) was the name given by the Greeks to the PADUS
or PO, the great river of Northern Italy.
The appellation was adopted from them by the Roman poets, and hence is occasionally used even by Latin prose writers. (Verg. G. 1.481
; Ovid. Met.
2.324; Propert. 1.12. 4; Martial, 3.67. 2
But there is good reason to believe that the name was not in the first instance applied to the Padus, but belonged to quite a different region of Europe, and was some time before it acquired the signification in which it was afterwards employed.
The name of the Eridanus appears in the earliest Greek authorities inseparably connected with the well-known fable of the sisters of Phaethon, and the trees that wept tears of amber.
This myth appears to have been already known to Hesiod (Hygin. 154; Hesiod, Fr.
184. ed. Markscheffel), who in his extant works notices the Eridanus among the Greek rivers of the world (Theog.
338): but we have no idea of the geographical position which he assigned it.
The current opinion in the days of Herodotus appears to have been that the Eridanus was a river in the more westerly regions of Europe, but flowing into the sea on the north of that continent. (Hdt. 3.115
The historian, however, rejects this notion, and treats both the name and existence of the Eridanus as a mere fiction of the Greek poets: a view adopted at a much later period by Strabo (v. p.215
The vagueness of the notions entertained concerning its situation is farther proved by the fact that, according to Pliny, Aeschylus spoke of the Eridanus as a river of Iberia, and identified it with the Rhodanus. (Plin. Nat. 37.2. s. 11
According to Hyginus, Pherecydes was the first who identified the Eridanus with the Padus. (Hygin. 154.) Euripides evidently adopts the same view, as he connects the former river with the shores of the Adriatic (Eur. Hipp. 737
); and this opinion seems to have become gradually established among the Greeks. Scylax, writing about the middle of the 4th century B.C., distinctly places the river Eridanus in the land of the Veneti, and there is no doubt that the Padus is the river which he meant. (Scyl. p. 6.19.)
The same view was henceforth adopted by all the geographers except Strabo, who, not choosing to admit the identity of the two rivers, rejects altogether the Eridanus as a mere fiction, as well as the islands of the Electrides, supposed to be situated at its mouth (Strab. v. p.215
; Pol. 2.16; Scymn. Ch. 391
; Plin. Nat. 3.16. s. 20
. s. 11; Dionys. Per. 289--293; Diod. 5.23
; Paus. 1.3.6
The real fact appears to be, that the name of Eridanus was originally applied by the Greeks to a great river in the north of Europe,
on the shores of which amber was produced, and of which some vague report had reached them through means of the traders who brought the amber itself from the shores of the Baltic to the head of the Adriatic.
It is idle to inquire what the river really meant was; whether the Oder or Vistula, at the mouths of which amber is now found in the greatest quantity, or some other river of the N. of Germany.
The name Eridanus
is evidently closely connected, if not identical, with that of Rhodanus,
and it is probable enough that Rhenus
is only another form of the same word. (Latham, Germania,
p. 13.) Hence, in the vague geographical notions of the early Greeks, one great river was easily confounded with another. Aeschylus, as already mentioned, identified the Eridanus and Rhodanus: while Apollonius Rhodius, writing at a much later period, but evidently following some earlier poet, describes the two rivers as arms of the same great stream, another portion of which flowed into the ocean. (Apollon. 4.596
.) Amber appears to have been brought in very early times (as it still was in the days of Pliny) overland from the shores of the Baltic to those of the Adriatic; here it was purchased by the Phoenicians and early Greek traders: whence it came to be regarded, by a very natural error, as a production of the country, and the name of the Eridanus being inseparably connected with the production of amber, the Greeks gave the name to the great river that forms so conspicuous a feature of this part of Italy.
The gum. like nature of the substance itself evidently gave rise to the fable of its distilling or exuding from trees, which was afterwards applied by the poets and mythographers to the poplars that adorned the banks of the Padus, now assumed to be the true Eridanus. (Cluver. Ital.
pp. 390--393; Wernsdorf, Exc.
ii. ad Avien. Or. Marit.
The origin and history of the connection between the Eridanus and Padus have been given at some length, on account of its important bearing on the progress of ancient geography: the geographical account of the latter river and its tributaries is given under the head of PADUS
Several ancient writers placed near the mouth of the mythical Eridanus certain islands which they called the ELECTRIDES INSULAE (Ἠλεκτρίδες υῆσοι
), on the shores of which it was said that much amber was found, from whence their name was derived.
But as there are in fact no islands in this part of the Adriatic, except those actually formed by the mouths of the Padus, Strabo and Pliny reject altogether the existence of the Electrides as fabulous, while other writers seem to have sought them among the numerous groups of islands which line the opposite shore of the Adriatic. (Strab. v. p.215
; Plin. Nat. 37.2. s. 11
As much of the amber collected in the Baltic is really found in the islands at the mouths of the great rivers, it is not impossible that some obscure tradition of this fact may have given rise to the name of the Electrides, which were subsequently transferred, together with the Eridanus itself from the Baltic to the Adriatic.