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The History

Discover the origin of the ‘Aquae Patavinae’ and the history of the Euganean thermal area...

 

p1040709 Punta di freccia in selce da Galzignano Terme panoramicaduomo_epoca H_pano_40 P1040842 figura8b

Literary sources

Scrittori latini di ogni tempo, fra il primo Impero e la tarda Antichità, hanno rivolto la loro attenzione al territorio delle Terme Euganee, dedicando versi eleganti e stupefatte descrizioni a questo lembo di terra dalla natura così speciale. Fonti d’acqua caldissima e soffioni di vapore solforoso, infatti, non rendono sterili le pendici dei rilievi e la campagna che si distende fra di essi, ma come per prodigio alimentano una vegetazione verdeggiante e rigogliosa. Proprio le condizioni geologiche dell’area costituiscono l’elemento principale che desta l’interesse degli scienziati e si offre all’adorazione incredula e timorosa della gente comune, che ne sfrutta in maniera crescente i vantaggi di carattere medico ed economico.
Col passare dei secoli, poi, quando sembra venir meno la stabile rete di infrastrutture costruite a trarre profitto della risorsa termale, al rinnovato stupore per la natura che manifesta la sua potenza primordiale sembra unirsi un velo di rimpianto per lo splendore perduto degli edifici ormai in rovina e l’apparente impossibilità di continuare a giovarsi dei doni che generosamente Apono elargisce agli uomini.

Anonymous Author, Anthologia Latina

Anonymous Author, Anthologia Latina, 36
Exultent Apono Veneti, Campania Bais
Graecia Thermopolis: his ego balneolis.


Traduzione di


This short, anonymous poem recalls the sources of Aponus next to Baia and the Thermopylae, perhaps the two most famous thermal areas ever in the classical world: this testifies the great reputation of the Euganean thermal area in ancient times. The anonymous composer, however, seems to have no direct knowledge of the area, since he uses the term Aponus as a place-name while, more correctly, it is the name of the tutelary deity of the healing waters. Luciano Lazzaro noted that the first verse seems to evoke a Silius Italicus expression: in the context of the battle of Cannae, in fact, Silius Italicus defines Asconius Pedianus, Venetian commander and ally of the Romans, "son of Eridanus, Venetian people and the good population of Aponus".

Ausonius4th century A.D.

Decimus Magnus Ausonius, Ordo urbium nobilium, XX, 159-162
Salve, urbis genius, medico potabili haustu,
Divona Celtarum lingua, fons addite divis.
Non Aponus potu, vitrea non luce Nemausus
purior, aequoreo non plenior amne Timavus.


Traduzione di


In celebration of Bordeaux, his hometown, the poet greets Divona, the deity of the city to whom a source of medicinal waters was consecrated. In order to exalt the quality of those waters, Ausonius compares them with the clearness of the Paduan sources, which was evidently proverbial as suggested by the words of Svetonius and Claudianus.
The text offers a singular indication, linked to the curative efficacy of Abano waters taken per os. In this respect, in fact, it is not possible to obtain information from any other literary source, which mostly seem to indicate that the curing practices took place by immersion. This custom seems confirmed by the large number of tanks found on the hill of San Pietro Montagnon and more generally, in the whole territory of Montegrotto. It is possible that Ausonius hadn’t a direct knowledge of the Paduan thermal sources, but he knew their reputation by literary fame: he would then erroneously project on them the same healing practices of Divona, the source he celebrated in this passage and that he knew very well since he was born in Bordeaux.
Given the fact that the deposit of Montirone, in the territory of Abano, returned a large number of glasses and drinking vessels, also of great value, according to Luciano Lazzaro it is not possible to deny a priori that the Euganean waters were sometimes drunk for therapeutic purposes, as it is sporadically done today.

Cassiodorus5th – 6th century A.D.

Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus, Variae, II, 39
Si audita veterum miracula ad laudem clementiae nostrae volumus continere, quoniam augmenta regalis gloriae sunt, cum sub nobis nulla decrescunt, quo studio convenit reparari quod etiam nostris oculis frequenter constat offerri? delectat enim salutiferi Aponi meminisse potentiam, ut intellegas, quo desiderio cupimus reficere quod de memoria nostra nescit exire.
Caerulum fontem vidimus in formam dolii concavis hiatibus aestuantem et fornaces anhelantium aquarum circumducto tereti labio naturae probabili dispositione coronatas: quae licet more calidae nebulosos vapores exhalent, hanc tamen iucundam perspicuitatem aspectibus humanis aperiunt, ut quivis hominum illam gratiam desideret contingere, etiam cum non ignoret ardere. ore plenissimo in sphaerae similitudine supra terminos suos aquarum dorsa turgescunt, unde latex tanta quiete defluit, tanta quasi stabilitate decurrit, ut eum non putes crescere, nisi quia inde aliquid rauco murmure sentis exire.
Veniunt aquae per algentes meatus tali fervore succensae, ut post recurva spatia, quae arte facta sunt longiora, calores sint maximos redditurae. o magistri mirandum semper ingenium, ut naturae furentis ardorem ita ad utilitatem humani corporis temperaret, ut quod in origine dare poterat mortem, doctissime moderatum et delectationem tribueret et salutem! iuvat videre secretum, latices vapores igneos exhalantes, amicum undis indesinenter ardorem, et calorem venire decursu rivi, unde usualiter solebat extingui. merito dicunt philosophi elementa sibi mutuis complexionibus illigari et mirabili coniungi foederatione, quae inter se contraria intelleguntur varietate pugnare.
Ecce madentem substantiam vapores producere constat ignitos, quae mox ad thermarum aedificia decora pervenerit, illisa cautibus unda descendens et aera sua qualitate succendit et tactu fit habilis, cum recepta fuerit in lavacris: unde non tantum deliciosa voluptas adquiritur, quantum blanda medicina confertur. scilicet sine tormento cura, sine horrore remedia, sanitas impunita, balnea contra diversos dolores corporis attributa. quae ideo Aponum Graeca lingua beneficialis nominavit antiquitas, ut causam tanti remedii aeger cognosceret, cum de tali nomine dubium nil haberet.
Sed inter alia loci ipsius bona illud quoque stupendum esse didicimus, quod una fluentorum natura diversis ministeriis videatur accommoda. nam protinus saxo suscipiente collisa inhalat primae cellulae sudatoriam qualitatem: deinde in solium mitigata descendens minaci ardore deposito suavi temperatione mollescit: mox in vicinum producta cum aliqua dilatione torpuerit, multo blandius intepescit: postremo ipso quoque tepore derelicto in piscinam Neronianam frigida tantum efficitur, quantum prius ferbuisse sentitur.
Non inmerito auctoris sui participans nomen collega est cum viriditate gemmarum, ut ipsa quoque vitrei elementi colore perspicua quasdam trementes undas quieta commoveat. sed ut ipsum quoque lavacrum mundius redderetur, stupenda quadam continentiae disciplina in undam, qua viri recreantur, si mulier descendat, incenditur, propterea quia et ipsis altera exhibitio decora collata est: scilicet ne ardentium aquarum fecundissimum locum non crederent habuisse, unde plurima largiretur, si uterque sexus uno munere communiter uteretur.
Haec perennitas aquarum intellegendi praestat indicium per igneas terrae venas occultis meatibus influentem imitus in auras erumpere excocti fontis inriguam puritatem. nam si naturae fuisset illud incendium, sine interitu substantiae non esset amissum: sed aquae materia sensibilis, sicut peregrinum contraxit ignem, sic iterum nativum facile recepit algorem.
Praestat et aliud adiutorii genus vis illa medicabilis. nam iuxta caput fontis scintillosi quendam sibi meatum provida natura formavit. hinc desuper sella composita, quae humanis necessitatibus in apsidis speciem perforatur, aegros suscipit interno umore diffluentes: ubi dum fessi nimio languore consederint, vaporis illius delectatione recreati et lassa viscera reficiunt et umores noxia infusione largatos vitali ariditate constringunt: et quasi aliquo desiderabili cibo refecti valentiores queant protinus inveniri, sic medicabili substantiae venit a sulfure quod calet, a salsedine quod desiccat. talia posteris non tradere hoc est graviter in longa aetate peccare.
Quapropter antiqua illic aedificiorum soliditas innovetur, ut sive in cuniculis sive in thermis fuerit aliquid reparandum, te debeat imminente reconstrui. virgulta quoque noxia importunitate nascentia evulsis cespitibus auferantur, ne radicum quidam capilli paulatim turgentes fabricarum visceribus inserantur et more vipereo prolem sibi fecunditate contraria nutriant, unde se compago casura disrumpat.
Palatium quoque longa senectute quassatum assidua reparatione corrobora. spatium, quod inter aedem publicam et caput igniti fontis interiacet, silvestri asperitate depurga. rideat florenti gramine facies decora campestris: quin etiam ardentis aquae fertilitate laetatur miroque modo dum proxime salem generet sterilem, nutriat pariter et virores.
Sed non his tantum beneficiis Antenorea terra fecunda est: infert et alia, quae multo grandius obstupescas. corda illa, ut ita dixerim, montium in vicem secretarii negotia contentiosa discingunt. nam si quis forte pecus furatum pilis nativis solito more spoliare praesumpserit, undis ardentibus frequenter inmersum necesse est ut ante decoquat quam emundare praevaleat. o vere secretarium iure reverendum, quando in his aquis non solum sensum, sed etiam verum constat esse iudicium et quod humana nequit altercatione dissolvi, fontium datum est aequitate definiri. loquitur illic tacita natura, dum iudicat, et sententiam quodam modo dicit, quae perfidiam negantis excludit.
Sed quis ista conservare neglegat, quamvis plurima tenacitate sordescat? siquidem ornat regnum, quod fuerit singulariter toto orbe nominatum. et ideo pecunia, quae tibi data est, si opus non potuerit implere susceptum, quantum adhuc expendendum esse credideris, missis nobis brevibus indicabis, quia non gravamur expendere, ut tanta videamur ruris moenia custodire.


