On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

Vitruvius Pollio, creator; Morgan, M. H. (Morris Hicky), 1859-1910, translator

13. If 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.

14. For 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.

15. Deadly 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.

16. In 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.

17. Among 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.

18. This 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.

19. On 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.

20. Then 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.