James Reuel Smith.

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

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The old city has dwindled to a village called Kyparisso
whose cave is still the cul-de-sac that caused the doubts
of Pausanias.

Pausanias; III. 25.

Pluto's Springs

The entrance to Pluto's regions that is afforded by
the cave at Taenarum permits a glance at Pluto's

They were created in the imagination of Pherecrates
who, in commenting upon the customs in the early times
of Saturn when freedom was universal and there were no
slaves, assumed that there was consequently no work to
be done, and that there was no necessity for planters, or
reapers, or craters, or carters.

He then describes Nature's forces as performing the
operations of toilers and servants, and pictures streams
that flowed straight down from Pluto's Springs and
carried relishes for every guest. Rivers then ran down
every road, though half choked up with comfits, rivers of
rich brown soup that bore upon their seasoned floods hot
rolls and cakes, and every product of the baking art;
while Jove, meantime, rained fragrant wine, as though
it were a bath.

And the trees upon the hills bore hot cooked meats


instead of leaves; and roasted fish and fowls and game, in
place of blossoms.

Athenseus; VI. 96.


Cyphanta in Laconia was a ruin two thousand years
ago. There was nothing left of it but a little temple of
Jisculapius, with a stone statue of the god, and a stream
bubbling out from a rock split in three — a stream of soft
water which was the Spring of Atalanta. She was the
daughter of Jasus and Clymene of Arcadia.

Atalanta's father, who had desired a son, cast the
infant daughter adrift on the bleak sides of Mt. Parthen-
ios; but some kindly hunters found her, and, reared
among them in the forests, she grew to be their counter-
part in all save form.

Knowing nothing of the ways and work of women, she
found her whole pleasure in the wild life of the chase and
in the adventures of Amazons. She became one of the
buccanneer band of the Argonauts, and was the only
woman admitted to the desperate enterprise of the hunt
of the Calydonian boar.

So confident was she in her fleetness, and so averse to
the duties and softnesses of others of her sex, that she
delighted in racing the would-be wooers her wildness
attracted — her hand against their lives as the stake.

She was never outrun, but she finally lost through a

Stronger than Eve, two apples were not sufficient to
gain a triumph over her, and Meilanion, or Hippomenes,
was obliged to delay her a third time in the race, to pick


up the golden apples of Venus, that he threw forward, in
order to reach the goal before her.

This fleet-footed Atalanta is not always recognized in
the lumbering lioness so often seen yoked with a shame
faced monarch of the forest to the car of Cybele.

The lion is Hippomenes, the only one of his team
mate's suitors who succeeded in winning a race with
her, and, the gods, turning them into draught animals,
fittingly punished them for disgracing the ideals of the
running track. The race should never have gone on
record and ought to have been protested on several
grounds; it was won by contemptible jockeying, and
was practically thrown for gold by the loser who was
heard to say before the start that she hoped she would
not win.

The golden apples were given to Hippomenes by Venus
who grew them in her garden in Cyprus; indeed Venus'
part in the scandal was the most detestable of all, for,
after making the fraud possible and depraving the poor
dupes, she lost her temper and humiliatingly had them
lionized because, forsooth, she was not given enough
credit for the outcome.

But the most remarkable feat of Atalanta's life is
seldom mentioned, and is nearly lost in a couple of lines
in a Grecian guide book two centuries old, which speaks
of the temple first, and then, in half a dozen words and
without even an exclamation point, tells of the origin of
the Spring — a wonder birth, at the like of which all the
assembled hosts of Israel stood aghast; for Atalanta on
one of her long-continued hunting expeditions, becoming
very thirsty, struck this rock of Cyphanta with her lance,
and the dry stone burst instantly, in sentient sympathy
with her craving, and became the basin of this bubbling


The ancient Baedeker's direction for reaching Cyphanta
is simplicity itself., and though very short is longer than
his description of the place; it is: "You go along the
coast from Zara* about six stadia and then turn and
strike into the interior of the country for about ten stadia
— and you come to the ruins."

