Sivut kuvina

three-cornered, that triangle or triple-point (Trinacria) was one of its ancient names. Mount Etna stands on the east, in one of these angles. The coast is very rocky and romantic; the interior is a combination of rugged mountains and the loveliest plains; and the soil is so fertile in corn as well as other productions, that Sicily has been called the granary of Europe. The inhabitants are badly governed, and there is great poverty among them; but movements have taken place of late years that indicate advancement; and the Sicilians, meantime, have all those helps to endurance (perhaps too many) which result from sprightliness of character, united with complexional indolence. They are good-natured but irritable; have more independence of spirit than their neighbours the Neapolitans; and are still a pastoral people as of old, making the most of their valleys and their Mount Etna; not by activity, but by pipe and song, and superstition.

With this link of their newest and their oldest history, we shall begin our Sicilian memories from the beginning. Was it, for ages,

Did Ætna exist before the human race?

a great lonely earth monster, sitting by the sea with his rugged woody shoulders and ghastly crown; now silent and quiet for centuries, like a basking giant; now roaring to the antediluvian skies; vomiting forth fire and smoke; drivelling with lava; then silent again as before; alternately destroying and nourishing the transitory races of analogous gigantic creatures, mammoths and mastodons, which preceded nobler humanity? Was it produced all at once by some tremendous burst of earth and ocean? some convulsion, of which the like has never since been known,-perhaps with all Sicily hanging at its root; or did it grow, like other earthly productions, by its own energies and the accumulations of time? In whatever way it originated,


and however the huge wonder may have behaved itself at any period, quietly or tremendously, nobody can doubt that the creature is a benevolent creature,-one of the securities of the peaceful and profitable existence of the far greater and more mysterious creature rolling in the shape of an orb round the sun in midst of its countless like, and carrying us all along with it in our respective busy inattentions. We no not presume to inquire how the necessity for any such evil mode of good arose. Suffice for us, that the evil itself works to a good purpose; that the earth, apparently, could not exist without it; that Nature has adorned it with beauty which is another good, with fertility which is another, with grandeur which is another, elevating the mind; and that if human beings prefer risking its neighbourhood with all its occasional calamities, to going and living elsewhere, those calamities are not of its own willing, nor of any unavoidable necessity, nor perhaps will exist always. Suppose Etna should some day again be left to its solitude, and people resolve to be burnt and buried alive no longer? What a pilgrimage would the mountain be then! What a thought for the poet and the philosopher! What a visit for those who take delight in the borders of fear and terror, and who would love to interrogate Nature the more for the loneliness of her sanctuary!

The first modes of organized life which make their appearance in these remotest ages of Sicily, are of course fabulous modes,―fabulous, but like all fables, symbolical of truth; and what is better than mere truth, of truths poetical. The mythic portion of the history of Sicily is like its region-small, rich, lovely, and terrible. It may be said to consist wholly of the stories of Typhæus, of Polyphemus and the Cyclopes, of Scylla and Charybdis, of the Sirens, of the Rape of Proserpine, of

[ocr errors]

Alpheus and Arethusa, of Acis and Galatea-names, which have become music in the ears of mankind.

What is Typhæus a musical name? and Polyphemus and the Cyclopes? Yes, of the grander sort; organ-like; the bass for the treble of the Sirens; the gloom and terror, along which floats away, through vine and almond, the lovely murmur of Alpheus and Arethusa.

We shall not explain away these beautiful fables into allegory, physics, or any other kind of ungrateful and half-witted prose. They may have had the dullest sources, for aught we know to the contrary, as beautiful streams may have their fountains in the dullest places, or delightful children unaccountably issue from the dullest progenitors; but there they were of old, in Sicily; and here they are among us to this day; in poets' books; in painters' colours; among the delights of every cultivated mind; true as anything else that is known by its effects; spiritual creatures, living and breathing in the enchanted regions of the imagination. The poets took them in hand from infancy, and made them the real and immortal things they are. We shall not deny their analogy with beautiful or grand operations in Nature, as long as the mystery and poetry of those operations are kept in mind. Typhæus, or Typhon, for instance, may, if the etymologist pleases, be the Tifoon, or Dreadful Wind, of the Eastern seas; or he may be the smoking of Mount Etna (from Tupw, to smoke); or he may comprehend both meanings in one word, derived from some primitive root: for as long as his cause remains a secret, and his effect is poetical, so long the spirit of the mystery may be embodied as imagination pleases. Suffice for us, that the thing is there, somehow. All that we object to in the natural or supernatural historians of such persons, is their

stopping at mechanical and prosaical causes, and thinking they settle anything.

This said personage Typhæus is, it must be owned, a tremendous fellow to begin stories with of beautiful Sicily; to put at the head of creations containing so much loveliness. He was a monster of monsters, brought forward by Earth as a last desperate resource in the quarrel of her Giants with the Gods. His stature reached the sky; he had a hundred dragons' heads, vomiting flames; and when it pleased him to express his dissatisfaction, there issued from these heads the roaring and shrieking of a hundred different animals! Jupiter had as hard a task to conquer him, as Amadis had with the Endriago.* A good report of the fight is to be found in Hesiod. Heaven trembled, and earth groaned, and ocean flashed with a ghastly radiance, as they lightened and thundered at one another. The king of the gods at length collected all his deity for one tremendous effort, and leaping upon his antagonist with his whole armoury of thunders, made his foaming mouth hiss in the blaze; the mountain hollows flashed fainter where he lay smitten; the rocks dropped about him like melted lead; and Jupiter tore up the whole island of Sicily, and flung it upon him, by way of detainer for ever. One promontory acted as a presser on one hand; another on another; a third on his legs; and the crater of Mount Etna was left him for a spiracle. There he lay in the time of Ovid, making the cities tremble as he turned; and there he lies still, for all that Brydone, or Smyth, or even Monsieur Gourbillon has proved to the contrary; though scepticism has attained to such a pitch in that quarter, that the only danger

See that beautiful book, "Amadis of Gaul," vol. i., chap. 12, in the admirable translation by Southey.

in earthquakes is now attributed to people's not being quick enough with displaying the veil of Saint Agatha.

Compared with this cloud-capped enormity, our old friend Polyphemus (Many-Voice), the ogre or Fee-Faw-Fum of antiquity, becomes a human being. He and his one-eyed Cyclopes (Round-Eyes), are the primitive inhabitants of Sicily, before men ploughed and reaped. They kept sheep and goats, and had an eye to business in the cannibal line; though what it was that gave them their name, is not determined; nor is it necessary to trouble the reader with the controversies on that point. Very huge fellows they were, beating Brobdignagians to nothing. Homer describes Polyphemus as looking like a "woody hill." He kept Ulysses and his companions in his cave to eat them, just as his oriental counterpart did Sindbad, or as the giants of our childhood proposed to feast on Jack; and when Ulysses put out the eye of roaring Many-Voice with a firebrand, and got off to sea, the blind monster sent some rocks after the ship, which remain stuck on the coast to this day.

And yet, by the magic of love and sympathy, even Polyphemus has been rendered pathetic. Theocritus made him so with his poetry; and Handel did as much for him in his musical version of the story, especially in those exquisite caressing passages between Acis and Galatea, ("The flocks shall leave the mountains," &c.,) which might fill the most amiable rival with torment. Acis (Acuteness) and Galatea (Milky)-(we like this fairy-tale restitution of the meanings of ancient names, the example of which was first set, we believe, by Mr. Keightley)-forgot themselves, however, too far, when they made love before the very eyes of the rival ;—not the only instance, we fear, of similar provocation given by the vanity

« EdellinenJatka »