Traduzione di


This letter of Cassiodorus, secretary of Theoderic the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, is not only the document that more fully describes the thermal area, but also the most recent, as it dates between 507 and 511 A.D. In the name of the sovereign, Cassiodorus writes to a Paduan architect named Aloysius to encourage him not to abandon the monuments that were built during the imperial age and that in the VI century showed the damage of a long period of negligence. However it seems likely that this abandonment took place not before the late IV century AD, when the poet Claudian composed his hymn to Aponus, where there is no mention to the ongoing degradation processes.
The text opens with wonder, emphasizing the power of nature that manifests itself at the source of Aponus: a pond of blue water collected in a cavity that boils from the depths and flows slowly through the countryside, spreading the marvel of a burning water.
Just as the poet Claudian had done two centuries earlier, the admiration for the geological phenomena is accompanied by a praise to the genius of the Roman builders, who were able to harness the natural forces and bend them to the usefulness of human health: through a network of raceways, in fact, the potential danger of hot water becomes a delightful element that can heal from evil.
The similarities with the composition of Claudian suggest that Cassiodorus well knew his predecessor, but the richness of details on the naturalistic and architectural features of the site also suggest a direct knowledge of the area. Further confirmation of a personal attendance to the Euganean springs is offered by the circumstantial details related to the therapeutic customs: Cassiodorus refers that the steam resulting from the high temperature of water is indicated for the treatment of obesity and the regeneration of physical forces. The place that allows a full exploitation of this potential is called "sweat cave": within a tunnel dug by the water over thousands of years, man drilled into the rock a flat, apse-shaped space, that well incorporates the happy coexistence of nature and artifice as it is characteristic of the site. The references to the dense network of hydraulic structures and artificial caves are not the only ones to offer valuable information on the infrastructures around the water spring, because the text is enriched by references to a "Neronian bath" and an "imperial palace" which did attract the attention of scholars, even if they were unable to recognize them with certainty on the ground. The "Neronian bath" is a thermal bath celebrated for its lining in green glass mosaic tiles, whose suggestive effect seemed to accentuate the movement of water as if it would gather within a natural basin. Although some scholars of the nineteenth century dated the bath to the time of the Emperor Nero, the adjective "Neronian" derives, as clearly stated Cassiodorus, by the name of the manufacturer. Recognizing it on the ground remains impossible, however it is worth pointing out here that the historical maps and archaeological finds indicate the area of San Pietro Montagnon hill as particularly rich in architectural materials of great quality. Cassiodorus also reports a belief perhaps already widespread in the I century A.D., at least judging from the verses of Martial. Women were not allowed to soak in the tub with men, because they would be somehow bewitched; moreover that would have even threatened to block the flow of water forever, altering the precarious yet favorable balance between nature and man.
The definition of "imperial palace of ancient origins" is, on the other hand, less ambiguous. According to Luciano Lazzaro it could possibly be located on top of the hill on which the modern cathedral of Montegrotto stands. In fact in the early twentieth century, during the construction of the modern church the remains of a stately building were found. It is not surprising that even the imperial family had a property in the area: indeed, not only Suetonius testifies an early interest of the central power on Aponus’ sources when he informs that in the I century A.D. Tiberius wanted to consult Geryon’s oracle, but archeology also seems to confirm this contact.
Among the first archaeological evidences surfaced during the excavations of the eighteenth century, in fact, the stamps of Arria Fadilla, mother of Emperor Antoninus Pius, have considerable importance because they attest the property of the hydraulic lead pipes on which they are etched.
The brief digression on the term Aponus is also curious and interesting, since Cassiodorus seems to use the name of the tutelary deity of the source as a place name, a sign that over the centuries the name of the deity had been increasingly used to name to the thermal area itself. The VI century erudite relates the term to the greek words "a-ponos" meaning "with no pain" according to a scholarly etymology built to enhance the healing properties of the source. The correct etymology, according to Luciano Lazzaro, is to be found in the Indo-European root *Ap-, which in Venetic language indicates waters.
In the closure of the letter, Cassiodorus lists a final argument to reinforce the request to the architect Aloysius not to let weeds creep inexorably and destroy the foundations of the buildings: the special bond of the natives to the popular belief that exalted the waters power well beyond their healing effects, as evidenced by the fact that it was customary to delegate to them the results of disputes for cattle rustling.

