Featured Alpheios and the Nymph Arethusa

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, May 14, 2020.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology,

    I think it's time for a new article!

    The Coin:
    Sicily, Syracuse, c.475-450 BC
    Silver litra, 12.4mm, 0.653g
    Obv.: ΣVPA
    Head of Arethusa, with pearl-diadem, r.
    Rev.: Oktopus
    Ref.: SNG ANS 183; SNG München 1003; SNG Copenhagen 641; cf. Boehringer S.196, 450ff.
    about F, slightly toned
    Arethusa, daughter of Nereus, the sea-god, and Doris, was a well-nymph on the Peloponnesos, but a passionated huntress and compaignon of Artemis too. Once she came heated from a hunt in the Stymphalic woods to the river Alpheios, took off her clothes and entered the water. At this moment the river-god approached her and shouted she should not flee from him. But she did without her clothes and Alpheios followed her until they came to Elis. Here exhausted she called Artemis for help. Artemis wrapped her in clouds to hide her from Alpheios. But nevertheless he hold her embraced. So she was transformed by Artemis into water and melted between his fingers. But Alpheios changed into water too to unite with her. Then Artemis opened the ground so Arethusa could flow into it and came out not earlier than on the island of Ortygia in front of Syracuse in Sicily as a beautiful fountain. During her flight she discovered by the way the raped Persephone and reported that to Demeter. Alpheios followed her to Sicily and here he finally managed to unite with her.

    Arethusa was worshipped in Aigios in Achaia. The people took offering cakes from the altar of Salus threw them into the sea and shouted she should send them to Arethusa to Sicily.

    The famous fountain on Ortygia was very beautiful and full of tasty sweet water. It was large and full of fishes. But it had to be armed with barrages to protect it against the sea. There was a curious case with this fountain: Everytime the Olympic Games occur in Elis the fountain smelled of horse dung. This was true too if horses were drifted into the Alpheios. It was told too that once a silvery bowl thrown into the Alpheios appeared in the fountain. This all was seen as proof for a subterranean connection between Elis and Ortygia deep under the Mediterranean.
    Fountain of Arethusa.JPG
    The pic shows the fountain of Arethus on Ortygia how it could be seen today-

    The name Arethusa seems to be Phoinician and should be explained so: When the Phoinicians came to Sicily and found the fountain they called it 'Alphaga', meaning "willow spring". Others called it just 'Arith', meaning °stream°. The Greek coming later to Sicily no longer understood these meanings and put it to the name of the river Alpheios.

    The river Alpheios is the biggest river of the Peloponnesos which together with its confluents drains the major part of Arcadia. Until today it is a whitewater with torrential streaming especially at flood. In ancient times there was only one bridge testified at Heraia. The Alpheios already soon played a big role in mythology. So he should have chased Artemis Arethusa in love who had a sanctuary at his estuary mouth. But the most famous is the myth of the nymph Arethusa where several different variants are known. Beside the physical impossible subterranean connection to Sicily there were other such impossible suggestions e.g.. that Alpheios and Eurotas have the same well from which they originate.

    The island of Ortygia, the 'land of quails', situated directly in front of Syracuse, was the mythic birthplace of Artemis who therefore had the cognomen Ortygia too. The most ancient mentions can not be localised but in the course of time the cult places of Artemis and Leto were identified with Ortygia. Indeed other places too claimed to be the birthplace, so Delos, called formerly Ortygia, Nasos near Syracuse or Ephesos with its sacred grove.

    It should be mentioned that sometimes Arethusa is listed as one of the Hesperids too.

    Already soon Arethusa was depicted on coins of Syracus, often accompanied by dolphins, and later melted together with Artemis of whom she was a passionate devotee.

    It's curious, I wasn't able to find an ancient depiction to this myth. So I have attached the pic of "Alpheus chasing Arethusa" of the French Court painter Antoine Coypel (1661-1722), location unknown


    (1) Ovid, Metamorphoses 5, 571-641
    (2) Pausanias, Periegesis 5, 7, 2-4
    (3) Benjami Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon
    (4) Der kleine Pauly

    Best regards
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  3. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Great write up, thanks Jochen.

    P1190338b (2).jpg
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  4. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    @Jochen1, as always an informative post and interesting coin. I will add an AE of Arethusa.
    Syracuse Octopus.jpg
    Syracuse, Second Democracy, 435-415BC, AE Tetrante or Trionkia
    Obv: Head of Arethusa right, hair in korymbos, dolphin before and behind, ΣYPA before; all in linear circle
    Rev: Octopus and three pellets (mark of value)
    Size: 3.38g, 15mm
    Ref: Hoover 1428; the first bronze coins struck in Syracuse
    Last edited: May 17, 2020
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  5. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Thanks for the cool write-up, @Jochen1 ... and the AR Litra, NICE!

