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.
In Puerto Rico, Ponce was said to have heard from the local tribes about a remarkable place called Bimini where a natural spring bestowed youth and prosperity on those who drank from it. His search for these miraculous waters was said to have been one of the reasons he sailed north from Puerto Rico on March 4, 1513 on a voyage of exploration. He had in his pocket a grant from the King of Spain giving him the right to rule whatever lands he should find.
The great Spanish chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés (1478-1557) says that he himself had witnessed first-hand how old men could turn young, which he claimed occurred without the assistance of any fountain. Rather, the transformation was caused simply by a weakening of the brain, which made grown men behave like young boys of little reason or understanding. This, Oviedo claimed, was precisely what had happened to Ponce de León. Only Ponce's own vanity, Oviedo concluded, could explain how he could have believed such a foolish tale and embark on a quest that proved so costly in material and human resources.
The city of St. Augustine, Florida is home to the Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park, a tribute to the spot where Ponce de León is traditionally said to have landed. The tourist attraction was created by Luella Day McConnell in 1904. "Diamond Lil", as she was known, fabricated stories to amuse and appall the city’s residents and tourists until her death in 1927. Though the fountain situated there is not "the" Fountain, this does not stop tourists from drinking its water. The park exhibits native and colonial artifacts to celebrate St. Augustine's Timucuan and Spanish heritage.
There are countless indirect sources for the tale of the Fountain of Youth 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.
Every proponent of prolongevitism has had to contend with the fact that within most systems of philosophy, science, and religion, there have been tendencies to accept old age and death as inevitable occurrences on this earth, and to try to provide satisfying explanations for the existence of such harsh realities
The quest for immortality has been around for centuries. According to Greek mythology, the goddess Eos asked Zeus to confer immortality on her Trojan lover Tithonus so she could enjoy his favors eternally. In one of the early "be careful what you wish for" tales, Eos forgot to specify eternal youth and Tithonus eventually passed into never-ending decrepitude. Eos shut him in a room where he babbled to himself for the rest of time.
It is not only the spring of running water that restores youth to the aged, but a river, never mentioned in the first accounts of Ponce's voyages, whereas the fountain itself appears as a holy one, worshiped by the natives. Nevertheless, the old spring and the new river are interconnected as a symbol of Bimini and Florida, and as a decisive cause of their discovery of these places. Many Indians of Cuba firmly believed that there was such a river.
In relating Ponce's first attempt to conquer Florida in 1513, Peter Martyr affirms that among the Lucayos or Bahamas "there is an island...named Boiuca or Agnaneo, in which there is a perennial spring of running water of such marvelous virtue, that the water thereof being drunk, perhaps with some diet, makes old men young again."
Efforts to combat aging and extend human life date at least as far back as 3500 B.C., and self-proclaimed experts have touted antiaging elixirs ever since. Indeed, the prospect of immortality has always had universal appeal, spurring Alexander the Great and Ponce de León to search for the legendary Fountain of Youth and feeding alchemists' desire to manufacture gold (once believed to be the most potent anti-aging substance in existence).
1513 - Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico, discovers what is now Florida while supposedly searching for the Fountain of Youth. Legend has it that the 55-year-old Spanish explorer, who was married to a much younger woman, was looking for a semitropical Viagra. Though no documentary evidence exists, the story of the failed quest was widely promoted by subsequent biographers and historians.