In the footsteps of Ulysses
In the footsteps of Ulysses: the Sicilian places of the most famous journey of all time
Not only Polyphemus and his cave on the slopes of Etna: unlike what is usually thought, the island’s stages of the presence of the mythical Greek hero on our island are much more numerous. Wild and spectacular in their mixture of inaccessibility and splendor, they definitively sanctioned Sicily as a land of immortal dreams
Non soltanto Polifemo e la sua grotta alle falde dell’Etna: al contrario di quanto solitamente si pensa, le tappe isolane della presenza del mitico eroe greco nella nostra isola sono ben più numerose. Selvagge e spettacolari nel loro misto di inaccessibilità e fulgore, sancirono definitivamente la Sicilia come terra di sogni immortali.
Observing the typical panorama of the faraglioni that distinguishes the acese coast, for a Sicilian it would be far from unlikely to get lost among those wonders. Not only for the romantic-contemplative force emanating from a sea with few equals, but also by virtue of an ancestral and mythological spirit that seems to hover over those places. Who, in fact, at least once, did not stop to admire the magnificence of those boulders without throwing a thought to the paradigmatic and heroic story of Ulysses and his companions? To the fury of Polyphemus who, wounded and humiliated by the famous deception, aims with their formidable bulk at the boat desperately on the run? An iconic scene, which has remained in the popular imagination also regardless of the reading of the Odyssey, which testifies not only to the fictitious presence of the great character in Sicily, but also to the story-telling power that the island was able to exert on the foundational tales of the literary West . But if you believe that the adventures of the one who devised the horse’s ruse to defeat the Trojans are limited to the fleeting confrontation with Polyphemus, you could be wrong.
It is not surprising, however, that the two great Greek poems, written in the eighth century. a.C while referring to legendary events presumably occurred between the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BC, reserve ample space for the discussion of Sicily. That in the years of composition of the two works received the first settlers, mostly from Calcide Eubea. The fertility and ease of mooring of its splendid ports, in fact, represented a wonderful opportunity for adventurers in search of business or displaced persons in search of a new life. And Ulysses himself lingered more than you think in his attempt to reach his coveted Ithaca. Arriving at the distant court of the Phaeacians – which according to some modern interpretations may have been of Sicilian origin, precisely from the territory of today’s Camarina – the hero lists the steps of his pilgrimage to his friendly guests. In addition to the episode of the Cyclops, whose location on the slopes of Etna is implied, a wooded islet is mentioned, rich in goats. Although the identification is not always easy to identify, it could be the so-called Lachea Island, the largest of the “Scogli dei Ciclopi” in Acitrezza.
It is also said that, to access this island, Ulysses and his companions dock in a small, flat harbor well protected from the winds, although covered by a thick haze. There is little doubt that the lack of visibility is due to the ashes from a volcanic eruption. The place of the berth is more clearly identified: some, with the support of Pliny the Elder, saw the town of Ognina in Catania; others have not ruled out that the reference may refer to today’s Magnisi, not far from Augusta, a small peninsula connected to the mainland by a thin isthmus. Finally, in addition to a further hint of the hero that allows us to reconstruct its presence in the Aeolian Islands, Ulysses also mentions the town of Lestrigoni, a people dedicated to sheep farming and located at a high fortress that allowed them to defend themselves easily. In ancient times, but not only, this place was identified in the Piana di Lentini, where not only the climatic and soil conditions allowed a prosperous breeding of livestock, but the high and sometimes inaccessible coast lent itself perfectly, together with its narrow port, to embody the difficult passage described by the astute Greek.
Which, in conclusion, with the retrospective stream by the people of King Alcinoo, was one of the great precursors of the myth of a Sicily as a splendid and indomitable land, difficult but captivating, florid but intricate. In fixing those images, which through their propulsive force go through the centuries until today, the author – or the authors, not to say the collectors – of the myth of Ulysses has not just codified a genre, that of the enterprising journey and exotic, but sanctioned the statute of immortality enjoyed by Sicily.
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