The Fountain of Youth

Humankind’s search for the Fountain of Youth [1] (a miraculous spring whose waters restored youth) has been an obsession for millennia its location always just beyond the boundaries of the known world:

The Polynesians believed the fountain to be located on Hawaii.

Herodotus, a Greek historian, attributed the longevity of the Ethiopians to a miraculous fountain hidden deep within their kingdom. 

In the Alexander romance, a collection of stories about the mythical exploits of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian, along with his servant Andreas, entered the land of darkness (the land immediately east of the Black Sea) searching for the “Water of Life.” Alexander became lost while his servant after finding and drinking the "water," became immortal.

It is Florida, however, and the seeming fixation of the Spanish explorers, that most people are familiar with:

The Arawaks and other Caribbean natives told stories to their Spanish conquerors of a mythical land called Beimeni, a land of plenty, and of an island called Boinca upon which was allegedly a marvellous spring possessing the ability to restore youth and vigour to those that drank its waters. The exact location of this miraculous island and its miraculous spring was uncertain, some natives believing it to be situated in the Gulf of Honduras while others believed it to be located in or near the Bahamas. (According to legend Sequene a Cuban Arawak chief along with a number of his followers sailed north never to return, the more optimistic of those left behind believing he had found paradise and was living in luxury.)

That Ponce de Leon had heard of the "Fountain" is a certainty, whether he believed in it enough to make it the focus of his expeditions to Florida [2] would be conjecture. He certainly never mentioned the fountain in his writings, that connection was made by Spanish historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes after the adventurer’s death [3] (allegedly de Leon was impotent and needed the water to cure himself) an account echoed by another historian Francisco Lopez de Gomara.

It was Indian captive Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda who in his memoirs placed the curative waters in Florida with a reference to de Leon, but it is Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas who made the reference definite in his history of the Spanish in the New World in which he romanticizes the memoirs (some less kind might say, embellishes). He states that the local chiefs visited the "Fountain" on a regular basis, the water’s restorative properties being such that an old man could resume "all manly exercises . . . take a new wife and begat more children." He further added that the Spanish had unsuccessfully searched every "river, brook, lagoon and pool along the Florida coast looking for the legendary fountain." [4]

[1] The phrase "Fountain of Youth" has become a catch-all for a vast array of items claiming to halt or reverse the aging process, but in reality, so far at least, halting or reversing the ageing process lies beyond the capabilities of 21st century technology. What the future holds is something else again, research especially in the sciences of genetics offers great promise and may result in the eventual, hopefully positive, manipulation of the building blocks of life itself.

[2] After setting out from Puerto Rico March 4, 1513, on his first northern expedition, Ponce de Leon made landfall
April 2, near what is today St Augustine on Florida’s northeast shore, stayed 5 or 6 days and then headed south exploring the coast before returning to Puerto Rico almost eight months later.

[3] On February 20, 1521, de Leon, newly knighted by King Ferdinand and armed with a contract confirming his right to settle and govern the “islands” of Florida and Bimini once again headed north from Puerto Rico. Landing on Florida’s west coast he attempted to establish a colony near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, possibly on Sanibel Island. Unfortunately, for the Spanish, the resident indians were having none of it, their attacks quickly forcing the colonists to withdraw de Leon mortally wounded by a poison arrow in the process.

[4] Ironically "Warm Mineral Springs" an artesian well whose warm, soothing, mineral infused waters and remarkable restorative powers had been enjoyed by the local natives for thousands of years (and thought by some to be the source of the "Fountain" myth) lay only a few miles to the north of the 
Caloosahatchee River and de Leons new settlement

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