Page images



Fabulous and Heroic Age-A Jar of Honey from Mount Hybla-Greek Colonies

- Carthaginian Invasions — Syracusan Ascendancy - Roman Domination Saracenic Occupation-The Normans in Sicily-Rule of the Angevins-Sicilian Vespers—Government of the Aragonese-Piedmontese in Sicily-Sicily united to Naples under the Spanish Bourbons-Interference of England in the Cause of Sicilian Liberties-Revolt of 1848–Subjection of the Island by FilangieriArrival of the Liberator Garibaldi-Advance of the Insurgents by Salemi on Calata-Fimi-Garibaldi proclaimed Dictator-Reduction of Palermo.

The changing fortunes of Sicily, the beauty and variety of its scenery, the splendour of its climate, the magnificence of its contrasted configurations, the interesting and often striking relics of old, the mixed architecture of the middle ages-Saracenic, Norman, Gothic-all commemorative of a changing dominion, and the ever-recurring combination of historical and poetical reminiscences, have long attached the deepest interest to an island the very name of which is cherished by all cultivated minds. Its insular position, the want of good inns and roads, and the never-ending political disturbances brought about by a despotic bigotry, have all contributed to drive the mass of travellers from its shores. For thousands who pour down upon Rome and Naples, there are not, perhaps, as many dozens who cross the Faro of Messina. Yet there are certain charms peculiar to this the largest and most beautiful island in the Mediterranean, of which even Italy herself cannot boast. One of these is to be found in the exquisite blending of Grecian ruins with scenery, such as we see the relics of Greece and Rome associated with in Asia Minor alone ; another, in the peculiar architecture of the Normans unlike anything elsewhere existing, in which the Byzantine and Saracenic styles are so curiously intermingled ; and to those who care but little about temples or cathedrals, the phenomena of Etna, the most famous volcano in Europe, cannot but prove an attractive subject of contemplation.

Nor is the interest of Sicily wholly confined to its ancient architecture or natural beauties. The commercial and political state of the island are alike interesting to the English. Of the trade of Sicily we already enjoy the largest share. A large extent of the Marsalian vineyards are farmed by English capital, and were the trade freed from despotic and protectionist restrictions, and the resources of the island developed by a better government, it would be increased proportionably. And in regard to political associations, it should not be forgotten, even at the present crisis, that England has already interfered in maintaining that ancient constitutional government, to enjoy which the Sicilians have never for


feited their rights nor renounced their hopes. The aspirations of Sicily, liberated in the present day, would be towards forming part of a United Italy, and Victor Emmanuel would gladly concede to the islanders their ancient privileges, if voluntarily passing under his rule. If such a thing were possible as a United Italy, there cannot be a doubt that the existence of such a powerful kingdom would be advantageous in many ways ; it would facilitate communication by doing away with passport and customs prohibitions and annoyances, it would cement jarring elements into harmony, and it would conduce to the peace of Europe by consolidating a sixth first-rate power. It is the facility of conquest presented by inferiority that tempts interference and war. United Italy could treat upon terms of equality with either France or Austria, and such a result is, therefore, agreeable to neither. If it happens otherwise, and out of the Bourbon ashes there arises another Napoleonic phenix, or anarchy is succeeded by some worse than anarchical state of things, England may again be compelled to preserve her old allied island friends from decimation, devastation, or ruin. He is a bold prophet who, seeing the longrestrained passions of mankind let loose, shall say what the final results may be.

Sicily is the classical land of mythology. Its first inhabitants were gods. "Jupiter reigned on Mount Etna, and crushed the most powerful of all the giants who conspired against him-Enceladus, son of Titan and Terra-—under Mount Etna. According to the poets, the flames were his breath, and as often as he turned his weary side the whole island felt the motion, and shook to its very foundations. Ceres was the principal divinity of the island. Her daughter Proserpina, as also Diana and Minerva, spent their early years on the plain of Enna. It was thence that Pluto carried her off. 'Venus used often to visit the summits of the Eryx. The beautiful Daphnis, son of Mercury by a Sicilian nymph, invented pastoral poetry to conciliate Diana. Alpheus pursued there the nymph Arethusa. Vulcan wrought the thunders in the forges of Etna, aided by the hideous Cyclops. The loves of Galatæa and Acis, and the revengeful jealousy of the Cyclopean king Polyphemus, has been a favourite theme with poets down to the most recent times.

How pleasantly could Leigh Hunt babble of Sicily and of Sicilian pastorals?* A jar of Sicilian honey had caught his eye in the window of Fortnum and Mason.

“Sicilian honey." We had 10 sooner read those words, than Theocritus rose before us, with all his poetry.

Then Sicily arose—the whole island--particularly Mount Etna. Then Mount Hybla, with all its bees.

Then Rucellai (the Italian poet of the bees) and his predecessor Virgil, and Acis and Galatea, and Polyphemus, a pagan ufreet, but mild-mitigated by love, as Theocritus has painted him.

