The Eastern Etna Riviera

Myths and legends

The area of the Eastern Etna Riviera is closely tied to mythology. Just think of the name given to the part of the coast called  the Riviera of the Cyclops. This is a small archipelago within a protected marine area, made up of six stacks and the uninhabited island Lachea, which is said to be formed by the stones that the cyclops Polyphemus threw at Ulysses as he escaped after tricking and blinding him.

But Mount Etna in particular has also inspired many myths and legends, due to the fear and respect it instilled in local populations. There are a great many legends that, over the centuries, have shrouded the origins of  our Mongibello in magic and mystery: from Hephaestus to Theseus, from Typhon to the love story of Acis and Galatea, and even the evocative tale of the last wish of King Arthur.

The myth of Enceladus

One of the most well-known legends is certainly that of the giant Enceladus, who one fine day got it into his head to take the place of Jupiter. So, helped by his giant friends, he built a staircase to reach the sky and conquer his kingdom. But Jupiter, having noticed the attempt, threw a bolt of lightning at them and blinded them. Enceladus was left buried below Etna, and, furious, began to spit fire and flames from the crater. A habit that he repeats every time Etna erupts, to remind everyone of his unquellable rage.

The myth of Hephaestus

The legend of Hephaestus tells the story of how when his mother Hera gave birth to him, he was so ugly that she threw him off Mount Olympus. The nymphs Thetis and Eurynome found him and raised him. Hephaestus became so skilled at forging metal and jewellery that he attracted the attention of his mother, Hera, who asked him to build her a throne, sure that Hephaestus would not recognise her. But Hephaestus immediately understood that the goddess was his mother who had rejected him as a baby, and decided to take revenge: he built a throne from which, once she sat down, she would never again be able to get up. To break the enchantment, Hera had to give Hephaestus the hand of the beautiful Aphrodite in marriage and allow him to return among the gods. But married life with Aphrodite was not easy: Hephaestus was so often betrayed and taunted by Aphrodite, he decided to leave Olympus and shelter forever in the depths of Mount Etna.

The myth of Typhon

It seems that Sicily is held up by Typhon, Zeus’s greatest enemy. One day, this three-headed giant tried to conquer Olympus and was punished by Zeus by being thrown into the volcano Etna. Squashed by the mountain, since that day he has spat fire and flames, holding Peloro in his right hand, Pachino in his left hand, Lilibeo on his legs, and Etna on his head, and he causes earthquakes when he tries to move.

The myth of Acis and Galatea

The shepherd and the young nymph loved each other deeply. But one day it happened that Polyphemus also fell in love with Galatea, so, as soon as the nymph dived into the sea, the cyclops threw a block of lava from Etna at Acis and killed him. Galatea was left an inconsolable widow , so the gods, noticing her suffering, decided to transform the blood of Acis into a river called the Akis, near Santa Maria la Scala, where the two lovers could continue to meet forever, after death.

The myth of King Arthur

It may seem absurd to link the name of King Arthur with Etna, but sometimes legends conceal fragments of exaggerated reality. The Normans conquered Sicily in 1061, and governed for many decades, inevitably influencing the culture of the place. It was precisely in this period that Anglo-Sicilian legends started to appear and spread, connected to the heroic deeds of King Arthur and his noble knights. According to legend, the King of the Knights of the Round Table was challenged to fight by Mordred, his son born out of an incestuous relationship with his sister Morgan. Arthur was mortally wounded, and, already close to death, he decided to deliver his magical sword Excalibur, damaged in the fight, to his faithful Lancelot. However, instead of ordering him to throw Excalibur into the lake, the dying sovereign of Camelot had the idea of repairing it.

The archangel Michael wanted to grant Arthur’s last wish, so he brought him to Sicily: the king repaired the sword and then fell asleep in a cave on the volcano. When he awoke, he found himself faced with a spectacular view: the sea, the blue sky, and the perfume of citrus fruits. Enraptured by the beauty of Sicily, the king prayed to the gods to let him live again in this paradise and keep watch over it, so that Etna would not erupt again and destroy such a wonderful land. The gods granted his request, and the king built a cave inside Etna, with the help of his sister, Morgan le Fay. Today it is said that the volcano awakes and spits out lava and lapillus  only when King Arthur returns to England to take Sicilian fruit and flowers to the English children. The volcano takes advantage of his absence to demonstrate all its power, hurling lapillus and ash over Catania, and then calms down again upon Arthur’s return.