The spring of Arethousa

Some years ago I went with my wife on a holiday to Ithaka. This little island has many things going for it. Because it has very little natural fresh water, most of its water is imported. This means that there are no fresh water swimming pools and therefore no big hotels. There are vey few archaeological sites but it does try and make something of its connection with Odysseus. One of the sites it claims is the spring of Arethousa where Eumaeus the swineherd tended his pigs.

δήεις τόν γε σύεσσι παρήμενον: αἱ δὲ νέμονται
πὰρ Κόρακος πέτρῃ ἐπί τε κρήνῃ Ἀρεθούσῃ,
ἔσθουσαι βάλανον μενοεικέα καὶ μέλαν ὕδωρ
πίνουσαι, τά θ᾽ ὕεσσι τρέφει τεθαλυῖαν ἀλοιφήν.

You will find him sitting by his pigs. They graze near the Raven rock and at the spring of Arethousa eating the tasty acorn and drinking the dark water. These nurture their rich fat.

Odyssey 13.407

Of course it is highly unlikely that this is the actual spring Homer refers to but one can suspend disbelief. It is a bit out of the way part of the way down a long track that eventually ends up a secluded cove. I went with my wife and after a long walk arrived at the spring. It was not a flowing spring, rather a pool of fresh cool water where someone had conveniently left a bucket so you could pour it over yourself to relieve the heat. We stopped for a picnic in this deserted place. As we were sitting there was a loud whoosh and two eagles flew a few feet over our heads. A magical moment that reminded me of this passage from the Odyssey where the eagles were an omen for the destruction of the suitors.

ὣς φάτο Τηλέμαχος, τῷ δ᾽ αἰετὼ εὐρύοπα Ζεὺς
ὑψόθεν ἐκ κορυφῆς ὄρεος προέηκε πέτεσθαι.
τὼ δ᾽ ἕως μέν ῥ᾽ ἐπέτοντο μετὰ πνοιῇς ἀνέμοιο
πλησίω ἀλλήλοισι τιταινομένω πτερύγεσσιν:
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ μέσσην ἀγορὴν πολύφημον ἱκέσθην,
ἔνθ᾽ ἐπιδινηθέντε τιναξάσθην πτερὰ πυκνά,
ἐς δ᾽ ἰδέτην πάντων κεφαλάς, ὄσσοντο δ᾽ ὄλεθρον:
δρυψαμένω δ᾽ ὀνύχεσσι παρειὰς ἀμφί τε δειρὰς
δεξιὼ ἤιξαν διά τ᾽ οἰκία καὶ πόλιν αὐτῶν.
θάμβησαν δ᾽ ὄρνιθας, ἐπεὶ ἴδον ὀφθαλμοῖσιν:
ὥρμηναν δ᾽ ἀνὰ θυμὸν ἅ περ τελέεσθαι ἔμελλον.

So spoke Telemachus and far seeing Zeus sent two eagles flying on high from a mountain peak. Now they flew with the breath of the wing close to each other stretching out their wings but when they arrived at the noisy assembly they wheeled round and shook their thick wings and looked at all the heads and death was in their look. Tearing each other’s cheeks and necks with their talons they sped off on the right hand side through the houses and town.

Odyssey 2.146

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2 Responses to The spring of Arethousa

  1. There is beauty in the simplicity of the words, yet complexity in their delivery. Loved the post.


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