Claudiansecond half 4th century A.D.

Claudian, Aponus (Carmina minora, 26)
Fons, Antenoreae vitam qui porrigis urbi
fataque vicinis noxia pellis aquis,
cum tua vel mutis tribuant miracula vocem,
cum tibi plebeius carmina dictet honos
et sit nulla manus, cuius non police ductae 5
testentur memores prospera vota notae,
nonne reus Musis pariter Nymphisque tenebor,
si tacitus soli praetereare mihi?
Indictum neque enim fas est a nate relinqui
hunc qui tot populis provocat ora locum? 10
alto colle minor, planis erectior arvis
conspicuo clivus molliter orbe tumet,
ardentis fecundus aquae. Quacumque cavernas
perforat, offenso truditur igne latex.
Spirat putre solum, conclusaque subter anhelo 15
pumice rimosas † perforat † unda vias.
Umida flammarum regio, Vulcania terrae
ubera, sulphureae fervida regna plagae.
Quis sterilem non credat humum? Fumantia vernant
pascua, luxuriat gramine cocta silex, 20
et, cum sic rigidae cautes fervore liquescant,
contemptis audax ignibus herba viret.
Praeterea grandes effosso marmore sulci
saucia longinquo limite saxa secant.
Herculei (sic fama refert) monstratur aratri 25
semita, vel casus vomeris egit opus.
In medio, pelagi late flagrantis imago,
caerulus inmenso panditur ore lacus,
ingenti fusus spatio; sed maior in altum
intrat et arcanae rupis inane subit, 30
densus nube sua tactuque inmitis et haustu,
sed vitreis idem lucidus usque vadis.
Consuluit natura sibi, ne tota lateret,
admisitque oculos quo vetat ire calor.
Turbidus inpulsu venti cum spargitur aer 35
glaucaque fumiferae terga serenat aquae,
tunc omnem liquidi vallem mirabere fundi,
tum veteres hastae, regia dona, micant,
quas inter nigrae tenebris obscurus harenae
discolor abruptum flumen hiatus agit; 40
apparent infra latebrae, quas gurges opacus
inplet et abstrusos ducit in antra sinus;
tum montis secreta patent, qui flexus in arcum
aequora pendenti margine summa ligat.
Viva coronatos adstringit scaena vapores, 45
et levis exili cortice terra natat,
calcantumque oneri numquam cessura virorum
sustentat trepidum fida ruina pedem.
Facta manu credas: sic levis circuit oras
ambitus et tenuis perpetuusque riget. 50
Haerent stagna lacu plenas aequantia ripas
praescriptumque timent transiluisse modum;
quod superat fluvius devexa rupe volutus
egerit et campi dorsa recurva petit.
Devehit exceptum nativo spina meatu; 55
in patulas plumbi labitur inde vias;
nullo cum strepitu madidis infecta favillis
despumat niveum fistula cana salem.
Multifidas dispergit opes artemque secutus,
qua iussere manus, mobile torquet iter 60
et iunctos rapido pontes subtermeat aestu
adflatosque vago temperat igne tholos.
Acrior interius rauci cum murmure saxi
spumeus eliso pellitur amne vapor.
Hinc pigras repetunt fessi sudore lacunas, 65
frigora quis longae blanda dedere morae.
Salve, Paeoniae largitor nobilis undae,
Dardanii, salve, gloria magna soli,
publica morborum requies, commune medentum
auxilium, praesens numen, inempta salus. 70
Seu ruptis inferna ruunt incendia ripis
et nostro Phlegethon devius orbe calet,
sulphuris in venas gelidus seu decidit amnis
accensusque fluit, quod manifestat odor,
sive pari flammas undarum lance rependens 75
arbiter in foedus mons elementa vocat,
ne cedant superata sibi, sed legibus aequis
alterius vires possit utrimque pati:
quidquid erit causae, quocumque emitteris ortu,
non sine consilio currere certa fides. 80
Quis casum meritis adscribere talibus audet,
quis negat auctores haec statuisse deos?
Ille pater rerum, qui saecula dividit astris,
inter prima coli te quoque sacra dedit
et fragilem nostri miseratus corporis usum 85
telluri medicas fundere iussit aquas,
Parcarumque colos exoratura severas
flumina laxatis emicuere iugis.
Felices, proprium qui te meruere, coloni,
fas quibus est Aponon iuris habere sui. 90
Non illis terrena lues corrupta nec Austri
flamina nec saevo Sirius igne nocet,
sed, quamvis Lachesis letali stamine damnet,
inde sibi fati prosperiora petunt.
Quod si forte malus membris exuberat umor 95
languida vel nimio viscera felle virent,
non venas reserant nec vulnere vulnera sanant
pocula nec tristi gramine mixta bibunt:
amissum lymphis reparant inpune vigorem
pacaturque aegro luxuriante dolor. 100


