Arethusa bathed in a beautiful, crystal-clear river. She thought she was unobserved but Alpheios, spirit of the river, saw her and fell madly in love. He emerged from the waters to embrace her, but she rejected him and fled, appealing to Artemis for help.
Artemis rescued her, bringing her to Ortygia, Sicily, where Arethusa was transformed into a stream. The story doesn’t end there: Alpheios was genuinely enamored. He searched high and low for Arethusa, and when he finally discovered her, he sent his waters to merge with hers. According to legend, Greece’s Alpheios River emerges in the springs of Arethusa in Sicily.
THE ARETHUSA IS A FRESHWATER SPRING SURROUNDED BY SALTWATER HARBORS. THE FISH IN HER SPRING WERE SACRED, AND IT WAS FORBIDDEN TO EAT OR OTHERWISE MOLEST THEM.
Arethusa didn’t spend her time in Sicily hiding. She became an important guardian goddess of people and land, matron spirit of the city of Syracuse. (Her myth also legitimizes the presence of Greek colonists in Sicily.) She reproached Demeter for inflicting famine on Sicily while mourning Persephone’s loss. Arethusa had a view into Hades from the bottom of her spring and told Demeter that she could see Persephone, who looked unhappy.
Arethusa may be petitioned for healing, protection, and prosperity.
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Nymph or Nereid
Arethusa manifests as a beautiful woman and as the spring of Arethusa.
Arethusa appears on many coins from Syracuse, usually in the company of dolphins.
Dolphin (once common in the harbor near Syracuse)
THE STORY OF ARETHUSA IS TOLD IN THE FIFTH BOOK OF OVID’S METAMORPHOSIS AND IN THE POEM “ARETHUSA” BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY. SHELLEY’S VERSION HAS A HAPPY ENDING: ARETHUSA AND ALPHEIOS ARE RECONCILED, LIVING HAPPILY TOGETHER HAVING “GROWN SINGLE-HEARTED.”
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.