James Reuel Smith.

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

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yEpea, among the ruins of which the builders of the
new one dug up a brass crow, for which their word was

Corone was a seaport on the western side of the Mes-
senian Gulf and is now named Petalidhi.

Pausanias; IV. 34-



Mothone, at the extreme south west point of Mes-
senia, was a very old town which was known as Pedasus
before the Trojan war, and was only given the other
name after that event, probably to honor Mothone the
daughter of Diomede, not the ferocious Thracian King
who fed his man-eating horses on the prisoners he cap-
tured in his conflicts, but the hero who next to Achilles
was the most illustrious of the expeditionary forces.

Mothone possessed what was probably a valuable


asset in a peculiar Well that contained a mixture of water
and pitch that resembled Cyzicenian ointment.

The town also had a temple to the Goddess of the
Winds; it was erected in gratitude to Athena who, in
answer to the prayers of Diomede, had relieved the town
of a constant scourge of violent and unseasonable winds
that frequently blew over it and caused great damage.
After the prayers were offered no trouble from wind ever
came to the townspeople thenceforward, and the temple
was built to prove to the goddess how deeply they appre-
ciated her kind interference in their behalf.

Modon is the modern name of the place, but search
and inquiry for the peculiar Well have proved fruitless.

Pausanias; IV. 35.



The District of Elis was the cradle of Athletics. There
was wrestling in the plain of Olympia before there was
writing at the foot of Parnassus, for, as early as fifty
years after the Deluge of Deucalion contests were held
in that plain, where, between Olympia and Elis, the
fountain of Piera was located.

And even before the days of mankind, the gods held
contests there, Apollo boxing with Ares, and racing with
Hermes; and, earlier still, it was the scene of the contest
between Zeus and Cronus.

While poets of all recent ages have glorified the Pierian
Spring of Parnassus and trumpeted in numerous
tongues the debt they supposedly owed it for inspiration,
the fountain of Piera to which the athletic world is no
less indebted, still needs a minstrel to exalt it.

Even Pindar, the poet of the prize ring and the race-
course and all the departments that made up the pen-
tathlum, neglected this fountain when a line from him
would have given it as prominent a place in the world of
athletics as the other holds in the realm of rythmic
writing. But while today the poorest penny-a-liner poet
can tell the taste of the distant Spring in Phocis, blind-
folded, perhaps not one athlete in a million even knows
of the existence of the sanctioning Spring of Elis !

No athletic contest could take place without it. Time

ELIS 105

is told, and History is written by the Olympiads, but no
Olympiad could begin until the waters of the fountain of
Piera had given the requisite permission, a sanction more
powerful than that of the A. A. A. U. of today, for the athletes
of the whole ancient world were subject at Olympia to
the authorization that no ink and no water other than the
water of this fountain made valid.

Here and there a poet may compose without first re-
freshing himself with a draft from the Spring of the
Muses, but not even the most unconventional wrestler
could fake a part of a round until this fountain had per-
formed its law-assigned function, because no Olympian
Umpire was qualified to act until after the sacrifice of a
pig, and lustrations of water from the fountain of Piera.

In the nearby temple of Ilithyia it was a custom for the
venerable Priestess to set before the goddess cakes
kneaded with honey, and to bring lustral water to her,
and perhaps this fountain supplied the water for the
goddess as well as for the Umpires of the godless athletes
whose fines for bribery and other offenses supplied enough
to make numbers of the statues that were displayed in the
Olympian temple.

It was a remarkable incident that led to the construc-
tion of the temple of Ilithyia, for it is said that once when
the Argives invaded Elis a woman came to the command-
ing General of the defense with a baby which she had
been apprized in a dream would make the defenders
victorious. The naked baby having been set down before
the army, probably while they discussed what warlike
use could be made of it, it suddenly turned into a dragon,
which so frightened the invaders that they fled, and being
pursued they were routed without difficulty. As the
miracle was attributed to Ilythia the temple was con-
structed to commemorate it, and the prescribed lustra-


tions no doubt furnished a new use for the waters of the
fountain of Piera.