Traduzione di


This poem of a hundred hexameters is among the most interesting literary sources on the thermal Euganean area: in fact it not only describes the area in topographical terms, but also offers significant insights on healing practices and the connected cult. The details of the description and the enthusiasm that the poet infuses in its verses suggest a direct knowledge: it seems that Claudian, born in Alexandria, had the opportunity to visit the Euganean Baths between 396 and 399A.D., when he was following the Emperor Honorius.
In the verses of Claudian the center of the cult is an area high on the countryside, but lower than a hill; water and heat dig furrows and cavities, splitting the rock, but the vegetation flourishes: a small miracle among the many more granted by the god Aponus to the faithful who turn to him to be healed. Between two reliefs lies a sacred lake, deep and clear, like a seething sea: from the lake starts a stream that distributes hot water to the countryside. In this description, mainly devoted to the natural wonder that is revealed in this area, Claudian does not fail to observe human intervention that shapes the landscape by exploiting the potential of thermal water, since wide lead pipes funnel direct it where desired.
Although in the nineteenth century Luigi Busato supported the idea that Montirone hill, in the town of Abano, was the cult center, Luciano Lazzaro instead reiterated that the sacred place should be identified with the hill of S. Pietro Montagnon, while the highest hill quoted by Claudian, clear point of comparison for the center of worship, should be recognized in Monte Castello, clearly visible within short distance. Archaeological finds confirm the thesis of Lazzaro, not only because on the hill of S. Pietro Montagnon there are abundant remains of prestige buildings and tanks, but also because of the presence of the proto-historic sanctuary within easy reach.
It is however not possible to determine exactly which specific canalization of the thermal waters the poet refers to; the question, though, seems superfluous since the entire area of Montagnone returned abundant traces of the duct systems, both in metal and terracotta, used to distribute the water. In Roman times, in fact, the sick could probably benefit of the healing waters from different structures arranged with dip tanks that were often found in the archaeological record, not only in the hill of S. Pietro Montagnon, but in the whole territory of AbanoTerme.
Aponus is clearly indicated as the tutelary deity of healing waters, but the verses 23-26 reveal a worship to Hercules that “plowed the rock” tracing the deep grooves in the slope of the hill. The tradition attributes to the son of Jupiter the responsibility of the death of the monster Geryon, whose oracular cult is attested in the area and enjoyed great fame if, as Suetonius narrated, Tiberius also wanted to consult him on his way to Illyria, at the head of a military expedition.
Another interesting indication, linked to cultuality, is the use of throwing in the waters of the sacred lake votive gifts that accumulated on the bottom and therefore remained visible through the proverbial clear water. There is, of course, no way of knowing what spears Claudian refers to. Indeed, the verse should be perhaps understood in a generic sense, even if it shows the use of consecrating the weapons used during some expedition to the tutelary deity of the source, as well as vases, life-size or miniature (well known from archaeological finds) and anatomical votive offerings. It should however be stressed that the archaeological sources do not confirm, at the time, the custom of throwing votive offerings within the lake, since it rather seems that the offers were ordered along the banks: an important detail on a cultural level, but basically negligible for Claudian, who primarily aimed at creating a more impressive poetic image (the gifts visible through the water), echoing the words used by Suetonius about the golden dice that Tiberius threw in the sacred lake to get a prediction on the military expedition that he was going to drive.

Claudius Marius Victor5th century A.D.

Claudius Marius Victor, The truth, III, 736-737
… calidis quas Aponus undis
exhalat …


Traduzione di


The poem “The truth” is a transposition in verse of the first book of the Bible, the Genesis, and follows the development of the creation of the world up to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In describing the terrible natural phenomena that precede the manifestation of the divine wrath, Claudius Marius Victor insists on the thundering clouds and thick smoke that pile up over the two cities, defining such clouds much worse than those emanating from mount Etna or those that “Aponus exhales with warm waves”.
The use of the Paduan thermal springs as a term of comparison for the phenomena that threaten Sodom and Gomorrah shows how the reputation of the Euganean area still persists in Late Antiquity and highlights the fact that the manifestation of the geological forces in this area continued to strike the imagination of those who saw them or, more simply, who derived the news from other literary sources.

Ennodius5th – 6th century A.D.

