James Reuel Smith.

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

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in the Well of Canathus.

Named by Nauplius, a son of Poseidon and Amymone,
it became a city of independence.

Then its citizens were driven away by the Argives and
it lapsed into nonentity and fell into ruin.

In the Middle Ages, however, it showed new signs of
life; but in 1205 it suffered in a successful siege by the

Two hundred years later it was captured by the Vene-
tians ; and a hundred and fifty years after that it fell into
the hands of the Turks.

A century and a half later, the Greeks recaptured it
and not only restored it but made it the seat of the na-
tional government, which it continued to be until 1834
when Athens acquired the honor.

It is additionally strange to find it described a few
years ago not only as having one of the strongest for-
tresses in Europe, but as looking more like a REAL
town than any other place with that designation in

And even its ancient name, received from Amymone' s
son, has been restored.

Pausanias; II. 38.


Wells and Fountains of ^Esculapius

The principal Well of .SSsculapius was in his native
town of Epidaurus on the eastern coast of Argolis ; it was
in the temple, and his throne and statue were set over the
Well, which provided enough moisture to keep the ivory
from checking — in dry temples it was customary to
sprinkle ivory statues with water, and in damp temples to
rub them with oil to preserve them.

But other wells of the first physician, with nearly ioo
shrines, were found in profusion throughout the length
and breadth of Greece, all dedicated to him and bearing
his name, and if other testimony were lacking they alone
would furnish ample proof of the monopoly in medicine
that he enjoyed.

These wells indicate that he very carefully canvassed
the country in person and had his name attached to them
with a full appreciation of the value of advertising, of
which he might be called the discoverer without fear of
raising a counter-claimant. They bring to mind the
private mile boards that picket so many modern rail-
ways and apprize the passengers from minute to minute
that they are so many stadia nearer the celebrated em-
porium of such a one in the city indicated. Travelers in
Greece had merely to follow the Wells of ^sculapius to
come in due course to the seaport from which to embark
for his office in Epidaurus, to which place whole cargoes
of clients were wont to set sail to consult him, and from
which they usually returned carrying in the hold of the
vessel a dragon, which the famous physician seems to
have been in the habit of dispensing in lieu of drugs.

In those days when open air existence was the rule,
and when some men still lived like Nestor for several


generations, the ills of poisoned arrows were perhaps
only less prevalent than those of disease, and as a dragon
was but a snake the ancients may have known how to
make a counteracting serum from iEsculapius' stock, as
the Brazilian does from the South American rattlesnake.

It was never too late to be taken to ^Esculapius, for it
was no uncommon belief that he had even restored the
dead to life.

Among the resuscitated whose names and addresses
were given are : Androgeus, son of King Minos ; Capaneus ;
Glaucus; Hymenasus, killed by the collapse of his house
on his wedding day; Hippolitus; Lycurgus, the son of
Pronax; and Tyndarus.

But even advertising may be carried too far and ex-
haust the capital, as the Epidaurian doctor found to his
cost, for his own death was due to his crowning claim of
being a life restorer ; it raised the apprehensions of Pluto
who foresaw that such skill would soon put his ferry out
of business and prevent any increase in the number of
inhabitants in his underground Kingdom of Hades — and
Zeus, at Pluto's earnest solicitation, slew ^Esculapius with
a flash of lightning.

The train of events that followed that flash endured
for a year, for Apollo having craftily ferreted out the
individual Cyclops who fashioned the bolt, bow-and-
arrowed him; and Jupiter, angered at this indirect shot
at himself, condemned Apollo to serve for twelve months
as a bondman, and he was indentured to King Admetus
of Thessaly.

The account adds the intimate detail that the monarch
made the god a swineherd on the banks of the river
Amphrysos, but does not state to whom was delegated
the duty of conducting the chariot of the Sun during
Apollo's year of service.


Had the great doctor disclosed the secret of life, his
students would have been able to make use of it in his
own behalf, and the moral is, therefore, more than a hint
to all secretive inventors. The fact that his disciples did
not restore him to life invalidates the malicious rumor
that in raising the dead he used the blood from the veins
of the right side of Medusa, and that he killed people
with the blood from her left side.

