The Ten Books on Architecture, 8.3

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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Of the Nature of Various Waters

3There are some hot springs from which water of an excellent flavour is procured, so pleasant to the taste, that it is inferior neither to that of the fountains of the Camænæ nor of the Martian aqueduct. These are naturally so, on the following account. When fire is generated under ground, and the soil is heated all round, either from abundance of alum, bitumen, or sulphur, the hot vapour ascends to the upper parts, and, if there are therein springs of sweet water affected by its spreading through the pores, they grow hot, without injury to the flavour.

2There are also cold springs whose smell and taste are bad. These arise in the lower subterranean places, then pass through hot districts, and afterwards continuing their course for a considerable distance, are cold when they rise to the surface, and of a vitiated taste, smell, and colour. Such is the river Albula, in the Tiburtine way: such are the cold fountains in the lands of Ardea, both of a similar smell, which is like sulphur: such, also, are found in other places. But these, though cold, seem, nevertheless, to boil: for, falling from a high place on to a heated soil, and acted on by the meeting of the water and fire, they rush together with great violence and noise; and, apparently inflated by the violence of the compressed air, they issue boiling from the spring. Among them, however, those whose course is not open, but obstructed by stones or other impediments, are, by the force of the air through the narrow pores driven up to the tops of hills.

3Hence, those who think they have found springs at such a height as the tops of hills, are mistaken when they dig their wells. For as a brazen vase, not filled to the brim, but about two-thirds full of water, with a cover thereon, when subjected to the great heat of a fire communicates that heat to the water, this, from its natural porosity, receiving the heat and swelling out, not only fills the vase, but, raising the cover by the force of the steam, increases and boils over. If the cover be taken away, the steam passes off to the open air, and the water subsides. In the same manner, when springs are forced through narrow channels, the pressure of the air drives the bubbles of the water to the top; but as soon as they come into wide open channels, the pores of the liquid having vent, it subsides and returns to its natural level.

4All hot springs are, therefore, medicinal; because boiling in the soils through which they pass, they acquire many virtues. Thus sulphureous waters restore, by their heat, those suffering under nervous complaints, by warming and extracting the vitious humours of the body. If any member of the body, either from paralysis or other malady, become useless, aluminous waters warm it, and introducing, through the open pores, the opposing power of heat, restore it, and thus it immediately regains its former strength. Bituminous waters, taken inwardly, act as purgatives, and are excellent for the cure of inward complaints.

5There is a species of cold nitrous spring like that at Pinna a city of the Vestini, at Cutilium, and other similar places, which, when taken, purges, and, in its passage through the bowels, diminishes schrophulous tumours. In those places where gold, silver, iron, brass, lead, and other similar substances, are excavated, very copious springs are found. These, however, are very pernicious. Indeed they produce effects contrary to those of the hot springs which emit sulphur, alum, and bitumen: for when taken inwardly, passing through the intestines, they affect the nerves and joints, and produce hard swellings on them. Hence the nerves are contracted by the swelling, in the direction of their length, and thus induce the cramp or the gout, because the vessels become saturated with hard gross cold particles.

6But there is a species of water, which, when not clear, has a foam, like a flower, swimming on its surface, of a colour similar to that of purple glass. It is known at Athens more particularly, and, from the places and springs in which it is found, it is conducted to the city and to the Piræus; but, on account of the cause above-mentioned, no one drinks it, though it is in use for washing and other purposes. They, therefore, to avoid its ill effects, drink the well water. The Troezenians are not able to escape this evil; for they have no other sort of water, except that of Cybdelus. Hence, in their city, all or at least the greatest part, of the inhabitants are affected with diseases in the feet. At Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, there is a river whose name is Cydnus, in which, if gouty persons steep their feet, they receive relief from it.

7There are, moreover, many other sorts of water, which have particular properties, as the Himera, in Sicily, which, when it departs from its source, is divided into two branches. That branch which flows towards Ætna, passing through a country of sweet humidity, is exceedingly soft; the other, its course being through land where salt is dug, has a salt taste. At Parætonium, also, and on the road to the temple of Ammon, and at Casium in Ægypt, there are marshy lakes containing so much salt, that it congeals on them. In many other places the springs, rivers and lakes, which run near salt-pits, are therefrom rendered salt.

8Others, running over veins of fat earth, issue forth impregnated with oil: as at Soloe, a city of Cilicia, a river called Liparis, in which those that swim or wash, are, as it were, anointed by the water. In Ethiopia, also, there is a lake which anoints those that swim therein; and in India there is another, which, when the sky is clear, emits a great quantity of oil. At Carthage there is a spring, on the surface of which swims an oil of the smell of cedar dust, with which they anoint cattle. In the island of Zacynthus, and about Dyrrachium and Apollonia, are springs which throw up a great quantity of pitch with the water. The vast lake at Babylon, called the Asphaltic pool, contains floating bitumen, with which, and with bricks of baked earth, Semiramis built the wall round Babylon. At Joppa, also, in Syria, and in Numidian Arabia, are lakes of immense size, yielding large masses of bitumen, which are taken away by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood.

