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
Advertisements

Florence, City of the Renaissance

Renaissance – rebirth – is the Medieval realisation that the classical world, in particular Greece, has something to offer us. One of the places where you can observe Renaissance best ‘in action’ is the Italian city of Florence, in Tuscany, a northern region of Italy. For all that it’s a famous tourist destination, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you do enjoy immersing yourself in the Renaissance – because apart from that, there’s not a lot else to do.

Continue reading “Florence, City of the Renaissance”

Mediterranean Brilliance

Mediterranean brilliance hit me like a bolt of lightning; the whole of human life was enacted on a single, fabulous, public stage against a careless backdrop of thousands of years of sublime art. Colours, foods, markets, clothing, gestures, language: everything seemed more refined, more vivid, more vibrant…

(Cees Nooteboom)

New Horizon

img_1157

whhheeeeᴇᴇᴇᴇᴇᴇᴇᴇEEEEEEEE! The scream of jet engines rises to a crescendo on the runways of the world. Every second, somewhere or other, a plane touches down, with a puff of smoke from scorched tyre rubber, or rises in the air, leaving a smear of black fumes dissolving in its wake. From space, the earth might look to a fanciful eye like a huge carousel, with planes instead of horses spinning round its circumference, up and down, up and down. Whhheeeeeeeeeee!

Small World by David Lodge

In response to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: New Horizon.

A Petrarch Sonnet (Venice Balcony at Night)

A few weeks ago, when I was writing about Egyptian poetry, I made the point that reading poetry in translation is a deceptive exercise since you’re not reading the same poem that poet had, in fact, penned. You might like the translation but quite possibly would not like the original or vice versa. A sonnet by Petrarch today in two different English translations will serve to illustrate the same point… and the Venetian balcony at night will serve to illustrate the sonnet.

Un soneto de Petrarca (Un balcón en Venecia por la noche)

Hace unas semanas, cuando escribió sobre la poesía egipcia, he señalado que leer poesía en traducción es un ejercicio engañoso, porque no estás leyendo el poema que el poeta, de hecho, había escrito. Así que te puede gustar la traducción, pero lo original no, y viceversa. Hoy un soneto de Petrarca con dos traducciones ingleses servirá para ilustrar la misma idea… y el balcón de Venecia servirá para ilustrar el poema. El texto original italiano está abajo de los versiones ingleses si quieres leerlo – no hay que hablar italiano para apreciar la cadencia bella del idioma de Petrarca. (También puedes encontrar un enlace abajo para la traducción española.)

Continue reading “A Petrarch Sonnet (Venice Balcony at Night)”

Nelson, Naples…

There’s a new exhibition about to open in the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich, titled Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity. For the sake of those among you who ‘didn’t win first prize in the lottery of life’: Lady Hamilton is famous for being the lover of Admiral Nelson, the victor of Trafalgar and the saviour of England.

I first heard of Nelson when I was about seven and the Hungarian Television broadcasted the 1941 black-and-white tearjerker, That Hamilton Woman. Being too young to grasp that the handsome Royal Navy officer on screen was in fact Laurence Olivier, rather than Nelson himself, at the end of the film I was left with a life-long admiration for Nelson, a life-long dislike for Bonaparte and a complete unawareness of who Laurence Olivier was.

Moonlit Night in Naples by Sylvester Shchedrin via Wikipedia (Public domain).
Moonlit Night in Naples by Sylvester Shchedrin via Wikipedia (Public domain). This romantic scene evokes long forgotten memories of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in a location that – owing to the war – couldn’t possibly have been Naples…

Continue reading “Nelson, Naples…”

Oranges Like Blazing Fire

The oranges of the island are like blazing fire among the emerald boughs,
And the lemons are like the pale faces of lovers who have spent the night crying.

Citrus_myrtifolia_2
Chinotto oranges. Photo by Nadiatalent via Wikipedia.

Two widely quoted lines from an obscure poet. If you can name the island this quote refers to, I’m impressed. If you can also name the poet, you know far too much about literature and history – would you be interested in writing a guest post for me?

As for the rest of you, the hoi polloi, the mere mortals 🙂 reading this:

Continue reading “Oranges Like Blazing Fire”

The Doors of Venice

I wrote the weekly photo prompt post this week for Bloggers World, and as luck would have it, I was invited to write it on the subject of doors. Or entrances. Exits and gates. The means of leaving and entering enclosed spaces, basically. Owing to the limitations on that forum, I was only allowed to share one door to play the part of the challenge prompt.