^Esculapius, who perhaps considered such a disclosure
quite unnecessary for his own benefit, would, however,
have done well to provide for accidents which no medical
power can avert, such as the flash of lightning, and hun-
dreds of minor mischances of daily occurrence, through
one of which a descendant of ^Esculapius came to grief.
Asclepiades was the descendant's name, and so great was
his confidence in his skill that he laid a wager that he
would never be even sick; a wager that the recorder dryly
states he won — as he met his death by falling down-

Apollo's interest in revenging the death of the Doctor
may be accounted for by either of two rumors ; one, that
he was the father of ^sculapius ; and the other, that
Hymenasus whom the physician restored to life was one
of Apollo's sons. But it is less easy to surmise why Hy-
men, as the unfortunate youth is generally called, whose
wedding day was so very inauspicious, should have been
made the god of marriage at whose altar all happy lovers
still continue to address their vows, although perhaps few
of them are aware that he was but the bridegroom of a

The Temple of ^Esculapius was outside of the town of
Epidaurus (which received its name from its founder, a
son of Pelops) in a sacred grove which was walled in on
all sides. In the grove there was a Fountain well worth


seeing because of its decorations and the roof that had
been raised above it ; and about it were numerous pillars
on which were recorded the names and the maladies of
those whom ^Esculapius had cured.

The grounds of the temple near the present village of
Pidhavro are covered with ruins that have not yet been
thoroughly investigated, but many of the testimonial
tablets have been brought to light, and the Temple Well
has been found and restored to its ancient condition. It
is fifty-five feet deep and is still supplied from its former
underground source.

Some portions of the source of a brook have also been
uncovered, and they are in all probability parts of the
channel through which ran the water of the Fountain
whose decorations were a striking feature in the grounds
that surround the temple. (See No. 103.)

Pausanias; II. 27.



The Fountain of Dine rose in the sea near a place called

It was a Spring of fresh and sweet water, sacred to
Poseidon, and sacrifices of bridled horses were offered to
him there, apparently by throwing the ready-to-ride
animals into the Spring.

Nearby was a spot of as great interest to the Greeks
as the Pilgrims' Rock became to Americans, because it
was there that Danaus disembarked with his fifty
daughters when he first came to the Peloponnesus from
Chemnis in Egypt.

The surrounding country was named Pyramia, from


the number of pyramidal monuments that were scattered
over its surface.

The Spring is now called Anavalos. It is some five
miles south of Amymone and appears a quarter of a mile
off shore, gushing up with such force as to form a mound
of water and set the sea in commotion for several hundred
feet around it. Mariners are said to supply their vessels
from this Sea Spring with less trouble than it would be to
water from a land-locked Fountain, using, perhaps, some
means similar to those employed by the sailors who water
at the Spring of Aradus. (See No. 355.)

Pausanias;VIII. 7. & II. 38.



The district of Laconia had several Springs that were
dedicated to AEsculapius, and it had a town, Epidaurus,
named after his birthplace in Argolis, which was founded
by a shipload of his patients who were driven there in a
storm. They had the usual ^Esculapian prescription of a
dragon with them, and when it made its escape from the
ship and darted into a hole in the ground they were con-
vinced by visions and the dragon's strange behavior that
they should stay and make a settlement, which they
accordingly did.

One of his Springs was at ; —

Pausanias; III. 23.



where he had a Fountain and a shrine and a brazen

Three furlongs from the town there was a white stone
upon which Orestes was said to have sat to be cured
of his madness; the "old man" that the townspeople
talked about was, however, not Orestes but the original
"Old Man of the Sea," Nereus, though what they said
about him Pausanias tantalizingly refrains from stating.



Gythium was a short distance to the west of the mouth
of the River Eurotas.

Thirty stadia from Gythium was the small town of
JEgise that had a remarkable body of water called Posei-
don's Marsh, in the neighborhood of which mushroom
mining stock companies of those days probably found a
fertile field for their operations. The Marsh though full
of fine fish was given a wide berth by all the progenitors
of Isaac Walton, and none of the beauties was ever either
eaten or caught because of a general and unchallenged
belief that anyone who cast a line or a net into the
uncanny waters would immediately himself become
a fish.

