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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
A promontory at the S tip of the center peninsula. The isthmus connecting
with the mainland is flanked by two harbors, Psamathos (Amathous) on the E and
Achilleus on the W. Pausanias saw there a temple resembling a cave with an image
of Poseidon, and Plutarch mentions an oracle of the dead. The remains of the sanctuary,
which served as a refuge for criminals, are near the Church of the Asomaton, which
employed some of the blocks. The temple was partly cut from the rock and partly
built with rough stones. A door on the N side opened into a passage that bisected
the building, leaving large rooms on the E and W. Herakles was supposed to have
dragged Kerberos from Hades through a cave nearby. On the W side of the peninsula
at Kyparissos there was a settlement in the Roman Imperial period, nicknamed Caenopolis
(New Town) but in official inscriptions called “the town of the Tainarians.” There
are ancient remains in the vicinity which may indicate the sites of the Temple
of Aphrodite and Megaron of Demeter mentioned by Pausanias.
M. H. Mc Allister, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites,
Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
Now Cape Matapan; a promontory in Laconia, forming the southerly
point of the Peloponnesus, on which stood a celebrated temple of Poseidon, possessing
an inviolable asylum. A little to the north of the temple and the harbour of Achilleus
was a town also called Taenarum or Taenarus, and at a later time Caenepolis. On
the promontory was a cave, through which Heracles is said to have dragged Cerberus
to the upper world. Here also was a statue of Arion seated on a dolphin, since
he is said to have landed at this spot after his miraculous preservation by a
dolphin. In the time of the Romans there were celebrated marble quarries on the
This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Oracle of the dead (Psychomanteio)
At oracles of the dead (psuchomanteia) the souls of deceased persons were evoked in order to give the information desired. Thus, in Homer ( Od.xi), Odysseus betakes himself to the entrance of the lower world to question the spirit of the seer Tiresias. Oracles of this kind were especially common in places where it was supposed there was an entrance to the lower world; as at the city of Cichyrus in Epirus (where there was an Acherusian lake as well as the rivers of Acheron and Cocytus, bearing the same names as those of the world below), at the promontory of Taenarum in Laconia, at Heraclea in Pontus, and at Lake Avernus, near Cumae, in Italy. At most of them oracles were also given in dreams; but there were some in which the inquirer was in a waking condition when he conjured up the spirits whom he wished to question.
This extract is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Apr 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
- Tainaron, Taenarum: Perseus Lookup Tool, text search
- Tainaron, Taenarum: Perseus Lookup Tool
A promontory and town in Laconia; on the promontory (now Cape Matapan) was a temple of Neptune, and near it a cavern, the fabled entrance to the infernal regions; it was also famous for its black marble
- Perseus: Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary(1879)
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Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
Taenarum (Tainaron, Herod. Strab. et alii; he Tainaria akra, Ptol.
iii. 16. § 9), a promontory at the extremity of Laconia, and the most southerly
point of Europe, now called C. Matapan. The name of Taenarum, however, was not
confined to the extreme point bearing the name of Matapan. It has been shown by
Leake that it was the name given to the peninsula of circular form about seven
miles in circumference, which is connected with the end of the great Taygetic
promontory by an isthmus about half a mile wide in a direct distance. Hence Taenarum
is correctly described by Strabo as an akte ekkeimene (viii. p. 363). Leake conjectures
with great probability that Matapan is merely another form of Metopon, which may
bave been the name given by the ancients to the southern extremity of the peninsula.
(Morea, vol. i. p. 301.) On either side of the isthmus, which connects the promontory
of Taenarum with that of Taygetus, is a bay, of which the one on the east is called
Porto Quaglio, corrupted into Kaio, and the one on the west Marinari or Marmari.
The name of Quaglio was given to the eastern bay by the Venetians, because it
was the last place in Europe at which the quails rested in the autumn before crossing
over to Crete and Cyrene. Porto Quaglio is one of the best harbours in Laconia,
being sheltered from the S. and SE.; it is nearly circular, with a narrow entrance,
a fine sandy bottom, and depth of water for large ships. Porto Marmari is described
as only a dangerous creek. In the Taenarian peninsula there are also two ports
on its eastern side, of which the northern, called Vathy, is a long narrow inlet
of the sea, while the southern, called Asomato or Kisternes, is very small and
ill sheltered. A quarter of a mile southward of the inner extremity of the last-mentioned
port, a low point of rock projects into the sea from the foot of the mountain,
which, according to the inhabitants of the peninsula, is the real C. Matapan.
The western side of the peninsula is rocky and harbourless.
The whole of the Taenarian peninsula was sacred to Poseidon, who appears
to have succeeded to the place of Helios, the more ancient god of the locality.
(Hom Hymn. in Apoll. 411.) At the extremity of this peninsula was the temple of
Poseidon, with an asylum, which enjoyed great celebrity down to a late period.
It seems to have been an ancient Achaean sanctuary before the Dorian conquest,
and to have continued to be the chief sacred place of the Perioeci and Helots.
