James Reuel Smith.

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

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which seems to have been the source of the river Selem-
nus, would have been more sought after than great

The Selemnus flows into the sea west of the point
farthest north in the Peloponnesus, now Cape Drepano,
and Argyra's site was a little inland from the river's

Pausanias; VII. 23.


Well of ^Egium

On the seashore at JEgium there was a Well that
furnished good water abundantly.

It was surrounded with a number of temples and
statues including one of Zeus the Gatherer, erected
because it was at JEgium that Agamemnon gathered the
most famous men in Greece to deliberate in common how
best to attack the realm of Priam.

It was the people of this town who first made cook-


shops of the sacrificial altars, and reduced the high cost
of sacrificing by eating the fire-cooked animal victims.

JEgium became the chief city of Achaia after the de-
struction of Helice on a night in 373 B.C. when an earth-
quake suddenly opened a chasm into which Helice
dropped, followed by the sea which drowned every in-
habitant and hid the city from sight.

The meetings of the Achaean League (of twelve cities)
were held near the sea in the same grove used by Aga-
memnon when planning his Trojan campaign.

^Egium under its modern name of Vostitza narrowly
escaped the fate of Helice, when, on the 23d of August,
181 7, two-thirds of the city were destroyed by an earth-
quake accompanied with sounds that resembled a can-

Vostitza occupies a high bluff on the coast east of
Cape Drepano.

Pausanias; VII. 24-


Springs of the Mysaeum

The copius Springs of the Mysaeum were used in the
peculiar ceremonies of the seven-day festival that was
held in the Mysaeum which was one of several temples
that were erected by Mysius, an Argive, to commemorate
the honor that Demeter had paid him by accepting the
hospitality of his house.

This one of the temples was some sixty stadia from
Pellene, and its Springs were in a grove of all kinds of
trees which surrounded the building in which the festival
was celebrated, some of the mysteries of which were
concealed even from a part of the devotees themselves,


for on the third of the seven days during which the feast
and revels were prolonged males of whatever kind, even
dogs, were excluded, and the women passed the night in
mysterious performances, the nature of which the men
could only guess at, and about which, when the men re-
sumed participation in the rites on the following day, there
was much laughter and bantering between the two sexes.
The present Trikkala is taken to be the place where the
two temples, Mysaeum and Cyros, stood.

Pausanias; VII. 27. VII. 23.



Near the Mysaeum there was a temple of ^Esculapius
called Cyros where cures were effected; and connected
with the temple there were a number of fountains whose
waters were probably utilized in some of the many ways
adopted by the ^Esculapian cult, as a statue of the god
was prominently placed at the side of the largest of the

All the differences of opinion about the ancestry of
iEsculapius and the many mothers and fathers he had,
were finally swept away by assuming that he never had
any, and that his story was the allegory of an idea. This
idea can be traced back to Phoenicia, but after a time it
became dormant and was not revived again until the
twentieth century when it was introduced as something
entirely new.

The original idea was that ^Esculapius was nothing
more than the typification of health — of which Fresh Air
and Sunlight are the parents! (See No. 59.)

Pausanias; VII. 27. VII. 23.




This fountain was in the town of Bura, a place so
suddenly destroyed by the earthquake in 373 B.C., that
all of the inhabitants perished, as related of its neighbor
Helice in connection with the Well of ^Egium.

It is said that for centuries afterwards those who sailed
along the coast when the water was smooth could discern
the ruins of the wrecked city at the bottom of the sea
below them.

As a city seldom has a watery grave, there is an un-
canny coincidence between this catastrophe and the
burial by water, 137 years earlier, of the far-away Magna
Graecia city Sybaris, that, founded by people from Bura
and named after the fountain in that town, was over-
whelmed with the waters of a river, as related under The
Fountain of Blood, No. 211.

Ovid; Metamorphoses; XV. Fable 3.
StrabojVIII. 7- §5-


In the territory of Phara in Achaia there was a Foun-
tain of Dirce, of the same name as that at Thebes.

This is the same place as Pharas where Hermes' Well
was consulted in a peculiar way by such as wished to
know about future events. (See No. 99.)