Magnus Felix Ennodius, Letters, V, 8, p. 178 lines. 33-35 e p. 179 lines. 7-21
Non contentus tamen uno dicendi genere displicere, carmen adieci: ut post epulas Antenorei gurgitis, quas lavacra Aponi, coacta in artum carnis lege castigant, dum illud quod aquarum fetibus distenditur, aqua desecat; ego quoque qui Heliconis fluenta non tetigi, poeta novus admiscear… Dabis etiam venias, quia oculorum pressus angore poemata fortasse clauda composui…
Tollitur adclini tellus subnixa tumore,
leniter elato fulta supercilio.
Verticibus nullis caput admovet illa superbum,
nec similis pressis vallibus ima petit.
Fumiger hic patulis Aponus fuit undique venis,
pacificus mixtis ignis anhelat aquis
unda focos servat, non sorbet flamma liquorem;
infuso crepitat fons sacer inde rogo.
Ebrius hic cunctis medicinam suggerit ardor.
Corpora desiccans rore vaporifero.
Heic pyra gurgitibus, scintillis fluctuat humor:
vivitur alternæ mortis amicitia.
Ne pareat, nymphis Vulcanus mergitur illis,
foedera naturae rupit concordia pugnax.


Traduzione di


Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, refers to a stay in Padua in a letter to a friend named Peter sent around 507 A.D.; there he writes that he enjoyed some thermal cures which brought him benefit for an eye disease that had afflicted him for a long time at the sources consecrated to Aponus. The relief received is the inspiration for a poem of praise that extols the thermal area not only for the curative benefits against obesity and eye diseases, but also for the majestic and disturbing landscape that the power of nature manifested in front of the visitor.
Ennodius’ description shows nevertheless many similarities with the verses of the poet Claudian, enough to assume a direct dependency. It is evident, however, that the bishop puts a stronger emphasis on the grandiosity of geological phenomena and does not stress the intervention of man that instead the poet of the IV century did not fail to detect.

Lucan1st century A.D.

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Pharsalia, VII, 192-200
Euganeo, si vera fides memorantibus, augur
colle sedens, Aponus terris ubi fumifer exit
atque Antenorei dispergitur unda Timavi,
“Venit summa dies, geritur res maxima – dixit –
impia concurrunt Pompei et Caesaris arma”.
Seu tonitrus ac tela Iovis praesaga notavit,
aethera seu totum discordi obsistere caelo
perspexitque polos, seu numen in aethere maestum
Solis in obscuro pugnam pallore notavit.


Traduzione di


A tradition wide spread between the ancient authors argues that on the eve of the battle of Pharsalia (48 B.C.), the decisive battle in the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, an augur of Padua named Gaius Cornelius was able to predict within explicable precision not only the final outcome but even the trend of the clash. According to the words of Plutarch, biographer of the II century A.D., the first person to narrate this omen was Livy, well acquainted with these facts since born in Padua and personal friend of the augur Cornelius. The livian pass is, unfortunately, lost and it is only concisely mentioned in the words of his epitomator Julius Obsequens. However, the extensive notoriety of the fact is testified by Lucan, Plutarch, Aulus Gellius, Cassius Dio and Sidonius Apollinaris.
Between ‘700 and ‘800some scholars, given the mention of Aponus in the verses of Lucan, attempted to locate the site of the omen in the oracular shrine dedicated to the worship of Geryon of which Suetonius speaks. There is, though, no evidence of this specific location, and indeed it is clear that Lucan does not use Aponus as a place name but, more correctly, as theonym, reported to the tutelary deity of the healing waters that gush miraculously from the ground along with a dense smoke. The verses of Lucan form, in other words, only an elegant circumlocution aimed to indicate Padua through mythological and cultual references, without explicitly declaring the name of the city. The Euganean hills, Aponus, Antenor and Timavus river would be sufficient, because well known in the baggage of cultural references of every educated reader of the I century A.D. No other writer who reports the omen, in fact, mentions the Paduan thermal springs. Luciano Lazzaro also duly noted that the oracular seat of Geryon could not suit a prophecy like that made by Gaius Cornelius: in that sanctuary responses were offered to citizens who consulted the oracle about individual issues, but certainly no auspices like those involved in the priestly office of Cornelius were taken.

Martialsecond half 1st century A.D.

Martial, Epigrams, I, 61, 1-4
Verona docti syllabas amat vatis,
Marone felix Mantua est,
Censetur Aponi Livio suo tellus
Stellaque nec Flacco minus…


