More Random Observations on Sicily

Did you know….

Under the Piazza Duomo, the square in front of the cathedral a couple of blocks from our study center, runs a river called the Amenano. In the SW corner of the piazza, the square opens down onto the river for a brief, and rather nicely decorated, section, and popular hang-out. This river is referred to in Pindar's First Pythian ode, for Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse, but here Pindar calls him king of Aetna — the name given to the city Hieron recently founded on the site of the Greek colony Catane. Pindar calls the Amenano the Amenas, and links it to the Greek phrase aiei menein, "to remain always," suggesting not only that the local river has a Greek (and not Sicel) name, but also that the Greek settlement there, and in particular Hieron's very new Greek settlement, was permanent. Aetna did not always remain, however. Two to three years after Pythian 1, Hieron died and power passed to his less popular and very much less competent younger brother, who was soon driven into exile. The displaced populations returned to claim their old city, drove out the new inhabitants, and gave the city back its old name; the new inhabitants remained loyal to Hieron, however, and settled a small town inland, Inessa, and continued to offer Hieron cult there. The river is at least still here, if not the city.

In the center of the piazza Duomo is a statue made of lava rock of an elephant, supporting an obelisk. The Blue Guide says that the obelisk may have been form the local circus, and that locals call the elephant Liotru, a version of the Greek name Heliodorus. This is not the novelist much beloved of Sidney (though he does write about camels and other African fauna), but a second Heliodorus, a magician who is supposed to have flown on the elephant form Catania to Constantinople in the 6th century CE.

Hieron may have founded a polis called Aetna (Etna, depending on your spelling), but on the northwestern outskirts of Catania's metro area there is an enormous megamall, consisting of a mall of various enormous stores such as Carrefour, and it is called Etnapolis. It is very square, shiny and ugly. And I assume some people had to be displaced to put it there.

Perhaps most bizarre of all, Coldplay's video for Violet Hill was filmed not only on Mt Etna, but also in the palazzo where the study center is located. View it here.