Walking in the Footsteps of Gods: Sicily and Ancient Mythology
01 March 2021
The island of Sicily has enchanted visitors for millennia. For the ancient Greeks, who colonised the island around 800 BCE, it was as mysterious as it was captivating. Stories began to circulate, soon reaching the vaulted heights of mythology. As a result, some of ancient Greece’s most memorable legends have their origins in Sicily. Stay at Villa Igiea to discover the lyrical landscapes which inspired these far-famed fables.
The most famous of Sicily’s early visitors was Odysseus, the ill-fated Trojan hero cursed to 10 years’ wayward wandering around the Mediterranean. Three of Odysseus’ fateful encounters took place in Sicily and its surrounding islands. Most famous is that with the cyclops Polyphemus, who imprisoned Odysseus and his crew in a giant cave near Mount Etna. Eventually, the Greek hero outsmarted the monster and escaped. Yet, as the survivors fled, the hulking Polyphemus followed, blindly hurling boulders at the fast disappearing ship.
All missed—and to this day, their gigantic forms can still be seen dotting the Aci Trezza coastline: the famous Cyclops Island.
According to the ancient Greeks, Sicily witnessed Hades’ abduction of Persephone, the kidnap of Demeter’s daughter, taking place near Enna. Immortalised in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, this tale ends with Persephone spending part of the year above ground with her mother, part beneath it in Tartarus. With her departure comes the gloom of winter, with her return, the renaissance of spring.
Inspired by this story, the mysterious Orphic religion arose in Sicily. Its ideology focused on mythical characters who returned from the Underworld (most famously Orpheus) and inferred from their voyages the possibility of reincarnation.
Archaeological digs from Enna have revealed the presence of a large Orphic settlement, reinforcing the town’s position as a birthplace for the myth.
Mount Etna was the final staging ground for the climatic decade-long battle between gods and Titans. As the Titans rose in rebellion against the Olympians, the king of the gods battled to defend his cosmic rule, clashing against the serpentine Typhon in single combat. With the aid of his thunderbolts, Zeus was able to defeat the Titan, whom he hurled from the sky down to Sicily. To bury the furious monster, Zeus covered him with a massive mound of rock.
This great mound became Mt. Etna, through which the fiery choler of the scorned Titan still erupts. Even today, it remains Europe’s largest active volcano.
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