Then the Odyssey, with the giant in his fiercer days, before he bad sown his wild rocks; and the Sirens, and Scylla and Charybdis; and Ovid, and Alpheus and Arethusa, and Proserpina, and the Vale of Enna-names which bring before us whatever is blue in skies, and beautiful in flowers or in fiction.

Then Pindar and Plato, and Archimedes (who made enchantments real) and Cicero (who discovered his tomb), and the Arabs with their architecture, and the Normans with their gentlemen, who were to found a sovereignty, and the

* A Jar of Honey from Mount Hybla. Ainsworth's Magazine, vols. v. and vi., beautiful story of King Robert and the Angel, and the poor gallant youth Con: radin, who kissed his friend's decollated head on the scaffold, and the Sicilian Vespers (horribly so called), and the true Sicilian vespers, the gentle "Ave Maria” closing every evening, as it does still, in peace instead of blood, and ascending from blue seas into blue heavens out of white-sailed boats. Item; Bellini, and his Neapolitan neighbour Paesiello. Item, the modern Theocritus, not undeservedly so called ; to wit, the Abate Giovanni Meli, possibly of Grecian stock himself, for his name is the Greek as well as Sicilian for honey.

Item, earthquakes, vines, convents, palm-trees,* mulberries, pomegranates, aloes, citrons, rocks, gardens, banditti, pirates, huge furnaces under the sea, the most romantic landscapes and vegetation above it, guitars, lovers, serenades, and the never-to-be-too-often-mentioned blue skies and blue waters, which (on the concentrating Solomon-seal principle) appeared to be represented by our little blue jar.

Lastly, the sweetness, the melancholy, the mirth, the life, the death, the fugi. tive evil, the constant good, the threatening Etna making every moment of life precious, and the moment of life so precious, and breathing such a pure atmo. sphere as to enable fear itself to laugh at--nay, to love the threatening Etna, and play with it as with a great planetary lion to which it has become used.

Item, the Papyrus of the Nile, no longer in the lower portion of that river, yet now growing at the fountain where Alpheus mingled his streams with the fair waters of Arethusa.

After the gods, the poets unite in giving to Sicily an aboriginal race of giants, who dwelt in the caves and grottos so characteristic of the island, and from out of which Ulysses had to exercise his combined skill and courage to extricate his imprisoned companions.“ When," says Palmeri, with Amari, one of the best Sicilian historians, “ we speak of giants and Cyclops, Lestrygones or Lotophagi, the earliest inhabitants of the island, it is doubtful whether these names designated people of various nations, or merely different conditions of the same people. It is equally uncertain whether the island, first called, from its triangular shape, Trinacria, was afterwards called Sicania by the Sicani, and finally Sicilia by the Siculi; since it is a question whether these are any but different appellations for the same people. Some basis of truth there may have been in the story that the oxen of the Sun pastured in the rich fields of Milazzo; that Daphnis invented pastural poetry; Polyphemus and Aristæus taught the cultivation of the olive; that Dædalus was a great architect and sculptor, and that Hercules landed on the island and erected temples.”

Among so many mythical stories, some idea may be formed of the early state of Sicily. The Sicani, or Sicanians, originally from Spain, according to Dionysius Halicarnassensis (l. i. p. 17), and at first shepherds, gradually acquired some of the arts of civilisation, and erected cities :

Cyclopia regna
Vomere verterunt primum nova rura Sicani,
Pyrene misit populos,

* The dwarf fan-palm (Chamorops humilis), the only European palm, is indigenous to Sicily. Silius Italicus notices it (1. xiv. v. 200):

“Nectareis vocat ad certamen Hymetton

Audax Hybla favis, palmæque arbusta Selinùs;" as does also Virgil (Æn. iii. v. 705), still more significantly, in connexion with Selinus, now Sciacca : * Teque datis linquo ventis, palmosa Selinùs."

says Silius Italicus (1. xiv. v. 33). Other nations, attracted by the soil and climate, gradually visited the island. Such were the Cretans, under their king Minos, who came over in pursuit of Dædalus, and being at first received with hospitality by Cocalus, was treacherously stifled in the sulphur-baths of Selinus, while his followers, their ships being burned, were obliged to remain in the island. The wandering Trojans are also said to have founded a city upon Mount Eryx, now Mount St. Juliano, visited by Æneas after the fall of Troy, and whence, after the death of his father Anchises, he repaired to Italy. The Phænicians also established several maritime colonies, as at Palermo, Trapani, and other spots on the coast. The Siculi, as many believe, of Pelasgian origin, also crossed the Straits of Messina in great numbers, and obtained a permanent footing on the island. Silius Italicus, who brings the Sicanians from the Pyrenees, brings (1. xiv. v. 37) the Siculi, or Sicilians, and the Lestrygones, from Italy:

