Vulcano, la forja de los dioses

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Hefesto y Vulcano

Hefesto, el dios herrero, era tan enclenque cuando nació que su madre Hera, disgustada, lo arrojó desde la cima del Olimpo para librarse de la vergüenza…

Robert Graves: Los mitos griegos

Bueno, exactemente aquí ya puedes ver de dónde sacaron los espartanos su idea de arrojar los recién nacidos con defectos físicos o enfermos de los acantilados del Taigeto. Pero en cuanto a Hefesto, el dios del fuego y de la forja, el herrero de los dioses del Olimpo, él tenía suerte en esta primera caída: se cayó en el mar, donde la ninfa Tetis lo encontró y lo llevó a casa. Unos años más tarde, Hefesto estableció una pequeña forja submarina, y le pagó por la amabilidad con unas chucherías domesticas, por no mencionar unas joyas estupendas que llamaron la atención de Hera. Debido a lo cual no sólo se le permitió regresar al Olimpo sino que también se le dio Afrodita para su esposa… Pues eso acabó bien, o, al menos, hubiera acabado bien, si Hefesto entonces calló. Pero no, dedicó unas palabras poco prudentes a Zeus, quién, de nuevo, lo arrojó de la montaña… Esta vez tenía menos suerte, como que se cayo en tierra, y se quedó cojo para el resto de su vida inmortal.

Adelanto rápido a los tiempos romanos. Como sabemos, los romanos fueron muy ingeniosos en la ingeniería (mi favorito es el corvus, una puente para el abordaje de las galeras cartaginenses, la solución clásica para el problema de cómo-cambiar-una-batalla-del-mar-en-que-somos-inútiles-en-una-batalla-de-tierra-en-que-somos-mucho-mejores), por no mencionar sus varios otros éxitos que llamaron la atención. A pesar de esto, parece que los romanos no tenían ninguna imaginación cuando se trataba de su religión: tanto que no se molestaron en inventar la suya propia, sino que sencillamente importaron la antigua griega. Y así Hefesto, el griego, se convirtió en Vulcano, ciudadano de Roma. Larga vida a los dioses, bajo un nombre u otro.

La forja de Vulcano por Jacopo Tintoretto [public domain via Wikimedia Commons]
Pues pasó que cuando Hefesto volvió al favor de Hera, abandonó su herrero submarino y establició una forja nueva en el Olimpo. O al menos eso dice la leyenda pero las leyendas son sujetos a cambios… y dicen que Hefesto tenía forjas en lugares distintos.

Los colonos griegos en Sicilia ya tomaron nota del lugar, pero probablemente debemos la ubicación de la forja de Vulcano a los romanos, quienes elegiron el lugar perfecto: una isla pequeña cerca de las orillas de Sicilia, convinientemente llamada…

¡…Vulcano!

EL Gran Cráter de Vulcano

Pare ser más exacto, la isla pequeña no se llamaba ‘convenientemente’ Vulcano al principio. Es más probable al revés: que la llamaron Vulcano porque creyeron que escondió la forja del dios.  Y, por supuesto, medio Europa entonces adoptó la palabra con ortografías distintas para significar volcán: Vulcano es el lugar, donde la mitología, la geología y la lingüística fusionaron entre las volutas de gases acres subiendo al cielo.

…hay muchas otras montañas sobre la tierra que están en llamas y, sin embargo, nunca terminaríamos con esto si le asignamos gigantes y dioses como Hefesto.

Apolonio de Tiana

La pequeña isla de Vulcano (con Estrómboli que es mejor conocida) es una de las ochos islas Eolias, un grupo de islas a unos 20-30 km al norte de Sicilia en el mar Tirreno. De hecho, no hay nada más en Vulcano que el cráter de un volcán durmiente – con una forma tan clásica que coincide con la ilustración de mi antiguo libro de texto de geografía del instituto, de línea en línea – completa con un abrumador olor a huevo podrido.

Ahora bien.

En primer lugar, el olor a huevo podrido sólo es realmente malo en el puerto que está al lado de algunos baños de lodo sulfuroso (por unos pocos euros puedes ir y rodar en el lodo radioactivo si lo deseas). Una vez que empiezas a subir – porque sí que puedes subir hasta el cráter, y muchas excursiones escolares lo hacen – la brisa fresca del mar lo lleva. Vale la pena subir y es una escalada bastante fácil incluso para niños pequeños, abuelas o convalecientes. Y ni siquiera tienes que unirte a una visita guiada como en Estrómboli; puedes llegar en unos de los ferries que circulan las islas y patearlo tú mismo andando todo seguido. En el camino, podrás disfrutar las vistas estupendas del resto de las Islas Eolias, mientras que una vez en la cima, serás recompensado con la vista del cráter de un volcán de libro escolar clásico, rodeado de equipos sismográficos. Los cuales, por cierto, no están aquí para decorar el horizonte: la última vez que el volcán entró en erupción fue en el siglo XIX y se espera que lo haga de nuevo. (Si hablas italiano con suficiente fluidez, puedes conversar con los científicos vigilando los instrumentos.) Puedes ver los depósitos de azufre en las rocas y el humo saliendo de las fisuras, y sentir el calor de la roca debajo de tus pies. Y después de bajar la colina de una vez, puedes darte un baño en el mar – en ciertos lugares el agua burbujea como en un jacuzzi.