Opposite the city of Gythium lay the small island of
Cranae, and a shrewd, foresighted statesman who scanned
the shipping news from its little port on a memorable
morning in the year 1195 B.C. would have known at once
that he was reading the opening paragraph in the history
of the Siege of Troy when he saw, in the list of pas-
sengers who had sailed the day before, the names of
Paris and Helen, who had fled to the island in all haste
and immediately embarked for the city their escapade

Little is left of Gythium but its Spring, and the Seat of
Orestes which is indicated by a chair carved in a wayside
rock a short distance from Marathonisi.

Another Spring of ^sculapius was at; —


The only notable objects here were the Temple of
iEsculapius and the Fountain of Pellanis. This was a


large Spring into which a nameless maiden fell when she
was filling her water jug. The maiden disappeared but the
veil she had worn was found in another fountain called; —

Lance a,

of which nothing is related save that it received the lost
veil of the maiden who was drowned in the Fountain of

The Springs of Pellanis and Lancea are supposed to
be two about seven miles from New Sparta (on the site of
ancient Sparta); the streams from them unite and flow
into the nearby Eurotas river.

Pausanias; III. 21. (Gythium)
Pausanias; III. 21. (Pellanis)
Pausanias; III. 21. (Lancea)



The Fountain of Dorcea at Sparta was an adjunct of
the temple of Dorceus who aroused the anger of Hercules
and was probably killed by the hero.

The fountain, if there was anything notable about it,
has lost its history in the more absorbing story of Sparta
itself which has become a synonym for all that is rugged,
as was even its speech which was said to be the least
euphonious of all the Grecian dialects.

The renown of such of its men as Leonidas, Menelaus,
and Lycurgus, has overshadowed the prowess of many
no less noteworthy individuals among its fair sex, for it
produced Cynisca, the first woman who bred horses, and


the first one to win the chariot race at Olympia ; there was
also Euryleonis, another woman winner with horses at
that Mecca of skilled strength. When such mothers made
men, it is not to be marveled at that they made prodi-
gies of valor. And many of their sons were endowed with
bright brains no less than with muscle; what the Law
owes to Lycurgus, the statuaries owe to Theodorus, a
male resident of Sparta who discovered the art of fusing
and how to make statues of metal.

In one of its suburbs there was preserved for nearly a
thousand years the house of Menelaus; and another sub-
urb contained the house of Phormio, preserved as a lesson
to inhospitable people; the story as told of it was that
Castor and Pollux having asked permission to occupy
one of Phormio 's rooms over night were told to go
somewhere else as the room was that of his daughter.
The next morning his daughter and all of her attend-
ants had disappeared, and the room contained only some
statues of the indignant twins and a strong odor of

In another suburb there was preserved the starting
place, and the road over which Odysseus ran the race in
which he won the faithful Penelope from the other suitors
in that peculiar courtship.

In the Spartan temple of Phoebe, there was suspended
from the roof, by fillets, the most wonderful egg that ever
was laid, the egg laid by Leda: its unknown and mysteri-
ous contents affording contemplative visitors more stores
of food for reflection than the nose of Cleopatra; one
might wonder if it were the unhatched twin of Helen, and
if it once, or maybe still, contained as many miseries as
the latter mothered.

The Spartan temple to Apollo was built to propitiate
him for the liberty that was taken in cutting down his


grove of cornel trees on Mt. Ida for boards to make the
Wooden Horse thai; brought about over night the capture
of Troy that ten years of fighting had failed to effect.

Sparta, which was also called Lacedasmon, was the
capital of Laconiaand the chief city of the Peloponnesus.
It resembled Rome in being built on and about a number
of hills; and, like Rome, it was captured by Alaric, in
396 a.d., several years before he took the Holy City.

The hills of Sparta's site are found at the upper end of
the valley of the Eurotas and west of that river, where it
runs along the western side of Mt. Tageytus, now S.
Elias, which reached its greatest height of 7902 feet
opposite Sparta.

The city's ruins have not yet been sufficiently un-
covered to determine which of several Springs among
them is the one that was called the Fountain of Dorcea.

