Sicily has an enormous treasury of myths and legends, which are the precious jewels of three thousand year-
The Myth of Sicily
There are many ancient legend about our island, legends that tell of the primitive men that lived here. One of these legends date from the Byzantine rule and is called the Legend of Sicily. This legend was born to give an explanation to the island’s name Sicily (its’ ancient name was Trinacria – land of the three capes). It tells the story of a beautiful Lebanese princess, whose name was Sicily. An oracle had predicted that before she became 15 years old she was to leave her country alone in a boat, and if she did not do so she would end up in the jaws of the monster “Greek-
Ulysses and Polyphemus
Ulysses, the principal protagonist of Homer’s Odyssey, disembarks at Sicily, where his hunger for knowledge and food, leads him and his companions to battle with Polyphemus. According to Greek and Roman mythology, Polyphemus was a Cyclops: a giant man with just one eye. The Cyclopes were blacksmiths, and helpers of Efesto or Vulcan, who most likely lived in widely dispersed caves in the vicinity of Etna Volcano. Ulysses and his men, weary from their journey at sea, came upon this territory and took refuge in one of the caves, where they feasted on all the food they could find, and rested... until the monster, and cannibal, Polyphemus, returns home. Upon discovering the trespassers, Polyphemus imprisons them in the cave, making no secret of his plan to eat them for dinner. Ulysses knew that the terrible monster would not be beaten by force, but by wit. Ulysses sent his men to collect the grapes of a most potent wine, probably Nerello Mascalese, which grows plentifully in those parts, and convinced Polyphemus to drink their juice, offering him “the nectar of the gods”, that is, wine. Polyphemus, unknowing of the consequence, drank as much of the delicious nectar as they could extract. He adored this newfound pleasure, and, between mouthfuls of bread and cheese, he gulped the wine until he was quite intoxicated, and fell asleep without securing his prisoners. This was the time to take action, Odysseus and four of his men brought out the pole, which they had sharpened, and with one great thrust plunged the point into Polyphemus' eye, pushing it deep, to ensure it made him totally blind. The agonizing pain made Polyphemus scream out, so loud in fact that it brought the neighbouring Cyclopes to see what was wrong. "Who is hurting you" asked the other Cyclopes, Polyphemus screamed "nobody is hurting me", (which is why Odysseus said was his name was "Outis"). Thinking his screams were a punishment from the gods, the other Cyclopes went away. At daybreak Polyphemus rolled the great boulder from the mouth of the cave to let out his flock, but being totally blind, and knowing the Greeks would try to escape, he felt each animal as he let it pass. Odysseus and his men held on to the belly of a ram, and, one at a time escaped from the cave. They quickly ran to their ship, taking with then part of the flock. Once aboard, Odysseus taunted Polyphemus by telling him his true identity, and Polyphemus, realizing he had been tricked hurled rocks at the ship, trying to smash its hull to pieces. When Odysseus had made his escape, Polyphemus prayed to his father asking him to send a curse, and throughout the rest of Odysseus' journey home Poseidon was his enemy.
