The Ten Books on Architecture, 8.3

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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Various Properties of Different Waters

3There are, however, some hot springs that supply water of the best taste, which is so delightful to drink that one does not think with regret of the Fountain of the Muses or the Marcian aqueduct. These hot springs are produced naturally, in the following manner. When fire is kindled down beneath in alum or asphalt or sulphur, it makes the earth immediately over it very hot, and emits a glowing heat to the parts still farther above it, so that if there are any springs of sweet water found in the upper strata, they begin to boil in their fissures when they are met by this heat, and so they run out with their taste unimpaired.

2And there are some cold springs that have a bad smell and taste. They rise deep down in the lower strata, cross places which are on fire, and then are cooled by running a long distance through the earth, coming out above ground with their taste, smell, and colour spoiled; as, for instance, the river Albula on the road to Tivoli and the cold springs of Ardea, which have the same smell and are called sulphur springs, and others in similar places. Although they are cold, yet at first sight they seem to be hot for the reason that when they happen upon a burning spot deep down below, the liquid and the fire meet, and with a great noise at the collision they take in strong currents of air, and thus, swollen by a quantity of compressed wind, they come out at the springs in a constant state of ebullition. When such springs are not open but confined by rocks, the force of the air in them drives them up through the narrow fissures to the summits of hills.

3Consequently those who think that they have excavated sources of springs at the height of such hills find themselves mistaken when they open up their excavations. Suppose a bronze vase filled not to the very lips, but containing two thirds of the quantity of water which forms its capacity, and with a cover placed upon it. When it is subjected to a very hot fire, the water must become thoroughly heated, and from the rarity of its nature it greatly expands by taking in the heat, so that it not only fills the vase but raises its cover by means of the currents of air in it, and swells and runs over. But if you take the cover off, the expanding forces are released into the open air, and the water settles down again to its proper level. So it is with the sources of springs. As long as they are confined in narrow channels, the currents of air in the water rush up in bubbles to the top, but as soon as they are given a wider outlet, they lose their air on account of the rarity peculiar to water, and so settle down and resume their proper level.

4Every hot spring has healing properties because it has been boiled with foreign substances, and thus acquires a new useful quality. For example, sulphur springs cure pains in the sinews, by warming up and burning out the corrupt humours of the body by their heat. Aluminous springs, used in the treatment of the limbs when enfeebled by paralysis or the stroke of any such malady, introduce warmth through the open pores, counteracting the chill by the opposite effect of their heat, and thus equably restoring the limbs to their former condition. Asphaltic springs, taken as purges, cure internal maladies.

5There is also a kind of cold water containing natron, found for instance at Penne in the Vestine country, at Cutiliae, and at other similar places. It is taken as a purge and in passing through the bowels reduces scrofulous tumours. Copious springs are found where there are mines of gold, silver, iron, copper, lead, and the like, but they are very harmful. For they contain, like hot springs, sulphur, alum, asphalt, . . . and when it passes into the body in the form of drink, and spreading through the veins reaches the sinews and joints, it expands and hardens them. Hence the sinews, swelling with this expansion, are contracted in length and so give men the cramp or the gout, for the reason that their veins are saturated with very hard, dense, and cold substances.

6There is also a sort of water which, since it contains . . . that are not perfectly clear, and it floats like a flower on the surface, in colour like purple glass. This may be seen particularly in Athens, where there are aqueducts from places and springs of that sort leading to the city and the port of Piraeus, from which nobody drinks, for the reason mentioned, but they use them for bathing and so forth, and drink from wells, thus avoiding their unwholesomeness. At Troezen it cannot be avoided, because no other kind of water at all is found, except what the Cibdeli furnish, and so in that city all or most of the people have diseases of the feet. At the city of Tarsus in Cilicia is a river named Cydnus, in which gouty people soak their legs and find relief from pain.

