James Reuel Smith.

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

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Nearby, and turned towards the north, there was a
cavern of endless depth: there, on a certain day, appeared
dread Pluto who, startled by a more than oidinary noise
from Etna, had driven in great haste behind his sable
steeds to see for himself what violence the face of Earth
had suffered from the mountain's loud eruption. On that
day Ceres and many nymphs, and some of her celestial
friends, were enjoying themselves and disporting among
the flowers about the lakes and fountains; and Venus,
who alone had caught a glimpse of Pluto in the darkness
of the cavern's mouth, induced her son, the midget archer,
to sting him with a little shaft from his love-laden

Pluto, tingling with the tickle of the tiny, pleasant
pain, at the very instant when his roaming eyes had
Proserpine in view, at once lost sight of all the world
besides, in the mental swoon of love; and, seizing her at a
moment when she was separated from her friends, he
sprang to his chariot and, concealed by the neighboring


heavy foliage, dashed unobserved away, plunged quickly
through Cyane's Spring, and, striking back into the high-
way to Hell, was soon at home again with Proserpine his

None of the busy merry-makers had seen the abduction,
but hardly had it taken place before the absence of their
friend was noticed, and Pleasure fled as Panic spread her
gloom around the Spring of Enna.

The gathered flowers were dropped, the laughing eyes
were filled with tears and consternation; and everyone
began to seek for traces of the missing maiden. One
bevy of lovely girls, in their eagerness to leave no spot
unsearched, besought the higher powers for wings that
they might leave the island and look through every
foreign country to find their lost companion; and these,
endowed with feathered pinions in answer to their prayers,
became the Sirens, the beauty of whose former faces the
admiring powers forbore disfiguring with feathers.

Unhampered by any of the vexatious delays the Sicilian
Railway system causes the modern traveler, Ceres herself
quickly visited, though without success, every crevice
and cranny within the confines of the island's six hundred
and twenty-four miles of circumference; and then, de-
sisting not even at the approach of night and darkness,
but lighting torches at the flames of Etna, she began a
tedious tour of all the Earth ; during which she introduced
to the tribe of Triptolemus on the mainland the new
forms of food with which she first gladdened the old-time
savages of Sicily.

Then, failing to find any traces of her stolen daughter
upon the habitable globe, she traversed the vast spaces
of the starry firmament, eagerly asking every orb, the
Moon, the Planets, and the Sun for tidings of her darling


The Moon and all the Planets, blind by day, could tell
her nothing; but when at last she reached the Sun, she
learned her daughter's fate and the whereabouts of her

Then, hastening through the avenues of air among the
constellations of fixed and distant stais, she called on
Jove to force the ruler of the lower world to give her
daughter back.

And Jove agreed to do so, if Destiny did not forbid.

When Destiny, the program of the drama of The Ages,
unchangeably inscribed in bronze, had been consulted,
they found that Proserpine should be returned if, during
her detention, no food had passed her lips.

Now Proserpine in all that time had really eaten noth-
ing, but she had, while plunged in thought and pressing a
small pomegranate to her sorrowing lips, accidentally
swallowed one or more of the little grains that lay against
the filmy skin.

Ascalaphus was the only witness of this accident, and,
bursting with the pride of knowing something known to
no one else, he told of the occurrence. Nevertheless, in
the end, the decree of Destiny was partially thwarted by
an arrangement that, while it did not compel Pluto to
surrender the daughter, permitted her to pass at least
half of each year with her Mother.

Proserpine, however, was not so overjoyed at this
prospect as to forget the six months debt she owed As-
calaphus, and she paid it by giving another member to
the family of birds; out of him she created the Owl, art-
fully endowing him with an appearance of great wisdom,
while derisively depriving him of any power of telling
what he seems to know.

As the story of Proserpine was passed from mouth to
mouth, theie were naturally some tellers here and there


who tried to couple their own names with the episode,
and who claimed to have given to Ceres the clue that was
really obtained from the Sun; and of all of those the con-
tention of Arethusa appears at first sight to be the most
plausible, for her underground passage might have given
her, as she contended, a glimpse of Proserpine in the
gardens of Tartarus.

