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The Fountain of Youth by Lucas Cranach the Elder

The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring that reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. Tales of such a fountain have been recounted across the world for thousands of years, appearing in Herodotus, the Alexander romance, and the stories of Prester John. Stories of a similar waters were also evidently prominent among the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean during the Age of Exploration, who spoke of the restorative powers of the water in the mythical land of Bimini.

The legend became particularly prominent in the 16th century, when it became attached to the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, first Governor of Puerto Rico. According to an apocryphal story that features a combination of New World and Eurasian elements, Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to what is now Florida in 1513. Since then the fountain is frequently attached to Florida, and stories it have become some of the most persistent folklore associated with the state.

Contents

Early accounts

Al-Khidr and Alexander watch the Water of Life revive a salted fish

Herodotus mentions a fountain containing a very special kind of water located in the land of the Ethiopians, which gives the Ethiopians their exceptional longevity.[1] A story of the "Water of Life" appears in the Eastern versions of the Alexander romance, which describes Alexander the Great and his servant crossing the Land of Darkness to find the restorative spring. The servant in that story is in turn derived from Middle Eastern legends of Al-Khidr, a sage who appears also in the Qur'an. Arabic and Aljamiado versions of the Alexander Romance were very popular in Spain during and after the period of Moorish rule, and would have been known to the explorers who journeyed to America. These earlier accounts clearly inspired the popular medieval fantasy The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which also mentions the fountain. Due to the influence of these tales, the Fountain of Youth legend remained popular through the European Age of Exploration.[2]

There are countless indirect sources for the tale as well. Eternal youth is a gift frequently sought in myth and legend, and stories of things such as the philosopher's stone, universal panaceas, and the elixir of life are common throughout Eurasia and elsewhere. An additional hint may have been taken from the account of the Pool of Bethesda in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus heals a man at the pool in Jerusalem.

Bimini

The native stories about the curative spring were related to the mythical land of Bimini or Beniny (hence Bimini), a land of wealth and prosperity. The spring was purportedly located on an island called Boinca. Although subsequent interpretations suggested the land was located in the vicinity of the Bahamas, the natives were referring to a location in the Gulf of Honduras.[2] The islands of Bimini in the Bahamas were known as La Vieja during the Ponce expedition. According to legend, the Spanish heard of Bimini from the Arawaks in Hispaniola, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Sequene, an Arawak chief from Cuba, had purportedly been unable to resist the lure of Bimini and its restorative fountain. He gathered a troupe of adventurers and sailed north, never to return. Word spread among Sequene's more optimistic tribesmen that he and his followers had located the Fountain of Youth and were living in luxury in Bimini.

Bimini and its curative waters were widespread subjects in the Caribbean. Italian-born chronicler Peter Martyr d'Anghiera (Peter Martyr) told of them in a letter to the pope in 1513, though he didn't believe the stories and was dismayed that so many others did.[3]

Ponce de León and Florida

In the 16th century the story of the Fountain of Youth became attached to the biography of the conquistador Juan Ponce de León. According to the story, Ponce de León heard of the land of Bimini from the people of Puerto Rico when he conquered the island. Growing dissatisfied with his material wealth, he launched an expedition to locate it, and in the process discovered Florida. Though he was one of the first Europeans to set foot on the American mainland, he never found the Fountain of Youth.

The story is apocryphal. Ponce de León does not mention the fountain in his writings throughout the course of his expedition.[2]While he may well have heard of the Fountain and believed in it, his name was not associated with the legend in writing until after his death. That connection is made in Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo's Historia General y Natural de las Indias of 1535, in which he wrote that Ponce de León was looking for the waters of Bimini to cure his impotence.[4] Some researchers have suggested that Oviedo's account may have been politically inspired to generate favor in the courts.[2] A similar account appears in Francisco López de Gómara's Historia General de las Indias of 1551.[5] In the Memoir of Hernando D'Escalante Fontaneda in 1575, the author places the restorative waters in Florida and mentions de León looking for them there; his account influenced Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas' history of the Spanish in the New World.[6] Fontaneda had spent seventeen years as an Indian captive after being shipwrecked in Florida as a boy. In his Memoir he tells of the curative waters of a lost river he calls "Jordan" and refers to de León looking for them. However, Fontaneda makes it clear he is skeptical about these stories he includes, and says he doubts de León was actually looking for the fabled stream when he came to Florida.[6]

It is Herrera who makes that connection definite in the romanticized version of Fontaneda's story included in his Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano. Herrera states that local caciques paid regular visits to the fountain. A frail old man could become so completely restored that he could resume "all manly exercises… take a new wife and beget more children." Herrera adds that the Spaniards had unsuccessfully searched every "river, brook, lagoon or pool" along the Florida coast for the legendary fountain.[7] It would appear the Sequene story is likewise based on a garbling of Fontaneda.

