James Reuel Smith.

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

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avert the predicted fate by ordering every daughter to
do away with her husband on the night of the ceremonies.
All of the girls obeyed except Lynceus' bride Hyperm-
nestra, and the forty-nine severed heads were thrown into
the River Amymone. It is said, though it is also denied,
that Lynceus fulfilled the prophecy.

The sisters were doomed to expiate their wedding


night acts in Tartarus by forever trying to draw water in

A commonplace substitute for this history has been
offered to the effect that Danaus means drought ; that the
daughters were so many nymphs of Springs and their
spouses an equal number of dependent streams, whose
beds became empty when in a period of hot weather the
fountains ceased to flow; and that the punishment was
suggested by the sandy nature of the soil at their sources,
which in time of drought were said to leak.

Danaus was said to have been the first who taught the
Argives to dig Wells, and for his surveys locating the
Springs of Argos he was made King; a reward that was
also bestowed on other men whose discoveries were of
much value, and which foreshadowed modern patent
rights, being in effect a Patent of Nobility.

Another Hypermnestra was the mother of Amphiaraus,
and an unlocated fountain that anciently bore his name
is supposed to have been in this neighborhood which was
near the seacoast and some five miles south of the city of

In the swamp of Lerna near the Spring of Amymone
was where dwelt the monster Hydra one of the offspring
of Echidna, that mother of numerous freaks, the slaying
of which formed the second of the twelve labors of Her-
cules. The Hydra was represented as having a number of
heads variously stated as from seven to over a hundred.
Pausanias was inclined to doubt that it really had so
many, and in the absence of Peisander's works the num-
ber must still remain unfixed. Peisander who antedated
Hesiod is credited with having published the most de-
tailed history of Hercules, but little or nothing is left of
it save perhaps the 24th and 25th Idylls of Theocritus
which have been attributed to the earlier poet.


Between the little river of Amymone and the river
Pontinus a sacred grove of plane trees extended from Mt.
Pontinus nearly to the sea; and it was tinder one of these
plane trees that grew near the Spring that the monster
Hydra was reared. The identical tree was known and it
shared for ages in the awe that shivering strangers felt
as the glib guides of Argolis pointed out the exact spots
where the Lion, or the Dragon, or the Hydra had per-
petrated this or that especially cruel deed. Those who
might look upon these scenes in the fancied security of
terrors long passed away were roused to a sense of horrors
still close at hand by being shown a nearby circle of
stones that marked the place where Pluto descended
to his underground realms.

While there is no lack of fossil evidence that the earth
was once cumbered with enormous animals rivaling if not
exceeding the size of the whales of the present era, there
is no reason to surmise that these monsters were known
to any of the ancient races of men whose records have
come down through the last ten thousand years. There
were seemingly none of them left at the time that Noah
made his collection for post-diluvian perpetuation, nor is
there even a legend extant describing the remarkable
monsters as they are known today from the remains of
their fossilized femurs and the fragments of their spines.

It is, therefore, not unlikely that the exploits that are
viewed through the lenses of the epic poets would appear,
without these magnifying media, in much the same
category as the marvelous feat of Mr. Jack Horner of
nursery notoriety.

Indeed, some of the contemporaries of the greatest
heroes were the first to rock the pedestals upon which
their earliest monuments were reared; thus, King Lycus,
in his conversation with Megara, the wife of Hercules,


makes it clear that even the townsmen of the Greek
strong man were not greatly impressed by Hercules'
heroism in "killing a water snake in a marsh, " a remark
that may be much to the credit of Lycus' discretion,
as he made it only to the wife, and not until after the
husband had gone crazy.

Apollodorus; II. i. § 4.

Hyginus; Fable 169.

Euripides; Heracles Mad; line 150.


Physadeawas a Fountain in the neighborhood of Argos.

On the day set for bathing the statues of the goddess
Athena or Pallas, the Minerva of the Romans, it was
customary for the people of Argos to drink Spring water
only, and not to dip their vessels in the rivers whose
waters were used for laving the statues.

