You might be aware of my special affection of Homer´s Odyssey, which in my eyes is not just one old myth told over hundreds of generations, but also a story that has changed and keeps on to influence the whole mankind. The saying “it was a mere Odyssey …” is common sense in all corners of the world. Being in Sicily, which indeed was one of the destination of Odysseus´ fateful journey, I spent a day driving to visit one of the places said to be an exact location of the great tale.
Well, of course is there no proof whatsoever and of course have so many communities said to be the one place, but Isole dei Ciclopi – the “Islands of the Cyclops” – are among the most well known and visited of them all. From our home base in Southern Sicily it was a 2 hour drive to the second biggest city of the island, Catania, which is beautifully situated at the hillside of the mighty volcano Etna. Just 20 minutes away I find the big rocks in a small waterfront town called Aci Castello.
One of the big moments of the Odyssey
Odysseus´ meeting the mighty Cyclops, called Polyphemus, is one of the more intense moments of the story. He is the son of the God of the Oceans, the angry Poseidon who is not fond of Odysseus and a sea nymph called Thoosa. This giant – one of many populating the island of Sicily – captures Odysseus and his men and locks them into his cave, starting to eat the men alive one by one. After telling Polyphemus that his name was “Nobody”, the smart Odysseus manages to blind the cyclops with a burning stick from the fireplace while he is sleeping and manges to escape aboard his ship.
As the myth goes, the injured – and blinded – Polyphemus follows the men, hollering in anger and pain, screaming to alert his fellow Cyclops brothers. Asking what has happened and whom to blame for his misery, Polyphemos tells them that nobody did this to him. Almost at a safe distance to the shore while rowing for their lives, Odysseus almost arrogantly screams at the giant, who, in absolute rage, grabs the nearby stones and throws them towards the direction of the fleeing Greeks. These stones, of course, are as big as islands, creating huge waves and almost capsizing the boat of the heroes who barely manage to escape.
Polyphemos´ stones: Isole dei Ciclopi
Those famous stones, the rocks thrown by the poor blinded giant, are still to be found: The Isole dei Ciclopi some 200 to 300 meters off the shoreline of Aci Castello. As I arrive my heart jumps to a faster rate. Like a child I smile since this is a very exciting sight. Parking the car at the small marina of Aci Castello, we buy some Panini and a Coke and walk towards the beach.
You can climb the rocks of the mighty breakwater (which indeed is a sign for a much rougher sea-state if this is the will of Poseidon) and walk towards the Polyphemus´ stones. Sitting there in the sun, enjoying a freshly sliced combination of Prosciutto crudo, Ruccola and Parmigiano, you can let yourself sink into the story of Odysseus.
Before my eyes I remove the stones, I erase the big city of Catania in the vicinity and empty the whole scenery of everything human I can see. No cars, no honking-sounds and no voices. Just the waves, the wind and … well, maybe in the background the growling thunder of the injured giant, chasing the Greek warriors to this very place while the others on board ready the ship for instant departure in a hurry. I can imagine so vividly the Cyclops, raising the huge stones over his head, one eye bleeding and smoldering, throwing the huge boulders towards the feeling seafarers.
Greek mythology alive
The great Greek myth is all alive in Aci Castello. Literally a stone throw away from the Isole dei Ciclopi there is a school. One of the walls facing the marina is covered with a masterfully executed mural: The one-eyed Polyphemus, three stories high, looks down upon us, watching us with malevolence, a true menace. I wonder if the school children of this location are raised listening to the great epos or if there are certain occasions like festivities or a “Day of the Cyclops”.
If you happen to come to Aci Costello, it is an absolute pleasure to stop by these small islands and breathe this very special atmosphere. Myth and reality mixing, history becoming touchable, a story coming to live. I guess it may be possible to sail to Aci Castello since the small marina appears to be deep enough and some moorings are capable to taking a sailboat.
We leave Isole dei Ciclopi and Aci Castello after roughly an hour and I feel like a happy child. Yes, it´s just four big cliffs in the water and under normal circumstances nobody would make a fuzz about them, but Homer´s big story made them famous. It was both a relaxing and exciting moment to come here, just as it is with so many places on this beautiful island.
Worth a visit
Sicily is such a rich place! Although one of the poorest regions of Italy, as a traveller – and more so as a visiting sailor – you will be rewarded by such tasty, original, regional food, very welcoming people and so many places to visit where, as I mentioned before, history and fiction are melting together. Another hour drive from Aci Castello you can climb famous Taormina and sit down on the visitor´s benches in the ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina.
Enjoying an indescribably breathtaking view over the coastline with the towering Etna, you may think about it: Maybe two thousand years ago somebody just like you had been sitting here, watching a theatrical play of Homer´s “Odyssey” … what an awesome and overwhelming feeling!
You might as well find interesting:
The greatest story of them all: Homer´s Odyssey
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Breathing history: Casa de Colon on Gran Canaria