), the name of a marshy district at the south-western extremity of the Argive plain, near the sea, and celebrated as the spot where Hercules slew the many-headed Hydra, or water-snake. [See Dict. of Biogr.
Vol. II. p. 394.] In this part of the plain, there is a number of copious springs, which overflow the district and turn it into a marsh; and there can be little doubt that the victory of Hercules over the Hydra, is to be understood of a successful attempt of the ancient lords of the Argive plain to bring its marshy extremity into cultivation, by draining its sources and embanking its streams.
The name of Lerna is usually given to the whole district (Paus. 2.15.5
; Plut. Cleom. 15
), but other writers apply it more particularly to the river and the lake. (Strab. viii. p.368
The district was thoroughly drained in antiquity, and covered with sacred buildings, of which Pausanias has left us an account (2.36, 37).
A road led from Argos to Lerna, and the distance from the gate of the city to the sea-coast of Lerna was 40 stadia. Above Lerna is the Mountain PONTINUS
), which according to Pausanias absorbs the rain water, and thus prevents it from running off. On its summit, on which there are now the ruins of a mediaeval castle, Pausanias saw the remains of a temple of Athena Saitis, and the foundations of the house of Hippomedon, one of the seven Argive chiefs who marched against Thebes. (Λερναῖα δ᾽οἰκεῖ νάμαθ᾽ Ἱππομέδων ἄναχ, Eur. Phoen. 126
The grove of Lerna, which consisted for the most part of plane trees, extended from Mount Pontinus to the sea, and was bounded on one side by a river called Pontinus, and on the other by a river named Amymone.
The grove of Lerna contained two temples, in one of which Demeter Prosymna and Dionysus were worshipped, and in the other Dionysus Saotes.
In this grove a festival, called the Lernaea, was celebrated in honour of Demeter and Dionysus. Pausanias also mentions the fountain of Amphiaraus, and the Alcyonian pool (ἡ Ἀλκυονία λίμνη
), through which the Argives say that Dionysus descended into Hades in order to recover Semele. The Alcyonian pool was said to be unfathomable, and the emperor Nero in vain attempted to reach its bottom with a sounding line of several fathoms in length.
The circumference of the pool is estimated by Pausanias as only one-third of a stadium: its margin was covered with grass and rushes. Pausanias was told that, though the lake appeared so still and quiet, yet, if any one attempted to swim over it, he was dragged down to the bottom. Here Prosymnus is said to have pointed out to Dionysus the entrance in the lower world.
A nocturnal ceremony was connected with this legend; expiatory rites were performed by the side of the pool, and, in consequence of the impurities which were then thrown into the pool, the proverb arose of a Lerna of ills. (Λέρνη κακῶν;
see Preller, Demeter,
The river Pontinus issues from three sources at the foot of the hill, and joins the sea north of some mills, after a course of only a few hundred yards. The Amymone is formed by seven or eight copious sources, which issue from under the rocks, and which are evidently the subterraneous outlet of one of [p. 2.164]
the katavothra of the Arcadian vallies.
The river soon after enters a small lake, a few hundred yards in circumference, and surrounded with a great variety of aquatic plants; and it then forms a marsh extending to the sea-shore.
The lake is now walled in, and the water is diverted into a small stream which turns some mills standing close to the seashore.
This lake is evidently the Alcyonian pool of Pausanias; for although he does not say that it is formed by the river Amymone, there can be no doubt of the fact.
The lake answers exactly to the description of Pausanias, with the exception of being larger; and the tale of its being unfathomable is still related by the millers in the neighbourhood. Pausanias is the only writer who calls this lake the Alcyonian pool; other writers gave it the name of Lernaean; and the river Amymone, by which it is formed, is likewise named Lerna.
The fountain of Amphiaraus can no longer be identified, probably in consequence of the enlargement of the lake.
The station of the hydra was under a palm-tree at the source of the Amymone; and the numerous heads of the water-snake may perhaps have been suggested by the numerous sources of this river. Amymone is frequently mentioned by the poets.
It is said to have derived its name from one of the daughters of Danaus, who was beloved by Poseidon; and the river gushed forth when the nymph drew out of the rock the trident of the god. (Hyg. Fab. 169
.) Hence Euripides (Phoen.
188) speaks of Ποσειδώνια Ἀμυμώνια ὕδατα.
(Comp. Propert. 2.26, 47; Ov. Met. 2.240
(Dodwell, Classical Tour,
vol. ii. p. 225; Leake, Morea,
vol. ii. p. 472, seq; Boblaye, Récherches, &c.
p. 47; Mure, Tour in Greece,
vol. ii. p. 194; Ross, Reisen im Peloponnes,
p. 150; Curtius, Peloponnesos,
vol. ii. p. 368, seq.)