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File:Water Nymph Salmacis.jpg
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. However, it's very likely that Ovid fabricated the entire tale himself - his use of "praetereo, dulcique animos novitate tenebo" could be read in several ways, as "novitate" could be translated as either something strange or something new, which would imply that it was a new tale. Salmacis could also have been intended simply as a contrast to the previous tales in Ovid's Metamorphoses, as others involve a dominant male pursuing an elusive female.[1]

Salmacis fountain

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.[2] 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:

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.[4]

Artistic allusions



  • 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.
  • Ovid's story of Salmacis and the boy Hermaphroditus is retold by Francis Beaumont in his epyllion 'Salmacis and Hermaphroditus'.[6]
  • 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.[8]
  • Within the fictional book "Complacency of the Learned" from the webcomic Homestuck, the name of the androgynous character Calmasis is an allusion to Salmacis.

In Music

  • 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.


  1. Theoi Greek Mythology, Exploring Mythology in Classical Literature & Art
  2. Bodrum History - Bodrum information, pictures, attractions at
  3. Vitruvius Pollio, The Ten Books on Architecture. Morris Hicky Morgan, Ed. 2.8.12
  4. Signe Isager, Poul Pedersen (2004). The Salmakis Inscription and Hellenistic Halikarnassos.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Sculpture: The Nymph Salmacis by François-Joseph Bosio, Louvre Museum, Paris
  6. Renascence Editions: Salmacis and Hermaphroditus by Francis Beaumont
  7. Music Video: Genesis - The Fountain of Salmacis
  8. Soldati, Mario (1929). Salmace. Edizioni La Libra.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links