    ARUTHESA - Syracuse

    Tyrant Gelon 458-478 BCE
    AR Tet 24mm 16.7g
    Slow Biga Victory
    Arethusa 4 dolphins
    Sear-Greek 914
    Ex: Charles Reeve Collection

    2nd Democracy 466-405 BCE
    Æ Tetras 2.7g 15mm c.425 BCE
    Arethusa dolphins -
    Octopus 3 pellets
    SNG ANS 376 Calciati II.21.1
    Ex: @John Anthony

    Sicily Syracuse
    AE Onkia
    12-10mm 1.4g
    425-415 BCE
    Arethusa -
    BMC 249
    Ex: @Valentinian
    Last edited: May 16, 2020
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  6. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    @Jochen1.....Great write up as always....I really do enjoy your threads and always learn something new thanks!
    Jochen1 likes this.
  7. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member


    ARETHUSA arose
    From her couch of snows
    In the Acroceraunian mountains;
    From cloud and from crag
    With many a jag, 5
    Shepherding her bright fountains.
    She leapt down the rocks,
    With her rainbow locks
    Streaming among the streams;
    Her steps paved with green 10
    The downward ravine
    Which slopes to the western gleams;
    And gliding and springing,
    She went, ever singing,
    In murmurs as soft as sleep, 15
    The earth seemed to love her,
    And heaven smiled above her,
    As she lingered towards the deep.

    Then Alpheus bold,
    On his glacier cold, 20
    With his trident the mountains strook;
    And opened a chasm
    In the rocks;—with the spasm
    All Erymanthus shook.
    And the black south-wind 25
    It concealed behind
    The urns of the silent snow,
    And earthquake and thunder
    Did rend in sunder
    The bars of the springs below; 30
    The beard and the hair
    Of the river-god were
    Seen through the torrent’s sweep,
    As he followed the light
    Of the fleet nymph’s flight 35
    To the brink of the Dorian deep.

    “O, save me! O, guide me,
    And bid the deep hide me,
    For he grasps me now by the hair!”
    The loud Ocean heard, 40
    To its blue depth stirred,
    And divided at her prayer;
    And under the water
    The Earth’s white daughter
    Fled like a sunny beam; 45
    Behind her descended
    Her billows, unblended
    With the brackish Dorian stream;
    Like a gloomy stain
    On the emerald main 50
    Alpheus rushed behind,—
    As an eagle pursuing
    A dove to its ruin
    Down the streams of the cloudy wind.

    Under the bowers 55
    Where the ocean powers
    Sit on their pearléd thrones;
    Through the coral woods
    Of the weltering floods,
    Over heaps of unvalued stones; 60
    Through the dim beams
    Which amid the streams
    Weave a network of colored light;
    And under the caves,
    Where the shadowy waves 65
    Are as green as the forest’s night;—
    Outspeeding the shark,
    And the sword-fish dark,
    Under the ocean foam,
    And up through the rifts 70
    Of the mountain clifts
    They passed to their Dorian home.

    And now from their fountains
    In Enna’s mountains,
    Down one vale where the morning basks, 75
    Like friends once parted,
    Grown single-hearted,
    They ply their watery tasks.
    At sunrise they leap
    From their cradles steep 80
    In the cave of the shelving hill;
    At noontide they flow
    Through the woods below
    And the meadows of asphodel;
    And at night they sleep 85
    In the rocking deep
    Beneath the Ortygian shore;—
    Like spirits that lie
    In the azure sky
    When they love but live no more.

    Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

    Here are two tetradrachms from my collection: one from the period of the Deinomenid Tyranny, and the second from the period of the tyrant Agathokles.

    Deinomenid Tyranny
    Circa 480-475 BC
    Obverse: Head of Artemis-Arethusa facing right, surrounded by four dolphins, legend : "Of Syracuse"
    Reverse: Slow quadriga facing right, Nike above
    Boehringer 216 (V95/R147)
    17.29 grams
    ex. CNG
    D-Camera Syracuse Tetradrachm, Deinomenid Tyranny, 480-475 BC, 5-16-20.jpg

    Circa 317-310 BC
    Obverse: Head of Artemis-Arethusa facing right, surrounded by three dolphins, NK below (magistrate)
    Reverse: Galloping quadriga left, counterclockwise triskeles above, ΣYPAKOΣIΩN below, with monogram
    17.0 grams
    ex Harlan Berk

    D-Camera Syracuse Tetradrachm, Agathokles 5-15-20.jpg
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  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Trajan Decius

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