The Fountain has been located at Cyparissa on the
eastern coast of Laconia; and, rather strangely, on the
other side of the Peloponnesus at Cyparissia in Messenia,
and on nearly the same parallel, the 57th, is the miracu-
lous Spring that Dionysus produced by striking a rock
with his thyrsus. (See No. 82.)

Pausanias, III. 24.

Ovid. Metamorphoses; X. Fable 9.

Apollodorus; III. 9- § 2.



The town of Belemina had fountains in abundance; it
was in fact the best off for water in all Laconia, for in
addition to its numerous Springs the King of Rivers, as
the Eurotas is styled in its modern name of Basilipotamo,
ran through the city, in or near which it made one of
its singular reappearances after its underground parting
with the Alpheus beyond Asea.

The town and its Springs were the cause of frequent con-
tentions between Laconia and Arcadia, being captured and
held a number of times, first by one and then by the

Some ruins on the mountains now called Khelmos are
thought to be those of Belemina.

Pausanias; III. 21.


Fortunate Springs

Accepting as true, for the nonce, the assertion that
such as have had uneventful careers may be said to have
been the happiest people, there may be grouped under
the head of "Fortunate" a number of Springs that not
only had no history of their own but that flowed in places
or among peoples that were equally fortunate, peoples
who left no records themselves, and of whom nothing was
recorded by others; Springs of which nothing more can
be said than simply, They Were, or, in general, more
accurately, They Are.

A Fountain that is tagged with a tale or a legend may
have an interest added to its normal function, but the
Spring in which no disconsolate Fair One drowned herself,
or that arose from no Sorrowing Beauty's tears, may
have done as much good for the world or its city as any
well lauded and widely known fountain; and as such
Springs furnished life-needed drink for the people of old,
so may they supply food for random reflections to the
people of later days.

In Nature's great scheme, which the wisest has not yet
been able to fathom, it is impolitic to say that this or
that is useless. It would be equally tyronic to affirm
that Alexander the Great was useless merely because
there is apparently no condition in the world that would
not have been as good as it is to-day if Alexander had
never existed. If the chief end of life is to be happy, then
Alexander ruined the lives of most of the peoples with
whom he came in contact. If the principal end is to pre-
pare for a future existence, then he lopped off the lives of
a multitude before their preparations had been completed.

Alexanders, however, like other Anacondas, seem to be


an inseparable concomitant of some sorts of existence,
and although no one has yet found out why they are so,
no one can see far enough ahead or behind to offer any
satisfactory argument why they should not be.

An humble Egyptian who helped to build the pyramids
and did honest work that remains long after shoddy con-
struction of later years collapsed or was condemned, played
a valuable part in the world's history, and, at a cursory
glance, is as useful to-day as is Alexander the Gone.

Without the Egyptian and his millions of fellaheen
mates the pyramids would never have been built, for there
were never enough architects in Egypt to have leveled
and laid the stones of those wonders before the Dynasties
interested in their completion had died out and given
place to others who were solely or much more concerned
in perpetuating memories of their own particular lines.

It might be said that the pyramids to-day benefit
nothing but a tourist agency, and a car line that would
never have been built if Cheops' mind had run to some-
thing other than architecture to preserve his name or his
mummy; to which the rejoinder might be made that they
are an incentive to do good work, and that good work
and good deeds are from any point of view better than
work and deeds that are bad.

There are, no doubt, at this moment blooming in
jungles that Man never sees, as beautiful orchids as one
can find in the finest horticultural gardens; and nothing
more appreciative than a cockatoo or a monkey ever sees
them; though in the scheme of Nature they probably
have some use, and play a part, if it be only to enrich the
ground at their death and so keep it in condition to be
some day a center of civilization to take the place of
another center that shall be shifted to one side and made
uninhabitable by some coming convulsion of the Earth.


And those placid Springs, with ncthing but a name,
without which the cities near them would never have
been founded; those Springs that furnished the pure life-
needed liquid that enabled the citizens to grow, even
though they did not produce great works or do great
deeds, are no less to be respected and worthy of being
mentioned by such names as they were gratefully given,
than the founts of fulsome fable.

Such Springs served a purpose, and perhaps they are
doing so still, for little short of an earthquake can stop
the flow of a hardy fountain. Cutting a conduit through
a country or a city sometimes makes a Spring a ''traveler"
that moves its mouth in protest, or makes a new one
somewhere else, if it is not as nowadays diverted into the
conduit itself.

