ARETHUSA, in Greek mythology, a nymph who gave her name to a spring in Elis and to another in the island of Ortygia near Syracuse. According to Pausanias (v. 7. 2), Alpheus, a mighty hunter, was enamoured of Arethusa, one of the retinue of Artemis; Arethusa fled to Ortygia, where she was changed into a spring; Alpheus, in the form of a river, made his way beneath the sea, and united his waters with those of the spring. In Ovid (Metam. v. 572 foll.), Arethusa, while bathing in the Alpheus, was seen and pursued by the river god in human form; Artemis changed her into a spring, which, flowing underground, emerged at Ortygia. In the earlier form of the legend, it is Artemis, not Arethusa, who is the object of the god's affections, and escapes by smearing her face with mire, so that he fails to recognize her (see L.R. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, ii. p. 428). The probable origin of the story is the part traditionally taken in the foundation of Syracuse by the Iamidae of Olympia, who identified the spring Arethusa with their own river Alpheus, and the nymph with Artemis Alpheiaia, who was worshipped at Ortygia. The subterranean passage of the Alpheus in the upper part of its course (confirmed by modern explorers), and the freshness of the water of Arethusa in spite of its proximity to the sea, led to the belief that it was the outlet of the river. Further, according to Strabo (vi. p. 270), during the sacrifice of oxen at Olympia the waters of Arethusa were disturbed, and a cup thrown into the Alpheus would reappear in Ortygia. In Virgil (Ecl. x. 1) Arethusa is addressed as a divinity of poetical inspiration, like one of the Muses, who were themselves originally nymphs of springs.
For Arethusa on Syracusan coins, see B.V. Head, Historia Numorum, pp. 151, 155.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)