9This is not, however, surprising; for in that spot there are many quarries of hard bitumen: hence, when the water bursts out from this bituminous earth, it carries it therewith; and having come forth, the bitumen is separated from it and deposited. In Cappadocia, on the road between Mazaca and Tuana, there is a considerable lake, in which, if a piece of reed or any other substance be cast, and taken out on the following day, it will be found to have been turned into stone; but the part out of water will not have changed its quality.

10In the same manner, at Hierapolis, in Phrygia, a large head of hot water boils up, and is conducted by ditches round the gardens and vineyards. At the end of a year the ditches become incrusted with stone; and hence, making yearly cuts to the right and left, they carry off the incrustations, and use them for building field walls. This circumstance, as it appears to me, would naturally happen, if, in these spots, and in the land about, there be a juice or moisture whose nature is similar to that of rennet. For then, when this coagulating power issues forth from the earth, through the springs, congelation takes place by the heat of the sun and air, as is seen in salt-pits.

11Some springs are exceedingly bitter, from the bitterness of the juices of the earth; as the river Hypanis in Pontus, which, for the first forty miles from its source, is of very sweet flavour; but at a spot one hundred and sixty miles from its mouth, a very small spring falls into it, after which the whole body of the river becomes bitter; and this because the water flows through that sort of earth and veins from whence red lead is procured.

12These different flavours are dependent on the quality of the earth, as in the case of fruits. For if the roots of trees, of vines, or of other plants, did not produce fruit according to the quality of the earth and the nature of the moisture, the same sort of fruit would, in all places and countries, possess the same flavour. Whereas we see, that, in the island of Lesbos the Protyran wine is made, in Mæonia the κατακεκαυμενίτη (Catakecaumenitan), in Lydia the Melitan, in Sicily the Mamertine, in Campania the Falernian, at Terracina and Fundi the Cæcuban; and in many other places a vast variety of sorts, of different qualities; which could not be the case, but that the moisture of the earth, penetrating the roots with the particular flavour it possesses, nourishes the tree, and, rising to the top of it, imparts to the fruit the flavour of the place and species.

13For if the soil and its moisture did not vary, not only would the reeds and rushes of Syria and Arabia be odoriferous, and the shrubs yield pepper, frankincense, and myrrh; nor would the laser grow only in Cyrene, but in all countries and in all places would the same sort of plants grow. For the varieties that are found in different situations and countries arise from the different climates, and the power of the sun, sometimes at a less and at other times at a greater distance; the effects of which are perceived, not only on the moisture of the earth, but on cattle and flocks. And these circumstances could not occur, if in every country the quality of the land did not depend on the sun’s power.

14In Boeotia on the rivers Cephisus and Melas, in Lucania on the Crathis, in Troy on the Xanthus, and on the springs and rivers of the Clazomenians, Erythræans, and Laodiceans, the cattle, about the time of bearing, at the proper season of the year, are daily driven to drink; and though themselves of a white colour, in some places they bring forth young of a brown colour, in others of dark brown, and in others of a black colour. Thus the property of a beverage, when it enters the body, communicates thereto its quality, of whatever sort that may be. Hence in the plains of Troy, on the banks of its river, from the flocks and cattle being yellow, the Trojans are said to have called the river Xanthus.

15Some sorts of water are mortal in their effects: these receive their quality from the poisonous moisture of the lands through which they flow. Such is said to be the Neptunian spring at Terracina, of which those who thoughtlessly drank, lost their lives; hence the antients are said to have stopped it up: and in the country of the Cychri, in Thrace, there is a lake, of which not only those who drink, but those who bathe therein die. In Thessaly, also, flows a spring which no cattle will drink, nor even approach: near it a shrub grows, which bears a purple flower.

16So, in Macedonia, where Euripides is interred, from the right and left of his tomb two streams unite: on one of them travellers usually halt to refresh themselves, on account of the excellence of the water: no one, however, approaches the stream on the other side of the monument, because its effects are said to be mortal. In Arcadia, also, the Nonacrian region contains extremely cold water, which drops from the mountains and rocks. It is called water of the Styx (Στυγὸς ὑδωρ); which neither silver, brass, nor iron vessels will hold, because it bursts and destroys them. Nothing preserves or contains it but the hoof of a mule: indeed it is said to have been conveyed, by Iolaus the son of Antipater, to the province where Alexander was, and to have been the cause of his death.

17In the Cottian Alps is a water which those who taste instantly die. In the Faliscan territory, on the Via Campana, and in the Cornetan division is a grove wherein a spring rises, containing bones of snakes, lizards, and other reptiles. There are other springs whose water is acid, as are those of the Lyncestis, and in Italy, of the Velinus and of the Campana near Theanum, and in many other places, which, when drank, have the effect of dissolving the stone which forms in the bladder.