Even an earthquake is often ineffective, for the tears
that fall from the head of a mountain are not stopped by
shaking another part of the earth a hundred miles away,
and the numerous fresh-water Springs in the ocean are
probably the original fountains of a land that some up-
heaval of Nature in one place, and a consequent subsid-
ence in another, cast the ocean over without interfering
with their ceaseless activities, which continue below the
sea's surface as strenuously as they did when they were
atop of terra firma.

The names and locations of such Fortunate Springs of
Laconia as have not already been mentioned will be
found in the following four numbers:


Dereum on Mt. Taygetus had a statue of Derean
Artemis, and near it a Fountain called Anonus.



This fountain was near the town of Las, and was so
called because of the milky color of its water.

Las, the founder of the town, was killed by Pa-

This Fount was two and a half miles from the sea, and
eight from Gythium. It is near a village called Karvela
and its little stream is now the Turkovrvsa.


At Teuthrone there was a fountain named Naia.

Teuthrone has become a village called Kotrones; it is
on the west side of the Laconian gulf and nineteen miles
from Cape Matapan.


Geronthrae had a temple and grove of Ares, and
near the market place were fountains of drinking

Gheraki, a corruption of the old name, is the present
designation of the town, and the position of the ancient
market place is plainly pointed out by a number of
Springs below the citadel.

Pausanias; III. 20. (Anonus)

Pausanias; III. 24. (Gelaco)

Pausanias; III. 25. (Naia)

Pausanias; III. 22. (Geronthrae)


Dionysus' Spring

There was a Spring below the city of Cyparissiae close
to the sea. It was called the Spring of Dionysus because
he produced it by striking the ground with his thyrsus.

One might surmise that the thyrsus, trimmed with
vine leaves and crowned with a pine cone, was primitively
a traveling larder, a stick bound with bunches of grapes
and pine cones; a larder somewhat rudely imitated in a
child's lollypop stick, and perfected in the Mexican's
cooked tortilla hat which provisions him for an extended

Grapes and cones tied to a stick are easily transported
by one who has no pockets, and even by one who has, for
a pocket is not an ideal container for grapes.

They who have motored and dined in the countries
through which Dionysus tramped have probably en-
joyed eating pine cones without ever knowing that they
have tasted them. They form one of the pleasantest
ingredients of the best salads that are served along Medi-
terranean shores, and one of the cones is an ample meal
for one of the humble classes.

The cone has at the base of each little scale two deli-
cious white cylindrical nuts, instead of the soft pulp of
the artichoke which is modeled architecturally much on
the same plan.

The scales are pulled off and the nuts are eaten green



on a walk, or, if leisure serves, the cone is set before a
fire whose heat swells the scales apart and warms the little
nuts, which the Italians call pinolas.

If Dionysus had had the foresight to use a hollow cane
instead of a stick for his thyrsus, he would not have had
to emulate Moses to moisten his meal when he had
finished his repast, but in that case his Spring would not
have been heard of and he himself might have come down
to posterity through the Messenian patent office and not
through Pausanias.

This Spring is in the modern town still called Cyparis-
sia, where, on its southern side, a fine stream gushes out
of a rock and flows into the sea close at hand.

Pausanias; IV. 36.



The Spring called Clepsydra had its source on Mt.
Ithome in Messenia, where the mountain overhung the
town of Messene and made a commanding site for its

Its water was used daily for religious purposes in the
nearby Temple of Zeus, and also supplied the secular
necessities of the citizens, being carried underground into
the market place at Messene, through a conduit, named Ar-
sinoe after the daughter of Leucippus, a Messenian prince.

This Spring excites particular interest from the fact
that the Messenians held it to be the site of the rearing-
place of Zeus, for the Pelasgian, always an improving
plagiarist, whether in architecture, art or literature,
prefixed a chapter to the Hebrew history of the World's
creation, which gave an account of the ancestry and


parentage of his Jehovah, the Jove of the Romans, and
the Zeus of the Greeks.