The Myth of Arethusa
Probably the best known relic of old Syracuse is the famous Fountain of Arethusa, which Cicero described in prose, and Ovid and Virgil pictured in mellifluous verse, before the advent of the Christian era. From some mysterious, unknown source it rises copiously through an opening in the natural rock, and forms a deep, clear pool, enclosed now by a semicircular marble wall, adorned with graceful vases. Within it many fish are swimming, just as when the first of Roman orators beheld it; and now as then a "wall of stone" protects its sacred contents from the sea. The pretty legend of this fountain which, immortalized in painting and in poetry, has survived two thousand years, relates that Arethusa, a lovely Grecian nymph, while bathing in a sheltered forest stream, was seen by the Arcadian river-
The Myth of Aci and Galatea
The abundance of freshwater springs in the Etna area, was explained by the Greeks with the myth of Aci and Galatea, and legend has it seemed so beautiful that the filming itself Ovidio in his Metamorphoses. The legend tells that Galatea, the mermaid, which name means ‘‘milk-
The Myth of Scylla and Charybdis
Scylla and Charybdis is the names of two rocks between Italy and Sicily, and only in a short distance from one to another. The legend was born to explain the whirlpools and the get rough sea that killed the sailors in ancient times. The legend tells that once upon a time in Calabria lived an enchanting girl called Scilla and she was used to go to swim in the sea. One evening, near the beach, she saw Glauco, son of Poseidon, a god of the sea -
The Myth of Spring: the rape of Proserpina
The Rape of Proserpina is a myth among the most famous in Sicilia. According to the story of the famous poet Claudiano, playing near the Pergusa lake, Proserpina, daughter of Jupiter and Ceres, caught the eye of Pluto, god of the underworld who was struck by the arrow of Cupid. There was only one way for her to be his, he would steal her away. Pluto forced Proserpina to marry him, as her mother looked for across the Earth and Jupiter worried, sending Mercury-
Cyclops were a race of giant-
Gorgons & Medusa
Gorgons in Greek mythology were terrifying, dragon like creatures, covered with golden-
Centaur is a race of creature composed of part human and part horse. This half-
Chimera had three heads -
Sirens were beautiful half-
The legend of Colapesce
The myth tells of a certain Nicholas (Cola di Messina), son of a fisherman. He was nicknamed Colapesce for his ability to move water; returning from his many dives into the sea he paused to tell the wonderful views and, at times, to bring back treasures. His fame reached the king of Sicily and Emperor Frederick II, who decided to put to the test: the king and his court therefore went off on a boat in the water and threw a cup that was immediately recovered by Colapesce. The king then threw his crown in a deeper and Colapesce again succeeded in the enterprise. The third time the king put to the test Cola throwing a ring into a deeper place and at that time did not emerge as Colaspesce. According to legend, Colapesce saw that Sicily was kept by 3 columns. As one of the columns was broken, he decided to stay there and hold up the column to prevent the sinking island.
The Legend of wizard Eliodoro
One of the most fascinating legends of Catania is the one related to the name of the elephant statue which is the symbol of the city. The name of the statue is connected to the legend of the wizard Eliodoro, placed in the eighteenth century in Catania. Eliodoro came from a very religious Sicilian noble family that encouraged him to catholic religion. When he was young, he studied so hard that he wanted to become bishop of the Church of Catania. Unfortunately he was not elected because the citizens preferred Leone II over him. Thus Eliodoro wanted to take revenge and started to practice black magic. He created a magic elephant using lava from mount Etna and he started to make the citizens’ lives very difficult, changing some of them into animals. Everybody hated him because of his black magic. One day Eliodoro entered the Church while the Bishop was celebrating mass and he started to tell him bad things about catholic religion. The Bishop got angry at Eliodoro and decided to challenge him on magic: who goes through the ﬁre and does not burn himself will become the new Shepherd of the city. The Bishop went ﬁrst and he came out of the ﬁre unhurt . Then it was Eliodoro’s turn. He tried to use magic but he was suddenly stopped by the Bishop who threw a stole to him. Thus Eliodoro burnt in the ﬁre and Catania was ﬁnally free from the wizard. Today the magic elephant is situated in Duomo square after it was banished for several centuries.
The Legend of Gamazzita
In the heart of the old town centre of Catania, we can ﬁnd the remains of an old well, called the “Well of Gammazita” because a young lady, named Gammazita, threw her self into it. Around 1280 Catania was under the rule of France. The people of the town suffered many wrongs by French oppressors. In those days Gammazita, a beautiful young lady, was living in Catania. Usually she went to the well to get water. Doretto, a French soldier, fell in love with her and decided to court her even if she was engaged to a man from the town. Gammazit a rejected Doretto many times but he was very persistent. One day he followed her secretly while she was going to the well. He started to molest Gammazita and she tried to get away screaming for help. Nobody could hear Gammazita, so she gave up all hope. So she decided to throw herself into the well for preserve her virtues. According to the legend, still today the water of the well turns red occasionally toremember what happened a long time ago. Probably people tried to explain bloodstain in the water do to it being full of minerals and rusty materials. In her honour today Gammazita’s sculpture is situated in University Square.