StrabojVIII. 7. §5-

1 06


The fountain of Cymothe was in Achaia, according to
Pliny, but he makes no mention of its whereabouts.

Pliny; Nat. Hist. IV. 6.


Dripping Well

The town of Sicyon had a Spring near the gate, the
water of which oozed through the roof of a cave that con-
tained its basin, and it was called the Dripping Well.

2089 B.C. is sometimes given as the starting-point of
Grecian chronology, and the year of the founding of
Sicyon; that is according to the computations of Eusebius,
but, accepting Herodotus as the older authority and
taking his time, about 2100 B.C., as the period when
Thebes was laid out, Sicyon may well be assumed to have
originated years before thai, for the small and select
circle known as Society had its beginning in Sicyon some
time after the dawn of Creation, when the place was
called Mecone and there were male inhabitants although
woman had, as yet, never been heard of; for in the Gre-
cian order of development numerous goddesses and
thousands of naiads and nymphs afforded mortals an
extensive circle of female acquaintance for some period
before Woman was eventually created — created, not as
a help, meet for Man, but to make him miserable.

The incohesive scheme of Grecian creation though
very crude was perhaps an improvement on still older
schemes from which it was copied. The Egyptian
parentage of the plan is clearly shown in the resemblance
between one persistent and repugnant feature that is
common in sketches of creation, a feature that originally



and in Egypt quite unobjectionable, the Grecians, in a
measure, modified.

Though they were content to tolerate any kind of con-
duct among their gods, their creation of the human race
was so arranged that marriages were made between such
as had no ties of kinship; and from their human males
and females, created separately, there flowed smoothly
and naturally a continuous stream of genealogy that ran
through no unlocated land peopled with a race that was
unaccounted for in the creative scheme.

That beginning of Society, its first and greatest event,
was the "coming out" of the original Woman — her in-
troduction to the world outside of the Court of Divinities
in which she had been designed and brought to perfection
by receiving from each divinity some attribute or adorn-
ment to make her irresistibly attractive; for this First
Lady of mythology is introduced girdled with golden
chains, and arrayed and perfumed with flowers, and not
garbed with the simple and ascetic fig leaf in which Eve
made her first appearance in the Terrestrial Paradise.

Felicitously named Pandora, the all-gifted, she soon
became the wife of Epimetheus, the brother of Prome-
theus in punishment for whose theft of fire from heaven
she had been made to bring misery on the human race,
on the somewhat inconsiderate system that makes an
innocent someone else suffer for another's wrong.

Little is known of the life of Epimetheus after his
marriage. Possibly he was drowned in the Grecian flood
that occurred in the time of his daughter Pyrrha who,
with her husband Deucalion, repeopled the inundated
district, by throwing behind them stones that became
men or women, according to the sex of the thrower.

But however miserable Epimetheus may have been
with his beautiful mischief of a wife, his brother Prome-


theus must often have wished he was in his place, for,
though finally blessed with immortality, he was for many
long years chained to a rock, and furnished countless
meals to a ravenous bird that fed on his liver which was
every night freshly renewed for the bird's next breakfast.
(See No. 278.)

Sicyon was two miles from the Corinthian Gulf. It
was called Aegialea at the same period in which it was
called Mecone.

There are some ruins of its temples and other large
buildings which are now surrounded by the village of

The Dripping Well, or Dropping Fountain, which was
at the Corinthian Gate, has disappeared; its producing
rocks, probably broken up by the earthquake that de-
stroyed the town, have crumbled to pieces and no longer
act as a reservoir.

Pausanias; II. 7-
Apollodorus; I. 7. § 2.


1 08

In Corinth and its immediate suburbs there came
during the progress of its civilization to be many foun-
tains, the works of man, constructed in connection with a
water supply through an aqueduct from Lake Stym-
phalus. (See No. 21.)

Claiming, as Corinth did, to be the birthplace of
Grecian painting and a center of artistic impulses, these
fountains represented the best endeavors of the artists
to produce works that should challenge admiration for
beauty of form and decoration ; and there was no lack of
means to insure perfection, for Homer in his day styled
Corinth wealthy, and an individual citizen could afford
to have a life-size statue made of pure gold.