(Haz click para ampliar las fotos.)

Vulcano – el lugar, donde Hefesto forjó el escudo de Aquiles…

Así habló; y, dejando a la diosa, encaminóse a los fuelles, los volvió hacia la llama y les mandó que trabajasen.

Estos soplaban en veinte hornos, despidiendo un aire que avivaba el fuego y era de varias clases: unas veces fuerte, como lo necesita el que trabaja de prisa, y otras al contrario, según Hefesto lo deseaba y la obra to requería.

El dios puso al fuego duro bronce, estaño, oro precioso y plata; colocó en el tajo el gran yunque, y cogió con una mano el pesado martillo y con la otra las tenazas.

Hizo lo primero de todo un escudo grande y fuerte, de variada labor, con triple cenefa brillante y reluciente, provisto de una abrazadera de plata. Cinco capas tenía el escudo, y en la superior grabó el dios muchas artísticas figuras, con sabia inteligencia.

Allí puso la tierra, el cielo, el mar, el sol infatigable y la luna llena; allí las estrellas que el cielo coronan, las Pléyades, las Híades, el robusto Orión y la Osa, llamada por sobrenombre el Carro, la cual gira siempre en el mismo sitio, mira a Orión y es la única que deja de bañarse en el Océano…

…Cuando el ilustre cojo de ambos pies hubo fabricado todas las armas, entrególas a la madre de Aquiles. Y Tetis saltó, como un gavilán desde el nevado Olimpo, llevando la reluciente armadura que Hefesto había construido.

Hefesto forja las armas de Aquiles,
de la Ilíada de Homero

 

Quizás también te gusta:Vulcano, Italy (Oregon State University)Descubre los principales volcanes de Italia aquíVulcanoLa Ilíada de Homero
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Vulcano, the Forge of Gods

Leer esto en castellano

Hephaestus and Vulcan

Hephaestus, the ugly and ill-tempered Smith-god, was so weakly at birth that his disgusted mother, Hera, dropped him from the height of Olympus, to rid herself of the embarrassment…

Greek Myths by Robert Graves

Well, right there you can see where the Spartans might have got their notions of throwing sickly newborns off the cliffs of Taygetus. But as regards Hephaestus, god of fire and the blacksmith of the gods of Mt Olympus, in this first fall he was lucky: he fell into the sea, where he was found by the nymph Thetys, who duly took him home. A few years later, Hephaestus repaid the kindness by setting up a little undersea smithy and making for her some useful household odds and ends, not to mention some fancy jewellery which caught the eye of Hera. Owing to which not only he was allowed to return to Olympus but was given Aphrodite for his wife. All’s well that ends well, or would have, except that he then said some unwise words to Zeus, who once again hurled him off the mountain… This time he was less lucky, because he fell on hard ground and remained lame for the rest of his immortal life.

Fast forward to Roman times. As we know, the Romans were quite ingenious when it came to engineering (my personal favourite is the corvus, a bridge for boarding Carthaginian galleys, the classic solution to the conundrum of how-to-turn-a-naval-battle-at-which-we’re-****-into-a-land-battle-at-which-we’re-so-much-better), not to mention their various other achievements that clamour for attention. Despite of this, the Romans seemed sadly lacking in imagination when it came to their religion: so much so that they didn’t bother to come up with their own – they merely imported in the Ancient Greek one. And so Hephaestus the Greek became Vulcan, the citizen of Rome. Long live the gods, under one name or another.

Vulcan’s Forge by Jacopo Tintoretto [public domain via Wikimedia Commons]
Now it so happened that when Hephaestus returned to Hera’s favour, owing to his ability to make fancy jewellery, he abandoned his undersea workshop and set up a new smithy on Mt Olympus. Or at least so says the original myth but myths are subject to change… and Hephaestus is reputed to have forges in more than one place.

The Greeks settlers on Sicily have already noted the place, but ultimately we probably owe the location of Vulcan’s forge to the incoming Romans who have hit on just the spot: a little volcanic island off the shores of Sicily, conveniently named…

…Vulcano!

The Great Crater of Vulcano

To be more truthful, the little island wasn’t ‘conveniently’ named Vulcano to begin with. It’s more likely to be exactly the other way round: that it got named after the god whose forge it was believed to hide. And of course, half of Europe then adopted the word in various spelling variations to signify volcano: Vulcano is the spot where mythology, geology and linguistics fused together among rising wisps of acrid fumes.