But the general listener will find his credulity so drawn
upon, by Arethusa's own history, that there will be little
left for her account of her part in the pursuit of Proser-
pine, and as, moreover, it is evident that if she had told
Ceres, before she started on her world-wide quest, she
would have had no need to make it.

Arethusa's history is related in connection with the
story of the fountain that bears her name.

It is, perhaps, not improbable that Ceres was an
ancient queen of Sicily whose delicacy of taste led her to
seek less gross forms of food than her animalish ancestors
had been satisfied with, and that she was on that account
numbered with the gods, for the ancients even down to
the time of Caesar were fond of deifying their rulers, and
many idols have been made of grosser clay than is repre-
sented in the refinement of Ceres' nature.

Enna is now known as Castro Giovanni, and local
tradition carefully marks a cavern, some five miles from
the city, as the one that Pluto came through, and the
banks of a small near-by lake as the site of Proserpine's
abduction. The flowers and the grove, however, have
disappeared, and the desolation of the neighborhood may
readily be accepted as the natural and just consequence
of its ancient desecration.

Ovid; Meta. V. Fab. 4 & 3.

Ovid; Fasti: IV. In 390 et seq.

Cicero vs. Verres; 2nd pleading; bk. IV. § 48.



The fountain of Cyane, who was the most celebrated
of all the Sicilian nymphs, for Arethusa was not a native
nymph, was a large and lovely pool enclosed by mountain
ridges that lay between Enna and Syracuse.

When Pluto in his flight with Proserpine approached
this pool, the nymph, with zealous loyalty to her im-
perilled friend, rose in its waters with outstretched arms
to bar the racing chariot's way, and sought with hurried,
heart-born words to turn the ardor of the abductor into
milder ways of wooing, for Cyane had been wooed and
won with gentleness by Anapis, a river, and the current
of their love had run without a ripple.

But Pluto, heated by his rapid flight, and goaded by
the Love god's little dart, used some violence most un-
worthy of a god, and, plunging downward through the
Spring, cleft a chasm at the bottom and continued on his
way, leaving Cyane inconsolable.

She sorrowed with a twofold grief, lamenting not only
the loss of her friend but the desecration of her Spring;
"She is entirely dissolved into tears, and melts away into
those waters of which she had been but lately the great
guardian Divinity. You might see her limbs soften, her
bones become subject to bending, her nails lay aside their
hardness; each, too, of the smaller extremities of the
whole of her body melts away; both her azure hair, her
fingers, her legs, and her feet, for easy is the change of
those small members into a cold stream.

"After that, her back, her shoulders, her side and her
breast dissolve, vanishing into thin rivulets. Lastly, pure
water, instead of live blood enters her veins, and nothing
remains which you can grasp in your hands."


But still, the voiceless water, as if it wished to show its
sentience and proclaim that the faithfulness that had
animated the flesh yet abided in the fluid, bore aloft on
its surface with tender care the girdle that had dropped
from Proserpine in her passage through the Spring; and
it was the sight of this well known cincture that gave to
searching Ceres the first encouragement to hope her
daughter might still be traced.

This Spring is the source of the river Cyane, now called
La Pisma, and is situated in low, marshy ground at the
foot of the limestone hills due west from the great
harbor of Syracuse, from which it is distant about two

It has a beautiful circular basin, about fifty feet in
diameter, and twenty or thirty feet deep.

Its pelucid, blue waters well up with a strong spring
and form at once a considerable river which flows, with
a deep, tranquil current for a mile or more, until it joins
the Anapus immediately below the Olympeium.

Its name is supposed to have been given on account of
the deep blue color of its water, and its tutelary nymph
had a shrine and temple in the immediate neighborhood
where an annual festival was held, the institution of
which was ascribed to Hercules, and the vestiges of an
ancient building, to be seen on the height above the
Spring, are taken to mark the site of the temple of ancient

The neighborhood of this Spring is remarkable at the
present time as the only place in Europe which pioduces
the true Egyptian papyrus, and it is thought probable
that the plant was introduced from Egypt by the Syracu-
san Kings in the days of their intimate relations with
the Ptolemies.

Ovid; Meta. V. 409- V. 462.



The deep and sacred Spring of Arethusa rose near the
margin of the sea in the island of Ortygia, a tiny offshoot
nearly touching the larger island of Sicily.