And no doubt wealth was still plentiful 900 years later
whenDiogenes, unable to find honesty at home, his banker
father Icetas having been convicted of swindling, was
still making his search for it at a very advanced age ; when
ninety years old, he died at Corinth in 323 B.C., and his
tomb was shown near the gate. The city also had the
tomb of Lais, whom little but wealth would have kept in
Corinth, and whose last monument was a lioness with a
ram in her paws.

Perhaps it may not be amiss in this connection to ask
for Diogenes a gentler thought than his discourtesy to
Kings and his caustic tongue in public have conveyed to



modern minds; for, from a fragment that has been pre-
served by Athenaeus about the life of Lais, there was evi-
dently an attractive backing under the cynic's veneer of
venom; otherwise Lais, one of the most beautiful and
perhaps accomplished women of her time, would hardly
have fallen in love with Diogenes, as is stated in that

Lais was "discovered" by Apelles, the greatest painter
of ancient Greece when, as a little girl, she was drawing
water at the fountain of Peirene ; and it is greatly to be
regretted that the sketch he undoubtedly at once made of
the girl and the fountain some 350 years before Christ
cannot be reproduced, like one of his sayings which is
still heard almost daily, for words are more enduring
than the metals, more lasting than the hardest rocks.
The words spoken on Mt. Sinai are with us still, but the
stone tablets that accompanied them perished long ago.

Even the first four words ever uttered are as fresh to-
day as when light broke forth at their command. Of
Apelles' paintings not a tint is left, but his words still live
in the proverb, "Cobbler, stick to your last." The story
about it is that, overhearing a cobbler criticizing a
painted shoe, Apelles immediately corrected the shoe;
but when the next day the cobbler was overheard reflect-
ing on another part of the painting, Apelles furiously
admonished him, "Ne sutor supra crepidam."

But in Corinth there were apparently few of Nature's
fountains, and of these the principal two Springs were
Peirene and Glauce whose legends carry back beyond
the time of the Trojan war.

One of them was a factor in bringing about Sisyphus'
ceaseless labor with the stone, in which may be found a
lasting lesson to discourage misdirected effort and futile
work; and also an argument against bribery; as well as


an early and sad commentary on the transitory value of
slyness, with which Sisyphus was considered to have been
endowed in a greater degree than any other man of his

In the story of the other Spring one may read a warn-
ing against marrying in haste, and a substantial reason
for the frequent inspection of water-going vessels.


The Spring of Peirene holds the key to the mystery of
the laborious task that was assigned to Sisyphus in the
lower regions.

The incident of the perverse rock that unfailingly
rolled to the bottom of the hill as soon as it had been
painfully pushed to the top is familiar to all, but possibly
few recall the cause of the punishment, and the part that
Peirene had in bringing it about.

Sisyphus was the founder about 1350 B.C. of Greek
Ephyra, the primitive name of Corinth, and though the
place he selected for the Citadel was without a Spring,
he was perfectly confident that he could induce the water-
god Asopus to remedy this defect in what was otherwise
so ideal a situation for a fortress that modern military
authorities have called the hill the greatest natural citadel
in Europe.

The god's daughter, ^Egina, had been carried off to an
island by Zeus in the form of an eagle, and her place of
concealment had been discovered by Sisyphus whose
notoriety for slyness was so great that some of the writers
after Homer's time contended that only he could have
been the father of the crafty Ulysses. Sisyphus, there-


fore, at the first opportunity offered to reveal the where-
abouts of ^Egina to her father if he would produce a
Spring in the commanding rock selected for the Citadel,
and Asopus, only too glad to do so little for a chance to
rescue his kidnaped daughter, immediately provided
this Spring of Peirene.

Zeus, however, not relishing the betrayal of his private
rendezvous, ordered Death to do his duty at once and
put an end to a private Department of Publicity that
would probably only too soon have been overrun with a
clientele of bereft heads of families.

But Sisyphus, easily living up to his reputation for
craftiness, managed to put Death in fetters and to keep
him from plying his vocation until, after quite a lapse of
time, during which no life was shortened and no funeral
was seen, Ares succeeded in releasing him.