The handmaids were admonished to fill their urns on
that particular day either from the Fountain of Physadea
or from Amymone, from which it may be judged that it
was at one time a Fountain of prominence, although it
has not been located in modern days; perhaps because it
bore merely a local name given to one of the three Springs
produced by Neptune's trident and which were called,
collectively, Amymone.

Callimachus; Bath of Pallas.


The Trcezen Hippocrene

This Spring was in Argolis, at Trcezen, the birthplace
of Theseus, now called Damala, and, though apparently


lacking the guaranty of the Muses that the Hippocrene
fountain of Helicon enjoyed, it was quite satisfactorily
proven by very old tradition to have originated from the
same cause, having been pawed from the ground by
Pegasus when Bellerophon had ridden him there to seek
the hand and heart of ^Ethra.

It was in its vicinity that the unfortunate Phaedra
languished for love of Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and
the Amazon Antiope, whom his father had left at Trcezen
when he went to marry Phaedra and whom Phaedra met
when Theseus, needing to be purified for the murder of
Pallas and his sons, selected Trcezen for the ceremonies.
No doubt on that occasion he used the water of Hippo-
crene as Orestes had done before him, during his proba-
tion and trial and purification after the murder of his
mother. Nine men tried and acquitted Orestes, and the
large white stone that they sat upon was carefully pre-
served in front of the temple at Trcezen.

Theseus, from the age of seven, when he first saw
Hercules, was fired with ambition to emulate the hero's
deeds, and his life in consequence became a series of

He was a many-sided character witn a mania for carry-
ing off ladies from their homes, even going, unsuccess-
fully, on one occasion, to Hades to steal Proserpine for

He married a number of the beauties, and the revelries
at his wedding with Antiope the Queen of the Amazons,
whom the writer calls Hippolyta, are the theme of A
Midsummer Night's Dream. In the knight's tale Chau-
cer lauds him but one cannot lightly forgive him for
marooning Ariadne instead of marrying her, when it was
only her gift of the sword and her spool of thread that
made possible his escape from the labyrinth of Crete.


Theseus was unable to hold the Kingship of Athens
that came to him from his Father ^Egeus, but his fellow
townspeople of Trcezen seem to have continued to vener-
ate him long after his death, and anything connected
with him or the members of his family was preserved and
exhibited with pride by the trusting people among whom
he was born. They loved him for the deeds by which they
benefited; before his time the roads around their town
had been infested with robbers and other most villainous
characters, all of whom he did away with, using, with a
Samson-like humor, their own contrivances with which to
punish them. Sinus was a heartless monster whose chief
enjoyment it was to bend together two stout pine trees
and then let them fly apart when he had tied the heels of a
traveler to one and his neck to the other. Theseus tore him
in two in the selfsame way.

He also put an end to the pranks of Polypemon, better
known as Procrustes, who took a demonish delight in
accurately adapting all lengths of body to the only bed
that he provided for every one of his victims, cutting the
long, and stretching the short, to make them fill the
space between the pillow and the footboard.

Among the Theseus family relics that the people of
Trcezen preserved was the temple of Peeping Aphrodite
in which Phaedra fed her affection, by gazing out upon
the race course that it overlooked, when Hippolytus was
training to keep himself in condition. Another relic was
a marvelous maple bush with lacelike leaves, each one
filled with punctures that Phaedra had made with a hair-
pin while venting the despairing agonies of her misplaced

Near this bush the tomb of the unhappy woman was
constructed, and when she could no longer make lace
work in the maple leaves her spirit could watch the sym-


pathetic waters of Hippocrene fretting the surface of the
Spring with their bubbles.

Pausanias; II. 31.

The Well of Hercules


Trcezen had another noted Spring; it rose in front of
the house of Hippolytus and was called The Well of
Hercules, because, it was said, that hero was the one who
discovered it.

The Troezenians had a brook which they named Chry-
sorrhoe, the Golden Stream, but it is not stated whether
this Spring or that of Hippocrene was the source of the
brook which was given its pretentious name because in
a period of drought lasting nine years, when all other
streams dried up, this one continued to flow without

More remarkable, however, than the ever flowing
fountain was the history of a tree that grew before the
statue of Hermes and which adds an interesting feature
to the biography of Hercules, and furnishes the fact that
he made his club from the wood of the wild olive, for the
tree before the statue sprang from the original weapon
wielded in a thousand exploits the memory of which
is endeared to the hearts of all learned worshipers of
muscular prowess.