Mox Ligurum pubes, Siculo ductore novavit

Possessis bello mutata vocabula regnis; and at verse 127,

Prima Leontinos vastarunt prælia campos,

Regnatam duro quondam Læstrygone terram. The Grecian period is the most glorious in the Sicilian annals. Issuing from the narrow confines of the parent state in quest of a wider field of action, the Greeks landed at different parts of the island, as well as the neighbouring peninsula, and founded so many separate states. Some Athenians, cast on shore just below Taormina, built Naxos, the earliest of the Greek colonies. The Corinthians and Dorians, landing on the island of Ortygia, expelled the Siculi, and laid the foundations of Syracuse, Gela, Camerina, Leontium, Agrigentum, and Selinunte speedily followed. The rude inhabitants were driven into the fastnesses of the interior. Art, science, poetry, all that constituted the intellectual culture of the Greeks, became naturalised in this beautiful island. Then arose those noble temples, the ruins of which still adorn its shores. Emulation was kindled between the different states, and Syracuse and Agrigentum disputed the palm of excellence. Hiero, king of Syracuse, and Theron, tyrant of Agrigentum, are both celebrated in the immortal poems of Pindar for their victories at the Greek games: the former at the Pythian and Olympic, the latter at the Olympic games.

If the lessons of history are of any avail, Sicily presented in these days of a bright aurora the same germs of ruin which have ever been fatal to the whole of Italy. The Greek colonies, owing no allegiance to the parent state, became so many independent cities, each under its own domestic institutions, and with its own foreign alliances. At first popular, the government speedily degenerated into despotism. The supreme power was artfully obtained or violently seized by the tyrants, who made it their policy, as in our times is done upon a larger scale, "to sow dissension among the people, to engage them in foreign wars, and by glorious actions and splendid public works distract them from the sense of domestic slavery.” Such men were Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse, and Perillus at Agrigentum. Sometimes the democracy would regain the ascendant, but only by introducing the spirit of faction to distract the councils and weaken the resources of the state, and bring about the reaction of abso. lute despotism.

The same jealous struggles for political power that divided Greece itself, not only weakened the colonies, which, united, might have constituted an almost invulnerable state or republic, but exposed the island to the machinations of foreign enemies. These colonies were at the height of splendour when the Persians, about to invade Greece, and fearing that the Sicilian Greeks would succour their parent states, instigated the Carthaginians to attack them. Carthage, which had long desired a pretext for invading Sicily, now found one by the invitation of the tyrant of Messina, who, expelled his state, had taken refuge in Africa. Hamilcar, the Carthaginian chief, landed at Panormus (Palermo) with a powerful army, but sharing the same fate at the memorable Himera as the Persians did at Salamis, he was glad to reconduct his warriors back to their own burning shores.

The Sicilians, in the mean time, cooped up in the interior, and pressed upon by the advancing Greeks, long preserved a certain rude independence, till subdued by the Syracusans, whose dominant power became for the time being the salvation of Hellenic Sicily. For ever at variance among themselves, the Carthaginians, anxious to wash out the disgrace of Himera, again invaded the island under the pretext of assisting the Segestans against their more powerful neighbours, the Selinuntes. Selinunte was destroyed, Agrigentum besieged and taken, and the whole of Sicily seemed about to fall under the Carthaginian sway, when Dionysius came to the rescue, and, after a long struggle, succeeded in expelling the invaders from the Sicilian soil.

Upon another occasion Agathocles was equally successful, but upon a third recurrence of these persevering assaults of a foreign power, the Syracusans were obliged to seek the assistance of Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, who rescued Panormus from their hands, but failed before Lilybæum (Marsala), at that time the great stronghold of the Carthaginians. A new element of discord arose at this epoch in the island. The Campanians, who had aided in the war against Carthage, seized upon Messina, and founded a so-called Mamertine state or republic. Hiero, however, raising an army, defeated the Mamertines, and was in consequence saluted King of Syracuse by the grateful citizens. This elect of the people raised Syracuse to the highest pitch of glory it had ever attained. His court was the resort of the most celebrated men of Greece; Theocritus, Bion, Moschus, and Archimedes were amongst its ornaments. The latter name alone would suffice as a proof to what eminence the arts had attained, but the magnificent ship presented by Hiero to Ptolemy, King of Egypt, in which all the resources of the mechanical and ornamental arts were combined, may be also cited.

The glory of Syracuse expired with the life of one man. After the death of Hiero, anarchy resumed its sway, and the island, divided and unable to maintain her independence, became the prize for which her more powerful neighbours contended. An incident in the history of Syracusan domination, narrated at length by Thucydides, ought not to be omitted. It relates to the intervention of the Athenians under Alcibiades and Nicias in favour of the Segestans, and the successful co-operation with the Lacedemoniaus, under Gylippos, with the Syracusans, and by which the

« PreviousContinue »