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La nymphe Salmacis by François-Joseph Bosio, 1826 (Louvre)
The Nymph Salmacis and Hermaphroditus by François-Joseph Navez (1829)
Water Nymph Salmacis, engraving by Philip Galle (1587)

In Greek mythology, Salmacis (Ancient Greek: Σαλμακίς) was an atypical naiad who rejected the ways of the virginal Greek goddess Artemis in favour of vanity and idleness. Her attempted rape of Hermaphroditus places her as the only nymph rapist in the Greek mythological canon (though see also Dercetis).

There dwelt a Nymph, not up for hunting or archery:
unfit for footraces. She the only Naiad not in Diana’s band.
Often her sisters would say: "Pick up a javelin, or
bristling quiver, and interrupt your leisure for the chase!"
But she would not pick up a javelin or arrows,
nor trade leisure for the chase.
Instead she would bathe her beautiful limbs and tend to her hair,
with her waters as a mirror.

— Ovid, Metamorphoses. Book IV, 306–312.

In Ovid's Metamorphoses, she becomes one with Hermaphroditus, and Hermaphroditus curses the fountain to have the same effect on others.

Salmacis fountain[edit]

Salmacis fountain is located near the ancient Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and it is now a tourist attraction located in present-day Bodrum, Turkey; the waters of Salmacis fountain were said to have relaxing properties. Although excellent to drink, in classical times, it was thought to have the effect of making men effeminate and soft.[1] Ovid creates or recounts the myth of how the fountain came to be so in the story of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis; the following passage by Vitruvius gives a different story:

There is a mistaken idea that this spring infects those who drink of it with an unnatural lewdness, it will not be out of place to explain how this idea came to spread throughout the world from a mistake in the telling of the tale. It cannot be that the water makes men effeminate and unchaste, as it is said to do; for the spring is of remarkable clearness and excellent in flavour; the fact is that when Melas and Arevanias came there from Argos and Troezen and founded a colony together, they drove out the Carians and Lelegians who were barbarians. These took refuge in the mountains, and, uniting there, used to make raids, plundering the Greeks and laying their country waste in a cruel manner. Later, one of the colonists, to make money, set up a well-stocked shop, near the spring because the water was so good, and the way in which he carried it on attracted the barbarians. So they began to come down, one at a time, and to meet with society, and thus they were brought back of their own accord, giving up their rough and savage ways for the delights of Greek customs. Hence this water acquired its peculiar reputation, not because it really induced unchastity, but because those barbarians were softened by the charm of civilization.[2]

In 1995, The Salmakis Inscription was discovered by Turkish authorities. A partially damaged but mainly well preserved inscription cut into an ancient wall, it was a poem in elegiac verse. The first lines form the poet’s invocation of the goddess Aphrodite. Early in Aphrodite’s story we encounter her son Hermaphroditus, as well as the water nymph Salmacis; the inscription was written sometime during the Hellenistic period.[3]

Artistic allusions[edit]

Paintings and engravings[edit]


Francis Beaumont, a poet and playwright, wrote a poem Salmacis and Hermaphroditus based on Ovid's work; the poem was published anonymously in London in 1602.[4] Algernon Charles Swinburne's 1863 poem "Hermaphroditus", based on the Bernini sculpture of the same in the Louvre, makes mention of Salmacis in the final stanza.


  • The British progressive rock band Genesis wrote and performed a song entitled "Fountain of Salmacis" on their 1971 album Nursery Cryme. It is an epic 8 minute-long piece which tells the story of Salmacis' attempted rape of Hermaphroditus. At the end of the song, the lyrics state that Salmacis and Hermaphroditus were "joined as one" and forever live beneath the lake from which the fountain appears.


  • The Fontana Greca ("Greek Fountain") is a fountain located in Gallipoli, southern Italy. The fountain has bas-reliefs depicting three metamorphoses in Greek mythology; the center bas-relief shows Eros flying beside Aphrodite, while Hermaphroditus and Salmacis are shown below laying together and embracing.
  • A sculpture by François-Joseph Bosio, La nymphe Salmacis, can be seen on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.[5]
  • Ovid's story of Salmacis and the boy Hermaphroditus is retold by Francis Beaumont in his epyllion 'Salmacis and Hermaphroditus'.[6]
  • In his poem "Hermaphroditus", Algernon Charles Swinburne mentions Salmacis.
  • A novel of short stories by Italian writer Mario Soldati called Salmace (Salmacis), a title that spans the entire collection. In the story it tells of the transformation of a man into a woman, in a highly metaphorical context.[7]
  • Within the fictional book "Complacency of the Learned" from the webcomic Homestuck, the name of the androgynous character Calmasis is an allusion to Salmacis.


  1. ^ Bodrum History - Bodrum information, pictures, attractions at
  2. ^ Vitruvius Pollio, The Ten Books on Architecture. Morris Hicky Morgan, Ed. 2.8.12
  3. ^ Signe Isager, Poul Pedersen (2004). The Salmakis Inscription and Hellenistic Halikarnassos.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  4. ^ Francis Beaumont, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus.
  5. ^ Sculpture: The Nymph Salmacis by François-Joseph Bosio, Louvre Museum, Paris
  6. ^ Renascence Editions: Salmacis and Hermaphroditus by Francis Beaumont
  7. ^ Soldati, Mario (1929). Salmace. Edizioni La Libra.

External links[edit]