So here come a few more doors, constituting my reply to the weekly photo challenge by Bloggers World and being this Sunday’s miscellany.

I should re-brand this blog Waterblogged: Dry Thoughts On Damp Venice the rate I’m going.

The Bridge of Sighs

I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV. by Lord Byron

P1010832 View from Bridge of Sighs reduced
View from the Ponte dei Sospiri, the Bridge of Sighs towards the Ponte della Paglia with the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance. To the left, the New Prison, to the right, the Doge’s Palace.

I blush to admit it here but before I read City of Fortune, before I stood on the Bridge of Sighs myself, looking out at the view towards St Mark’s Basin, I used to be under the impression that the Bridge of Sighs in Venice had to do with sighing lovers, like some sort of a Juliette’s balcony. In fact, the Bridge of Sighs connects the Doge’s Palace to the new prisons on the other side of the canal and the sighing was done by the condemned men as they were led across the bridge, this being their last glimpse of the views of Venice.

Continue reading “The Bridge of Sighs”

A Take on the Column

A Service Message

As you might or might not have noticed, for reasons too tedious to go into here Waterblogged moved house and this is where it’s going to live from now on.

From your point of view, I hope this means that the site will load ever so much faster, even if I put photos on it… From my point of view, hopefully it means that I can spend my time blogging rather than fixing endless software problems.

For the moment the old site is still up with loads of links still pointing to it which I will fix bit by bit before taking it down. But it’s not being updated anymore. I tried to make this site look similar to the old one and in the end, I think it actually looks better. You’re welcome to disagree. 🙂

Normal service will resume here tomorrow with the Mediterranean Miscellany but in the meantime it occurred to me it would be a good idea to find out if your subscriptions did in fact safely transfer with the blog and is there actually anybody reading this, so…

…I thought maybe we could have a caption contest!

A Take on the Column

Amateur photographers say that it’s impossible to take a good picture of a column. Viewing the results of numerous attempts I made on Nelson’s Column on Trafalgar Square, I have to agree. Nevertheless, recently in Venice I managed to take this photo:

P1010702 reduced.jpg

Any ideas for a caption, please leave a comment.

The Dazzling Chandeliers of Venice

Well known fact: staring into the sun will dazzle your eyes. And worse: as Galileo Galilei found out to his cost, if you do it often enough and for long enough, it’ll blind you. Staring at a chandelier doesn’t quite do that – although, depending on the chandelier, it might well dazzle you.

Murano glass chandeliers from the fancy palazzos of Venice:

IMG_3094.jpg

Continue reading “The Dazzling Chandeliers of Venice”

The Horses of St Mark’s Basilica

Apologies for being a day late with the Mediterranean Miscellany but I was on holiday – in the Mediterranean (of course).

So today: Venice, a fantastic city with loads of history, since I just came back from there.

If you ever go to Venice, don’t begrudge the 5-euro entry fee to the loggia of San Marco (the church itself is free). From this loggia the Doge and Petrarch watched the tournaments held in celebration after Venice had successfully quelled a rebellion, the so-called Revolt of St Titus, in Crete in 1364. And the view over St Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace and the seafront is indeed delightful but the most memorable thing up there is…

Continue reading “The Horses of St Mark’s Basilica”

A Visit to Rome

My Sophisticated Young Lady has jetted off to Rome with her Classics class a couple of days ago. This lead to three immediate consequences:

  1. Young Friend of the Elephants acquired her own e-mail address so that she could send e-mails full of anguish to her big sister.
  2. I have to do all the housework.
  3. I was left ruminating enviously about books set in Italy.

But while I’m ruminating about those books set in Italy, I’d like to invite you for a fleeting visit to Rome:

Rome

Italian: Roma
Coordinates: 41°54′N 12°30′E
Time zone: Central European Time
Founded: 753 BC
Population: 2,9 million
Current weather: 17 C, sunny

image1.jpeg
The Trevi Fountain in Rome. Toss in a coin, and you’ll come back…

Some sayings about Rome:

All roads lead to Rome
To see Rome and die
Rome wasn’t built in a day
When in Rome, do as the Romans do
And some more…