Arethusa was a nymph of Greece and, in the words of
her own mouth, was so beautiful, and so robust of build,
that even she could not avoid blushing at the wealth of
her personal endowments.

On a day of intense heat when she had been unusually
active in skimming the glades of the Stymphalian forest,
and setting her snares with all the industry upon which
she prided herself, she came to the stream of Alpheus
and eagerly plunged into the cooling depths of its clear
and eddyless waters.

Perhaps Alpheus, too, blushed at the sight of the
robustious beauties of the buxom bather ; at any rate he
lost little time in floating up from the depths of the
pebbly bottom of the stream, and endeavored to seize
her — but she fled. With the swiftness of a dove in flight
she ran over fields and over mountains; over rocks and
over crags; and it was not until she had covered the
greater part of Arcadia that she began to be weary, and
called upon Diana, with whom she held the position of
bow-and-quiver carrier, to come to her assistance; and the
kindly goddess, hastily plucking a dense cloud from the
sky, threw it over the panting racer and hid her from
the sight of her pursuer.

But Arethusa could still hear his footsteps as he groped
blindly here and there through the heavy, opaque fog,
and could almost feel his breath as he shouted his en-
treaties and called upon her by name.

In her fear, ' ' cold perspiration took possession of her


limbs thus beseiged, and azure colored drops distilled
from all her body; wherever she moved a foot there
flowed a little lake. Drops trickled from her hair, and in
less time than it took her to tell of it, she was changed
into a stream," and, Diana having cleaved the ground
below the cloud, the stream sank into the earth and,
passing through dark, underground caverns, rose to the
surface as a Spring in the distant, sea-surrounded island
of Ortygia.

And no more pleasant retreat could have been selected
in which to recuperate from the gloom of a long and dark-
some journey underground, for it was averred that in
Syracuse there never was a day of such violent and turbu-
lent storms that men could not see the sun at some time
or other in the day.

Alpheus, however, would not be evaded, and, as a
river, he eagerly pursued the fleeing stream below the
sea and rose beside it at Ortygia.

In proof that one of the river's channels really passed
under the sea to Sicily, Strabo recounts that a cup from
the temple of Olympia came up opposite the fountain of

Pausanias refused to credit this legend of love, and,
indeed, if Arethusa told the truth, then Atalanta should
have been pilloried as an impostress instead of being
lauded by all the ages as the Princess of sprinters. Other
doubters even assert that the first name of the fountain
was Alphaga, the Fountain of the Willows, and that it
was so called by the Phoenicians because, when they
discovered it, it was surrounded with trees of that species.

Still, Arethusa was a very credible personage to the
Sicilians, and some of the island's earliest coinage, in
existence today, bears the impress of a fat and rather
voluptuous face that evidently belonged to a well nour-


ished female who might have corresponded quite accu-
rately with the description that Arethusa gave of herself.

Perhaps, too, the world is indebted to Arethusa for
something besides a pretty coin and a pleasant conceit,
for anyone who will may imagine that Archimedes who
was a Sicilian, having been born at Syracuse in 287 B.C.,
and who thriftily worked out his problems with figures
drawn in the sand of the Public Square, no less economi-
cally used the water of the public fountain of Arethusa
to find the law of specific gravity, and determine how
much alloy the grafting goldsmith had put in the crown
that King Hiero had ordered him to make of pure gold.

Cicero in describing the fountain as he saw it, said: —
1 ' The city of Syracuse is the greatest of the Greek cities
and the most beautiful of all — it is so great that it may
be said to consist of four cities of the largest size. At the
end of one of these, called the island, it being separated
from the rest by a narrow arm of the sea, there is a foun-
tain of sweet water; the name of which is Arethusa, of
incredible size, very full of fish, which would be entirely
overwhelmed by the waves of the sea if it were not pro-
tected from them by a rampart and a dam of stone."

The modern Syracuse covers only the area of the old
island of Ortygia, the other suburbs of Cicero's time
having been abandoned, and the sweet water of the
Spring had often become savored with the salt of the sea
when one of the many earthquakes, from which Sicily
has suffered sorely from ancient times down to the
destruction of Messina in 1908, has opened a way to the
ocean; hence it is found referred to as salt by writers of
one era, and as fresh by those of an earlier or a later period.

