminished by systematic
and perilous explorations of members of Alpine Clubs
who in recent years have tracked the stream, through
deep, dark and mysterious underground channels, to its
first beginnings, which are in a grotto, between the
Schneeberg and Fiume, whence under the name of Reka,
the Illyrian name of Fiume, it runs northwest for about
forty miles, and plunges into the colossal caverns of St.
Kanzian, and makes one of the greatest underground
rivers of the world. It flows for nearly twenty-two miles
through a labyrinth of caves and tunnels, often 900 feet
below the surface, and, receiving many affluents in its



course, it burrows under the mountain called Tschitschen —
Boden, and emerges as the Timavo, 200 feet wide, from
a cavern at San Giovanni di Duino, with a flow of more
than 85 million cubic feet a day, and after a course of a
few miles falls into the Gulf of Trieste.

The grottos of St. Kanzian into which the Reka dis-
appears begin at the end of a deep, narrow gorge which is
closed by a perpendicular wall 550 feet high. In front of
this cliff, and about 100 yards distant, is another wall
like a port-cullis, under which the river rushes through a
triangular hole. It then falls in a cascade to the foot of
the great cliff, spreads out in a lake, and takes its sub-
terranean way in a series of cataracts, falling ever and
ever deeper into the depths of the earth. Having made
twenty-two waterfalls in its course, it forms a great lake
whose only outlet is downwards through spongy rock and
narrow fissures through which it pours to appear again,
near the village of Tiebiciano, in a cavern 300 feet high
and 700 feet long, into which it enters from a gigantic
tunnel one thousand feet below the surface. Here it
forms another lake whose drainage, through porous rock,
gathers in the giant stream that bursts from the side of
the mountain at San Giovanni.

The region of its birth is a lofty tableland called the
Carso Plateau, a volcanic creation among the Dolomite
Alps; it is a stretch of 3750 square miles honeycombed
with craters, rocky caves and dolmas (pits), covering
seventy-five miles north of Fiume and fifty east of

The region has been likened to a sponge magnified a
million times, and petrified.

Though waterless on top, it is full internally of rivers
forming great lakes where blind fish swim in eternal night.
Four hundred and eighteen of the carso caverns have been


explored, and practically the whole length of the Tima-
vo's subterranean channel has been followed.

Strabo; V. i. § 8.

Literary Digest; June gth, 191"-


Monte Falcone

Opposite the River Timavus there was a small island,
in the sea, which contained warm Springs that increased
and decreased at the same time that the tide rose and fell.

These Springs are now called I Bagni di Monte Falcone,
or, di S. Giovanni.

Pliny; II. 106.




To the disciple of Daedalus who soars over Sicily today,
the island appears like a leaf of many tints lying a little
crumpled on the surface of the sea below him — a leaf of
The Garden of the Sun, as this, the second largest island
of the Mediterranean came to be called, from the abun-
dant verdure nourished by its semi-tropical climate, and
a soil of singular depth and fertility.

Its flowery luxuriance has cast a charm on every visitor,
so that under the spell of its endless waves of bloom and
floods of flowers its soberest panegyrists, from Cicero to
Sladens, have seen its mountside towns as magnified
magnolias; its single houses as stemless cyclopeian lilies
lying in the sunshine on its hills; and its weather-beaten
hovels as tufts of homely lichen. An efflorescence is seen
in every feature, so that even flocks of slowly grazing
sheep suggest to some a surge of flowers against the
mountain side that they are climbing.

Though none of its numerous rivers is navigable, four
of its sti earns have brought down from antiquity a pre-
cious freight of literary lore in the legends produced by the
Springs at their sources; legends that, though glorified by
Ovid and Theocritus, may have originated in grotesque
forms among the prehistoric Siculi, the Troglodytes from



whom many of its present inhabitants are thought to
have descended, for the crude minds of these simple
beings of the human race, then in its infancy, conjured
up strange sights and fancies when their terrors were
worked upon by the awful sounds and throes of Etna
that, topping two miles by 314 feet, was visible from every
part of their island cradle.

When the earliest Greek settlers ai rived, in 734 B.C.,
they found these primitive people in possession, and,
perhaps, received from them additional details regarding
the sacred character of the island, and the intimate life
of the goddess Ceres and her family ; for both she and her
daughter, Proserpine or Libera, were born in Sicily, and
it was at their birthplace Enna, that occurred the great
calamity whose effect, among all the marvelous inflic-
tions of mythology, seems to rank nearest to the fatality
of the flood, in its world wide results of drought and
mundane misery.

As Delphi was the middle of the ancients' plate-like
earth, so the site of Enna was the center of Sicily, and
was called the island's navel; it was in a high and lofty
situation on the top of which was a level plain, and
Springs of water that were never dry.

So lovely was the principal one of these Springs that it
gave the place its name of "Agreeable Fountain," as
Enna is rendered. Around it were many lakes and groves,
and beautiful flowers at every season of the year, flowers
that painted the fields with as many tints as Nature
possesses, and filled the air with so much odor that it
was impossible for hounds to follow their prey by scent
across the tract they covered, with marigolds, violets,
poppies, hyacinths, amaranths, crocusses, lilies, and
many a rose, all interspersed with thyme, rosemary, and
meliote, and other nameless fragrances.


One leafy grove surrounded a lake of deep water,
Pergus by name, where the songs of the swans were heard
to perfection.

This lovely spot, among all the flowers of all the earth,
was the cradle of Proserpine.

Here, too, Man, in this island, first tasted something
more appetizing than grass, raw roots, bitter herbs, and
acrid acorns; for it was here that Ceres presented him
with corn, and, teaching him the intricacies of its cultiva-
tion and cookery, laid with a few flat heated stones the
first foundations of that glorious gastronomic structure
that has risen to the height and splendor of the modern
kitchen, the mansion of an artist whose daily income is
often greater than the earnings of many presidents of

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 41 of 46)