Located near the mausoleum at Halicarnassus (the capital of Caria in Asia Minor), it had "the slanderous repute, for what reason I do not know, of making effeminate all who drink from it.It seems that the effeminacy of man is laid to the charge of the air or of the water; yet it is not these, but rather riches and wanton living, that are the cause of effeminacy" (Strabo, Geography, XIV.2.16).In Ovid's account, they heed their son's request to curse its water and "infected the pool with this horrible magic power" so that any man who bathed there would be no more than half a man, grown weak and effeminate.In 1995, an elegiac poem in Greek dating to the second century BC (and so the earliest narrative about Hermaphroditus himself) was discovered at Salmacis that offers a very different perspective from Ovid's wanton nymph and chaste boy.Vitruvius, in seeking to correct this vulgar error, relates how Greek colonists, having driven out the native inhabitants of Caria, established trade near the fountain, which was known for the purity of its water.Drawn back to the area, the tribes gradually lost their rude and savage ways.It is Hermaphroditus who represents an idealized union of male and female, yoking both in lawful marriage, and Salmacis, rather than overwhelming Hermaphroditus in her frenzied attempt to seduce him, who tempers the savage man.This need for balance and proportion can be seen in Plutarch's cautionary treatise on marriage .
And she herself beneath the holy streams dripping in the cave tames the savage mind of men." Rather than emasculating men, the spring of Salmacis tames them for the domesticity of marriage.
"Hence this water acquired its peculiar reputation, not because it really induced unchastity, but because those barbarians were softened by the charm of civilization." (On Architecture, II.8.12).
Hermaphroditus was the child of Hermes and Aphrodite, whose temple at Halicarnassus was close to the spring (On Architecture, II.8.11).
"Fishing with poison is a quick way to catch fish and an easy method of taking them, but it makes the fish inedible and bad.
"Her prayers found favour with the gods: for, as they lay together, their bodies were united and from being two persons they became one.As when a gardener grafts a branch on to a tree, and sees the two unite as they grow, and come to maturity together, so when their limbs met in that clinging embrace the nymph and the boy were no longer two, but a single form, possessed of a dual nature, which could not be called male or female, but seemed to be at once both and neither." Ovid, Metamorphoses (IV.288ff) Ovid tells the story of the Naiad Salmacis and the beautiful youth Hermaphroditus, with whom she fell in love, to explain why the spring of this "rude uncivil nymph" (in John Dryden's phrase) had such an enervating effect on those who drank from it.