The Lympha (plural Lymphae) is an ancient Roman deity of fresh water.[1] She is one of twelve agricultural deities listed by Varro as "leaders" (duces) of Roman farmers, because "without water all agriculture is dry and poor."[2] The Lymphae are often connected to Fons, meaning "Source" or "Font," a god of fountains and wellheads. Lympha represents a "functional focus" of fresh water, according to Michael Lipka's conceptual approach to Roman deity,[3] or more generally moisture.[4]

Vitruvius preserves some of her associations in the section of his work On Architecture in which he describes how the design of a temple building (aedes) should reflect the nature of the deity to be housed therein:

The character of the Corinthian order seems more appropriate to Venus, Flora, Proserpina, and the Nymphs [Lymphae] of the Fountains; because its slenderness, elegance and richness, and its ornamental leaves surmounted by volutes, seem to bear an analogy to their dispositions.[5]

The name Lympha is equivalent to, but not entirely interchangeable with nympha, "nymph." One dedication for restoring the water supply was made nymphis lymphisque augustis, "for the nymphs and august lymphae," distinguishing the two[6] as does a passage from Augustine of Hippo.[7] In poetic usage, lymphae as a common noun, plural or less often singular, can mean a source of fresh water, or simply "water"; compare her frequent companion Fons, whose name is a word for "fountain," but who is also invoked as a deity.

When she appears in a list of proper names for deities, Lympha is seen as an object of religious reverence embodying the divine aspect of water. Like several other nature deities who appear in both the singular and the plural (such as Faunus/fauni), she has both a unified and a multiple aspect.[8] She was the appropriate deity to pray to for maintaining the water supply, in the way that Liber provided wine or Ceres bread.[9]

Name and functions

The origin of the word lympha is obscure. It may originally have been lumpa or limpa, related to the adjective limpidus meaning "clear, transparent" especially applied to liquids.[10] An intermediate form lumpha is also found.[11] The spelling seems to have been influenced by the Greek word νύμφα nympha, as the upsilon (Υ,υ) and phi (Φ,φ) are normally transcribed into Latin as u or y and ph or f.[12]

That Lympha is an Italic concept[13] is indicated by the Oscan cognate diumpā- (recorded in the dative plural, diumpaís, "for the lymphae"), with a characteristic alternation of d for l.[14] These goddesses appear on the Tabula Agnonensis as one of 17 Samnite deities, who include the equivalents of Flora, Proserpina, and possibly Venus (all categorized with the Lymphae by Vitruvius), as well as several of the gods on Varro's list of the 12 agricultural deities. On the Oscan tablet, they appear in a group of deities who provide moisture for crops.[15] In the Etruscan-based cosmological schema of Martianus Capella, the Lymphae are placed in the second of 16 celestial regions, with Jupiter, Quirinus, Mars (these three constituting the Archaic Triad), the Military Lar, Juno, Fons, and the obscure Italo-Etruscan Novensiles.[16] A 1st-century A.D. dedication was made to the Lymphae jointly with Diana.[17]

The Italic lymphae were connected with healing cults. Juturna, who is usually called a "nymph," is identified by Varro as Lympha: "Juturna is the Lympha who aids: therefore many ailing people on account of her name customarily seek out this water", with a play on the name Iu-turna and the verb iuvare, "to help, aid."[18] Juturna's water shrine was a spring-fed lacus in the forum which attracted cure-seekers, and Propertius connected its potency to Lake Albano and Lake Nemi, where the famous sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis was located.[19] Juturna's cult, which Servius identifies as a fons, was maintained to ensure the water supply, and she was the mother of the deity Fons.[20]

In Cisalpine Gaul, an inscription links the Lymphae to the Vires, "(Physical) Powers, Vigor", personified as a set of masculine divinities,[21] a connection that in his monumental work Zeus Arthur Bernard Cook located in the flowing or liquid aspect of the Lymphae as it relates to the production of seminal fluid.[22] As a complement to the Vires, the Lymphae and the nymphs with whom they became so closely identified embody the urge to procreate, and thus these kinds of water deities are also associated with marriage and childbirth.[23] When Propertius alludes to the story of how Tiresias spied the virgin goddess Pallas Athena bathing, he plays on the sexual properties of lympha in advising against theophanies obtained against the will of the gods: "May the gods grant you other fountains (fontes): this liquid (lympha) flows for girls only, this pathless trickle of a secret threshold."[24]

The Augustan poets frequently play with the ambiguous dual meaning of lympha as both "water source" and "nymph". In the poetry of Horace,[25] lymphae work,[26] dance,[27] and make noise;[28] they are talkative,[29] and when they're angry they cause drought until their rites are observed.[30] Some textual editors have responded to this personification by emending manuscript readings of lymphae to nymphae. When the first letter of a form of -ympha is obliterated or indistinct in an inscription, the word is usually taken as nympha instead of the less common lympha.[31]