Fountain of Youth today

Postcard from the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine

The city of St. Augustine, Florida is home to the Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park, a tribute to the spot where Ponce de León is traditionally said to have landed. The tourist attraction was created by Luella Day McConnell in 1904. "Diamond Lil", as she was known, fabricated stories to amuse and appall the city’s residents and tourists until her death in 1927.[8]

Though the fountain situated there is not "the" Fountain, this does not stop tourists from drinking its water. The park exhibits native and colonial artifacts to celebrate St. Augustine's Timucuan and Spanish heritage.

In the book Weird Florida, part of the Weird U.S. series by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, author Charlie Carlson says he conversed with members of a supposed St. Augustine-based secret society claiming to be the protectors of the Fountain of Youth, which has granted them extraordinary longevity. They claimed Old John Gomez, a protagonist in the Gasparilla legend from Florida folklore, had been one of their members.[9] In August 2006, popular American magician David Copperfield claimed he had discovered a true "Fountain of Youth" amid a cluster of four small islands in the Exuma chain of the Bahamas which he recently purchased for roughly $50 million. "I've discovered a true phenomenon," he told Reuters. "You can take dead leaves, they come in contact with the water, they become full of life again. … Bugs or insects that are near death, come in contact with the water, they'll fly away. It's an amazing thing, very, very exciting." Copperfield, who turned 50 in September 2006, says that he hired scientists to conduct an examination of the "legendary" water, but as of now, the fountain remains off limits to outside visitors.[10]

The Fountain of Youth lives on as a metaphor for anything that potentially increases longevity. It is a frequently used plot device in age regression stories. Nathaniel Hawthorne used the Fountain in "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" to demonstrate that positive thinking is a far better remedy than deluded journeys to Florida for legendary cures; Orson Welles directed and starred in a 1958 TV program based on the legend;[11] and Tim Powers featured it in On Stranger Tides, a novel of 18th century pirate-voodoo adventure. In 1953, the Walt Disney Company created a cartoon entitled Don's Fountain of Youth, in which Donald Duck had supposedly discovered the famous fountain and can't resist pretending to his nephews that it really works. In 1974 Marvel Comics featured the Fountain (which works if bathed in, but cripples if drunk from) in Man-Thing and later The Savage She-Hulk, and in 2005 the Fountain turned up in the DC Comics series Day of Vengeance. The fountain and its waters form the main plot device in Microsoft and Ensemble Studio's Age of Empires III campaign "Blood, Ice and Steel". Recently, characters in the 2006 Darren Aronofsky film The Fountain search for the Tree of Life to cure a brain tumor. Jorge Luis Borges refers to the Fountain of Life in a short story in the book The Aleph, in which the people who are immortal get tired of it and eventually start looking for the Fountain of Death to reverse their immortality.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, is set to be based on a journey in search of the Fountain of Youth. This was alluded to at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End where Captain Jack Sparrow had taken the map from Captain Hector Barbossa. The film is scheduled for filming in summer 2010, then released in 2011.

See also

References

  1. ^ Herodotus, Book III: 22-24
  2. ^ a b c d Peck, Douglas T. "Misconceptions and Myths Related to the Fountain of Youth and Juan Ponce de Leon's 1513 Exploration Voyage" (PDF). New World Explorers, Inc. http://www.newworldexplorersinc.org/FountainofYouth.pdf. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  3. ^ Pedro Mártir de Angleria. Decadas de Nuevo Mundo, Decada 2, chapter X.
  4. ^ Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo. Historia General y Natural de las Indias, book 16, chapter XI.
  5. ^ Francisco López de Gómara. Historia General de las Indias, second part.
  6. ^ a b "Fontaneda's Memoir". Translation by Buckingham Smith, 1854. From keyshistory.org. Retrieved July 14, 2006.
  7. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages 1492-1616 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 504.
  8. ^ Florida Heritage website: Great Floridians 2000 Program-St. Augustine/Dr. Luella Day McConnell
  9. ^ Charlie Carlson (April 7, 2005). Weird Florida. New York: Sterling. ISBN 0-7607-5945-6
  10. ^ Jane Sutton (August 15, 2006). "David Copperfield 'finds Fountain of Youth'". Reuters.
  11. ^ The Fountain of Youth, 1958, directed by Orson Welles. [1]

External links


The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring that reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. Tales of such a fountain have been recounted across the world for thousands of years, appearing in writings by Herodotus, the Alexander romance, and the stories of Prester John. Stories of a similar waters were also evidently prominent among the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean during the Age of Exploration, who spoke of the restorative powers of the water in the mythical land of Bimini.

