The Myths of Ancient Syracuse

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One of the more famous stories of myth from ancient Syracuse is that of Arethusa, a huntress and disciple of Artemis. Arethusa's refusal to return the love of Alpheus resulted in the latter's pleading for intervention from the goddess Artemis, who turned the poor nymph into a fountain on the shore of Ortigia. Alpheus, the river god, then mingled his waters with that of Arethusa, so that they could be together forever.

Damon and Pythias

Syracuse also features in the legendary story of Damon and Pythias. It was the king of Syracuse that Pythias offended, resulting in a death sentence for poor Pythias, who pleaded for a chance to go home and tell his family of his offense before he was put to death. Pythias promised to return in a month; the king didn't believe him, and Damon offered himself in exchange: If Pythias didn't return, then Damon would face execution instead. Pythias saw his family for what he thought was the last time and then was waylayed by pirates on his way back to Syracuse. He escaped by jumping overboard and swimming to shore, then running the rest of the way, barefoot because he had lost his shoes during the swim. He made it back just in time to save Damon from death; the king was so impressed that he freed both Damon and Pythias and kept them both as court advisers.

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David White