Oxylus, the three-eyed King, had a wife called Pieria,
but nothing is recorded about her, and, although the
names are nearly alike, it is not probable that there was
any connection between her and this fountain, for Oxy-
lus from the humble occupation of muleteer stepped in
one stride to the throne.

It was a curious illustration of the wobbles of the wheel
of fortune, and of the fondness that Good Luck has for
presenting herself disguised temporarily as her opposite,
his assumption of the ermine being due solely to his
mule's having had only one good eye; thus, on a certain
occasion, while the people were trying to guess the
meaning of an oracle advising them to make a man with
three eyes their leader in a contemplated expedition,
Oxylus chanced to trudge by at the side of his wall-eyed
mule, and, in a flash, one of the sharp wits, Cresphontes,
saw the answer in the sightless eye, and the leader of a
mule became the leader of a people, and their King.

It may have been Cresphontes too, who, when on the
death of Oxylus' son another oracle commanded that the
body should not be buried either in or out of the city, had
the grave dug across the boundary line by the gate of the
road to Olympia and the Spring.

The old Olympic field, after producing athletes of
world renown for many ages, has in modern times been
used to raise a very different crop, its long and level
expanse of plain opposite Lala being covered with corn-
fields in the making of which few reminders of the many
and magnificent buildings connected with the classic
athletic grounds have been allowed to remain and ob-
struct the plow, or rob the roots of room and nutriment.

Pausanias; V. 4. 16.

ELIS 107


Pisa was a fountain in the territory of the Pisatis, a
very ancient people who disappeared after Homer's time.

The town of Pisa was founded by Pelops. Some of its
people, or their successors, went to Italy and founded
the Pisa of Etruria.

The name of the fountain signified "potable, " but even
ancient writers were not agreed on other points regarding
Pisa; some said it had been a city which took its name
from a fountain; while others held that there had been no
such city, but only the fountain, and that the fountain
was the one called Bisa near Cicysium.

Denial of Pisa's existence is accounted for by its having
been completely destroyed in 572 B.C., in the last of many
conflicts its people had with the Eleians over the presi-
dency of the Olympic Festivals, an office that no doubt
controlled a large and profitable patronage.

Pisa is supposed to have occupied the land along the
eastern side of the Olympia athletic grounds by the rivu-
let now called Miraka, whose source, in that case, is the
Spring of Pisa that caused as many discussions as the city
caused conflicts .

StrabojVIII. 3- §3i-



The fountain of Salmone was near a city of the same
name which belonged to the old Pisatis and was founded
by King Salmoneus a brother of Sisyphus, and the son of

Salmoneus came from Thessaly, and he attempted to
usurp the place of Zeus among his subjects, who were


commanded to make their sacrifices to him instead of to
the god. To impress them with his mightiness he pro-
duced thunder and lightning, by driving about in a
chariot to which were loosely attached numbers of re-
sounding substances, and by throwing lighted torches
over their heads from time to time.

In the end, a flash of real lightning destroyed both him
and his city.

The king's daughter Tyro became enamored with the
fountain and often added her tears to its waters which
were the source of the river Enipeus, which was once
called Barnichius, and flowed into the Alpheus near its

There were many reasons for Tyro's tears besides the
sacrilege of Salmoneus. She was so shamefully ill-treated
by her stepmother Sidero that the latter was eventually
killed by Tyro's son, and that son, Pelias, came to a
shocking end at the hands of his own daughters, being
cut up and boiled until there was hardly enough of him
left to bury — a result that no one deplored more than the
daughters, who had followed a recipe given by Medea,
which they fully believed would cause their father's re-
juvenation. (See No. no.)

The stream from the fountain of Salmone was ab-
sorbed by the Alpheus near its mouth and was the last
river, of any size, of the many that the Alpheus greedily
swallowed during its journey to the sea.

Strabo; VIII.3 $32.


The district of Elis had a score, and more, of rivers,
some of which rose beyond its boundaries, but the Springs

ELIS 109

of many of them were indigenous to the district, and, as
leprosy originated in Elis and made its home there, it is
easy to suppose that there was no less enterprise in turn-
ing such Springs to good account than there is at the
Spas of modern resorts.