7There are also many other kinds of water which have peculiar properties; for example, the river Himera in Sicily, which, after leaving its source, is divided into two branches. One flows in the direction of Etruria and has an exceedingly sweet taste on account of a sweet juice in the soil through which it runs; the other runs through a country where there are salt pits, and so it has a salt taste. At Paraetonium, and on the road to Ammon, and at Casius in Egypt there are marshy lakes which are so salt that they have a crust of salt on the surface. In many other places there are springs and rivers and lakes which are necessarily rendered salt because they run through salt pits.

8Others flow through such greasy veins of soil that they are overspread with oil when they burst out as springs: for example, at Soli, a town in Cilicia, the river named Liparis, in which swimmers or bathers get anointed merely by the water. Likewise there is a lake in Ethiopia which anoints people who swim in it, and one in India which emits a great quantity of oil when the sky is clear. At Carthage is a spring that has oil swimming on its surface and smelling like sawdust from citrus wood, with which oil sheep are anointed. In Zacynthus and about Dyrrachium and Apollonia are springs which discharge a great quantity of pitch with their water. In Babylon, a lake of very great extent, called Lake Asphaltitis, has liquid asphalt swimming on its surface, with which asphalt and with burnt brick Semiramis built the wall surrounding Babylon. At Jaffa in Syria and among the Nomads in Arabia, are lakes of enormous size that yield very large masses of asphalt, which are carried off by the inhabitants thereabouts.

9There is nothing marvellous in this, for quarries of hard asphalt are numerous there. So, when a quantity of water bursts its way through the asphaltic soil, it carries asphalt out with it, and after passing out of the ground, the water is separated and so rejects the asphalt from itself. Again, in Cappadocia on the road from Mazaca to Tyana, there is an extensive lake into which if a part of a reed or of some other thing be plunged, and withdrawn the next day, it will be found that the part thus withdrawn has turned into stone, while the part which remained above water retains its original nature.

10In the same way, at Hierapolis in Phrygia there is a multitude of boiling hot springs from which water is let into ditches surrounding gardens and vineyards, and this water becomes an incrustation of stone at the end of a year. Hence, every year they construct banks of earth to the right and left, let in the water, and thus out of these incrustations make walls for their fields. This seems due to natural causes, since there is a juice having a coagulating potency like rennet underground in those spots and in that country. When this potency appears above ground mingled with spring water, the mixture cannot but be hardened by the heat of the sun and air, as appears in salt pits.

11There are also springs which issue exceedingly bitter, owing to a bitter juice in the soil, such as the river Hypanis in Pontus. For about forty miles from its source its taste is very sweet; then it reaches a point about one hundred and sixty miles from its mouth, where it is joined by a very small brook. This runs into it, and at once makes that vast river bitter, for the reason that the water of the brook becomes bitter by flowing through the kind of soil and the veins in which there are sandarach mines.

12These waters are given their different flavours by the properties of the soil, as is also seen in the case of fruits. If the roots of trees, vines, or other plants did not produce their fruits by drawing juices from soil of different properties, the flowers of all would be of the same kind in all places and districts. But we find in the island of Lesbos the protropum wine, in Maeonia, the catacecaumenites, in Lydia, the Tmolian, in Sicily, the Mamertine, in Campania, the Falernian, between Terracina and Fondi, the Caecuban, and wines of countless varieties and qualities produced in many other places. This could not be the case, were it not that the juice of the soil, introduced with its proper flavours into the roots, feeds the stem, and, mounting along it to the top, imparts a flavour to the fruit which is peculiar to its situation and kind.

13If soils were not different and unlike in their kinds of juices, Syria and Arabia would not be the only places in which the reeds, rushes, and all the plants are aromatic, and in which there are trees bearing frankincense or yielding pepper berries and lumps of myrrh, nor would assafoetida be found only in the stalks growing in Cyrene, but everything would be of the same sort, and produced in the soil of all countries. It is the inclination of the firmament and the force of the sun, as it draws nearer or recedes in its course, that make these diversities such as we find them in different countries and places, through the nature of the soil and its juices. And not only in the case of the things mentioned, but also in that of sheep and cattle. These diversities would not exist if the different properties of soils and their juices were not qualified by the power of the sun.