According to this account, Cronus, his cannibalistic
father, who had a predilection for eating his progeny, was
presented with a stone by his wife, and swallowed it,
thinking he was eating his son, who, however, had been
given into the care of Ithome and Neda, two Nymphs of
Mt. Ithome, where, at this Spring, they washed and
began to rear the great Divinity.

It is said that it was from the secret removal of the
infant to conceal him from his father that the Spring got
its name which comes from the same root as klepto-
maniac, the elegant euphemism that is applied to well-
to-do later-day people who carry off something without
first obtaining the owner's consent.

There were several localities that claimed the honor of
being the birthplace of Zeus, principly Crete and Arcadia.

Hesiod, in about 800 B.C., seems to have accepted Crete
as the rearing-place of Zeus ; Cretan and ribbing, however,
had long been synonymous; and the islanders' prepos-
terous statement that Zeus was buried in Crete did not
make it any the easier to credit their contention about the
deity's nativity.

Callimachus, of about 250 B.C., names Mt. Lycaeus in
Arcadia as the birthplace, and says the god was taken
thence to the island of Crete where he was placed in a
golden cradle and brought up on the milk of the goat
Amalthea, and on honey especially made for him by the
bees of Mt. Ida.

The poetess Mcero adds that water or nectar for the
infant god was daily brought through the air by an eagle
that drew it from a distant fountain, which, if it was the
Messenian Spring Clepsydra, might throw another light
on the origin of its name.


Two ways suggest themselves, by either of which one
might account for the rival roots of the godly genealogi-
cal tree; the first, by supposing them to have grown out
of a similarity of names in different places — a nightmare
that often carried its various riders in different directions
even while they dreamed they were bound for the same
destination. And, in fact, such similarities, in connection
with the birth of Zeus, are found, both in the names of
people and of places; the nurse-nymph Neda appears
both as an Arcadian and as a Messenian; and Crete is
found as a district in Arcadia far away from the island;
while Arcadia is not only a country in the Peloponnesus,
but also a city in Crete, a city which is said to have had
numerous Springs, all of which dried up when the city
was, very anciently, razed to the ground. That town was
afterwards rebuilt in the southeastern foothills of Mt.
Ida, and the Springs reappeared in their former places.

The second way, in accounting for the roots, is by con-
ceiving that they sprouted in two or more places whose
local and differing traditions persisted even after all
Greece- dominated countries had accepted a national re-
ligion with only one family of gods, of which Zeus was the
chief and mightiest.

The Greeks, most admirably and in all sincerity, con-
sidered their Zeus the chief god of the universe; and, as
they became acquainted with foreign religions, they
simply substituted Zeus for whatever the barbarians
ignorantly called their own chief divinity. Thus in the
course of time so many Zeuses were mentioned that Varro
estimated the number of them at three hundred, many of
whom no doubt had individual birth traditions, of which
the most persistent were those of the original chief Cretan
divinity and the original chief Arcadian divinity, two that
may have been kept alive either through intense local


pride, or by writers loath to leave out of their records any
fragment of ancient lore; records made before Hesiod's
time, and long ago lost.

A little village 1375 feet up the side of the Messenian
mountain at present occupies part of the site of the an-
cient city of Messene. It is named after the Spring
Clepsydra which the people today call Mavromati, the
Black Spring, whose stream, having with the assistance
of an earthquake escaped from its old-time conduit, now
dances in joyous freedom through the village street.
Above the settlement some ruins of a pillared portico
before a grotto cut in the mountain rock evidently mark
a two-thousand-year-old resting-place that was made for
the stream on its run from the source to the city.

Another Spring called Clepsydra was at Athens; and
Neda's Spring was in Arcadia.

Pausanias; IV. 33.



The sources of the Pamisus were near the northern
boundary of the district, and the river in its course to the
Gulf of Messenia cut the country into two nearly equal
parts, coming out between the right arm and thigh of the
short-legged and headless giant that is sketched by the
outline of the Peloponnesus.

Thus, traversing the entire extent of the district, it was
from the Messenian point of view a worthy and im-
pressive river, navigable, according to one of its eulogists,
for a distance that would correspond, on the Mississippi,
to one hundred and twenty-five miles.