Something to cure leprosy would have been in the
greatest demand, but other afflictions would also have
cried out for relief, and for these the Spring of Cytherus
offered a general balm. It was apparently a source of the
river of the same name, and belonged to the village of
Heraclea some 50 stadia from Olympia.

It was presided over by four nymphs called the
Ionides; they were Calliphaea, Synallaxis, Pegaea, and
Iasis, and got their collective name from Ion the son of
Gargettus who migrated there from Athens.

The number of the nymphs indicates that the village
did a thriving business in sacrificial fees and offerings from
the patrons of the Spring which was held to be a univer-
sal panacea, so that people bathing in its waters got cured
of pains and aches of every kind.

Heraclea is assumed to have been where the modern
village of Bruma is located, and Strefi, a little brook of
the neighborhood, is supposed to have been called the
Cytherus river.

Pausanias; VI. 22.



Letrini was 180 stadia from Elis, and about 6 stadia
beyond it there was a perennial lake some three stadia
in diameter which was fed from ever-flowing Springs
below it.


Letrini was once a small town but in Pausanias' time
there were only a few buildings of it left, including
a temple with a statue of Alphea Artemis who was
so designated because Alpheus was for a time deeply
fascinated with her; instead of resorting to flight,
however, and crossing the sea by a submarine route
as Arethusa did when she was the object of the affec-
tions of the same lover, Artemis adopted a less stren-
uous and exhausting expedient to rid herself of his
importunities; thus, divining that her admirer had re-
solved to bring his solicitations to a climax, at one of
the nightly revels in which she and her sportive compan-
ions indulged near Letrini, she merely smeared the faces
of her nymphs and herself with a paste of earth and
water, so that Alpheus could not distinguish one mud-
masked beauty from another, and seeing nothing attrac-
tive in any of the dirty divinities, he departed in silence
and disgust.

While -this simple way of checking the advances of
ardent but unwelcome suitors never came into popular
use, it is said that a modification of the stratagem
was adopted by the stanch friends of the nun whose
hair a spying Prioress cut off in the dark for purposes
of identification, only to find in the morning that every-
one of her saintly charges had discarded her crown of

As this perennial lake is the only one mentioned
in the neighborhood of the Artemis incident, it was
doubtlese with mud from its margin that the artful
divinity effected the disguise of herself and her faithful

The monastery of St. John near the foot of Katakolo
is thought to occupy the site of Letrini.

Pausanias; VI. 22.



The Spring of Arene was not far from the city of
Lepreus that got its name from the misfortunes of its
inhabitants, who were the first lepers.

According to tradition the Spring received its name
from the wife of Aphareus who seems to have had a great
fondness for her, as another of his cities, in Messenia, also
bears her name. Possibly Arene drowned herself in this
Spring as her female descendants were addicted to suicide.
One of her sons, Lynceus, might easily be shown, by the
favorite way of interpreting ancient descriptions, to have
been the first discoverer of the properties of the X-ray,
for it is recorded that he could see through the trunk of a
tree. (See No. 322.)

In all likelihood this Spring located the pre-ancient
town called Arene whose ruins, very near the river Aniger,
were perhaps once a part of the city of Samicum, if
indeed Samicum was not called Arene in very early days,
for Homer says : — ' ' There is a river Minyeius that flows
into the sea near to Arene," and it is known that the
ancient name of the Aniger was Minyeius.

The name of this river recalls an old version of the fifth
of the dozen labors of Hercules that is far more interest-
ing than the current account, and makes it more like a
labor than the cleansing of a stable seems to be, and more
commensurate with the alleged capacity of the hero for
performing gargantuan feats. According to that old
version it was not a stable but a whole district that was
cleansed, for Augeus, the King of Elis, had such immense
herds and flocks that most of the country was deeply
buried under the accumulations of their dung and could
therefore not be cultivated.


The depth of this overlying stratum was so great, and
the work of removing it was considered one of such mag-
nitude that Hercules is said to have secured the promise
of a part of the Kingdom if he accomplished the labor,
which he successfully did by flooding the country with
the waters of the Minius.

Possibly it was because the Minius is only a small
brook that the large river Peneus was substituted in the
later version, instead of accepting the Aniger, under its
Homeric name of Minyeius, as the stream that was utilized
by Hercules.