Divine madness

Roman mosaic depicting the abduction of Hylas by the nymphs
Roman mosaic depicting the abduction of Hylas by the nymphs

In the religions of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Celtic territories,[32] water goddesses are commonly sources of inspiration or divine revelation, which may have the appearance of madness or frenzy. In Greek, "nympholepsy" ("seizure by the nymphs") was primarily "a heightening of awareness and elevated verbal skills" resulting from the influence of the nymphs on an individual.[33] The term also meant a physical snatching or abduction of a person by the nymphs, as in the myth of Hylas, and by extension became a euphemism or metaphor for death, as evidenced by both Greek and Roman epitaphs.[34] A person who was a religious devotee of the nymphs might also be called a "nympholept."[35]

The Latin verb lympho, lymphare meant "to drive crazy" or "to be in a state of frenzy," with the adjectives lymphaticus and lymphatus meaning "frenzied, deranged" and the abstract noun lymphatio referring to the state itself. Vergil uses the adjective lymphata only once,[36] in the Aeneid to describe the madness of Amata, wife of Latinus, goaded by the Fury Allecto and raving contrary to mos, socially sanctioned behavior.[37]

Among the Greeks, the Cult of the Nymphs was a part of ecstatic Orphic or Dionysiac religion. The adjective lymphatus was "strongly evocative of Bacchic frenzy,"[38] and the Roman playwright Pacuvius (220–130 BC) explicitly connects it to sacra Bacchi, "rites of Bacchus."[39] R.B. Onians explained the "fluidity" of the ecstatic gods in the context of ancient theories about the relation of body and mind, with dryness a quality of rationality and liquid productive of emotion. Water as a locus of divine, even frenzied inspiration links the Lymphae to the Latin Camenae, who became identified with the Muses.[40]

In his entry on Lymphae, the lexicographer Festus notes that the Greek word nympha had influenced the Latin name, and elaborates:

Popular belief has it that whoever see a certain vision in a fountain, that is, an apparition of a nymph, will go quite mad. These people the Greeks call numpholêptoi ["Nymph-possessed"] and the Romans, lymphatici.[41]

Because the states of madness, possession, and illness were not always strictly distinguished in antiquity, "nympholepsy" became a morbid or undesirable condition.[42] Isidore compares Greek hydrophobia, which literally means "fear of water," and says that "lymphaticus is the word for one who contracts a disease from water, making him run about hither and thither, or from the disease gotten from a flow of water." In poetic usage, he adds, the lymphatici are madmen.[43]

During the Christianization of the Empire in late antiquity, the positive effects of possession by a nymph were erased, and nymphs were syncretized with fallen angels and dangerous figures such as the Lamia and Gello.[42] Tertullian amplifies from a Christian perspective anxieties that unclean spirits might lurk in various water sources, noting that men whom waters (aquae) have killed or driven to madness or a terrified state are called "nymph-caught (nympholeptos) or lymphatic or hydrophobic."[44]

