Beware The Waters Of Salmacis


Men take their masculinity too lightly.  That is, they do not value that which makes them men.  They are too eager to minimize its power, to dull its sheen, and to snuff out its distinct phosphorescence.

What one does not value, is not safeguarded from outside attack.

Cicero, in his On Duties (I.61) warns us about the enfeebling effects of becoming too effeminate, of not safeguarding one’s own masculine virtue.  He was acutely aware of the dangers of effeminacy:

Thus it would be a great insult if someone were to say:

You, young men, display the souls of a woman,

While this girl here displays that of a man,

and with this same idea:

Salmacian, get spoils without blood or sweat.

Cicero is describing insults used against men who are too womanly.  The italicized lines above that Cicero is quoting are lines from the poet Ennius.

What does the word Salmacian mean?  It is a reference to the legend of Salmacis, which is found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (IV.286).  Salmacis was both the name of a nymph (naiad) and the name of a water fountain, said to be located near the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

What is the legend of Salmacis?  Like most myths, it contains a moral truth.  In this case it is a cautionary tale to men, warning them not to abandon their masculine virtue in favor of a life of luxury and debilitating pleasure.

From what we see today, it is lesson that needs to be taught, and heard, far more than it is.

The fountain of Salmacis was notorious.  It was said to feminize all men who bathed in its waters.

How this came to be, we will now relate.

A beautiful nymph came to dwell in a pool of crystal-clear water.  It was located in a beautiful grove, and it was bounded by the most exquisite vegetation.  This nymph, named Salmacis, chose a life of pleasure and epicurean delights.  Unlike her other nymphs, she refused to engage in hunts of Artemis (Diana).

Ovid says of her:

Nec iaculum sumit nec pictas illa pharetras,

Nec sua cum duris venatibus otia miscet,

Which means, “She takes up neither hunting-spear nor painted quiver, and does not alternate her leisure with the rigor of hunting.”

She liked to “get spoils without blood or sweat,” which meant she liked to get things without working for them.

As such people who avoid work often are, she was also cunning and unscrupulous.  She spent her days lying on the grass around the fountain, combing her hair, admiring her own body, and gathering flowers.

One day, a very young man passed by the fountain.  Salmacis was instantly smitten with him, and felt an overpowering urge to possess him.

She called out to him, and tried to entice him using every artifice of guile cultivated by her gender.  The young man blushed, uncertain how to proceed.  Salmacis begged him for a platonic kiss, and then threw her arms around him.


The youth was startled and moved away.  Finally Salmacis told him she would yield the fountain to him, and moved away into the surrounding woods.  The youth disrobed and bathed in the waters, under the watchful eye of Salmacis, who still spied on him from a distance.

At the sight of his naked body, she was again inflamed with lust.  She also took off her own robes, plunged into the fountain with the youth, and entwined his limbs in hers.

Vicimus et meus est, she cries out in triumph:  We win and he is mine.  Which is the secret triumph of every woman:  to possess completely her man, to merge his identity into her own.  To pull him down off his pedestal.  This secret wish of hers.  Never consciously stated, but there still.

Once she had him in his possession, she refused to let him go.  She then cried out to the gods, “Let no day ever come that we may be separated.  May we always be joined together!”

Her prayer was heard by the gods, and they merged the two bodies together for eternity.  From that point on, there was neither man nor woman, but a hybrid of both.  This androgynous being thus formed was called Hermaphroditus.  And this name, of course, is the origin of the word hermaphrodite.

What are we to conclude from this strange story?

As I said in a recent article, there are ten commandments that we must be aware of.  Two of those commandments (6 and 7) talked about the necessity of maintaining our separate identity.

We are, each of us alone.  It cannot be any other way.  We can achieve union with the Other, but only under certain conditions and only for brief moments.

It is a matter of life and death, really.  To love too much, to love too excessively, is to lure us to our deaths.  I say so, because it is so.

For the act of love is an act of merging, of union, to which we should aspire.  This is only natural.  But at the same time, there must be this barrier, this Spirit-Barrier or Soul-Barrier, that separates all lovers.  It is thin, but it is there.

And when this barrier is crossed, we lose our identity.  And when that is gone, we begin to die.  This death can be a ghastly process, as our myth here relates.

No man can surrender the entirety of his identity.  Especially to the woman who loves him.  No man has the right to do this.

In every love, in every union, there should be–no, there must be–vast tracts of unknown territory between each lover.  I cannot know all about my beloved.  I should not know.  And she cannot, and should not, know too much about me.

Cannot.  I say so.

The modern man has forgotten this.  He has cast the pearls of his masculine identity into the mud, for any beast to tread on.  It is a pathetic, criminal spectacle.

And this is where the ancients were so much wiser than we.  They understood–felt instinctively–this deep moral truth about man.  The truth that he must retain his separateness, his essence, his identity, from the predatory, all-enveloping love of his woman.

Beware the fountain of Salmacis.  Beware the deadly bath in the waters of her fountain.

They are not just located in isolated groves.  They are now everywhere, in an allegorical sense.  Call them traps for the gullible, unwary male, so eager for the love and approval of a woman, that he will surrender all.

And once this surrender is offered, it is accepted.  Always.


Read Sallust today, and learn about leadership and hubris: