Random Observations on Sicily: Did you know…

Did you know…

Stesichorus, the greatest native Sicilian poet until Theocritus, is claimed by many west Greek cities. Himera on the north coast, claims to be his birthplace, but so does Matauria in Italy, and even Pallantium in Arcadia (according to the Suda). All seem agreed that he spent sometime in Catania, however, and that he in fact died there. When he died he was buried before a gate that came to bear his name as Stesichorus was a source of solid cultural capital. The tradition continues in the modern city — one of the central squares, that in which the remains of the Roman amphitheatre are found, now bears his name, Piazza Stesicoro. There is also a Via Teocrito, but it is much less impressive.

According to Thucydides 6.4, a nearby colony, Megara Hyblaia, was founded with the permission of the local Sicel dynast, Hyblon. The founders had at this point failed in no less than three efforts to settle down: at Trotilus, at Leontini with the settlers who already occupied the site, and at Thapsos — colonization appears to have been a much less structured operation than we sometimes suggest. Hyblon's name also survives in Roman poetry, where honey and the bees that make it are often called Hyblaean. Megara Hyblaea was itself destroyed by the Deinomenid Gelon around 483, as he reorganized the cities of the eastern seaboard.

According to Polyaenus, Theron, the tyrant of Acragas (modern Agrigento) who together with Gelon of Syracuse successfully warded off the Carthaginian invasion of Sicily in 480 (and then won the Olympic chariot race in 476), seized power in Acragas by persuading the city to place with his son the contract for the completion of a temple of Athena. Once he had his hands on the money, he used it to hire bodyguards and used them to seize control of the city. Polyaenus tells basically the same story about Phalaris, however – Phalaris was the tyrant of Acragas in the 6th century who was said to have roasted his enemies in a bronze bull.

Aeschylus is said to have died, not in Athens, but in Gela, in Sicily, when an eagle, mistaking his bald head for a stone, dropped a tortoise on it. (I plan on wearing a hat.) Aeschylus certainly spent a lot of time in Sicily – his Persians was performed in Syracuse and he wrote a play, the Aetnaean Women, that celebrated the foundation of the city of Aetna by Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse in the 470s and early 460s. Hieron had expelled the inhabitants of Catane to make way for his new city.

When the Romans took Syracuse, the Roman general Marcellus sought as his plunder only the "orrery" created by Archimedes (a Syracusan). This device seems to have been a mechanical model that correlated the motions of the earth, sun, moon and some of the planets, and was displayed by Marcellus' family to interested Romans. Cicero, in Tusculan Disputations 63, speaks of "a single revolution [of the globe] governing motions completely dissimilar in their slowness and speed," while Ovid Fasti 6.277-78 observes "Through Syracusan art the globe stands suspended / In air enclosed, a tiny figure of the boundless heaven" (translations by Francis Newton). The Antikythera Mechanism was perhaps something similar.