The great earthquake, which reduced Sparta to a heap of ruins in B.C. 464, was
supposed to have been owing to the Lacedaemonians having torn away some suppliant
Helots from this sanctuary. (Thuc. i. 128, 133; Paus. iii. 25. § 4; Strab. viii.
p. 363; Eurip. Cycl. 292.) Near the sanctuary was a cavern, through which Hercules
is said to have dragged Cerberus to the upper regions. (Paus. Strab. ll. cc.;
Pind. Pyth. iv. 77; Taenariae fauces, Virg. Georg. iv. 467; Taenarus aperta umbris,
Lucan ix.36.) There is a slight difference between Strabo and Pausanias in the
position of the cave; the former placing it near the temple, which agrees with
present appearances (see below); the latter describing the cave itself as the
temple, before which stood a statue of Poseidon. Among the many dedicatory offerings
to Poseidon the most celebrated was the brazen statue of Arion seated on a dolphin,
which was still extant in the time of Pausanias. (Herod. i. 23, 24.) The temple
was plundered for the first time by the Aetolians. (Polyb. ix. 34.)
Taenarum is said to have taken its name from Taenarus, a son either
of Zeus or Icarius or Elatus. (Paus. iii. 14. § 2; Steph. B. s. v.; Schol. ad
Apoll. Rhod. i. 102.) Bochart derives the word from the Phoenician tinar rupes
(Geograph. Sacra, p. 459); and it is not improbable that the Phoenicians may have
had a settlement on the promontory at an early period.
Pausanias (iii. 25. § 4) mentions two harbours in connection with
the Taenarian promontory, called respectively Psamathus (Psamathous), and the
Harbour of Achilles (ho limen Achilleios). Scylax also mentions these two harbours,
and describes them as situated back to back (antipulos). Strabo (viii. p. 373)
speaks of the former of these two harbours under the name of Amathus (Amathous),
but omits to mention the Harbour of Achilles. It would appear that these two harbours
are the Porto Quaglio and the port of Vathy mentioned above, as these are the
two most important in the peninsula. Leake identifies Psamathus with Quaglio,
and the Harbour of Achilles with Vathy, but the French Commission reverse these
positions. We have, however, no doubt that Leake is correct; for the ancient remains
above the Porto Quaglio, the monastery on the heights, and the cultivated slopes
and levels, show that the Taenarian population has in all ages been chiefly collected
here. Moreover, no ancient writers speak of a town in connection with the Harbour
of Achilles, while Strabo and others describe Amathus or Psamathus as a polis.
(Steph. B. s. v. Psamathous; cf. Aeschin. Ep. 1; Plin. iv. 5. s. 8.) If we were
to take the description of Scylax literally, Psamathus would be Porto Quaglio,
and the Harbour of Achilles Porto Marmari; and accordingly, they are so identified
by Curtius; but it is impossible to believe that the dangerous creek of Marmari
is one of the two harbours so specifically mentioned both by Scylax and Pausanias.
The remains of the celebrated temple of Poseidon still exist at Asomato,
or Kisternes, close to C. Matapan on the eastern side. They now form part of a
ruined church; and the ancient Hellenic wall may be traced on one side of the
church. Leake observes that the church, instead of facing to the east, as Greek
churches usually do, faces southeastward, towards the head of the port, which
is likely to have been the aspect of the temple. No remains of columns have been
found. A few paces north-east of the church is a large grotto in the rock, which
appears to be the cave through which Hercules was supposed to have dragged Cerberus;
but there is no appearance of any subterranean descent, as had been already remarked
by Pausanias. In the neighbourhood there are several ancient cisterns and other
remains of antiquity.
There were celebrated marble quarries in the Taenarian peninsula.
(Strab. viii. p. 367.) Pliny describes the Taenarian marble as black (xxxvi. 18.
s. 29, 22. s. 43); but Sextus Empiricus (Pyrrh. Hypot. i. 130) speaks of a species
that was white when broken to pieces, though it appeared yellow in the mass. Leake
inquired in vain for these quarries.
At the distance of 40 stadia, or 5 English miles, north of the isthmus
of the Taenarian peninsula, was the town Taenabum or Taenaus, subsequently called
Caenepolis (Kainepolis, Paus. iii. 25. § 9; Kaine, Ptol. iii. 16. § 9; Plin. iv.
15. s. 16; Steph. B. s. v. Tainaros; the same town is probably mentioned by Strab.
viii. p. 360, under the corrupt form Kinaidion.) It contained a temple of Demeter
and another of Aphrodite, the latter near the sea. The modern village of Kyparisso
stands on the site of this town. Some ancient remains and inscriptions of the
time of the Antonines and their successors have been found here. On the door-posts
of a small ruined church are two inscribed quadrangular stelai, decorated with
mouldings above and below. One of the inscriptions is a decree of the Taenarii,
and the other is by the community of the Eleuthero-Lacones (to koinon ton Eleutherolakonon).
We have the testimony of Pausanias (iii. 21. § 7) that Caenepolis was one of the
Eleuthero-Laconian cities; and it would appear from the above-mentioned inscription
that the maritime Laconians, when they were delivered from the Spartan yoke, formed
a confederation and founded as their capital a city in the neighbourhood of the
revered sanctuary of Poseidon. The place was called the New Town (Caenepolis);
but, as we learn from the inscriptions, it continued to be also called by its
ancient name. For the inscriptions relating to Taenarum, see Bockh, Inscr. no.
1315-1317, 1321, 1322, 1389, 1393, 1483. (On the topography of the Taenarian peninsula,
see Leake, Morea, vol. i. p 290, seq., Peloponnesiaca, p. 175, seq.; Boblaye,
Recherches, &c., p. 89, seq.; Curtius, Peloponnesos, vol. ii. p. 277, seq.)
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited July 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)