by Diana Belchase | Mar 07, 2014
Here in the U.S., the movie, Pompeii, released this past weekend. It was a dazzling film, filled with inaccuracies, but still a lot of fun. I’ve walked the streets of the real Pompeii and am always amazed by the tourists who say they could never live so close to a real volcano. The people in the theater were much the same, shaking their heads about how anyone could live there. Little do they know that Italy is rife with volcanoes. In fact, in Sicily, Mt. Etna is the highest and most active volcano in Europe, and to me, she’s a member of the family.
When in Sicily I wake each day to her beauty. She pokes her head above the clouds, wearing each like pearls in a necklace or a frothy scarf. At sunset she often fumes in silence, clothed in scarlet skies, as irritable and magnificent as a woman made to wait for her date. In darkness, the mountainside is dotted with diamonds – the tiny lights of towns edging close to the summit. When angry, lava snakes down her sides in red glowing rivers visible from hundreds of miles away.
Etna is constantly changing, changeable, beautiful, benevolent and violent. For most Sicilian women, she’s a role model of how to be completely female.
Etna represents life as well as death. Without her fiery temperament there wouldn’t be fertile soil to grow wonderful Sicilian grapes or other crops. But more than anything, is the majesty of Etna.
Virgil wrote about Etna in the Aeneid:
With roar of frightful ruin thunders nigh.
Now to the realm of light it lifts a cloud
Of pitch-black, whirling smoke, and fiery dust,
Shooting out globes of flame, with monster tongues
That lick the stars; now huge crags of itself,
Out of the bowels of the mountain torn,
Its maw disgorges, while the molten rock
Rolls screaming skyward; from the nether deep
The fathomless abyss makes ebb and flow.
In Zafferana there is a story about lava threatening the town, and a man setting his table with his best cloth and finest wine before he left and his home was destroyed. It was a tribute to his beautiful “Mongibello,” Etna – the “Beautiful Mountain.”
Photos and words © Diana Belchase 2014.
Lovely article! And I really enjoyed the Aeneid quote.
I have often wondered why people keep rebuilding their homes on the slopes of Etna every time they get destroyed. But they grow up there and cannot imagine living anywhere else.
My son said to me
“Of course, a planet without active volcanoes is a dead planet, like Mars”.
He sure is, wise, Veronica. When you think about how many people live near volcanoes in Hawaii or in the Eolian Islands, I suppose it becomes normal. I look at people in California who live on land that is uninsurable because of mudslides or fire or earthquake and think they’re nuts, too. I guess we humans are just a nutty species. We love our pets and we love our volcanoes.
Love to the little guy!
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