3 Tales from Greek Mythology set in Sicily
In order to give holidays to Sicily some added depth and meaning, delving into the island’s role in Greek mythology offers great insight.
For those looking for a way to give holidays to Sicily an extra depth, delving into the island’s vital role in Greek mythology provides a valuable insight into a place that, alongside its reputation for sun, sea and sand, also has an astounding breadth of history.
Learning some of the stories of the mythical Greek figures who visited or lived on the island can make holidays to Sicily even more meaningful and memorable. Here are three wonderful tales I’d like to share from Greek mythology, although there are many, many more.
The Vine (and Wine) of Dionysus
While a huge number of mythological characters travelled or lived here, I can’t go past one of my personal favourites: that of Dionysus, the son of Zeus. Legend has it that as Dionysus, god of fertility and joy, voyaged across the seas, he came across an unfamiliar plant. In order that it would survive the journey, he placed it inside the bone of a bird. It soon outgrew the bird, so he placed it inside the bone of a lion, then, as it continued to grow, inside the bone of a donkey. When he arrived to the island, he planted it at Naxos, near Taormina, and this was the first vineyard.
I love that story, but what I love even more is the adage that ensued: “A good glass of wine makes you as light as a bird, another and you are courageous as a lion, but when you exaggerate with wine, you end up an ass!”
The Romance of Acis and Galatea
The romantic legend of a young man who met his fate at the foothills of Mount Etna is described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Acis was a mortal who fell in love with the beautiful sea-goddess Galatea. This forbidden love angered Polyphemus (son of Poseidon and one of the one-eyed ‘Cyclops’), who tore a huge rock from the volcanic slopes and threw it down and crushed Acis to death. In her grief, Galatea turned Acis into a river, which travelled from Mount Etna to the Ionian Sea – allowing them to be reunited for eternity.
The Aci River forks and winds through a number of small towns and villages – whose names are all prefixed with its name: Aci Trezza, Aci Bonaccorsi, Aci Castello, Aci Catena, Aci Reale and Aci San Antonio. A romance immortalised in geography.
Rocks of Rage
As legend would have it, the hot-headed Cyclops Polyphemus left his mark in other sites as well. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus (the king of Ithaca) is captured by Polyphemus after being caught stealing food. Odysseus gets Polyphemus drunk so he can make his escape, and then blinds him with a red-hot poker. As Odysseus returns to his ship, along with Polyphemus’ flock of sheep, the blinded giant Cyclops goes into an uncontrollable rage – wrenching huge rocks from the cliffs and throwing them out to sea at the ship.
The site of Polyphemus’ apoplectic rage is around the villages of Aci Castello and Aci Trezza, where the shoreline is littered with huge jagged boulders – an enduring legacy of one hell of a temper tantrum!
One of the things I love most about holidays to Sicily is that they offer such an accessible opportunity to unwrap the island’s rich and fascinating history. Scratch beneath the surface and virtually everywhere you travel will hold some significance to the many mythological Greek figures that graced its beautiful shores.
About the author
John Dixon is an experienced world traveller and the Managing Director of Prestige Holidays. For over 30 years, he has been providing luxury holidays to Sicily, Bermuda, Croatia and many other destinations around the globe. John tries to visit each of the destinations regularly in order to ensure the quality of his properties, and stay up-to-date about the latest local news and events. He has a taste for the finer things in life and has an interest in arts, history and culture.