“Thence we sailed on with aching heart, and came to the land of the Cyclops, a rude and lawless folk, who live on the tops of lofty hills in hollow caves.” –Book IX, The Odyssey
Today we set out for Mt. Etna, home to the Cyclops Polyphemus, and land of lunar lava flow. Our bus lurched achingly past volcanic dunes petrified in testament to previous eruptions. Rooftops peaked out from waves of lava while lichen announced a rebirth of life to the mountain in mottled lime green.
According to the Odyssey, this is where Odysseus and his men met the Cyclopes Polyphemus. They had anchored on the island in hopes of stocking up on provisions and entered Polphemus’ cave while he was out herding his sheep, hoping to find food and other reserves to steal. Polyphemus returned to his cave with his sheep and closed the opening with a boulder, only to discover the cave full of Greek soldiers, two of whom he promptly devoured for dinner. He asked Odysseus his name and Odysseus replied, “I am no one.”
The next day while Polyphemus was out with his flock, Odysseus and his men sharpened a large pole and hid it in the cave where they were imprisoned. Polyphemus returned, ate two more soldiers, and Odysseus offered him a goatskin of strong wine, which he downed like a frat boy at a pledge party, and fell asleep. Odysseus and his men drove the stake into the Cyclops’ eye, who began wailing in agony. The other Cyclopes hurried to the cave’s entrance, asking, “Who is hurting you Polyphemus,” to which he replied, “No one! No one is hurting me!” Thinking he was simply being tortured by the gods, the Cyclopes left Polyphemus alone in his cave.
The next morning, completely blind, Polyphemus removed the boulder to let his flock out of the cave, feeling each sheep as it passed by to ensure the soldiers were not escaping. However, Odysseus had tied himself and his men to the sheep’s bellies, enabling their escape. Once on their ship, Odysseus’ ego got the best of him and he yelled his name to Polyphemus, who prayed to his father Poseidon to curse Odysseus’s passage home to Ithaca.
While we didn’t run into any Cyclopes, we did encounter masses of tourists, trekkers and bicyclists scaling the mountain. Approaching the base of the Sapienza ski village, we were wrapped in clouds. We wandered the Silvestre caldera and admired the magnitude of the mountain. At just over 6,000 feet in altitude, the ski village is the gateway to the volcano’s central, active calderas that lie above another 4,000 feet.
Sicily’s geological history ties it to Africa, not Europe, and its location at the fault line between the two continents guarantees consistent activity, which is why eruptions are common–in fact, it was only this past January that the mountain gave some spectacular fireworks.
leaving the moonscape and the Cyclopes behind, we wove our way down the mountain towards Taormina, our final stop together.