Saturday, January 19, 2013

Under the Volcano: Calliope's Trinacria

We might remember that back in Metamorphoses 5 there was a brief account of Sicily.
‘“Trinacris, the vast isle of Sicily, had been heaped over the giant’s limbs, and with its great mass oppressed buried Typhoeus, he who had dared to aspire to a place in heaven. He struggles it’s true and often tries to rise, but his right hand is held by the promontory of Ausonian Pelorus, and his left hand by you, Pachynus. Lilybaeum presses on his legs, Etna weighs down his head, supine beneath it, Typhoeus throws ash from his mouth, and spits out flame. Often, a wrestler, he throws back the weight of earth, and tries to roll the high mountains and the cities from his body, and then the ground trembles, and even the lord of the silent kingdom is afraid lest he be exposed, and the soil split open in wide fissures, and the light admitted to scare the anxious dead.' "
The double quotations mark that this lore is being sung by Calliope, but the song in turn is being remembered and retold by another of the Muses -- the poem never specifies which one.

Calliope "pre-echoes" Ovid's own description in book 13 of the triangular shape of the island, with its three promontories: Pelorus, Pachynus, and Lilybaeum. Only in her account, the entire island is a mass that had intentionally been placed over the monster Typhoeus's arms and legs, with Etna as a mountainous channel to his mouth.
Typhon was described in pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, as the largest and most fearsome of all creatures. His human upper half reached as high as the stars. His hands reached east and west and, instead of a human head, he had a hundred dragon heads; some however depict him as having a human head and the dragon heads being attached to his hands instead of fingers. He was feared even by the mighty gods. His bottom half was gigantic viper coils that could reach the top of his head when stretched out and made a hissing noise. His whole body was covered in wings, and fire flashed from his eyes. 

Typhoeus is the source of a song sung by the magpie Pierides, who challenged the Muses in book 5, singing of the defeat of the Olympians by the monster:
How Typhoeus, issued forth from his abode in the depths of the earth, filling the heavenly gods with fear, and how they all turned their backs in flight, until Egypt received them, and the Nile with its seven mouths.
Theoi summarizes:
The later poets frequently connect Typhoeus with Egypt, and the gods, it is said, when unable to hold out against him, fled to Egypt, where, from fear, they metamorphosed themselves into animals, with the exception of Zeus and Athena. (Anton. Lib. 28 ; Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 28; Ov. Met. v. 321, &c. ; comp. Apollod. i. 6. § 3; Ov. Fast. ii. 461; Horat. Carm. iii. 4. 53.)
When Calliope proceeds to sing of the rape of Persephone, she begins with the situation on the ground. Trinacria is a shaken fortress:
‘“Fearing this disaster, the king of the dark (Hades) had left his shadowy realm, and, drawn in his chariot by black horses, carefully circled the foundations of the Sicilian land. When he had checked and was satisfied that nothing was collapsing, he relinquished his fears. Then Venus, at Eryx, saw him moving, . . .'"

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