This Spring was sometimes called the sacred Spring of
Ceres, supposably because Arethusa informed that god-
dess, when searching for her daughter, that she had seen


Proserpine in the gardens of Pluto in her underground
passage. The designation, however, would seem to be
more appropriately due to the Spring of Cyane, and it
may not be unlikely that it was so bestowed in early
times, and was later misapplied by someone who con-
fused one Spring with the other but a few miles away.

Shelley versified Arethusa's story in English; and
Keats, in his Endymion, amplified it with an account of
what happened underground, where, through winding
caverns, the two Springs dash, "swift, mad, fantastic,
round the rocks" and all the while discoursing the one in
passionate addresses, and the other Spring replying in
phrases seemingly calculated to increase the hopes of the

It was at Syracuse that Nelson prepared for the battle
of the Nile on August 1st, 1798, and he wrote to Lady
Hamilton; "Surely, watered at the fountain of Arethusa,
we must have victory."

The Alpheus, now the Rufea and the largest river in
the Morea, rose in the southeast of Arcadia: in its course
it frequently disappeared in one place and reappeared in
another. It flowed past the temple of Olympia, a beauti-
ful vale in Elis near the sacred sycamore grove of Altis,
and emptied in the Ionic Sea.

There was also a fountain of Arethusa in Ithaca; and
one close to Chalcis in Eubcea which was sometimes dis-
turbed by volcanic agency, and which, according to
Leake, has now disappeared. There were tame fish kept
in this fountain, and Dicaearchus says its water was
so abundant as to be sufficient to supply the whole

Athenaeus; II. 16.

Ovid; Meta. V. 462. V. 564.

Pausanias; V. 7.



The Spring of Acis rose on the eastern side of Sicily,
near the base of a lemon-crowned height of Mt. Etna,
and formed a small river of the same name.

It was the jealousy of Polyphemus, and the love of
Galatea for Acis, that brought about the latter's sudden
end, and the birth of this Spring.

They who have derived their impressions of the
Cyclops Polyphemus solely from the account that Ulysses
gave of him when he was still smarting from the superior
wiliness and prowess of that giant, will find another in-
stance of the many sidedness of every character in the
recollections that one of his fellow islanders of a later day,
Theocritus, has left on record to the credit of his mildness
and the softness of his nature when his heart was touched,
as it was by the charms of Galatea.

She was a sea nymph of great beauty whose name
bespoke her fairness, even as the whiteness of milk caused
the Greeks to call it Gala ; and the account of the genesis
of the Spring is related as she told it originally to her
friend Scylla, who was a maiden until Circe in a fit of
jealous rage changed her into that terrible rock that,
aided by the opposite whirlpool, Charybdis, has been the
bane of mariners from the earliest days of sea-faring.

Whether Galatea was sporting in the sea, or reposing
on the shore between her graceful evolutions, and no less
when absent or out of sight, the mind of Polyphemus was
engrossed with thoughts connected with her alone. The
flocks were neglected, and even the slight toil of tillage
that sufficed to stimulate the virgin soil's fertility was
given over.

Seated on a wedge-shaped crag of the mountain that


projected into the surrounding sea, whose surface formed
a mirror brighter than glass, he then passed the happy
hours improving his appearance and admiring those per-
sonal beauties that were as invisible to others as the
wishes that fathered them. His tree-trunk cane and his
ponderous pipe of a hundred reeds being laid aside, he
combed his hair with the wondering rake, and made his
beard symmetrical with the astonished sickle. Then,
groomed to his satisfaction with the various implements
of agriculture, and while awaiting the appearance of
the nymph, he planned the presentation of appropriate
presents, such as a pair of shaggy bear-cubs, and re-
hearsed aloud such phrases as became a love-sick Cyclops,
until his woolly wealth, the timid and forgotten sheep,
their terror at his roaring overcome by curiosity, crept
cautiously around the crag, to marvel at the antics of
the amorous monster while trembling at the thunderous
declamations that he poured forth, with no less heat and
sound than if all Etna, with its flames and rumblings, had
been confined within his hairy breast.

Meanwhile, however, the heart of fair Galatea en-
shrined neither a mountain nor a monster, but only the
image of Acis, the son of Faunus, and then a youth whom
only sixteen years had seen.

