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LATHON (Λαθων, Strab. xvii. p.836, where the vulgar reading is Λάδων; comp. xiv. p. 647, where he calls it Ληθαῖος; Ptol. 4.4.4; Λήθων, Ptol. Euerg. ap Ath. ii. p. 71; FLUVIUS LETHON, Plin. Nat. 5.5; Solin. 27; LETHES AMNIS, Lucan 9.355), a river of the Hesperidae or Hesperitae, in Cyrenaica. It rose in the Herculis Arenae, and fell into the sea a little N. of the city of HESPERIDES or BERENICE: Strabo connects it with the harbour of the city (λιμὴν Ἑσπεριδῶν: that there is not the slightest reason for altering the reading, as Groskurd and others do, into λίμνη, will presently appear); and Scylax (p. 110, Gronov.) mentions the river, which he calls Ecceius (Ἐκκειός), as in close proximity with the city and habour of Hesperides. Pliny expressly states that the river was not far from the city, and places on or near it a sacred grove, which was supposed to represent the “Gardens of the Hesperides” (Plin. Nat. 5.5: nec procul ante oppidum fluvius Lethon, lucus sacer, ubi Hesperidum horti memorantur). Athenaeus quotes from a work of Ptolemy Euergetes praises of its fine pike and eels, somewhat inconsistent, especially in the mouth of a luxurious king of Egypt, with the mythical sound of the name. That name is, in fact, plain Doric Greek, descriptive of the character of the river, like our English Mole. So well does it deserve the name, that it “escaped the notice” of commentators and geographers, till it was discovered by Beechey, as it still flows “concealed” from such scholars as depend on vague guesses in place of an accurate knowledge [p. 2.131]of the localities. Thus the laborious, but often most inaccurate, compiler Forbiger, while taking on himself to correct Strabo's exact account, tells us that “the river and lake (Strabo's harbour) have now entirely vanished ;” and yet, a few lines down, he refers to a passage of Beechey's work within a very few pages of the place where the river itself is actually described! (Forbiger, Handbuch der alten Geographie, vol. ii. p. 828, note.)

The researches made in Beechey's expedition give the following results:--East of the headland on which stands the ruins of Hesperides or Berenice (now Bengazi) is a small lake, which communicates with the harbour of the city, and has its water of course salt. The water of the lake varies greatly in quantity, according to the season of the year; and is nearly dried up in summer. There are strong grounds to believe that its waters were more abundant, and its communication with the harbour more perfect, in ancient times than at present. On the margin of the lake is a spot of rising ground, nearly insulated in winter, on which are the remains of ancient buildings. East of this lake again, and only a few yards from its margin, there gushes forth an abundant spring of fresh water, which empties itfelf into the lake, “running along a channel of inconsiderable breadth, bordered with reeds and rushes,” and “might be mistaken by a common observer for an inroad of the lake into the sandy soil which bounds it.” Moreover, this is the only stream which empties itself into the lake; and indeed the only one found on that part of the coast of Cyrenaica. Now, even without searching further, it is evident how well all this answers to the description of Strabo (xvii. p.836) :--“There is a promontory called Pseudopenias, on which Berenice is situated, beside a certain Lake of Tritonis (παρὰ λίμνην τινὰ Τριτωνιάδα), in which there is generally (μάλιστα) a little island, and a temple of Aphrodite upon it: but there is (or it is) also the Harbour of Hesperides, and the river Lathon falls into it.” It is now evident how much the sense of the description would be impaired by reading λίμνη for λίμην in the last clause; and it matters but little whether Strabo speaks of the river as falling into the harbour because it fell into the lake which communicated with the harbour, or whether he means that the lake, which he calls that of Tritonis, was actually the harbour (that is, an inner harbour) of the city. But the little stream which falls into the lake is not the only representative of the river Lathon. Further to the east, in one of the subterranean caves which abound in the neighbourhood of Bengazi, Beechy found a large body of fresh water, losing itself in the bowels of tile earth; and the Bey of Bengazi affirmed that he had tracked its subterraneous course till he doubted the safety of proceeding further, and that he had found it as much as 30 feet deep. That the stream thus lost in the earth is the same which reappears in the spring on the margin of the lake, is extremely probable; but whether it be so in fact, or not, we can hardly doubt that the ancient Greeks would imagine the connection to exist. (Beechey, Proceedings, &c. pp. 326, foll.; Barth, Wanderungen, &c. p. 387.


hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Lucan, Civil War, 9.355
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.5
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 4.4
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