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Birth of a Volcano: The Mythical Origins of Mount Etna

Seeing as Mount Etna chose to recently erupt and disrupt the busiest holiday time of the year in Italy, we figured it was a good time to talk about the mythical origins of the volcano. But before we discuss deities, here are a few facts and some practical information for mortals.

Mount Etna, located on the island of Sicily, is the tallest and most active volcano in Europe. Known for its dramatic eruptions, the volcano has been in an almost constant state of activity for the past decade. 

Oddly enough, Etna’s eruptions are not considered dangerous. The spectacular displays of blasting magma are not the problem child of Mamma Etna’s procreative activity; rather, the ash plumes that can shut down Catania’s airport are the thing to be concerned about. 

Perhaps the most curious thing about an Etna eruption is the raining down of volcanic material. As the pyroclastic fragments fall from the sky, you will see citizens walking around under umbrellas to protect themselves from the grey hail. What’s coming from above isn't the only peril; when it hits the earth it’s dangerous as well. The lava carpet that forms on the ground is extremely slippery, leading municipalities to prohibit the use of two-wheeled vehicles until the strange, charcoal-coloured ground cover can be removed. 

The descending particles make an odd rain-like sound as they hit the ground and land on solid objects such as vehicles. If you’ve left your car outside, you’ll need to brush off the lava-snow before driving off. (It’s an inconvenience but at least the stuff won’t freeze your door locks.) 

It might surprise you to learn that it’s possible to visit the volcano during an eruption, and guided night tours are a nifty way to fully enjoy the fiery show.

Now let’s turn back the clock a few thousand years to find out how the Ancient Greeks framed the birth of this formidable phenomenon of nature.

The Battle Between Zeus and Typhon: A Volcano Is Born

In Greek mythology, the origins of Etna as a volcano are attributable to an epic conflict between Zeus, God of the Sky, and Typhon, the most horrendous and deadly monster of all time. 

This fearsome beast — with a hundred flame-spewing dragons’ heads sprouting from his shoulders, coils of poison-spitting serpents extending from his body, and wings that could stir up cataclysmic storms — was the offspring of Gaia, Goddess of the Earth. Conceived in anger as a weapon of retaliation against the Olympian gods, Typhon wasted no time in challenging the authority of the Olympians, going straight from birth to battling the chief of all the gods. 

In their fight for supremacy of the cosmos, Typhon unleashed fierce winds and flames. Zeus, of course, wielded his usual thunderbolts, ultimately proving to be the stronger deity. After striking a mortal blow with his almighty lightning, Zeus tossed Typhon under Mount Etna — at that time a mere mountain — incarcerating him for all eternity, where his scorching breath and struggles to escape would create the volcano that now thrills both inhabitants and visitors with its fountains of blazing lava. 

The legend of Typhon showcases the Greeks’ explanation of the natural world’s tumultuous and destructive power through mythical storytelling. Today, it remains a poetic and symbolic reminder of the ongoing struggle between order and disorder, one that can also be experienced with one’s own senses every time Mamma Etna erupts.

If you're ready for some fiery adventure in Italy, DriverInRome is ready to show you the spectacular sights of Sicily and beyond.

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