In myths we come across many names of gods, goddesses and strange creatures. Many myths, legends and stories are related to them. Different gods represent different aspects of life on the Earth under their control. Some of the gods and mythical creatures are given below:
Zeus (Roman name Jupiter) was the god of the earth and the sky. His symbols were the thunderbolt, the eagle, the bull and the oak. Although he was married to
Hera, his elder sister, he would frequently cheat on her with many mortal women. other goddesses and nymphs. He is depicted in statues and paintings as a middle-
Hera (Roman name Juno) was the queen of the Gods. Pictured as a middle-
Poseidon (Roman name Neptune), the god of the sea and the earthquakes, was much adored in ancient Greece. As many cities had a strong naval power, Poseidon was the protector of these cities. He usually mated with nymphs of the water and had many children. His symbols were the trident, the dolphin, the fish and the horse. He was seen as an old man riding his horse-
Hades (Roman name Pluto), another brother of Zeus, was the ruler of the Underworld, the world of the dead. The ancient people depicted him as an old man with white hair and beard. His kingdom was found under the earth. Using a trick, this old man married a beautiful young girl, Persephone, daughter of goddess Demeter.
Hestia (Roman name Vesta) was the goddess of the hearth and the household. She was the noblest and most lovable goddesses for the ancient Greeks and she symbolized harmony in the family and the city. Every household and public building in ancient Greece had an altar dedicated to Hestia in the centre of a room that burnt all day and night. Hestia was never married or had children. Not being able to bear the continuous quarrels between the gods, Hestia left Olympus and went to live somewhere quieter, giving her place to Dionysus
Aphrodite (Roman name Venus) was the goddess of beauty. She was forever beautiful and young. Shallow in nature, Aphrodite has a lot of affairs with mortals. Her son was Cupid, the familiar young boy with wings who played with his arrows and made people fall in love. Aphrodite was no directly connected to Zeus. She was probably a generation older than the other Olympian Gods. The myth says that she was born out of the foam of the sea either near Paphos Cyrpus or near Kythira island.
Demeter (Roman name Ceres) was the goddess of grain and fertility. She maintained the circle of life on the earth (the circle of young and old, life and death), alternating the seasons and reviving nature in spring. She is depicted in statues holding a tuft of grain. A very important festival, the Elefsenian Mysteries, was held every year dedicated to Demeter and her daughter Persephone.
Apollo (Roman name Apollo) was another famous god, not a brother, but a son of Zeus. Apollo and Artemis were twins that Zeus obtained from Leto, a mortal woman. Apollo was born in Delos, which later became his sacred island. He was the god of music and light, poetry and the arts, medicine, truth and prophecy. Note that the Oracles in ancient Greece were dedicated to god Apollo and people believed that god was actually speaking to them through the priests. He was pictured as a young, handsome and sensitive man.
Artemis (Roman name Diana), his twin sister, was a fierce female. She enjoyed sports and particularly hunting. Her symbols were the bow and arrows. She used to hide in the forests with her companions. Wild in nature, Artemis had asked her father never to confine her with marriage and she kept her virginity for all her life. Her female companions also ought to be virgins.
Ares (Roman name Mars), the god of warfare and violence, was son of Zeus and Hera. He was not a likable god in ancient Greece, which is why there are no many temples of Ares. However, people were afraid of his anger and included him in their offerings.
Hermes (Roman name Mercury), the son of Zeus, was the most foxy of all the Olympian Gods. He was the messenger of the Gods, which is why he knew all their secrets. He was also the guide to the Underworld and the protector of thieves, shepherds, orators, road travellers and merchants. He wore winged sandals to fly and give messages quickly.
Athena (Roman name Minerva) was also a goddess of war, but more of strategic war, not violence like Ares. She was also the goddess of wisdom and justice. The daughter of Zeus and a mortal woman, Athena was born out of the head of Zeus when her pregnant mother was killed out of Hera's jealousy. Noble in nature, Athena didn't match with men and would mostly deal with warfare.