See also


  1. ^ Floyd G. Ballentine, "Some Phases of the Cult of the Nymphs," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 15 (1904), p. 90.
  2. ^ Varro, De re rustica 1.1.4–7; Peter F. Dorcey, The Cult of Silvanus: A Study in Roman Folk Religion (Brill, 1992), p. 136.
  3. ^ Michael Lipka, Roman Gods: A Conceptual Approach (Brill, 2009), p. 67.
  4. ^ Patricia A. Johnston, "The Mystery Cults and Vergil's Georgics," in Mystic Cults in Magna Graecia (University of Texas Press, 2009), p. 268; Matthew Dillon and Lynda Garland, Ancient Rome: from the early Republic to the assassination of Julius Caesar (Routledge, 2005), p. 137.
  5. ^ Vitruvius, De architectura 1.1.5, Bill Thayer's edition at LacusCurtius of the translation by Joseph Gwilt, The Architecture of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (London, 1826). The Latin text at LacusCurtius is that of Valentin Rose's 1899 Teubner edition: Veneri Florae Proserpinae Fonti Lumphis corinthio genere constitutae aptas videbuntur habere proprietates, quod his diis propter teneritatem graciliora et florida foliisque et volutis ornata opera facta augere videbuntur iustum decorem. A textual crux occurs at the relevant phrase: Gwilt translates Fontium Lumphis ("for the Lymphae of the Fountains"), but some editions give Fonti Lumphis ("for Fons, for the Lymphae").
  6. ^ CIL 5.3106; Ballentine, "Some Phases," p. 95; Theodor Bergk, "Kritische bemerkungen zu den römische tragikern," Philologus 33 (1874), p. 269.
  7. ^ Augustine of Hippo, De civitate Dei 4.34: the ancient Jews, he says, "did not worship Nymphs and Lymphs when the rock was smitten and poured forth water for the thirsty" (nec quando sitientibus aquam percussa petra profudit, Nymphas Lymphasque coluerunt, English translation by R.W. Dyson).
  8. ^ Lipka, Roman Gods, p. 67; Joshua Whatmough, The Foundations of Roman Italy (1937), p. 159. The simultaneous oneness and multiplicity of these deities is an example of monotheistic tendencies in ancient religion: "Lower gods were executors or manifestations of the divine will rather than independent principles of reality. Whether they are called gods, demons, angels, or numina, these immortal beings are emanations of the One": Michele Renee Salzman, "Religious koine in Private Cult and Ritual: Shared Religious Traditions in Roman Religion in the First Half of the Fourth Century CE," in A Companion to Roman Religion (Blackwell, 2007), p. 113. The nymphs, with whom the lymphae are identified, are among the beings who inhabit forests, woodlands, and groves (silvas, nemora, lucos) and ponds, water sources and streams (lacus, fontes ac fluvios), according to Martianus Capella (2.167), who lists these beings as pans, fauns, fontes, satyrs, silvani, nymphs, fatui and fatuae (or fautuae), and the mysterious Fanae, from which the fanum (sacred precinct or shrine) is supposed to get its name.
  9. ^ Ballentine, "Some Phases," p. 91, citing Augustine, De civitate Dei 4.22, 34; 6.1.
  10. ^ Entries on limpidus and lympha, Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982, 1985 reprinting), pp. 1031 and 1055; Arthur Sidgwick, P.vergili Maronis Aeneidos Liber VII (Cambridge University Press Archive, n.d.), p. 61, note 377; Fernando Navarro Antolín, Lygdamus. Corpus Tibullianum III. 1–6: Lygdami elegiarum liber (Brill, 1996), pp. 418–419. In his Etymologies (20.3.4), Isidore of Seville says that "limpid (limpidus) wine, that is, clear, is so called from its resemblance to water, as if it were lymphidum, because lympha is water"; translation by Stephen A. Barney et al., The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 398.
  11. ^ CIL 1.1238, as cited by Bergk, "Kritische bemerkungen zu den römische tragikern," p. 269. Bergk demonstrated that lympha was in origin Italic, and not a borrowed Greek term, despite the spelling.
  12. ^ Bergk, "Kritische bemerkungen zu den römische tragikern," pp. 264–269.
  13. ^ Jacqueline Champeaux, "Sorts et divination inspirée. Pour une préhistoire des oracles italiques," Mélanges de l'École française de Rome 102.2 (1990), p. 827.
  14. ^ Whatmough, Foundations of Roman Italy, p. 383; R.S. Conway, The Italic Dialects (Cambridge University Press, 1897), p. 676; Johnston, Mystic Cults in Magna Graecia, p. 268; Bergk, "Kritische bemerkungen," p. 265.
  15. ^ Johnston, Mystic Cults in Magna Graecia, pp. 268–269.
  16. ^ Martianus Capella, The Marriage of Philology and Mercury 1.46 online.
  17. ^ CIL 9.4644 = ILS 3857.
  18. ^ Varro, De lingua latina 5.71: (Lympha Iuturna quae iuvaret: itaque multi aegroti propter id nomen hanc aquam petere solent). See also Frontinus, On Aqueducts 1.4, where Juturna is in company with the Camenae and Apollo. C. Bennett Pascal, The Cults of Cisalpine Gaul (Latomus, 1964), p. 93, reads an inscription as linking the Celtic god Belenus (usually identified with Apollo) and the Lymphae, but Dessau reads Nymphae (ILS 4867). Servius, note to Aeneid 12.139, has Juturna as a fons, and Propertius 4.21.26, as the lympha salubris who restored a horse of Pollux (some editions emend to nympha; see note to the line at Sexti Aurelii Propertii Elegiarum Libri Quattuor, edited by N. Lemaire (1840), p. 448 online).