Pausanias; III. 15-

The Envoys' Well

The Envoys' Well at Sparta was the cause of a succes-
sion of troubles for the Lacedaemonians.

When Darius contemplated a military operation in
Greece he decided to feel the pulse of the people in ad-
vance in order to find out where he would meet with
opposition and where no resistance would be made ; this
he accomplished by sending envoys to the different rulers
to demand earth and water as a token of their submission.

A number of minor districts were frightened into
acceding to the demand, but Athens and Sparta were not
to be coerced. The envoys to Athens were thrown into
the Barathrum, a deep pit into which criminals were


tossed when sentenced to death. At Sparta the deputa-
tion was solemnly conducted to the Well and was told
that it was welcome to all the earth and water there was
in it ; and then without further ceremony they flung all of
the envoys into the Well and left them to drown.

So many untoward circumstances, however, followed
this violation of the safe conduct universally accorded to
envoys that the Spartans became convinced that repara-
tion must be made, and volunteers were called for to go to
Persia and submit themselves for execution to atone for
the death of the envoys.

Two citizens, Sperthies and Bulis, men of distinguished
birth and eminent for their wealth, answered the call and
were sent to Xerxes who had succeeded Darius. But
when they were taken before the king and informed him
for what purpose they had come, he refused to accept
their sacrifice, and sent them back to Sparta with the
message that he declined to do, himself, an act that even
the Spartans considered reprehensible, and that he would
not by killing them relieve the Lacedaemonians from guilt.

Herodotus; VII. U3-



The feast that the Lacedaemonians called Copis was
celebrated in the Temple of Artemis (Corythallia) near
the Fountain of Tiassus.

The Copis was a peculiar entertainment for which they
erected tents under which were strewn beds of leaves
covered with carpets, on which anyone, native, or visit-
ing stranger, was at liberty to recline, and to regale him-
self with meats, and little round rolls made with oil and


honey; together with new-made cheese, and slices of
small sucking pig with beans, and black puddings, sweet-
meats and dried figs.

The Spring was on the road between Sparta and Amy-
clae where Castor and Pollux lived. The legend that
Amyclae perished through silence has formed the basis of
scores of modern stories. The original was to the effect
that the people had so often been disturbed by false
alarms of an enemy's approach that a law was passed
prohibiting any such reports. Afterwards, when the
Spartan King Teleclus actually did come against the
city, no one daring to break the law and shout a warning,
he met with no opposition and the city fell an easy prey
to his assault.

The source of a small stream, now called Magula, that
runs a little south of Sparta's site, is supposed to be the
Spring that supplied the sparkling beverage at the tem-
perance feast of Copis.

Atherieeus; IV. 16.


The Fountain of Messeis was at Therapne on the
banks of the Eurotas river.

Just above the Fountain were the tombs of Menelaus
and Helen under the roof of the Temple of Menelaus in
which offerings were made by men who desired to become
brave, and by women who wished to be beautiful.

History gives many illustrations of the valor of the
Spartan warriors; and a striking instance is recorded of
the effect of supplications for beauty, made in the temple,
in the case of the wife of Ariston a king of Sparta about
560 B.C. As an infant she was the ugliest and most mis-



shapen child in Therapne, but, being carried to the temple
daily, she became before reaching marriageable age the
most beautiful woman in all Sparta.

Therapne was opposite the southeastern end of Sparta,
so near to it as to be sometimes referred to as a part of the

Homer mentions another Fountain of the same name
which Strabo says was near Larissa in Thessaly. (See

Herodotus; VI. 61.
Pausanias;III. 20.



This Fountain and the Temple Polydeuces were on the
right of the road from Sparta and near Therapne. Some
people said that this Spring was anciently called Messeis.

Further on, by the road to Taygetus, was an interesting
place called Milltown (Alesiae), where Myles invented
mills and first ground grain efficiently, perhaps with power
from the very stream to which the Spring gave rise.

Pausanias; III. 20.



The town of Marius was a hundred stadia from Geron-
thrae. It possessed an old temple common to all the gods
and around it there was a grove with fountains.

There were also fountains in the Temple of Artemis, for
Marius rivaled Belemina in its water supply and had
indeed an abundance, if any place had.