The club, which had been cut from a tree in the Saron-
ian marsh, having been presented as an offering to the
god, was propped against the statue, and, respected alike
by hunters of relics and of fuel; in due time it took root,
and, with even more vitality than the blossoming rod of


Aaron, it grew to a full-sized wild olive tree, showing a
vigor nothing short of marvelous in a weapon that had
seen such long usage and hard service.

An effort appears to have been made by Amphiaraus
to have this Spring called after him, but the claim of
prior discovery seems to have secured the Spring's right
to help to bear the hero's name to posterity.

Pausanias; II. 32.



The Fountain called Hycessa was near Troezen and
was one of the sources of the river Taurus which Athen-
aeus notes was called Bull's Water by Sophocles in his
play of ^Egeus.

Several bulls had prominent parts in episodes related
of the family of King ^Egeus; the Marathonian bull, and
the Cretan bull or Minotaur, bull-headed and man-
bodied, were slain by ^Egeus' son Theseus who long
before the siege of Troy impressed the form of an ox on
the money he issued. A third bull, however, turned the
tables by frightening the horses of Hippolytus who lost
his life (or one of his lives, for he was resuscitated by
^sculapius) in the runaway that resulted. The play of
Sophocles may have given an account of the connection
between one of these animals and the stream fed by the
Spring of Hycessa, but unfortunately it is one of the 123
lost works that the author wrote some five hundred years
before the Christian era, and the account has perished
with the play.

The Spring was near Theseus' Rock under which he
found his father's sword and shoes.


The Taurus was afterwards given the name Hyllicus,
and is now known as Potami.

Pausanias; II. 32.
Athenaeus; III. 95.



Pausanias states that the sources of the Inachus were
in Mt. Artemisium, but his brief addition, "though they
flow underground for some way," scarcely conveys an
adequate impression of the lengthy land, sea, and under-
ground voyage that others give the river the credit of
having performed.

Its first sources were in the mountain range of Pindus
that formed the boundary between Thessaly and Epirus,
from which range it flowed into the Ionian Sea on the
west and, pushing its way through the waves, passed under
the Peloponnesus and ascended through Mt. Artemisium,
which formed the boundary between Argolis and Arcadia,
until it reached one of its elevations called Lyrceium
where it burst out, near the town of (Ence, as a fresh-
water Spring showing no evidences of its briny passage.

The town was named after the grandfather of Dio-
medes who buried him there after treating him "as well
as one would expect a person to treat his grandfather."

vStrabo considered the voyage of the Inachus a fiction
invented by Sophocles, in one of his plays that has not
been preserved, and preferred to attribute the trip to the
name, which he believed a colony had carried from Argolis
and bestowed on the stream from the mountain in Thessaly.

Greek traditions vary, as Pausanias mildly expressed
it, and for that reason a good story is often marred by
another version that contradicts it.


The contradictions probably arose in many instances
from misunderstandings such as occur daily through
attaching to a word a meaning not intended by the
original author; but another prolific cause of variations
was evidently, as in the case of the Inachus, the mistaking
of one person, place, river or other natural feature for
another that bore the same name, although the persons
lived in different generations, or the places were situated
in different parts of Greece, or even in other countries.

The Inachus of Argolis is now known as the Banitza.

Pausanias; II. 25.
Strabo; VI. 2. §4.



On the top of Mt. Treton there was a Spring which was
colder than snow, so cold, indeed, that people were afraid
to drink of it fearing that they would freeze if they did so.

King Ptolemy mentioned the Spring in his Commen-
taries, and satisfied himself of its temperature by fear-
lessly taking a draught of it.

It rose at the side of the carriage road called Contoporia
which ran between Mycenae and Cleonas. The mountain
it crossed was a haunt of the Nemean lion until it was
killed by Hercules.

Athenaeus; II. 19.

Springs of the Asopus

There was much more than met the casual eye in the
Springs of the Asopus.