18This seems to arise from an acrid and acid moisture being under the earth, from which the waters acquire their acridity; and when introduced into the system, dissolve that with which they come in contact whether generated by deposition or concretion. That acids will have this effect, is clear, from the experiment on an egg, whose shell, when kept therein for some time, will be softened and dissolve. Lead, also, which is very flexible and heavy, if placed in a vessel and covered with acid, and there left open, will be dissolved, and become white lead.

19In the same way brass which is more solid by nature, if treated in the same way, will dissolve, and become verdigrease; and even pearls and flint-stones, which neither iron nor fire can destroy, when submitted to its action, are dissolved and dissipated by an acid. With these facts before our eyes, we may fairly argue, that calculous disorders may be cured by acids, on account of their acridity.

20Some springs appear to be mixed with wine; as that in Paphlagonia, which, when taken, inebriate as wine. At Æqui, in Italy, and in the territory of the Medulli on the Alps, there is a species of water, the use of which produces swellings of the neck.

21In Arcadia, at the well-known city of Clitorium, is a cave flowing with water, of which those who drink become abstemious. At the spring is an epigram inscribed on stone, in Greek verses, to the following effect: that it is not fit for bathing, and also that it is injurious to the vine, because, near the spot, Melampus cured the daughters of Proteus of their madness, and restored them to reason. The epigram is as follows:

Rustic, by Clitor’s stream who takest thy way,
Should thirst oppress thee in the noon of day
Drink at this fount, and in the holy keep
Of guardian Naiads place thy goats and sheep.
But dip not thou thy hand, if wine inflame,
Lest e’en the vapour chill thy fever’d frame;
Fly thou my sober spring. Melampus here
Cleansed the mad Proetides, what time the seer
Arcadia’s rugged hills from Argos sought,
With purifying power my stream was fraught.

22There is also in the island of Chios, a fountain, of which those who imprudently drink become foolish; and thereover is inscribed an epigram to the following purport; that though the water of the fountain might be pleasant to the taste, yet he who drank of it would lose his senses. The lines are thus:

Sweet drops of cooling draught the spring supplies,
But whoso drinks, his reason petrifies.

23At Susa, the capital of Persia, there is a fountain, at which those who drink lose their teeth. On this also is written an epigram, stating that the water was excellent for washing, but that if drank it caused the teeth to fall out of their sockets. The verses are as follow:

A dreaded spring you see,
Yet if their hands, good stranger,
Folks choose to wash, they’re free
To do so without danger;
But if from your long lip,
Or only from its tip
Into your hollow venter,
This liquor pure should enter,
Your tools for munching meat
Straight on the ground will tumble,
And leave their empty seat
For toothless jaws to mumble.

Of the Qualities of Waters in Certain Places

24The quality of the water, in some places, is such, that it gives the people of the country an excellent voice for singing, as at Tarsus, Magnesia, and other countries. In Africa there is a city called Zama, which king Juba surrounded with double walls, and built a palace there; about twenty miles from which, is the town of Ismuc, whose territory is of vast extent. Though Africa is the nursing mother of wild animals, and especially of serpents, in that territory none breed, and if any are brought there they immediately die; and if earth from this place be removed to another, it has the same effect. This sort of earth is also found in the Balearic Isles, where, as I have heard, it has even a more extraordinary quality.

25C. Julius, the son of Masinissa, to whom the town and territory belonged, fought under Cæsar the elder. Lodging in my house, our daily intercourse led us to discuss subjects of philology. On an occasion, talking on the power of water and its virtues, he assured me that in the above territory there were springs of the same sort, and that persons born there had excellent voices for singing; and that on this account persons went to the transmarine market to buy male and female slaves, whom they coupled for the purpose of procuring progeny, not only of excellent voice, but of great beauty.

26Thus has nature exhibited variety in every thing, except the human body, which in every instance consists of earth; but therein are many sorts of fluids, as blood, milk, perspiration, urine, and tears. Wherefore, if in so small a portion of earth such variety exists, it is not surprising, that in the whole world an infinite variety of liquids are found, through the veins of which a spring of water passing, becomes impregnated with their quality before arriving at its head. Hence so many fountains of different sorts, arising, as well from the diversity of their situations, as from the quality of the countries, and the properties of the soils.

27Of some of these things I have been an eye-witness; of others I have read in Greek books, whose authors are Theophrastus, Timæus, Posidonius, Hegesias, Herodotus, Aristides, and Metrodorus, who, with the greatest care and accuracy have described how the properties of places and the virtues of different waters, depend on the various climates of the earth. From these I have borrowed and copied into this book all that I thought necessary respecting the varieties of water, whereby, from the directions given, persons can more readily choose springs from which they may conduct water to cities and states, inasmuch as nothing is more necessary than water.

28For such is the nature of all animals, that if they do not receive a supply of grain, they can subsist on fruits, flesh, or fish, or something of those sorts; but without water, neither the body of an animal, nor even food itself can be raised, preserved, nor provided. The utmost diligence and labour, therefore, should be used in choosing springs, on which the health of mankind depends.

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