Ponce De Leon and The Fountain of Youth
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Source: (en.wikipedia.org)
People who graduated high school before the turn of the century will most likely remember learning about Ponce de Leon and how he discovered Florida during his quest for the fountain of youth. Tourists visiting St. Augustine, Florida, can even drink from a natural spring alleged to have been discovered by Ponce de Leon shortly after his arrival. However, drinking it is not recommended as it smells of sulfur and has yet to successfully reverse the aging process. And, it turns out that Ponce de Leon was most likely not searching for the fountain at all.
That is not to say that the fountain of youth was not sought after. The act of “getting old” has been criticized by writers for centuries, by the likes of Twain, Shakespeare, and Homer. Oscar Wilde even imagined a way to avoid the process by having a portrait do the aging instead in his 1890 novel, A Picture of Dorian Gray. Of course, none of these writers actually embarked on quests to find a magical fountain to restore their youth. However, that didn’t stop anyone from speculating about its existence.
Legends of the fountain of youth date back as far as the 4th century B.C. According to the legends, Alexander the Great supposedly discovered a healing “river of paradise.” Similar stories exist in the Canary Islands, Japan, and England. During the 12th century, the mythical king Prester John was believed to have a kingdom which contained a river of gold and a fountain of youth. However, it was the Spanish stories of rejuvenating waters somewhere north of Cuba that led to the link between Ponce de Leon and the fountain of youth.
Ponce de Leon made his first trip to the New World in 1493, accompanying Christopher Columbus on his second voyage. He was granted a provincial governorship of Hispaniola in 1504 and Puerto Rico in 1509. In 1512, he received the contract from King Ferdinand which would lead to his 1513 discovery of Florida. However, the contract made no mention of the fountain of youth. Instead, it spoke of conquering the natives and seeking gold. There are no written records of his expedition to confirm whether or not he sought anything resembling a fountain of youth.
There are a few theories as to how Ponce de Leon’s voyage became connected with the fountain of youth. Some suggest it was his wife, who was significantly younger than he was, who asked him to seek it out. Others feel the story was concocted to ridicule Ponce de Leon by suggesting that he needed the fountain of youth to satisfy the sexual needs of his much younger wife. In 1535, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés claimed Ponce de Leon sought the fountain in order to cure his impotence. Regardless of his intent, he set sail in March 1513 and made landfall in Florida the next month, returning home via the newly discovered Gulf Stream.
Ponce de Leon returned to Florida eight years later with the intention of creating a colony. In his letters to King Charles V and Pope Adrian VI, he expressed a desire to spread Christianity. There was still no mention of the fountain of youth. Whatever his true plans were, they were not achieved as he was killed before his colony could be established.
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