The waters of the Pamisus were clear and limpid, and


not full of mud as the other rivers were, and its fish were
in consequence finer in appearance and more palatable
than those that were fed in other streams on a more miry
diet. The lands along its course were unusually fertile;
and the annual sacrifice of the King was always made on
its banks. Hence the whole community, the King, the
farmer, the fisher, and even the fish, found reason for
pride or pleasure in the Pamisus.

Its most remarkable virtue, however, was a certain
limited therapeutical power which enabled mothers who
had any young Greek gamin with a disease to cure him
merely by dipping him in the river water.

Apparently the river's healing powers were not exerted
for the benefit of girls or for a male beyond that stage
when he is sometimes designated with no particular
degree of respect as "the small boy."

Someone may smile at the absurdity of the idea and at
the credulity of people who could have such a belief; but
there are many parents to-day living near the shore haunts
of whales who do not lose the opportunity when one of
those monsters is cast ashore, of placing their young
children in its mouth, in the firm conviction that the
children will absorb some of the whale's strength and
longevity while in contact with its tissues.

The Pamisus is now the Dhipotamo, the Double River.

Pausanias; IV. 31.



The town of Pharas lay a short distance to the east of
the mouth of the River Pamisus, and six stadia from the



It had a grove of Carnean Apollo with a fountain of
water in it.

The town of Pharae in Achaia had a Well concerning
which more information is given.

The Messenian Pharae occupied the site of the present
Kalamita, the modern capital of the country and the
focus of the revolution that spread over Greece in 1 82 1 .

Pausanias; IV. 31.

The Well Achaia

The ruins of Dorium and the Well Achaia were beyond
Polichne and the river Electra.

It was there that Thamyris was stricken with blindness.

The district of Achaia being far away from this Well,
it is not clear why it was so called ; for it was not until the
time of Sulla that Greece as a Roman province was
known as Achaia.

Perhaps some page of ancient history has been lost
that would explain why the Well was so called, and why
the harbor of the Messenian seaport town of Corone
was called the Port of the Achasans ; as also why the hill
near Samicum on the coast of El is further north was in
very ancient times called the Achaean Rocks.

And the cause of Thamyris' blindness is a companion
mystery. According to Homer it was the punishment for
his effrontery in boasting that he could excel the Muses in
singing. On the other hand, Prodicus said that the
penalty was not exacted until Thamyris reached Hades.

Still another authority, whose skepticism frequently
crops out when relating matters of general belief among
his contemporaries, attributes the loss of the boastful


singer's eyesight to the same cause that made Homer
blind — to a commonplace disease.

The ruins of Dorium are supposed to be buried some-
where in the plain now called Sulima.

Pausanias; IV. 33.


The plain of Stenyclerus lay beyond the two rivers
Leucasia and Amphitus, and opposite the plain was a
grove of cypress trees, called, in ancient days, (Echalia,
but in later times, that is, some two thousand years ago,
The Carnasian Grove.

The grove contained many statues and one of them,
representing Demeter, was placed near a. welling Spring
of water.

Mysterious rites were celebrated around the Spring in
the wood, rites that were only second in sanctity to the
mysteries of the Eleusinians, and any description of those
rites was interdicted no less strictly than in Eleusis.

The river Charadrus flowed along one side of the Car-
nasian Grove.

Charadrus was a common name in Greece for a moun-
tain torrent, and the site of (Echalia was not agreed
upon, even among ancient writers.

Pausanias; IV. 33.

Platan 1 ston

About twenty stadia from the town of Corone, which
lay under the mountain Mathia, there was one of


that peculiar class of Springs that has a tree for its

Possibly it is not a case of selection on the part of the
Spring but of compulsion by the tree whose roots in their
powerful boring through the earth, penetrate an under-
ground current and open up a new outlet that pressure
compels it to use.

In this instance it was a platanos, a plane tree, that
gave the Spring its name, and that housed it like a small
cave, broad and hollow.

A strong stream of fresh water flowed from the tree and
ran all the way to Corone which was a modern town
before History began to reckon from the Christian
era, and grew over what had been an old town called

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 7 of 46)