Sisyphus was then taken to the nether world where,
after once making a temporary escape, he was set to work
with the rock to atone for the affront to Zeus, and for a
number of murders he was alleged to have committed
among innocent travelers he had attacked while in his

The Spring, however, continued unconfined and soon
became the most famous in the city; it was not only of
extreme brightness and purity, but was also sacred to the

It rose below a small temple of Venus that crowned the
nearly two thousand feet high summit of the Acrocorin-
thus, and its overflow, which at first freely irrigated the
side of the hill, was conducted through conduits into the
square lower down where it was received in a marble
reservoir from which most of the inhabitants of the city
at one time drew their supply.

This Spring might have babbled "Corinth is I" with


less egotism than Louis XIV., for in classical literature,
and even in the utterances of the august Delphic Oracle,
when Corinth was referred to it was called the City of

Pausanias describes both the upper and the lower
fountain, and gives their histories as he gathered them
from the citizens on the spot. He writes, of the upper
Spring; — "On the ascent to Acro-Corinthus there is a
temple of Aphrodite, and the fountain behind the temple
is, they say, the gift of Asopus to Sisyphus, for he, though
he knew that Zeus had carried off ^Egina, the daughter of
Asopus, refused to tell him unless he would give him this
water on Acro-Corinthus ; and, Asopus giving this water,
he vouchsafed the required information, and for his in-
formation pays the penalty in Hades. But I have heard
people say that this fountain is Peirene, and that the
water in the city flows down from it."

Of the lower fountain, Pausanias says; — "Next to a
brazen statue of Hercules is the approach to the Well of
Peirene. They say that Peirene became a Well from a
woman through the tears she shed bewailing the death
of her son Cenchrias at the hands of Artemis."

Peirene was the daughter of Asopus and Metope, and
Poseidon was the father of her son Cenchrias whose
death, having been accidentally inflicted, must not be
dded to the long list of Artemis' murders.

Pausanias continues; —

"The Well is beautified with white stone, and there are
cells like caves to match from which the water trickles
into that part of the Well which is in the open air; and it
has a sweet taste, and they say that Corinthian brass
when hissing hot is dipped into this water."

Peirene having been gradually but steadily covered
by the rising rubbish of centuries was unearthed and


again given access to ''the open air" during the excava-
tions begun in Corinth in 1896 under American auspices.
The deposit was so deep that a ladder had to be used to
reach down into the upper fountain.

A large flight of steps fifteen feet in width was dis-
covered descending from the Temple Hill to a broad
pavement leading to the ancient Agora or Public Square,
and to the lower fountain of Peirene which adjoins it at a
lower level and which was easily and indubitably identi-
fied by inscriptions and by the correspondence of the
surrounding ruins and remains with the structures that
Pausanias saw and carefully described as to their appear-
ance and locations while some of them were still in their

The fountain was found under thirty-five feet of
earth and had a limestone front of two stories in the
Roman style which had taken the place of its earlier

The style of some of the architectural remains that
were discovered nearby indicated that much of the work
belonged to a period antedating the Christian era by
some six hundred years. The legend of the Spring, how-
ever, goes back half a dozen centuries beyond even that
archaic time, and tells that its waters reflected the taming
of Pegasus, an undertaking in which it was necessary for
Bellerophon to secure the aid of Athena whose work on
that occasion was of such memorable character that she
received, in recognition of it, the epithet Chalinitis, The
Bridler, the bridle itself having been made of gold.

Its sweet water was extolled by Athenaeus, who seems
to have weighed the waters of all the Grecian Springs, as
being lighter than any that welled from the numerous
clear fountains of Greece; and it is no less pellucid today,
so clear, in fact, that at the first view a visitor often steps


into it before realizing that the ground that looks so dry
is the bottom of the Spring.

Euripides always refers reverentially to Peirene as
sacred; and his Trojan women at the fall of Troy seem to
see some assuagement of slavery in the possible prospect
that they may become drawers of its holy water. Also,
he mentions the graybeards of the Corinthian checker
club — if "pessoi" was really the origin of that humble
cousin of chess — as playing their game "near Peirene's
sacred Spring." They played possibly on the pavement
of the ancient Public Square, by the two-storied fountain,
shaded by giant plane trees like the lordly specimen that
today adorns the modern Agora and shields the viewer
of a glorious panorama of azure sea in the Gulf of Corinth,
and the undulating land of half a dozen Grecian districts
that rise over the hilltops and the shoulders of Helicon to
merge with the sky and disappear in the dazzling crown
of crystal snow that marks the monarch height of Mt.