Perhaps also the incident was in reality only on a
par with the killing of the Hydra of Lerna, and the little
brook became a river by the same kind of creative power
that made the mountain out of a molehill; but, to con-
tinue the old version, when the present method of clean-
ing a city, which is only an adaptation of that employed
by Hercules to cleanse a kingdom, had brought the long-
hidden surface of the earth to view again and restored it
to cultivation, Augeus refused to pay the price, on the
quibble that using a river as a hose was novel and in-
genious, but was not work.

Then, as if that refusal by itself was not sufficiently
provoking, Eurystheus, whose primogeniture had em-
powered him to harry his brother Hercules with ten
labors, refused to count the cleaning as one of them, and
imposed upon him an additional task as punishment for
trying to graft by inducing the King to pay him for what
he knew he had to do without remuneration.

The repudiation, on the part of the King, led to a
bitter war during which Hercules captured and sacked
Elis, and stripped the country of young men to such an
extent that the women of the land prayed to Athena to
intermit for a time one of the laws of generation. Those

ELIS 113

prayers the goddess answered with so much satisfaction
to the suppliants that they called their Gretna Green,
and the river that flowed through it, by the name of
Bady, which in their language meant sweet.

The modern village of Strovitzi is near the Spring of

Pausanias; V. 5. 6. 1.



The Springs of the ancient Minyeius, the Aniger,
which were in the mountain Lapithus, had a very un-
pleasant smell that could be distinguished several miles

The water was so fetid that until it had been impreg-
nated by its first tributary, the Acidas, which was an-
ciently called the Iardanus, no fish would swim in it, and
even after the confluence of the waters such fish as ven-
tured from the Acidas into the main stream became

Among the natives and other Greeks there were various
theories concerning the cause of the nuisance; some
averring that Chiron, when he had been inadvertently
wounded by Hercules' arrow tipped with the poison of
the Hydra, fled to this Spring and washed his sore in it.

Others, possibly thinking that the wisest and most just
of the Centaurs would never have desecrated a Spring
in that manner, called Pylenor the culprit.

Still another theory was that Melampus, the son of
Amythaon, when curing the daughters of Prcetus threw
the purifications into this Spring.

Local pride and dissimulation may have had nothing


to do with these explanations, but a thoughtful tourist
two thousand years ago might have wondered why the
effects of such very ancient incidents had not worn off
during the lapse of time, and might have considered that
there were enough contemporary sores afflicting the living
lepers of the state to contaminate the water and give it
an evil flavor, for it was a current practice of the lepers
of the district to swim in the Aniger in the belief that its
waters were a cure for their endemical disease.

Even at the mouth of the river this pernicious practice
was followed, and there was a cave at Samicum, called
the Cave of the Nymphs of the Aniger, and a Spring
called the Fountain of the Anigriades, where such as
suffered from either the Black or the White leprosy had
only to enter the cave and pray to the nymphs and, not
forgetting to promise to sacrifice to them, wipe the dis-
eased parts clean, and afterwards swim across the river;
when they reached the other side they were well and their
skin was uniformly clear.

Pausanias was of the opinion that the taint of the water
was due to some ingredient of the soil, as he said was the
case with those rivers "beyond Ionia" whose exhalations
were lethal; but in those days one might slander to his
spleen's content anything east of Asia Minor or west of
Spain for those parts of the world were terrors incognita
to everybody who lived in the zone that lay between

Samicum is midway between the mouths of the Alpheus
and the Neda rivers, and its Cave of the Nymphs, the
Anagriades, fronts on a lagoon formed by the Anigrus, the
Aniger river, so that to reach it one must use a boat, or
swim as the cure seekers of old did.

There are numerous Springs in the deep lagoon whose
exhalations continue to taint the air with fetid odors ; and

ELIS 115

pure yellow sulphur is brought out by the waters that
seep through the walls of the cavern.

Strabo; VIII. 3- § 19.
Pausanias: V. 6.


The Spring called Cruni was between the river Chalcis
and a village of the same name as the river.

This locality seems to have been somewhere between
Samicum and Olympia.