  19. ^ Lawrence Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pp. 74, 105, 152, 228, 230–231.
  20. ^ Servius, note to Aeneid 12.139: "Juturna is a fountain (fons) in Italy. … It was customary to offer sacrifices to this fountain in respect to a scarcity of water," as cited and discussed by Ballentine, "Some Phases," pp. 91–93. The temple was vowed by G. Lutatius Catulus as the result of a naval battle during the First Punic War. Arnobius, Adversus Nationes 3.29, identifies her as the mother of Fons.
  21. ^ CIL 5.5648; Joseph Clyde Murley, The Cults of Cisalpine Gaul as Seen in the Inscriptions (Banta, 1922), pp. 32–33.
  22. ^ Arthur Bernard Cook, Zeus (Cambridge University Press Archive), p. 306.
  23. ^ R.B. Onians, The Origins of European Thought about the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate (Cambridge University Press, 1951), p. 220; Ballentine, "Some Phases of the Cult of the Nymphs," p. 97ff; on marriage (mainly in regard to nymphs, but see note 216), Salvatore Settis, "'Esedra' e 'ninfeo' nella terminologia architettonica del mondo romano," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (1973), pp. 685–688.
  24. ^ Propertius, Elegies 4.9.59–60, as cited and discussed by Tara S. Welch, "Masculinity and Monuments in Propertius 4.9," American Journal of Philology 125 (2004), p. 81.
  25. ^ Ballentine, "Some Phases," p. 94.
  26. ^ Horace, Carmen 2.3.11–12 (laborat).
  27. ^ Carmen 3.13.13–16 (desiliunt) and Epode 16.47–48 (desilit).
  28. ^ Epode 2.27 (obstrepunt).
  29. ^ Carmen 3.13.13–16(loquaces).
  30. ^ Sermo 1.5.96–103 (iratis).
  31. ^ Bergk, "Kritische bemerkungen zu den römische tragikern," pp. 268–269; Wilhelm Adolf Boguslaw Hertzberg, note to Propertius 3.16, Sex. Aurelii Propertii Elegiarum Libri Quattuor (1845), p. 340.
  32. ^ Ausonius, Ordo urbium nobilium 20.29–34, mentioning Divona; entry on "Spring deities" in Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, edited by John Koch (ABC-Clio, 2006), pp. 1623–1624.
  33. ^ Jennifer Lynn Larson, Greek Nymphs: Myth, Cult, Lore (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 13.
  34. ^ Larson, Greek Nymphs, pp. 13–14, 70.
  35. ^ Larson, Greek Nymphs, p. 14.
  36. ^ Gertrude Hirst, "An Attempt to Date the Composition of Aeneid VII," Classical Quarterly 10 (1916), p. 93.
  37. ^ Vergil, Aeneid 7.377, as noted by Sidgwick, p. 61, and R.D. Williams, The Aeneid of Vergil: Books 7–12 (St. Martins Press, 1973, 1977), pp. 195–196, who observes that it is "a very strong word." See also Debra Hershkowitz, The Madness of Epic: Reading Insanity from Homer to Statius (Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 50.
  38. ^ As at Pacuvius. Trag. 422f.; Catullus 64.254, the Ariadne epyllion; and Lucan, Bellum Civile 1.496, as noted by Paul Roche, Lucan: De Bello Civili, Book 1 (Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 309.
  39. ^ Pacuvius as quoted by Varro, De lingua latina 7.5. See also Johnston, Mystic Cults in Magna Graecia, p. 268. In 186 BC, during the lifetime of Pacuvius, the Roman senate placed severe legal restrictions on the Bacchanalia, the Dionysian rites celebrated in Italy.
  40. ^ R.B. Onians, The Origins of European Thought about the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate (Cambridge University Press, 1951), pp. 34–35, 67.
  41. ^ Translation from Larson, Greek Nymphs, pp. 62–63. Festus states that the Lymphae are "called that after the nymphs," then explains: Vulgo autem memoriae proditum est, quicumque speciem quandam e fonte, id est effigiem nymphae, viderint, furendi non feciesse finem; quos Graeci νυμφολήπτους vocant. Latini lymphaticos appellant (p. 107, Teubner 1997 edition of Lindsay).
  42. ^ a b Larson, Greek Nymphs, p. 62.
  43. ^ Isidore, Etymologies 4.6.12 and 10.L.161, as translated by Barney et al., pp. 110, 223. See also Festus, entry on Lymphae, p. 107 in the edition of Lindsay.
  44. ^ Tertullian, "On Baptism" 2.5. translated by S. Thelwall: "Are there not other cases, too, in which, without any sacrament, unclean spirits brood on waters, in spurious imitation of that brooding of the Divine Spirit in the very beginning? Witness all shady founts (fontes), and all unfrequented brooks, and the ponds in the baths and the conduits in private houses, the cisterns and wells which are said to have the property of 'spiriting away' through the power, that is, of a hurtful spirit. Men whom waters have drowned or affected with madness or with fear, they call nymph-caught (nympholeptos), or 'lymphatic,' or 'hydrophobic' (an non et alias sine ullo sacramento immundi spiritus aquis incubant adfectantes illam in primordio divini spiritus gestationem? sciunt opaci quique fontes et avii quique rivi, et in balneis piscinae et euripi in domibus vel cisternae, et putei qui rapere dicuntur, scilicet per vim spiritus nocentis. nam et esetos et lymphaticos et hydrophobas vocant quos aquae necaverunt aut amentia vel formidine exercuerunt).