Greek Mythology >> Nymphs >> Naiads >> Salmacis (Salmakis)


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SALMAKIS (Salmacis) was the Naiad-nymph of a spring of the town of Halikarnassos (Halicarnassus) in Karia (Caria) (south-western Anatolia). She fell in love with the handsome youth Hermaphroditos and prayed to the gods be united with him forever. Her prayer was taken a little too literally for their forms were merged as one to create the first hermaphrodite. Salmakis' namesake fountain was believed to make men who bathed in its waters effeminate.


Presumably a daughter of the River MAIANDROS


Strabo, Geography 14. 2. 16 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Halikarnassos (Halicarnassus), the royal residence of the dynasts of Karia (Caria) . . . here is the fountain called Salmakis (Salmacis), which has the slanderous repute, for what reason I do not know, of making effeminate all who drink from it. It seems that the effeminacy of man is laid to the charge of the air or of the water; yet it is not these, but rather riches and wanton living, that are the cause of effeminacy."

Hermaphrodite endormi | Greco-Roman marble statue from Baths of Diocletian C2nd A.D. | Musée du Louvre, Paris
"Hermaphrodite endormi", Greco-Roman marble statue from Baths of Diocletian C2nd A.D., Musée du Louvre

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 285 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Hear how the magic pool of Salmacis found its ill fame, and why its strengthless waters soften and enervate the limbs they touch . . .
When thrice five years had passed [i.e. he was aged 15], the youth [Hermaphroditus] forsook Ida, his fostering home, his mountain haunts, eager to roam strange lands afar, to see strange rivers, hardships softened by delight. The towns of Lycia he reached at last and Carae's (Caria's) marching provinces; and there he saw a pool, a limpid shining pool, clear to its very bottom; no marsh reed, no barren sedge grew there, no spiky rush; the water crystal clear, its margin ringed with living tuft and verdure always green.
A Nympha dwelt there, not one to bend the bow or join the hunt or run to win the race; she was the only of the Naides (Naiads) unknown to swift Diana [Artemis]. Many a time her sisters chide her : ‘Come, Salmacis, get out your spear or painted quiver; vary your hours of ease with hardships of the chase.’ Yet never spear she took nor painted quiver, nor would vary her hours of ease with hardships of the chase; but in her pool would bathe her lovely limbs, and with a comb of boxwood dress her hair, and, gazing long, take counsel of the waters what style were best.
Now on the soft green grass or on soft leaves in gauzy dress she lay; now gathered flowers--and, gathering, chanced to see the boy and seeing, saw her heart's desire, Yet though her heart would haste she paused awhile till, dress inspected, all in order placed, charm in her eyes set shining, she deserved to look so lovely, then began to speak : ‘Fair boy you seem--how worthily you seem!--a god, and, if a god, Cupido (Love) [Eros] himself, or if a mortal, happy pair are they who gave you birth; blest is your brother, blest indeed is your sister, if you have one, and the nurse who suckled you, but far, of far, more blest she, your betrothed, found worthy of your love! If there is one, let stolen joy be mine; if none, let me be her, make me your bride!’
This said, she held her peace. A rosy blush dyed the boy's cheeks; he knew not what love was; but blushes well became him; like the bloom of rosy apples hanging in the sun, or painted ivory, or when the moon glows red beneath her pallor and the gongs resound in vain to rescue her eclipse. Then the Nympha pleaded, begged, besought at least a sister's kiss, and made to throw her arms around his ivory neck. ‘Enough!’ he cried ‘Have done! Or I shall quit this place--and you.’
Fear struck her heart; ‘I yield the place’, she said, ‘Stranger, to you’ and turned away as if to leave him, then, with many a backward glance, she vanished in the leafy undergrowth and crouched in hiding there.
The boy, alone (he thought) on the empty sward unobserved, strolled to and fro and in the rippling water dipped first his toes, then ankle deep, and soon, charmed by the soothing coolness of the pool, stripped his light garments from his slender limbs. Then Salmacis gazed spellbound, and desire flamed for his naked beauty and her eyes blazes bright as when the sun's unclouded orb shines dazzling in a mirror. She scarce could bare to wait, hardly postpone her joy, she longed to embrace him, scarce contained her frenzied heart. He clapped his hollow palms against his sides and dived into the pool and, as he swam arm over arm, gleamed in the limpid water like, in a guarding dome of crystal glass, white lilies or a figure of ivory. ‘I’ve won, he’s mine!’ she cried, and flung aside her clothes and plunged far out into the pool and grappled him and, as he struggled, forced her kisses, willy-nilly fondled him, caressed him; now on one side, now the other clung to him as he fought to escape her hold; and so at last entwined him, like a snake seized by the king of birds and borne aloft, which, as it hangs, coils round his head and claws and with its tail entwines his spreading wings; or ivy wrapping round tall forest trees; or, in the sea, a squid whose whipping arm seize and from every side surround their prey. Atlantiades [Hermaphroditus] fought back, denied the Nympha her joy; she strained the more; her clinging body seemed fixed fast to his. ‘Fool, fight me as you will’, she cried, ‘You'll not escape! Ye Gods ordain no day shall ever dawn to part us twain!’
Her prayer found gods to hear; both bodies merged in one, both blended in one form and face. As when a gardener sets a graft and sees growth seal the join and both mature together, thus, when in the fast embrace their limbs were knit, they two were two no more, nor man, nor woman--one body then that neither seemed and both. So when he saw the waters of the pool, where he had dived a man, had rendered him half woman and his limbs now weak and soft, raising his hands, Hermaphroditus cried, his voice unmanned, ‘Dear father [Hermes] and dear mother [Aphrodite], both of whose names I bear, grant me, your child, that whoso in these waters bathes a man emerge half woman, weakened instantly.’
Both parents hears; both, moved to gratify their bi-sexed son, his purpose to ensure, drugged the bright water with that power impure."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 15. 316 ff :
"Stranger still are waters charged with power to change men's minds as well as bodies. All the world has heard of obscene [spring of] Salmacis."

Statius, Silvae 1. 5. 22 (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"O Salmacis, with thy deceiving fount."





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