Strabo; VIII. 3. § 13-



Patrae was 80 stadia from the river Pirus. It was
founded by an Autochthon who received from Triptole-
mus the first corn, and it was then named Aroe because
its soil was the first in the neighborhood to be harrowed.

The women at Patrae were twice as numerous as the
men and were devoted to Aphrodite; their principal occu-
pation was making nets, for the hair and for dresses; and
the theater of the town was more beautiful than any in
Greece except the one at Athens.

Aphrodite had a sacred enclosure near the harbor and
a wooden statue, the fingers, toes, and head of which
were of stone.

There was also a grove near the sea which had a race-
course and was a most salubrious place of resort in sum-
mer time. In this grove there was a temple to Aphrodite,
and another one to Demeter in front of which was a Well
with a stone wall on the side of the temple and a descent
to it on the outside.

Such truth was there in the water that it was an un-
erring oracle in cases of disease, but apparently it pos-
sessed no curative power, and was able to do no more than
predict whether a sick person would get well or would
succumb to the malady.

The process seems to have been of the nature of crystal
gazing and was carried out by means of a mirror that was



let down into the Well by a light cord and delicately
poised so that the rim of the mirror alone should touch
the water without being covered by it. Such as suc-
ceeded in performing this balancing feat, after saying a
prayer and burning some incense, had only to look into
the mirror to see what the result of the disease would be.

They had a chest at Patrae that had been made by
Vulcan, the same one that Eurypylus brought from Troy;
a relic so carefully treasured that no one was ever ac-
corded permission to see it.

Patrae still retains its old name and is one of the most
important towns of the Peloponnesus, being, as of old, a
port much used by travelers between Italy and Greece.

Like all long-inhabited Greek towns, it has few remains
of antiquity ; but it still preserves the ancient Well which
is under a vault of the church of St. Andrew, the patron
saint of the present town.

Pausanias: VII. 21. VII. 8.


Pharae was 1 50 stadia from Patrae ; it was on the river
Pierus, and had a remarkable grove of plane trees, most
of them hollow from old age, and of such great size that
one could eat and sleep inside of them.

The water at Pharae was sacred and was called Hermes'
Well, and the god's statue and his oracle were in the
center of the market place.

Instead of the eye, and auto-suggestion which were
relied on at Patrae, the ear of the inquirer was the oracle's
medium at Pharae. The consultations took place in the
evening; on a stone hearth before the statue frank-


incense was burned and then oil was poured into lamps
that were fastened to the hearth with lead, and the lamps
were lit. A brass coin was deposited on the altar at the
right of the statue, and the inquirer then whispered his
question into its ear and, stopping up his own ears,
walked out of the market place. Then he uncovered his
ears, and whatever he first heard was to be construed as
the answer he sought.

The Hermes statue was of stone and square-shaped,
and near it were thirty square stones each called by the
name of one of the gods, and, following the early-time
custom of all of the Greeks when they paid to unhewn
stones, and not to statues, the honors due unto the gods,
the townspeople venerated the thirty stones very highly.

Remains of the Achaian Pharae have been found near
the village of Prevezo, but recent explorers do not men-
tion the Well. (See No. 105.)

Pausanias; VII. 22.


Well of Argyra

Some almost untraceable ruins near the river Charad-
rus were all that was left of the town of Argyra.

But the Spring of the town had survived and was on
the right side of the highroad near the River Selemnus.

And the legend of the two, built only with breath but
more enduring than the town and as lasting as time, was
told in the neighboring villages to any inquisitive stranger.

Argyra was a sea nymph who used to come up from
the sea to spend every spare moment in the company of
the handsome shepherd Selemnus and pretend to help
him watch his feeding flock.


For some reason and very suddenly, the shepherd lost
his good looks, and at the same time Argyra lost her love,
and left him.

The sad spectacle of the poor lad, ugly and dying for
love, awakened the sympathy of Aphrodite and she
turned him into the river, and not only granted him for-
getful ness of the inconstant sea nymph but made the
water a love cure, so that both men and women who
bathed in it were troubled no more.

Many listeners were pleased with the legend, but one
of them was inclined to think that if it had been true the
town would never have perished but would have become
a daily Mecca for all mankind, as the water of Argyra,

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 8 of 46)