The legend became particularly prominent in the 16th century, when it became attached to the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, first Governor of Puerto Rico. According to an apocryphal story that features a combination of New World and Eurasian elements, Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to what is now Florida in 1513. Since then, the fountain has been frequently associated with Florida.

Contents

Early accounts

[[File:|thumb|left|Al-Khidr and Alexander watch the Water of Life revive a salted fish]] Herodotus mentions a fountain containing a very special kind of water located in the land of the Ethiopians, which gives the Ethiopians their exceptional longevity.[1] A story of the "Water of Life" appears in the Eastern versions of the Alexander romance, which describes Alexander the Great and his servant crossing the Land of Darkness to find the restorative spring. The servant in that story is in turn derived from Middle Eastern legends of Al-Khidr, a sage who appears also in the Qur'an. Arabic and Aljamiado versions of the Alexander Romance were very popular in Spain during and after the period of Moorish rule, and would have been known to the explorers who journeyed to America. These earlier accounts clearly inspired the popular medieval fantasy The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which also mentions the fountain. Due to the influence of these tales, the Fountain of Youth legend remained popular through the European Age of Exploration.[2]

There are countless indirect sources for the tale as well. Eternal youth is a gift frequently sought in myth and legend, and stories of things such as the philosopher's stone, universal panaceas, and the elixir of life are common throughout Eurasia and elsewhere. An additional hint may have been taken from the account of the Pool of Bethesda in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus heals a man at the pool in Jerusalem.

Bimini

The native stories about the curative spring were related to the mythical land of Bimini or Beniny (hence Bimini), a land of wealth and prosperity. The spring was purportedly located on an island called Boinca. Although subsequent interpretations suggested the land was located in the vicinity of the Bahamas, the natives were referring to a location in the Gulf of Honduras.[2] The islands of Bimini in the Bahamas were known as La Vieja during the Ponce expedition. According to legend, the Spanish heard of Bimini from the Arawaks in Hispaniola, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Sequene, an Arawak chief from Cuba, had purportedly been unable to resist the lure of Bimini and its restorative fountain. He gathered a troupe of adventurers and sailed north, never to return. Word spread among Sequene's more optimistic tribesmen that he and his followers had located the Fountain of Youth and were living in luxury in Bimini.

Bimini and its curative waters were widespread subjects in the Caribbean. Italian-born chronicler Peter Martyr d'Anghiera (Peter Martyr) told of them in a letter to the pope in 1513, though he didn't believe the stories and was dismayed that so many others did.[3]

Ponce de León and Florida

In the 16th century the story of the Fountain of Youth became attached to the biography of the conquistador Juan Ponce de León. According to the story, Ponce de León heard of the land of Bimini from the people of Puerto Rico when he conquered the island. Growing dissatisfied with his material wealth, he launched an expedition to locate it, and in the process discovered Florida. Though he was one of the first Europeans to set foot on the American mainland, he never found the Fountain of Youth.

The story is apocryphal.The Fountain of Youth was said to have been discovered by an early Spanish explorer. The Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, according to legend, went looking for in Florida in 1513. It is said that anyone who drinks from the Fountain would have their youth restored. Ponce de León does not mention the fountain in his writings throughout the course of his expedition.[2] While he may well have heard of the Fountain and believed in it, his name was not associated with the legend in writing until after his death. That connection is made in Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo's Historia General y Natural de las Indias of 1535, in which he wrote that Ponce de León was looking for the waters of Bimini to cure his impotence.[4] Some researchers have suggested that Oviedo's account may have been politically inspired to generate favor in the courts.[2] A similar account appears in Francisco López de Gómara's Historia General de las Indias of 1551.[5] In the Memoir of Hernando D'Escalante Fontaneda in 1575, the author places the restorative waters in Florida and mentions de León looking for them there; his account influenced Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas' history of the Spanish in the New World.[6] Fontaneda had spent seventeen years as an Indian captive after being shipwrecked in Florida as a boy. In his Memoir he tells of the curative waters of a lost river he calls "Jordan" and refers to de León looking for them. However, Fontaneda makes it clear he is skeptical about these stories he includes, and says he doubts de León was actually looking for the fabled stream when he came to Florida.[6]

It is Herrera who makes that connection definite in the romanticized version of Fontaneda's story included in his Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano. Herrera states that local caciques paid regular visits to the fountain. A frail old man could become so completely restored that he could resume "all manly exercises… take a new wife and beget more children." Herrera adds that the Spaniards had unsuccessfully searched every "river, brook, lagoon or pool" along the Florida coast for the legendary fountain.[7] It would appear the Sequene story is likewise based on a garbling of Fontaneda.

Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park

29°54′24″N 81°18′53″W / 29.906778°N 81.314696°W / 29.906778; -81.314696

Postcard from the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine

The city of St. Augustine, Florida is home to the Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park, a tribute to the spot where Ponce de León is traditionally said to have landed. The tourist attraction was created by Luella Day McConnell in 1904. "Diamond Lil", as she was known, fabricated stories to amuse and appall the city’s residents and tourists until her death in 1927.[8]

Though there is no evidence that the fountain located in the park today is the storied fountain or has any restorative effects, visitors drink the water. The park exhibits native and colonial artifacts to celebrate St. Augustine's Timucuan and Spanish heritage.

Author Charlie Carlson claims to have spoken with a supposed St. Augustine-based secret society claiming to be the protectors of the Fountain of Youth, which has granted them extraordinary longevity. They claimed Old John Gomez, a protagonist in the Gasparilla legend from Florida folklore, had been one of their members.[9] In August 2006, popular American magician David Copperfield claimed he had discovered a true "Fountain of Youth" amid a cluster of four small islands in the Exuma chain of the Bahamas which he recently purchased for roughly $50 million. "I've discovered a true phenomenon," he told Reuters. "You can take dead leaves, they come in contact with the water, they become full of life again. … Bugs or insects that are near death, come in contact with the water, they'll fly away. It's an amazing thing, very, very exciting." Copperfield, who turned 50 in September 2006, says that he hired scientists to conduct an examination of the "legendary" water, but as of now, the fountain remains off limits to outside visitors.[10]

Literature and popular culture

The Fountain of Youth lives on as a metaphor for anything that potentially increases longevity. It is a frequently used plot device in age regression stories. Nathaniel Hawthorne used the Fountain in "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" to demonstrate that positive thinking is a far better remedy than deluded journeys to Florida for legendary cures; Orson Welles directed and starred in a 1958 TV program based on the legend;[11] and Tim Powers featured it in On Stranger Tides, a novel of 18th century pirate-voodoo adventure. In 1953, the Walt Disney Company created a cartoon entitled Don's Fountain of Youth, in which Donald Duck had supposedly discovered the famous fountain and can't resist pretending to his nephews that it really works. In 1974, Marvel Comics featured the Fountain (which works if bathed in, but cripples if drunk from) in Man-Thing and later The Savage She-Hulk. In 2005 the Fountain turned up in the DC Comics series Day of Vengeance. The fountain and its waters form the main plot device in Microsoft and Ensemble Studio's Age of Empires III campaign "Blood, Ice and Steel". Recently, characters in the 2006 Darren Aronofsky film The Fountain search for the Tree of Life to cure a brain tumor. Jorge Luis Borges refers to the Fountain of Life in a short story in the book The Aleph, in which the people who are immortal get tired of it and eventually start looking for the Fountain of Death to reverse their immortality.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, is set to be based on a journey in search of the Fountain of Youth. This was alluded to at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End where Captain Jack Sparrow had taken the map from Captain Hector Barbossa. The film is scheduled for filming in summer 2010, then released in 2011.

The common tale of the fountain of youth has also been creatively portrayed as a fountain of aging by Matt Groening in the hit series, "Futurama".

References

  1. ^ Herodotus, Book III: 22-24
  2. ^ a b c d Peck, Douglas T. "Misconceptions and Myths Related to the Fountain of Youth and Juan Ponce de Leon's 1513 Exploration Voyage" (PDF). New World Explorers, Inc. http://www.newworldexplorersinc.org/FountainofYouth.pdf. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  3. ^ Pedro Mártir de Angleria. Decadas de Nuevo Mundo, Decada 2, chapter X.
  4. ^ Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo. Historia General y Natural de las Indias, book 16, chapter XI.
  5. ^ Francisco López de Gómara. Historia General de las Indias, second part.
  6. ^ a b "Fontaneda's Memoir". Translation by Buckingham Smith, 1854. From keyshistory.org. Retrieved July 14, 2006.
  7. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages 1492-1616 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 504.
  8. ^ Great Floridians 2000 Program-St. Augustine/Dr. Luella Day McConnell
  9. ^ Carlson, Charlie (April 7, 2005). Weird Florida. New York. ISBN 0-7607-5945-6. http://books.google.com/books?id=Mip2dUc3ti4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=weird+florida&source=bl&ots=ENHZWN2oj5&sig=izqjF096f88z-buoaDkFu0Ssx_M&hl=en&ei=AXlJTKe6FYH68AbChPW0Dg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  10. ^ Jane Sutton (August 15, 2006). "David Copperfield 'finds Fountain of Youth'". Reuters.
  11. ^ The Fountain of Youth, 1958, directed by Orson Welles

External links


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

Proper noun

Singular
Fountain of Youth

Plural
-

Fountain of Youth

  1. (mythology) Legendary spring of water with magical properties to restore youth and health to those who drink from it.

Translations


Simple English

The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring whose waters were said to have the power to restore youth and health. A Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon was said to have searched for it while in present-day Florida.


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