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Fountain of Youth

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The fountain of youth, seen by Lucas Cranach(The fountain of youth, seen by Lucas Cranach (1546))

The fountain of youth, fountain of life or fountain of immortality, is an immortality or perpetual rejuvenation symbol.

This mythical fountain seems to derive from the Bible and classical mythology and evokes the notions of purification and regeneration.

History of myth and relatives myths

Young man washing in the fountain(Young man washing in the fountain The fountain of youth is one of the ancient myths attributing regenerative importance to water – Interior of an attic red-figure kylix, 510-500 BC. (Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican Museums))

The legend of the fountain of youth probably has ancient origins linked to the human fascination with water and its importance for survival. It evokes other myths related to liquids considered immortality sources at certain times (such as ambrosia, soma or the sacred or sacrificial mead), which means that anyone who drinks this water or bathe it is cured of his disease, rejuvenates aging or more.

In Roman mythology, Germanic, Celtic and Irish

In Roman mythology, Jupiter would have transformed the Nafplion Youth nymph in fountain with a regenerative power. The goddess Juno bathed them every year to regain her virginity.

Among the ancient Germans, knowledge water, of prophecy, was flowing in the fountain Mímir. To drink, the god Odin agree to lose an eye.

In Irish mythology, the Cath Maighe Tuireadh (story of the Battle of Mag Tured) evokes a fountain where the Tuatha De Danann (people of the goddess Dana, the gods of the Celts of Ireland) could soak the wounded. They healed through a plant of each of many medicinal plants growing in Ireland, placed there by the doctor-god Diancecht. The injured – said the myth – were able the next day to fight again.

In the Middle-East

Zul-Qarnayn (aka Alexander the Great, left) (Image representative of Zul-Qarnayn (aka Alexander the Great, left) in another world sitting in front of Khizr. – Alexander is amazed to see return to the life of dried and salted fish soaked in water fountain of life (Sikandar Nama, Persian romance of Alexander, LXIX.75).)

The pre-Islamic Middle Eastern tradition also evokes a “fountain of life”, which was found in the polar regions (Hyperborean; one of the supposed locations of paradise at certain times). Alexander the Great would have sought, without being able to find it, through lack of patience. He died at age 33. This is Khizr (the Green Man, Khwaja Khadir or Al-Khadir) that would have found without seeking it what Alexander the Great sought without finding.

Later, it is the alchemical elixir of life that will supposedly confer immortality (symbolically or actually depending on the interpretations).

In Spain

According to a popular legend, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who traveled to the New World with Christopher Columbus, discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth. Although descriptions of regenerating water existed on both sides of the Atlantic long before Ponce de León, a reference to its research of such water appeared after his death. In his Historia general y natural de las Indias of 1535, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés wrote that Ponce de Leon was looking for Bimini waters to cure his impotence. Similar words appeared in the Historia general de las Indias of 1551 Francisco López de Gómara.

In 1575, Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, a survivor of a shipwreck who had lived seventeen years with Native Americans in Florida, published his memoirs in which he placed the fountain of youth in Florida, and declared that Ponce de Leon was supposed to be there to discover. Although Fontaneda doubted that Leon is really gone to Florida to find this fountain, it was considered this way in Historia general de los hechos credit de los Castellanos of Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas in 1615. Some historians suggest that the search for gold or expansion of the Spanish Empire was far more imperative that the search for a fountain or slaves. The location of this mythical fountain of youth would fall also further east in the Gulf of Honduras, rather than in Florida or the Bahamas.

In the Bible

One of the known origins of the fountain of youth is the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, this fountain can be the source of water emerging at the foot of the tree of knowledge – see the second chapter of Genesis (Gn 2, 11 & 12) – in the middle of paradise, renowned to power the four rivers of paradise flowing toward the cardinal points.

The fountain in art and literature


Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch(Detail of the central panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, 1504)

The Fountain of Youth was often raised by artists. It is for example shown in The Garden of Earthly Delights, the triptych of Hieronymus Bosch (1504), or by Lucas Cranach in 1546.

Literature and cinema

Various novels or movies attribute to the content of the Holy Grail (the blood of Christ collected by Joseph of Arimathea) virtues that evoke that of the fountain of life, the conquests of Alexander the Great so akin to the Holy Grail.

For ex., in movies:

  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Dr. Jones pours water contained in the Grail, on the wound received by her father in the temple to save his life;
  • Tuck Everlasting: the Tuck family became immortal after drinking water from a hidden source in the heart of the forest;
  • Pirates of the Caribbean 4: Jack Sparrow steals a special map that it is assumed that would reveal the location of the Fountain of Youth because it desperately seeks immortality.
  • In the DC Comics universe, there are “Lazarus Pit” that can heal wounds and lengthen life. Ra’s al Ghul has survived for over 600 years thanks to them.

Persistent of the myth until today

The Roman, Arab and Arab-Andalusian structures made in a square around a fountain or pond could remember the legend of the fountain or losted paradise.

Worldwide, it is claimed miraculous healing powers, secular and religious from many sources, including that of Lourdes, but unrelated to physical immortality.

Today, the unbridled pursuit of youth culture and, in a part of medical research that seeks to reverse the aging process, we can see an echo of the myth of the Fountain of Youth (for example in the television series Criminal Minds season 11, episode 10).

Translated from Wikipedia

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