The plane tree has grown to greatness through the
efficacy of Peirene's kindly and plenteous waters, waters
so plentiful that their abundance was used by an old
Greek comedy writer to describe the marvelous capacity
of the Corinthian music girls, one of whom alone could
drink up the fountain of Peirene, if it were flowing with
wine — an exaggeration perhaps permissible among those
who used the " Celebe," a drinking vessel a foot high, and
one of which was found during the excavations about

"The Miser" of Fielding, and "L'Avare" of Moliere
were based on Plautus' translation of this comedy for the
Roman theatergoers nearly three hundred years before
Christ, but as the original, of which no copy is extant,
was composed long before that time, Peirene at a still


earlier date had become a popular prodigy and a vaunted
beauty throughout not only the fountful City of Corinth
but the whole land of Greece itself.

Pausanias; II. 3-5.

Athenaeus; II. 18.

Plautus; Aulularia; Act III. sc. X.


The Spring of Glauce was beyond the market place on
the road leading to Sicyon, near a temple and a brass
statue of Apollo, and below the Odeum which was built
above it.

Like the Spring of Peirene, it received its name from
the similar circumstance of a woman's throwing herself
into its waters, though not from maternal grief, but in a
frenzied effort to still the pangs of poison cunningly ad-
ministered by another woman with a craze for killing.

One might trace the tragedy back through a record of
unstable love to its beginning in greed and the consequent
search for the Golden Fleece by Jason, the commander of
the ship " Argo " and the leader of the marauding expedi-
tion of fifty choice spirits known as the Argonauts, which
took place about 1250 B.C. under the instigation of Jason's
uncle Pelias of Iolcus in Thessaly.

The Fleece, that wealth of wool which had been the
coat of Chrysomallus, the ram that was Neptune's and
Theophane's son, was found by Jason at Colchis and was
secured through the intervention of Medea, King Petes'
daughter, who threw the Fleece's guardian dragon into a
sorcerous sleep.

Medea, infatuated, returned to Corinth with Jason
and they lived together for ten years, at the end of which


time Jason announced that he intended to marry Glauce,
the daughter of Creon the King of Corinth.

Medea, dissembling, sent a robe as a marriage gift to
Glauce who, innocently putting it on in her eagerness to
view herself in its finery, became mortally ill and rushing
out in agony plunged into the copious Spring to quench
the scorching and deadly pains that the poisoned fabric
of the present immediately produced.

On these facts alone, Medea would no doubt receive
the sympathy of the majority of modern readers; but the
deeds of one age can rarely be justly judged by the stand-
ards of another age. People of the past are best tried by
the laws and customs of their own periods, for even an
act of religious duty in one country or one age may be
considered merely murder in another country or age, and
the deed can only be considered dispassionately in the
light of the guiding principles of the people among whom
it was committed.

At Corinth it was Glauce with whom the citizens sided
and they would have executed Medea if she had not
managed to elude them and flee to Athens. They, how-
ever, captured a number of her children of whom Jason
was not the father, and through a committee of women
put them to death by the altar and buried them near the
Spring where the haunting ghost of the murdered Glauce
might continually trouble their sleep.

Indeed it was perhaps only because of her uncanny
ability to effect escapes that Medea lived long enough to
gratify her mania for murders by adding Glauce to the
list of those for which she could be indicted; she killed; —

Absyrtus, her younger brother, whom she cut into little
pieces which she threw into the sea; Perses, an elder
brother; Mermerus and Pheres, her two sons of whom
Jason was the father; Creon, the King of Corinth; the


giant Talus at Crete ; and Pelias whom she murdered in a
most fiendish way through his own daughters by induc-
ing them to cut him up and boil him, she, by so treating
a goat and then dextrously substituting a kid in its place,
having deluded them into believing that Pelias too could
be thus restored to youth.

Medea afterwards married ^Egeus a sovereign of
Attica, and their son, Madus, was held to be the pro-
genitor of the Medes.

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 9 of 46)