Traduzione di


Martial was an hispanic author, active in Rome for about thirty years, that probably had the chance to visit the Venezie. This is suggested by the melancholic memory that emerges in the XXV epigram of the fourth book where the poet laments the beaches of Altino, Aquileia "happy of the Timavus" and the Euganean lakes, where the hot springs can possibly be recognized, and hopes that in his old age he may find rest in the sweetness of these places.
There are two epigrams that refer, although incidentally, to the Paduan sources. The first (I, 61) is a celebration of a group of writers, of whom the lands of origin, the poet says, can rightly boast. While Catullus and Virgil make honor respectively to Verona and Mantua, the "land of Aponus" can count among its children personalities such as Livy, Stella and Flaccus. The Paduan origin of the historian Livy is well known, but this passage is the only one that seems to define its birthplace in the thermal area: literary historians, however, are unwilling to accept this indication in the literal sense and tend to consider "land of Aponus" nothing more than an elegant paraphrase indicating the city of Padua. Without denying a priori the possibility that Livy was born in the Euganean area, it is more likely that Martial preferred, for poetic reasons, to omit the name of Padua and suggest it through the famous source that flows at short distance, a destination of many people since pre-Roman times. Lucius Arruntius Stella, deputy consul in the late 101 or 102 A.D., is also of certain Paduan origin, while it is problematic to identify Flaccus, as the scholars believe it is not the author of the Argonautica, Gaius Valerius Flaccus.
In the second epigram (VI, 42) Martial exalts the thermal baths of his Etruscan friend and makes mention of the sources of Aponus calling them "rudes puellis" (literally: "harsh for the girls"). This expression has been understood in different ways: either as a reference to the modesty of Paduan women, who avoided getting wet with the men as it was the case in other thermal places, both as a reference to the very high temperature of the water, unsuitable for this reason for the female body. Luciano Lazzaro stressed, however, that it is not to exclude a reason connected with superstition, according to which the presence of women in the thermal springs even threatened to stop the flow of water, according to a belief which seems overshadowed even in a piece of Cassiodorus.

Martialsecond half 1st century A.D.

Martial, Epigrams, VI, 42, 1-4
Etrusci nisi thermulis lavaris,
inlotus morieris, Oppiane.
Nullae sic tibi blandientur undae,
Nec fontes Aponi rudes puellis…


Traduzione di


Martial was an hispanic author, active in Rome for about thirty years, that probably had the chance to visit the Venezie. This is suggested by the melancholic memory that emerges in the XXV epigram of the fourth book where the poet laments the beaches of Altino, Aquileia "happy of the Timavus" and the Euganean lakes, where the hot springs can possibly be recognized, and hopes that in his old age he may find rest in the sweetness of these places.
There are two epigrams that refer, although incidentally, to the Paduan sources. The first (I, 61) is a celebration of a group of writers, of whom the lands of origin, the poet says, can rightly boast. While Catullus and Virgil make honor respectively to Verona and Mantua, the "land of Aponus" can count among its children personalities such as Livy, Stella and Flaccus. The Paduan origin of the historian Livy is well known, but this passage is the only one that seems to define its birthplace in the thermal area: literary historians, however, are unwilling to accept this indication in the literal sense and tend to consider "land of Aponus" nothing more than an elegant paraphrase indicating the city of Padua. Without denying a priori the possibility that Livy was born in the Euganean area, it is more likely that Martial preferred, for poetic reasons, to omit the name of Padua and suggest it through the famous source that flows at short distance, a destination of many people since pre-Roman times. Lucius Arruntius Stella, deputy consul in the late 101 or 102 A.D., is also of certain Paduan origin, while it is problematic to identify Flaccus, as the scholars believe it is not the author of the Argonautica, Gaius Valerius Flaccus.
In the second epigram (VI, 42) Martial exalts the thermal baths of his Etruscan friend and makes mention of the sources of Aponus calling them "rudes puellis" (literally: "harsh for the girls"). This expression has been understood in different ways: either as a reference to the modesty of Paduan women, who avoided getting wet with the men as it was the case in other thermal places, both as a reference to the very high temperature of the water, unsuitable for this reason for the female body. Luciano Lazzaro stressed, however, that it is not to exclude a reason connected with superstition, according to which the presence of women in the thermal springs even threatened to stop the flow of water, according to a belief which seems overshadowed even in a piece of Cassiodorus.

Pliny the Elder1st century A.D.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, II, 227, 5
… Patavinorum aquis calidis herbae virentes innascuntur…

Traduzione di


The scientific interests of Pliny the Elder attracted the scholar’s attention on the waters that flow from the Euganean hills. Although there is no evidence that he ever stayed there, Pliny mentions this district twice in his naturalistic treatise and the definitions used ("Patavinorum aquae" and "Patavini fontes") reaffirm once more the dependency of the area from the city of Padua during the I century A.D.
The first mention is part of a general overview of thermal sources, for each of which the author indicates a specific character. In the case the Euganean ones the scholar refers, probably, to the green algae that proliferate in the water and thus enhance their healing qualities.
Instead, in the second passage the Paduan sources offer to Pliny the most suitable example to deny the accuracy of some tests to which the waters were subject in an attempt to ascertain their therapeutic properties in Roman times. In fact, the scholar says that it is not possible to consider automatically thermal those waters which can discolor bronze or silver objects, or those which have a particular and distinctive smell, because the Paduan sources do not have any of these characteristics, yet their healing effectiveness had long been known.

