Sorrounded by myth
SORROUNDED BY MYTH and legend, the natural history of the Mount Etna has affected the scientific thought since the most remote history of man.
Lucrezio, one of the greatest Latin poets, in his poem about nature, refers directly to Mount Etna, pointing as the most important component the underground winds, able to feed the fire inside the earth. ..."è nell'intorno il monte cavo dovunque, e quasi ovunque il regge nelle sue cavità duro basalto.
Ivi circola l'aria e soffia il vento: chè l'aer vento si fa, quando lo scuota o sassi o terra, esso investe, abbia scaldato sì che sprizzar ne fa con infiammanti guizzi il fuoco bruciante, in alto allora levasi, e diritto per l'aperta gola del monte, in su precipite si scaglia".
Nino Savarese would imagine the first birth of Etna: “For many nights the sea boiled but there were no inhabitants that could see the dessert beaches, during the day the mirror of the water was covered by a varied carpet of died fish and dry seaweed.
They have started, in that sea bed, the eruptions that little by little, in the centuries, would have to form the gigantic volcano.
The sea sometimes would become luminous as if the waves were on fire, and the reflex would extinguish at the sunrise, as a second marine aurora. From the bottom of the beach, the stream of lava grew as an enormous nymph.
Then, the beach itself rose, as a womb that was too full, and threw to the surface of the water a corolla fire”.
Valerio Giacomini, instead would express with heartfelt words his desire to know the volcano in a scientific manner: "If we think well we realise that we are in the XX century, in the peak of the Enlightenment, the children that still try to know "how is made inside" this large object which reality we have got to know only superficially.
For that reason we can still look at a volcano such as Etna, that it is since a million years in continuous activity with the same amazement, with the same apprehension of the unknown, that was part of the old times and the ancient men".
Despite its young age, dated back to some million years, Etna offers to whoever is ready to climb its slopes a biological sample of inestimable interest and a wealth of landscape aspects of great variety and mutable nature, in such a way as to render the volcano the desired meta of the scholars, writers or simply of who desires to come close to nature and discover its hidden secrets.
On the top of Etna we come from distant times also to enjoy another spectacle of different grandiosity and extraordinary beauty that appears in the maxim sharpness with the first clarity of the morning time.
Alessandro Dumas managed to describe the intense emotions that he felt once he had reached the summit part of Mount Etna: “I have seen the sun rising on the Righi and on the Faulhorn, the two Swiss titanic peaks: but nothing can be compared to what you see from the top of the Etna.
Calabria from Pizzo to Capo dell’Armi, the Strait from Scilla to Reggio, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Ionic Sea; on the left the Aeolian Islands, almost touchable with the hands; on the right Malta that floats on the horizon as a soft fog and around it the whole of Sicily, a bird’s eye view with its beach of jagged head, capes, ports, inlets, bays, its fifteen cities, three hundred villages, the mountains that seem green hills, the valleys that would think to be plow furrows, its rivers that seem silver thread, and finally the huge crater roaring with flames and smoke.
Above the head the sky, under my feet hell!.
Such a spectacle made us forget all hardships, dangers, and sufferings. I was all admiration, without reservation, with the eyes of the body and the eyes of the soul. I had never seen God from so close and consequently so great".
Carl Vincent wrote in his notes:" In my memory I kept the image of the volcano at a long distance peacefully seen through the columns of the podium of greek theater of Taormina.
Crowned with white reflections in the moonlight, with the sea as calm as a lake in Finland, created an impressive backdrop for a Greek tragedy, in which the destiny hidden in the shadow would travel further on a sail inflated by the sea breeze ... among the masses of devil stones, already glowing lava petrified hours and cooled designs similar to those that can draw a mighty wave of oranges, lemons, tangerines clinging to the depths of a rich land of volcanic ash. "
Who, later, attracted of its mysterious fascination, stops by to observe the transformation of the vegetable organisms in the mountain of the territory of Etna, would appreciate surely the close relationship between the morphologic adjustments (form, structure and colour of the epigean parts) of the vegetable entities and the environment, most of the time hostile and selective for most part of the species and in a position to give them different shape and condition them, with the variety of slopes and altitudes, the vegetable kingdom.
The last one assumes, at a precise altitude, a strong specialisation of the vegetable associations that it hosts and for its intrinsic physiognomy and structure, all the characters of uniqueness, that allow to appreciate it at its fullest grandiosity and the harmonic beauty of this Mediterraneam mountain.
"Il Recupero", considered a classic of the Etna scientific literature offers a beautiful description of the volcano: "Among the wonderful effects of the Etna, its lava flows are among those who provokes the amazement and wonder of the spectators, and they speak and write as a result of the wonderfully bizarre and imperceptible spectacle.
When the lava scrolls down on the campaigns, it often happens that surrounds one those trees which still remains fresh and well, and without detriment suffered by the power of the fires. We see all the opposite in others, which are flammable and incinerated when they are still many steps away from the lava, some others are affected by the burning and flammable material in their green leaves like a large lantern, but they remain standing, though faded, or even dry.
Then passed on to other the fate of being burned into the pedal, then all the shafts fall on the back of the stream, and there remain as a voracious trophy of lava".
The charm of Etna is sometimes in stark contrast to those of natural events, violent and destructive, in which is possible to recognise the devastating effects that have transmitted to the people of Etna terror and sacred respect for the restless giant.
But still we say with Gaius Silius Italico "nothing is more beautiful than the Etna shores ….There are mountains in Sicily that perpetually throw hellfire and evaporated sulphurous stench, no doubt that this the gate to hell….Beware of the vicinity of Etna, in order to avoid being grasped by the infernal region dying".
We should, may be, understand, why Empedocle felt irresistibly attracted by the fire, while, rejected by all other elements that would anyhow imprisoned him and kept him in exile, speaking of himself, writing in the fragment of the purifications: "The sea spits him on dry land and the land rejects him and throws him into the glittering light of the sun, and it rejects it in the swirls of the wind. They receive him one from the other, but they all detest him.
I – concludes – one of those on wandering exile from the Gods".