They appeared to be at Phlius; that is, an observer
tracing the river's dwindling course from the town of
Sicyon, where it flowed into the Gulf of Corinth, and
following its banks to the south, would have seen it
making its appearance near the city of Phlius, and, re-
garding it in no manner as a River of Doubt, would have
gone his way satisfied that he had seen the river's first

The good people of Phlius, however, had another view
about it.

A fondness for something different, whether for times
passed or for foreign products, may be innate in the
human race, and there were several instances of peoples
who were apparently not satisfied with a home-grown
river and were ready with plenty of proof to convince
visitors that the Springs they were looking at were
merely an episode in their river's course, and that the
stream originated abroad and in some country beyond
the seas.

The people of Delos boasted that their river Inopus
was really the Nile rising among them after a long under-
ground journey from Africa. Even the Euphrates was
said to be a reincarnation of the Nile after dropping out
of Ethiopian existence through a lake.

And the Phliusians were proud to boast that the
Asopus was a foreign and not an indigenous stream; that
it was in fact imported by a very circuitous route from
Phrygia and was none other than the River Maeander
shipped from Miletus under sea to the Peloponnese, the
name given to that part of Greece, south of the Corin-
thian Gulf.

In early times the people had been content to consider
the Asopus a purely domestic river, as on its face it
seemed to be, that had been discovered by one Asopus, a


contemporary of Aras an Autochthon and the first
person who lived in their country.

It seems possible that the name itself was imported,
but only from Bceotia, just across the Gulf of Corinth,
where there was another river Asopus.

Afterwards it was equally as easy to transfer the river
as it had been to transfer the name, and no less easy to
manufacture proof, which was done by placing in the
Temple of Apollo at Sicyon, along with the spear that
Meleager used in slaying the Calydonian boar, and other
precious relics, the original flutes of Marsyas, which,
after his unsuccessful musical contest with Apollo, were
dropped in the Marsyas river, and thence carried into the
Maeander from which they reappeared in the Asopus and
were rescued at the very moment when they were floating
out into the harbor of Sicyon on their way to the sea and
to oblivion.

Their rescuer was an honest shepherd with the shep-
herd's well-known fondness for pipes, and he recognized
the historical instruments at once and gave them to

It is a great pity that such a remarkable connoisseur in
flutes, and that a poor shepherd to whom any collector
would have given wealth for his find, should have to be
referred to merely as "a shepherd" and cannot be called
by name, for his name, if ever known, is lost, and, so far
as appears in the accounts, his honesty was his only re-
ward though on the strength of that honesty alone a very
small river became as remarkable in one respect as the
giant Nile.

In the back part of the market place of Phlius there
was a dwelling called the Seer's House where Amphiaraus
first formulated the principles of Oneirocrisy which made
him famous and which is the subject of considerable


literature even at the present day. And near that ven-
erable house was a spot named Omphalus which the
Phliusians are said to have said was the center of all the
Peloponnese, though perhaps that was a slip of a tongue
that should have said, Greece.

The Asopus became a never failing stream for the
genealogists of the families within miles of the river, one
into which every ancestor seeker could plunge with the
certainty of reaching the source of the line he was at work
on, and that source was more than often Asopus himself.

The Asopus is now known as the river of St. George.

Pausanias; II. 5. 7. 12.


Through an arch-roofed recess that extended nearly
two hundred feet into the side of Mt. Chaon, the Springs
of the Erasinus River gushed out where a grateful grove
that they nourished to exuberance kept the waters cool
and offered the twittering birds a pleasing shade in the
heats of summer, and a refuge from the storms of wild and
windy days in winter.

These Springs immediately formed a sturdy river
whose course though short was full of labor and therefore
called The Mills of Argos, from the number of wheels
turned by its rapid and tireless current which persevered
throughout the year and when many other weaker
streams had become exhausted.

The Erasinus was said to be a reappearance of the
Arcadian river Stymphalus which dropped out of sight
under Mt. Apelauron and traveled through the earth
for twenty-five miles before coming out again under Mt.