Pliny the Elder1st century A.D.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, XXXI, 61, 4-7
Nec decolor species aeris argentive, ut multi existimavere, medicaminum argumentum est, quando nihil eorum in Patavinis fontibus, ne odoris quidem differentia deprehendetur…

Traduzione di


The scientific interests of Pliny the Elder attracted the scholar’s attention on the waters that flow from the Euganean hills. Although there is no evidence that he ever stayed there, Pliny mentions this district twice in his naturalistic treatise and the definitions used ("Patavinorum aquae" and "Patavini fontes") reaffirm once more the dependency of the area from the city of Padua during the I century A.D.
The first mention is part of a general overview of thermal sources, for each of which the author indicates a specific character. In the case the Euganean ones the scholar refers, probably, to the green algae that proliferate in the water and thus enhance their healing qualities.
Instead, in the second passage the Paduan sources offer to Pliny the most suitable example to deny the accuracy of some tests to which the waters were subject in an attempt to ascertain their therapeutic properties in Roman times. In fact, the scholar says that it is not possible to consider automatically thermal those waters which can discolor bronze or silver objects, or those which have a particular and distinctive smell, because the Paduan sources do not have any of these characteristics, yet their healing effectiveness had long been known.

Silius Italicus1st century A.D.

Silius Italicus, Punica, XII, 212-222
Polydamanteis iuvenis Pedianus in armis
bella agitabat atrox Troianaque semina et ortus
atque Antenorea sese de stirpe ferebat,
haud levior generis fama sacroque Timavo
gloria et Euganeis dilectum nomen in oris.
Huic pater Eridanus Venetaeque ex ordine gentes
atque Apono gaudens populus, seu bella cieret
ses Musas placidus doctaeque silentia vitae
mallet et Aonio plectro mulcere labores,
non illum dixere parem; nec notior alter
Gradivo iuvenis nec Phoebo notior alter


Traduzione di


In describing the Roman allies during the Punic Wars, Silius Italicus celebrates the Venetian commander Asconius Pedianus, a man of unmatched intelligence and value both in wartime and in peacetime. Descendent of Antenor, Trojan hero fled to the West and founder of Padua, the commander Pedianus, in the words of Silius Italicus, is known to all the Euganean and Venetic peoples for the enterprises carried out by the river Timavus. According to a nineteenth-century tradition attributable to Luigi Busato, the Timavus should be identified with the "hot river", i.e. the stream that runs through the thermal area and that was maybe the tributary or the emissary of the holy pond. The same river is also mentioned by Statius, Martial, Lucan and Sidonius Apollinaris, but nobody helps to clarify its location, because the reference is always in rather vague contexts, symptom that the poets had little knowledge of the geography of northern Italy. The abundance of fish in the river, also referred by other literary sources, seems implausible for the "hot river", a stream of warm waters: despite the direct mention of the god Aponus, divinity of the Euganean area, it is likely that the quote of Timavus should be understood as generic reference to Veneto, rather than a specific indication of the Paduan baths.
As noted by Luciano Lazzaro, this text is also echoed in the verses of an anonymous poet of the Latin Anthology, which juxtaposes the Euganean sources to the most famous thermal areas of the classical world, Baia and the Thermopylae, implicitly recognizing their significant fame.

Suetonius1st-2nd century A.D.

Suetonius, The life of Tiberius, 14, 3
… et mox, cum Illyricum petens iuxta Patavium adisset Geryonis oraculum, sorte tracta, qua monebatur ut de consultationibus in Aponi fontem talos aureos iaceret, evenit ut summum numerum iacti ab eo ostenderent; hodieque sub aqua visuntur hi tali.

Traduzione di


The historian Suetonius describes a famous episode starring the future emperor Tiberius. During a military expedition conducted against the people of Illyria (current Dalmatia) in the years around 6 A.D., Tiberius had the opportunity to pass near Padua, where he consulted the oracle of Geryon to get a response on the outcome of the military enterprise he was about to carry out. In mythology Geryon is a three-headed monster that inhabits the infernal lands and communicates with mortals through caverns and fissures in the ground; the volcanic nature of the euganean area, rich in rocky gorges and pools of steaming water, certainly contributes to explain the presence of a cult due to this character, since this was certainly an appropriate environment for him.
At the beginning of the I century A.D. the oracular seat should have had a widespread importance, if a member of the imperial family decided to ask for a response. In the account of Suetonius, however, the oracle did not answer directly about Tiberius’ enterprise, but advised him to throw a golden dice into the source of Aponus. After throwing the dice in the source Tiberius got the highest score, which was a good omen both for his military expedition and for his future as an emperor.