14For instance, there are in Boeotia the rivers Cephisus and Melas, in Lucania, the Crathis, in Troy, the Xanthus, and certain springs in the country of the Clazomenians, the Erythraeans, and the Laodiceans. When sheep are ready for breeding at the proper season of the year, they are driven every day during that season to those rivers to drink, and the result is that, however white they may be, they beget in some places whity-brown lambs, in other places gray, and in others black as a raven. Thus, the peculiar character of the liquid, entering their body, produces in each case the quality with which it is imbued. Hence, it is said that the people of Ilium gave the river Xanthus its name because reddish cattle and whity-brown sheep are found in the plains of Troy near that river.

15Deadly kinds of water are also found, which run through soil containing a noxious juice, and take in its poisonous quality: for instance, there is said to have been a spring at Terracina, called the spring of Neptune, which caused the death of those who thoughtlessly drank from it. In consequence, it is said that the ancients stopped it up. At Chrobs in Thrace there is a lake which causes the death not only of those who drink of it, but also of those who bathe in it. In Thessaly there is a gushing fount of which sheep never taste, nor does any sort of creature draw near to it, and close by this fount there is a tree with crimson flowers.

16In Macedonia, at the place where Euripides is buried, two streams approach from the right and left of his tomb, and unite. By one of these, travellers are in the habit of lying down and taking luncheon, because its water is good; but nobody goes near the stream on the other side of the tomb, because its water is said to be death-dealing. In Arcadia there is a tract of land called Nonacris, which has extremely cold water trickling from a rock in the mountains. This water is called “Water of the Styx,” and no vessel, whether of silver, bronze, or iron, can stand it without flying to pieces and breaking up. Nothing but a mule’s hoof can keep it together and hold it, and tradition says that it was thus conveyed by Antipater through his son Iollas into the province where Alexander was staying, and that the king was killed by him with this water.

17Among the Alps in the kingdom of Cottius there is a water those who taste of which immediately fall lifeless. In the Faliscan country on the Via Campana in the Campus Cornetus is a grove in which rises a spring, and there the bones of birds and of lizards and other reptiles are seen lying.

Some springs are acid, as at Lyncestus and in Italy in the Velian country, at Teano in Campania, and in many other places. These when used as drinks have the power of breaking up stones in the bladder, which form in the human body.

18This seems to be due to natural causes, as there is a sharp and acid juice contained in the soil there, which imparts a sharpness to these springs as they issue from it; and so, on entering the body, they disperse all the deposits and concretions, due to the use of other waters, which they find in the body. Why such things are broken up by acid waters we can see from the following experiments. If an egg is left for some time in vinegar, its shell will soften and dissolve. Again, if a piece of lead, which is very flexible and heavy, is put in a vase and vinegar poured over it, and the vase covered and sealed up, the lead will be dissolved and turn into white lead.

19On the same principle, copper, which is naturally more solid, will disperse and turn into verdigris if similarly treated. So, also, a pearl. Even rocks of lava, which neither iron nor fire alone can dissolve, split into pieces and dissolve when heated with fire and then sprinkled with vinegar. Hence, since we see these things taking place before our very eyes, we can infer that on the same principle even patients with the stone may, in the nature of things, be cured in like manner by means of acid waters, on account of the sharpness of the potion.

20Then there are springs in which wine seems to be mingled, like the one in Paphlagonia, the water of which intoxicates those who drink of the spring alone without wine. The Aequians in Italy and the tribe of the Medulli in the Alps have a kind of water which causes swellings in the throats of those who drink it.