These Springs of the river they christened were some-
what north of the town of Cenchreae perhaps named for
that son of Peirene at whose loss she wept herself into
that celebrated Fountain of Corinth by whose name the
Delphic oracle was wont to refer to the city, rather than
by its geographical designation.

The river is now called Kephalari but continues to be
the only stream in the Plain of Argos that flows through-
out the year; neither has any change been found in the
Springs and their grotto as described twenty centuries ago.

Pausanias; II. 24.

Springs of the Hyllicus

Some of the Springs of the river Hyllicus, originally
called the Taurus or Taurius, were in the mountains
through which ran the road from Trcezen to Hermione.

Near them was the temple where Theseus was said to
have married Helen of Troy; and also the rock under
which he found the sword of his father ^Egeus, the rec-
ognition of which saved Theseus' life when his father, who
had not seen him since infancy, not knowing who he was,
was about to give him a poisoned draught at the instiga-
tion of his stepmother Medea. (See Hycessa, No. 50.)

Pausanias; II. 32.



About thirty stadia from Methana there were some
Springs of such heat thai they warmed the waters of the
Saronic Gulf into which they flowed.


These Springs had their beginning in a blaze of glory,
for, at a time when their site was dry, a flame burst
suddenly from the ground and formed an imposing pillar
of fire; then, after the column had burned itself away, the
waters began to flow and afterwards continued per-
manently to bubble up, very warm and very salt, and
creating a mild temperature that attracted many sorts of
ocean monsters, especially sea dogs, that made it danger-
ous for anyone to attempt to swim in the vicinity.

The eruption cast up a mountain half a mile high, and
caused such heat and sulphureous smells that the place
was unapproachable by day, for, strange to say, at night
the odor became agreeable. The volcanic fires cast their
lights to great distances and made the sea boil, for half a
mile from the shore, so violently that the agitation ex-
tended for two miles beyond.

This disturbance occurred some 250 years B.C., but the
Springs are still hot and sulphureous; there are two of
them now known as Vroma and Vromolimni, in the small
peninsula north of Damala, and they are of especial
interest on account of their origin, for although the
Peloponnesus has often suffered from earthquakes and
tidal waves there are few traces of volcanic action in any
part of it except in the neighborhood of these Springs.

Pausanias; II. 34.
Strabo; I. 3. § 18.

Wells of Hermione

The people of the town of Hermione had two Wells.

Notwithstanding the fact that the older one of these
wells was of such magnitude and copiousness that the
whole population could never have exhausted it, they


rather strangely went to the trouble of digging the second
well which tapped a stream flowing from a place called

The water of the old Well flowed into it by a hidden

Hermione was at the southern limits of Argolis where
there is now a little village called Kastri. It contained
the sanctuary of Clymenus surrounded with a stone fence
that enclosed the entrance to a short cut and inexpensive
route to Hades which was so quickly reached from Her-
mione that its people never placed in the mouths of their
departed friends any fee for the ferryman Charon, an
expense for which the bereaved among all other Grecians
were obliged to make provision.

Pausanias; II. 35-


Well of Canathus

Nauplia was deserted and in ruins two thousand years
ago, when all that was left of it were vestiges of the walls
and of a Temple of Poseidon, and this Well of Canathus,

The identifier frequently has reason to give thanks for
the aid that the persistency of Springs affords him.
Where a city has crumbled to rubbish and its stones have
perhaps been stolen to start a new town in another local-
ity — when nothing is left of the work of the men who con-
structed the city, its site may often still be identified by
the authenticating autograph the fountain pen of Nature
still traces with the water of its ever flowing Spring.

But in the instance of this old town, Hera's habit also
helped to point out what was once Nauplia, for, until
Grecian faith in her existence was lost, she continued her


ancient practice of repairing yearly to the Spring of
Canathus to bathe in it and become a virgin again.

On a neighboring rock there was carved the figure of
an ass to commemorate the fact that his fondness for
gnawing the twigs of the grape vines first taught man the
benefit of pruning them to bring about a more abundant
yield of fruit.

The history of the town of Nauplia offers a striking
instance of rejuvenations which, according to individual
fancy, may be considered accidental coincidences or as
confirmations of the restorative powers that Hera found

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 5 of 46)