Fountain of Youth

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The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring that reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. Tales of such a fountain have been recounted across the world for thousands of years, appearing in writings by Herodotus, the Alexander romance, and the stories of Prester John. Stories of a similar waters were also evidently prominent among the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean during the Age of Exploration, who spoke of the restorative powers of the water in the mythical land of Bimini.

The legend became particularly prominent in the 16th century, when it became attached to the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, first Governor of Puerto Rico. According to an apocryphal story that features a combination of New World and Eurasian elements, Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to what is now Florida in 1513. Since then, the fountain has been frequently associated with Florida.

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Early accounts

Herodotus mentions a fountain containing a very special kind of water located in the land of the Ethiopians, which gives the Ethiopians their exceptional longevity.[1] A story of the "Water of Life" appears in the Eastern versions of the Alexander romance, which describes Alexander the Great and his servant crossing the Land of Darkness to find the restorative spring. The servant in that story is in turn derived from Middle Eastern legends of Al-Khidr, a sage who appears also in the Qur'an. Arabic and Aljamiado versions of the Alexander Romance were very popular in Spain during and after the period of Moorish rule, and would have been known to the explorers who journeyed to America. These earlier accounts clearly inspired the popular medieval fantasy The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which also mentions the fountain. Due to the influence of these tales, the Fountain of Youth legend remained popular through the European Age of Exploration.[2]

There are countless indirect sources for the tale as well. Eternal youth is a gift frequently sought in myth and legend, and stories of things such as the philosopher's stone, universal panaceas, and the elixir of life are common throughout Eurasia and elsewhere. An additional hint may have been taken from the account of the Pool of Bethesda in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus heals a man at the pool in Jerusalem.

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