The Count Roger and the Fata Morgana

By Fara Misuraca

Translation by Nino Russo

     From The Calabrian coast, looking over the Messina Strait, rarely, to tell the truth, a certain phenomenon can be seen, an optical-metereological phenomenon, by which the Sicilian coast seems not only closer but even reflected in the center of the strait. The phenomenon takes place from the irregular distribution of the refractive index in some of the atmospheric layers, and it occurs rarely due to a combination of atmospheric and ecological factors. When this phenomenon is present one can see in the waters of the strait, even the houses, the people and the trees. The phenomenon can be seen only from the Calabrian coast, that which was defined by D’Annunzio “The most beautiful kilometer of Italy”; a magical place, which can give to the lucky passers by a real sight of enchantment, work only of a fairy. As a matter of fact it is called of the “Fata Morgana” or “ fairy of the waters”, tied to Morgana, fairy of Scin , a celtic figure, step-sister and lover of King Artu, who possessed the gifts of the games of air and water…

Many are the legends surrounding this rare and fascinating event, but the most known is tied up to Roger the Norman. It is told in the Messina country side, that Roger the Norman, on a September day of 1060, was taking a walk alone on a Calabrian beach and looking at the Peloritan coast was thinking of the best way to conquer Sicily, then occupied by the Arabs, that had made of it a rich and prosperous land and therefore desirable. Some time before a few Messina knights had had a chance to reach him at Mileto expressing the desire of the Sicilian people to have him as their deliverer and lord. This desire came not from the ill behavior of the Arabs toward the Sicilian, that truly had done much to improve the fortune of Sicily to make it independent and prosperous, but because lately their Kaids  were warring among themselves, causing massacres, raids and disagreements, and those who suffered most the consequences, poor or rich, were the Sicilians.

  Roger had been in Sicily once before, from 1038 to 1040, with Giorgio Maniace, a Byzantine general, who, Michael IV, Byzantine Emperor, had sent to the island with the charge of pushing the Arabs out and bring Sicily back under the Empire. That attempt even if it had been surrounded with some successes, ultimately had failed, even because the Normans, unhappy with the partitioning of the war bounty, had left the undertaking and went back to Southern Italy and Calabria. Now Roger, urged by the Messenians and from the Catania Kaid (who was fighting other Arab Kaids from Sicily), was thinking to the conquest of the Island, by chasing out the Moslems, who had been there for the last two hundred and fifty years, and making it again a Christian land. This enterprise presented itself with enormous obstacles and risks, even because he only had a very undersized army.

  The legend says that while he was meditating over the problem and breathing the fragrance of the orange blossoms coming from the orange groves, he thought he heard a war chant, mixed with slaves moans and sighs and then a happy chant. Roger stopped taken by curiosity and since nearby there was living an old and sage hermit, Roger went to him, and after having greeted him respectfully, he asked him if he had ever heard what he was hearing. The hermit stretched his arm and with his index finger pointed to the Sicilian coast:

– There the orange groves are in blossom…- he said,-There, there is music and weeping… There the Saracens are dancing while the Christians are lamenting! They say that you are powerful and Christian…why then don’t you fight and die for your faith?-

Roger did not know how to answer him and continued on his walk, thinking. Suddenly the sea in front of him started to agitate as if boiling and from the foam of the waves came out the head of a most beautiful woman. She was Morgana, the fairy, stepsister of King Artu. She has many royal palaces throughout the world, but here in the middle of the strait, she has the most beautiful and ancient palace where all the fairies and magician of the Mediterranean sea come. She came out of the sea little by little and Roger saw her climbing a white and blue chariot drawn by seven white horses with blue main and pointing South, when she saw Roger walking slowly over the beach. –What are you thinking of, Roger?– She yelled moving toward him,- If it is what I imagine, jump over my chariot and I’ll take you right to Sicily, together with a powerful army. Roger smiled greeted her and firmly answered her: -I thank you, Morgana, I cannot accept your help. But if our Lady whom I love and the Saints who protect me will give me their blessing, I will go to war on my horse and will take my army with my ships and I will win with my bravery, not with the enchantments of a fairy.

Then Morgana stirred her magic wand three times in the air and threw in the sea three white stones: –Look, Roger, at my power!… and in that moment came up in the water houses and palaces, roads and villas, and the entire Sicilian coast seemed so near to be reached just by only a jump. –Behold Sicily! Jump over it! Reach Messina and I’ll let you find there the strongest and most numerous army that you ever had in any battle…- Roger, even taken by the enchantment, still refused the offer.

Morgana, you are a great fairy, worthy of your heritage. But it will not be with enchantments that I will free Sicily from the pagans. She will be given to me by Christ our Lord and by His mother the Virgin Mary, whom I have chosen and adopted as my heavenly mother. But…thank you just the same for the thought. Morgana did not wait any longer, again she stirred her magic wand and the castles, the roads and the villas disappeared instantly. Her chariot moved quickly toward the Etna’s beaches, drawn by the seven white horses. Roger, as we know, landed at Messina in the spring of 1061 and after thirty years of war, often tragic and ferocious was able to take away from the Moslems Sicily, one of the richest and more progressed land known.

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