The ruins of Marius are found within a mile and a half


of a settlement now called Mari, and the place continues
to be characterized by the abundance of its fountains.

Pausanias ; III. 22.



In the town of Nymphaeum there was a cave very near
the sea, and in the cave a Spring of fresh water.

This was between the promontory of Malea and the
town of Boeae the building of which was attributed to
^Eneas at a time when he was driven into the bay by
storms, during his flight from Troy to Italy.

This Spring has been located at Santa Marina where
there is a grotto from which there issues a Spring of fresh

Pausanias; III. 23.


The Water of the Moon

Near Thalamae there was a roadside temple of brass
and an oracle of Ino where whatever any perplexed
applicants desired to know was made manifest to them in

From this temple's sacred fount there flowed fresh
water called The Water of the Moon.

Ino was born the daughter of Cadmus, the founder of
letters and literature, but, fleeing from her bigamous and
crazy husband, Athamas, she threw herself into the sea
and was changed into a goddess under the name of
Leucothea. Her oracle in Laconia, so far away from
her birthplace, indicates that even the prophetess


with a fortune in her name found her greatest honors

Her name was linked with another place in Laconia
where a small but very deep lake, two stadia from Epi-
daurus Limera, was called The Water of Ino; it was only
a small lake but it went very deep into the ground.

At the festival of Ino it was customary to throw barley
cakes into it, the throwers considering it a lucky sign if
the cakes sank, and the reverse if they floated.

It is now described as a deep pool of fresh water ioo
yards long and 30 broad, surrounded with reeds and near
the sea, not far from Platza.

Pausanias; III. 26. III. 23.



There was a Fountain at Taenarum, a town that de-
rived its name from one, Tasnarus, of Sparta. The town
occupied the southernmost point of the Peloponnesus, a
promontory of Laconia now called Cape Matapan.

Besides a celebrated Temple of Poseidon, and extensive
marble quarries, the people could point to that fascinat-
ing but generally invisible creation — a boundary line,
which, in their case was one of more than usual interest,
it being the line that divided the Upper world from the
Lower, the entrance to the latter being through the mouth
of a cave in the town, the very cave through which Her-
cules emerged from the dominions of Pluto when he
brought back with him the three-headed dog, Cerberus,
of the Infernal regions.

Pausanias saw the cave but refused to believe the
legend, first, because there was no underground passage


from it; and, secondly, because, if there had been a pas-
sage, no one could easily believe that the gods had an
underground dwelling where departed souls congregate.

Christianity was crouching for its coming spring, and
although the army of mythological deities had been
strengthened by a shadowy reserve of "Unknown Gods"
the ancient and decrepit host was losing its vigor and its
votaries day by day.

The wonderful property of the town's Spring was,
however, less gruesome than the mouth of hell, and much
more entertaining than the marble quarries, or the
temple; but whether its power was a manifestation of
Crystallomancy, or was due to the reflection of mirages,
may never be known, as the power was suddenly lost very
long ago, and there is nothing left to investigate but an
ordinary every day Spring with nothing to distinguish it
from any other Spring of the commonplace kind.

The fountain's entertainment was apparently on the
order of modern picture theater representations, as who-
ever looked into it saw views of harbors and of ships.

Unfortunately this peculiarity was stopped for all time
by the act of one of the townsladies who, more intent on
the labors of the laundry than solicitous about strange
sights or the sanitary condition of the Spring, inadvert-
ently filled it with such apparel of her own and her house-
hold as needed the customary Monday soaking.

As the Spring's power had long been only legendary
even in very old times, the tradition may have originated
in someone's laudable desire to prevent those thoughtless
practices that are only too common wherever Springs are
found; for even the Virgin, if Mandeville mistook not,
did not hesitate to do light lauridry work at any con-
venient Spring that she encountered in her journeyings,
without any apparent thought of what use the next


traveler to arrive might wish to make of the contam-
inated water.

Cape Matapan is the most southerly point in Europe
and forms one side of Quail Bay whose shores are the last
resting place of the quail on their Autumn passage to
Crete and Cyrene and its Spring. (No. 320.)

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 6 of 46)