Sicily is a land full of myths and legends but above all of places that have inspired the birth of fascinating mythological events: cyclops, Greek gods and nymphs are the main protagonists of these stories handed down for centuries.
Here are the most fascinating and well-known Sicilian myths and legends of all time.
The legend of the dark heads
The dark brown ceramic vases in the form of a head are so widespread in Sicily that they have become one of the representative symbols of the island. Have you ever wondered why they have this shape?
It is said that during the Arab domination in 1100, in Palermo lived a beautiful girl very dedicated to the care of the plants on her balcony. One day a Moor (an Arab) passed by her house and seeing her he fell head over heels in love, so much so that he decided to declare his love to the girl.
She was very impressed and immediately returned the feeling. One day, however, the girl learned that the Moor would soon return to the East where his wife and children were waiting for him, thus feeling betrayed, during the night she cut off the Moor’s head and with this she made a pot in which she planted basil. She then put it on display outside on the balcony and all the inhabitants of the neighborhood, taken by envy, had dark brown earthenware pots built to look just like the head of the Moor.
Sicilian myths and legends: The story of Colapesce
Colapesce is one of the most popular Sicilian legends and is immersed, like the greatest legends, in a veil of mystery. In each city where it arrived, the story has in fact acquired its own characteristic.
It is said that a young man named Cola (Nicola) lived between Scylla and Charybdis, the son of a fisherman who loved swimming so much that he spent whole days at sea. One day the mother was so angry that she sent him a curse: Cola! May you become a fish (pesce)! At that moment, Cola became half man and half fish, as such he never returned to dry land and became a point of reference for fishermen who sailed the Strait.
The news of Colapesce’s existence reached King Federico, who was intrigued and wanted to meet him.
To challenge him, the king threw a precious gold cup studded with diamonds into the sea. Cola threw himself into the water to retrieve it and emerged shortly afterwards telling the king that he had seen caves, mountains and valleys and that the city was built on a rock that rested in turn on 3 columns; one healthy, one chipped and one broken. Enthusiastic, the king wanted to test Colapesce once again and threw a bag full of gold coins into the sea, promising him that if he resurfaced, he could marry the king’s daughter.
Colapesce threw himself into the sea, but never surfaced again from the waters. It is said that going down he noticed that one of the columns was about to break, so he decided to give up the king’s wealth and daughter and to sacrifice himself for all of Sicily.
Sicilian myths and legends: The legend of the Aretusa fountain (Syracuse)
Anyone passing through Ortigia, will have admired the beauty of the Aretusa fountain. Among the Sicilian myths and legends, that of Alfeo and Aretusa is undoubtedly the most romantic one.
Arethusa was a nymph known throughout Greece for her beauty and was raised from an early age by Artemis, goddess of hunting and maidens. One day after a long run through the woods, Arethusa decided to cool off in a beautiful stream, and so she stripped off her clothes and took a bath. Suddenly Arethusa heard a noise and, frightened, came out of the water and started running away quickly. However, a voice told her to stop; the voice was that of Alphaeus, the divinity of the waterway, who was struck by her beauty.
Alphaeus began to chase after her and, no longer having the strength to run, she asked Artemis for help. The goddess enveloped Arethusa in a cloud and blew hard in the direction of Sicily to shelter her from view. Once she arrived in Ortigia, the cloud surrounding Arethusa began to drop and she turned into a source of fresh water. Alphaeus, in love with Arethusa and wanting to join her, asks for help from his father Oceano who opened the Ionian waters allowing him to reach Sicily. Arethusa, convinced by so much love and insistence, gave in to Alphaeus’s requests. Artemis, to seal their love, dug a cave under the fresh spring, as to ensure the waters of Arethusa and Alphaeus’s love would run for eternity.
It is still an enchanting place, a wishing well for fruitfulness and the happiness of young couples who touch the waters where love flows between Alphaeus and Arethusa.
Sicilian myths and legends: Etna and the giant Enceladus
Numerous Sicilian myths and legends are linked to Mt. Etna. Among these, it is said that once the giant Enceladus, wanting to take power from Jupiter, together with his brothers decided to reach the home of the gods by placing all the highest mountains in the world on top of each other. Jupiter, angered by Enceladus’ arrogance, threw a lightning bolt on the giants that inflamed the whole sky, blinding them. Enceladus, buried by the mountain, unable to move it, began to spit flames from his chest that rose to the summit of Etna. His anger has not yet subsided and every now and again he still unleashes his strength by emitting lava flows.
Sicilian myths and legends: Aci and the nymph Galatea
Have you ever wondered why so many villages in the province of Catania all begin with the same prefix, Aci?
The legend tells of Polyphemus, a cyclops who lived in the volcano and was hopelessly in love with the young Galatea, one of the fifty beautiful sea nymphs, the Nereids.
Aci, on the other hand, was a shepherd boy who grazed his sheep near the sea, when one day he saw Galatea and fell madly in love with her. His love was obviously reciprocated by the nymph. Aci and Galatea were very in love and Polyphemus’ courtships towards the nymph proved to be useless, so much so that she mocked and despised him. One evening Polyphemus, blinded by jealousy, decided to take revenge. As soon as Galatea dived into the sea, he took a large boulder of lava and threw it against the poor shepherd boy crushing him. As soon as Galatea learned of the terrible news, she immediately ran and cried all her tears over Aci’s battered body. Jupiter and the gods took pity and transformed the shepherd’s blood into a river that comes from Etna and flows into the stretch of beach where the two lovers used to meet.
Experience with Sicilying the places of Sicilian myths and legends!