Often they sat on the seashore at the base of the crag,
and, concealed from the eye of Polyphemus by blocks of
sheltering lava, listened with the sheep and laughed at
the storm of rhapsodies that the Cyclops, unconscious of
their presence, poured over their heads, rhapsodies, in
praise of the charms of Galatea, that were alternated with
vows to rid himself of his rival, the fragile Acis.

The peeping pair, however, growing careless in con-
cealing themselves, the giant one day caught sight of
them, and, before they could scatter out of range, he tore


a mass of rock from the mountain and hurled it with so
true an aim that Acis was pinned to the earth and
crushed; "The purple blood flowed from beneath the
rock, but in a little time the redness began to vanish ; at
first it became the color of a stream muddied by a sudden
shower, and then in time it became clear. Then the rock
that had been thrown, opened, and through the chinks, a
reed, vigorous and stately, arose, and the hollow mouth
of the rock resounded with the waters gushing forth."

Acis is identified with the existing Spring which issues
from under a rock of lava and forms the small stream now
called Fiume di Jaci, and also Chiaci; this little river
reaches the sea after a very short course during which it
skirts the modern town of Aci Reale, the Acium of the
ancients. The water has always been noted for its cold-
ness and the swiftness of its current, in which features
one may see typified the freezing fear of Acis and the
rapidity of his short and unsuccessful flight from Poly-
phemus, and thus find full corroboration of the truth of
Galatea's tale.

A short distance away, at Aci Castello, a succession of
separated rocks running out from the shore, and partly
covered by the sea, are said to be those other but missent
missiles of the giant that Ulysses, more lucky than Acis,
managed to elude when, a long time later, he escaped
from the island where, it is no less indubitable than his
own existence, he enjoyed many a cooling draught from
this very fountain.

Ovid; Meta. XIII. Fable 7 et seq.


Fountains of the Palici

The fountains of the Palici were twin large sulphurous
Springs with geyser -like eruptions, in the form of a dome.


Their streams, thrown high into the air and falling
heavily back, finally hammered to pieces the partition
between them and converted the two Springs into a small
lake, 480 feet in diameter, the surface of which now
bubbles with escaping gas that, spreading out ineffec-
tively in the larger vent, no longer raises the water.

The Palici were twin sons of Jupiter. Their mother
was Hephaestus' daughter Thaleia, who sought refuge in
the earth through a crevice she had prayed might open
and allow her to hide from the wifely anger of Juno.

When the twins reached maturity, they shot up
through the basins of the Springs in one of their geyser-
like explosions, and the natives, accepting their awesome
and spectacular advent as an indication of their divinity,
received them as local deities and made a temple for
them, and in early times offered them human sacrifices.

The Springs, whose holiness had thus been attested,
became a kind of Court where contracts were made and
oaths were taken, and where perjury was detected by
writing the testimony of the contending parties on tablets
which were then thrown into the water.

The tablets of true testimony floated, and those of
false witnesses sank — and the perjurers immediately
either died or became blind.

The temple in the neighborhood came to be a sanctuary
for runaway slaves, and the Springs are prominent in
history as the place where, in 102 B.C., the Second Servile
Insurrection was planned and started by the slaves whose
disorders kept the island in tumult for the following two

The lake which is fifteen miles west of Leontini is now
known as Lago di Naftia.

Strabo; VI. 2. § 9-

Ovid; Meta. V. Fable 4-



There was a Spring at Agrigentum the waters of which
were tainted by an unctuous, liquid bitumen resembling
oil, which was collected on panicles or reeds, to which it
readily adhered. It was made use of for burning in lamps
as a substitute for oil; and also for the cure of scab itch
in beasts of burden.

The city, which is now called Girgenti, was in the
southwest part of the island. It was established in 582
B.C., and was said to have had nearly a million inhabitants.

The enormous wealth of the leading classes enabled
them to live in the greatest luxury and to lavish vast
sums even in the erection of magnificent monuments to
pet birds.

Pliny; XXXV. 51.



In the fountain of Plinthia, nothing would sink.

Pliny; XXXI. 18.



At the town of Leontium there was a Spring the waters
of which were fatal, at the end of a couple of days, to
those who drank of them.

Leontium was founded in 730 B.C., on a site taken from

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 42 of 46)