“…there are many other mountains all over the earth that are on fire, and yet we should never be done with it if we assigned to them giants and gods like Hephaestus”.

Apollonius of Tyana

Tiny Vulcano (along with the better known Stromboli) is one of the eight Aeolian islands, a group of islands about 20-30 km north of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  There’s in fact nothing much more to Vulcano than the crater of a dormant volcano – so classically shaped that it matches the illustration volcano of my old grammar school geography textbook line by line – complete with an overpowering rotten egg smell.

And yet.

First of all, the rotten egg smell is only really bad at the harbour which is next to some sulphurous mud baths (for a few paltry euros you can go and roll in the radioactive mud if you like). Once you start to climb – because you can climb up to the crater and many school trips do – the fresh sea breeze blows it away. It’s a climb worth making and it’s easy enough even for young children, elderly grandmas or convalescents. Nor do you have to join a guided tour like on Stromboli; you can arrive in a timetabled ferry and leg it yourself following your nose. On the way up you can enjoy the stupendous views of the rest of the Aeolian Islands, while once on top you’ll be rewarded with the view of the crater of a classic school book volcano, ringed with seismographic equipment. Which, by the way, are not there merely to decorate the skyline: Vulcano last erupted in the 19th century and is expected to do so again. (If you speak fluent enough Italian, you can have a chat with the scientists keeping an eye on the instruments.) You will see the sulphur deposits on the rocks and the smoke rising from the fissures, and feel the heat of the rock beneath your feet. And after you come down the hill, you can take a dip in the sea – in places the water bubbles like in a jacuzzi.

(Click to enlarge the gallery.)

Vulcano – the place where Hephaestus forged the shield of Achilles…

This said, he left her there, and forth did to his bellows go,
Appos’d them to the fire again, commanding them to blow.
Through twenty holes made to his hearth at once blew twenty pair,
That fir’d his coals, sometimes with soft, sometimes with vehement, air,
As he will’d, and his work requir’d. Amids the flame he cast
Tin, silver, precious gold, and brass; and in a stock he plac’d
A mighty anvil; his right hand a weighty hammer held,
His left his tongs. And first he forg’d a strong and spacious shield
Adorn’d with twenty sev’ral hues; about whose verge he beat
A ring, three-fold and radiant, and on the back he set
A silver handle; five-fold were the equal lines he drew
About the whole circumference, in which his hand did shew
(Directed with a knowing mind) a rare variety;
For in it he presented Earth; in it the Sea and Sky;
In it the never-wearied Sun, the Moon exactly round,
And all those Stars with which the brows of ample heav’n are crown’d,
Orion, all the Pleiades, and those sev’n Atlas got,
The close-beam’d Hyades, the Bear, surnam’d the Chariot,
That turns about heav’n’s axle-tree, holds ope a constant eye
Upon Orion, and, of all the cressets in the sky…

…All done, he all to Thetis brought, and held all up to her.
She took them all, and like t’ the hawk, surnam’d the osspringer,
From Vulcan to her mighty son, with that so glorious show,
Stoop’d from the steep Olympian hill, hid in eternal snow.

Vulcan forges armour for Achilles,
from The Iliad by Homer
(Transl. by George Chapman)

 

You might also like:Vulcano, Italy (Oregon State University)A Complete Guide to Visiting Vulcano Island, Sicily (My Adventures Across the World)Chapman's Homer

Why Read the Classics?

In 1981, the Italian writer Italo Calvino wrote an essay titled Why Read the Classics?. It’s less than ten entertaining pages, so I recommend you read it if you can lay your hands on it. (It’s been published in a book form, in a collection of his essays, bearing the same title.)

What follows here is the 14 definitions of what classics are as put forward in the essay – 14 definitions worth thinking about:

Continue reading “Why Read the Classics?”

The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II

While Byron chose to tell the story of the Battle of Salamis short and sweet in The Isles of Greece – which, by the way, is part of a much longer poem, Don Juan -, the Athenian playwright Aeschylus wrote an entire play based upon it.

ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων ἴτε
ἐλευθεροῦτε πατρίδ᾽, ἐλευθεροῦτε δὲ
παῖδας, γυναῖκας, θεῶν τέ πατρῴων ἕδη,
θήκας τε προγόνων: νῦν ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀγών.

O children of the Greeks, go,
free your homeland, free also
your children, your wives, the temples of your fathers’ gods,
and the tombs of your ancestors: now the struggle is for all things.

Aeschylus: The Persians

The Battle of Salamis According to Aeschylus

Can you imagine telling a story, with your audience hanging upon your every word, breathless with excitement or moved to tears – although they had heard the story many times before and know the final outcome? Because that’s exactly what Ancient Greek playwrights had to do; and Aeschylus pulled it off beautifully with The Persians.