21In Arcadia is the well-known town of Clitor, in whose territory is a cave with running water which makes people who drink of it abstemious. At this spring, there is an epigram in Greek verses inscribed on stone to the effect that the water is unsuitable for bathing, and also injurious to vines, because it was at this spring that Melampus cleansed the daughters of Proetus of their madness by sacrificial rites, and restored those maidens to their former sound state of mind. The inscription runs as written below:

Swain, if by noontide thirst thou art opprest
When with thy flocks to Cleitor’s bounds thou’st hied,

Take from this fount a draught, and grant a rest
To all thy goats the water nymphs beside.

But bathe not in’t when full of drunken cheer,
Lest the mere vapour may bring thee to bane;

Shun my vine-hating spring—Melampus here
From madness once washed Proetus’ daughters sane,

And all th’ offscouring here did hide, when they
From Argos came to rugged Arcady.

22In the island of Zea is a spring of which those who thoughtlessly drink lose their understanding, and an epigram is cut there to the effect that a draught from the spring is delightful, but that he who drinks will become dull as a stone. These are the verses:

This stone sweet streams of cooling drink doth drip,
But stone his wits become who doth it sip.

23At Susa, the capital of the Persian kingdom, there is a little spring, those who drink of which lose their teeth. An epigram is written there, the significance of which is to this effect, that the water is excellent for bathing, but that taken as drink, it knocks out the teeth by the roots. The verses of this epigram are, in Greek, as follows:

Stranger, you see the waters of a spring
In which ‘t is safe for men their hands to lave;

But if the weedy basin entering
You drink of its unpalatable wave,

Your grinders tumble out that self-same day
From jaws that orphaned sockets will display.

24There are also in some places springs which have the peculiarity of giving fine singing voices to the natives, as at Tarsus in Magnesia and in other countries of that kind. Then there is Zama, an African city, which King Juba fortified by enclosing it with a double wall, and he established his royal residence there. Twenty miles from it is the walled town of Ismuc, the lands belonging to which are marked off by a marvellous kind of boundary. For although Africa was the mother and nurse of wild animals, particularly serpents, yet not one is ever born in the lands of that town, and if ever one is imported and put there, it dies at once; and not only this, but if soil is taken from this spot to another place, the same is true there. It is said that this kind of soil is also found in the Balearic Islands. The above mentioned soil has a still more wonderful property, of which I have learned in the following way.

25Caius Julius, Masinissa’s son, who owned all the lands about that town, served with Caesar the father. He was once my guest. Hence, in our daily intercourse, we naturally talked of literary subjects. During a conversation between us on the efficacy of water and its qualities, he stated that there were springs in that country of a kind which caused people born there to have fine singing voices, and that consequently they always sent abroad and bought handsome lads and ripe girls, and mated them, so that their progeny might have not only fine voices but also beautiful forms.

26This great variety in different things is a distribution due to nature, for even the human body, which consists in part of the earthy, contains many kinds of juices, such as blood, milk, sweat, urine, and tears. If all this variation of flavours is found in a small portion of the earthy, we should not be surprised to find in the great earth itself countless varieties of juices, through the veins of which the water runs, and becomes saturated with them before reaching the outlets of springs. In this way, different varieties of springs of peculiar kinds are produced, on account of diversity of situation, characteristics of country, and dissimilar properties of soils.

27Some of these things I have seen for myself, others I have found written in Greek books, the authorities for these writings being Theophrastus, Timaeus, Posidonius, Hegesias, Herodotus, Aristides, and Metrodorus. These men with much attention and endless pains showed by their writings that the peculiarities of sites, the properties of waters, and the characteristics of countries are conditioned by the inclination of the heaven. Following their investigations, I have set down in this book what I thought sufficient about different kinds of water, to make it easier, by means of these directions, for people to pick out springs from which they can conduct the water in aqueducts for the use of cities and towns.

28For it is obvious that nothing in the world is so necessary for use as water, seeing that any living creature can, if deprived of grain or fruit or meat or fish, or any one of them, support life by using other foodstuffs; but without water no animal nor any proper food can be produced, kept in good condition, or prepared. Consequently we must take great care and pains in searching for springs and selecting them, keeping in view the health of mankind.

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