Continue reading “The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II”

Nine Quirky Facts (Nueve hechos raros)

Nine Quirky Facts I Read Last Year

Books are not merely a source of entertainment but also of knowledge… (today’s cliché). How many of the following nine facts do you know?

Nueve hechos raros que leí el año pasado

Los libros no son sencillamente una fuente de entretenimiento, pero también lo de conocimiento… (cliché de hoy). ¿Cuáles de los nueve hechos siguientes ya sabes?

Continue reading “Nine Quirky Facts (Nueve hechos raros)”

Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar

There is a line by Pindar, a fifth-century-B.C. Greek poet, in which he describes the island of Delos, one of the most barren and inhospitable of all Greek islands, as ‘the dark earth’s far-seen star’:

Hail, god-reared daughter of the sea,
earth-shoot most dear to bright-haired Leto’s children,
wide earth’s immoveable marvel,
who of mortals art called Delos,
but of the blessed gods in Olympus the dark earth’s far-seen star…

Dark earth’s far-seen star – the island as seen from above by the gods, glowing with light in the dark sea – is one of those memorable phrases that turned the famous Roman poet Horace into one of Pindar’s life-long fans. Sadly, not much else of this Procession Song survives today (you’ve just read half of what there’s left).

Continue reading “Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar”

Delphi: Shaping the Future of the Past

Delphi is just a small town built into the hillside under Mount Parnassus – home to the Muses – and overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. It’s three hours drive from Athens and even at the height of the tourist season you can escape the crowds here.

Gulf of Corinth view from Delphi P1010130
View of the Gulf of Corinth from Delphi

Continue reading “Delphi: Shaping the Future of the Past”

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Mausolus British Museum
Larger than life statue of Mausolus from the Mausoleum (British Museum)

Halicarnassus, the birth place of Herodotus (nowadays Bodrum, Turkey) was home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the Mausoleum, a colossal tomb of Mausolus, a Persian satrap and a ruler of Caria (377-353 B.C.). The word mausoleum as used today originates precisely in the name of Mausolus and his tomb.

Halicarnassus, the royal residence of the dynasts of Caria,” wrote the Greek geographer Strabo two thousand years ago. “Here is the tomb of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders, a monument erected by Artemisia in honour of her husband.” (Strabo: Geography, XIV.2)

Mausolus made Halicarnassus his capital and spent a huge amount of money on improving the harbour, fortifying the town and embellishing it with temples, palaces and statues.

 About halfway up the curving slope… a broad wide street was laid out, in the middle of which was built the Mausoleum, a work so remarkable that it is classed among the Seven Wonders of the World. (Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture, II.8)

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The Mask of Agamemnon

480px-MaskOfAgamemnon.jpg
The Mask of Agamemnon. Photo by: Xuan Che [CC BY 2.0] via Wikipedia
In the Archeological Museum in Athens there’s a golden funeral mask that was found by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 when he was excavating Mycenae. It goes by the name of the mask of Agamemnon. Needless to say, it’s probably not the mask of Agamemnon but I, like Schliemann, find the idea that it depicts Agamemnon, rather than somebody we never heard of, much more interesting… and easier to remember. 🙂

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Following Ulysses with Ernle Bradford

Recently I wrote about how a young Royal Navy sailor in 1941 sauntered into a Greek bar in Alexandria and came out with his head full of the Odyssey. Well, those of you who haven’t read that piece, go and read it now, but I’m willing to remind the rest who have merely forgotten who this sailor was: Ernle Bradford.

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Part of the Folk Process

Or What Do Half-Drunk Hungarian Peasants and French Day-Trippers Share with Homer?

river-rance-dinan-france-dscn1151
On the River Rance, Dinan, France

A few years ago we went on a week’s holiday in Dinan in Brittany where one day we took a short boat trip on the River Rance. The trip itself was quite unremarkable, but at some point our jolly skipper decided to lead us all in a song. Within seconds, to the utter delight of my children and myself, two dozen French tourists were heartily bellowing out Santy Anno, a song from the 2008 Jefferson Starship album Tree of Liberty. To our skipper and fellow tourists, however, this was  not a song from an American record but a traditional French song, liked by and known to all.

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From Ransome to Keats to Homer

When I was ten, I read Swallows and Amazons and in the course of that, Arthur Ransome introduced me to English poetry. One of the characters, Titty (I still wonder what sort of a name is that for a girl), was much given to recalling random lines of poetry that they had taught her at school.

From:

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.

To:

… like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

These lines spoke about adventure and unknown worlds in pulsating rhyme. I’m not surprised that they stuck in Titty’s head; they certainly stuck in mine. Ransome  – and not my literature teachers – made me read Keats; and Keats made me pick up Homer again, many years after I left school.

Continue reading “From Ransome to Keats to Homer”