The Etna Idea
The Etna Idea
Abstract and Keywords
As a preface of sorts to our later investigation (especially in Chapter 6) of the symbolic properties of Pietro Bembo’s representation of Mount Etna, Chapter 1 explores the rich diversity of Greco-Roman treatments of the volcano from Pindar down to Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, and the so-called Aetna poem (its authorship unknown). In mapping the Classical dimensions and contours of the cumulative Etna Idea, this chapter not only functions as a form of excavation into the literary geology of Pietro’s mountain, but also defines the question that much of the rest of this study seeks to address: in what ways, and to what extent, does Pietro challenge, exploit, and depart from (even upstage) the imaginative applications that are already encoded in Etna’s literary past?
EARLY IN DE AETNA, before Pietro Bembo recounts to his father, Bernardo, his ascent of Etna, he first describes the largely uneventful progress that he and his companion, Angelo Gabriele, made from Messina to the town of Taormina on the coast, and then on to Randazzo, at the northern foot of the mountain. Soon after they leave Messina, Calabria on the mainland becomes visible to their left; on their right, a chain of hills borders the coastal plain, which is “a rich producer of wine, and famous for its Mamertine vineyards—perhaps less famous than it once was, as if its praises had now been worn out precisely because they’re so old, but still famous enough nonetheless” (§12).1 Then, roughly halfway through their journey to Etna, the fortress of Nisus comes distantly into view on a lofty cliff: it was from this place, says Pietro (§12), that Ovid derived the line “Mothers descended from Nisus, and daughters of Sicily” (Nisiades matres sicelidesque nurus) in the fifteenth of his Heroides poems, purportedly written by Sappho to her lover, Phaon. Bernardo’s interest is immediately piqued by this verse: in the philological controversy that he recalls in §13 (“when I was a boy, if I remember correctly, scholars had yet to agree about this line of the poet”), Nisiades as read in the majority of manuscripts came under challenge from Nasiades/Nesiades.2 “But carry on,” Bernardo then urges, and Pietro next tells of their arrival at Taormina, of the ancient monuments that could (p.24) be seen in the town, and of the Greek coins that could apparently be dug up with ease there, just as they could in Syracuse most of all, “and pretty much throughout the entire island” (§13).
This chapter explores some of the ways in which Etna is imaginatively portrayed in the Greco-Roman literary tradition on which Bembo so conspicuously draws in composing De Aetna: just as Pietro gradually progresses from Messina to the foothills from which Etna eventually rises, so our journey through the literary past in this chapter is designed to lead up to, and artistically to contextualize, the highly idiosyncratic version of Etna that he configures in De Aetna. Hence the relevance of our initial glances above at the Mamertine vineyards, the fortress of Nisus, and the antiquities of Taormina: from the outset of Bembo’s journey from Messina, he not only captures a certain local flavor in the landmarks and curiosities he describes; he also combines topographical description with visitation of the Classical past, be it in the form of the Mamertine wine that was prized in antiquity, the philological problem posed by Ovid’s Heroides 15.54, or the ancient vestiges of Taormina. As soon as we become attuned to this connectivity with the Classical past as we travel with Bembo over space and time in De Aetna, the Etna that we might reasonably expect to encounter in that work is not just the literal mountain that Pietro climbed in the summer of 1493, but also a volcano of a far more flexible meaning and imaginative possibility. Bembo’s specific departure point in Messina, it is important to stress, was the learned school of Constantine Lascaris, his teacher of Greek. Pietro apparently ventured to Etna as a respite after more than a year of uninterrupted work at Lascaris’ school (§11), but his climb as portrayed in De Aetna constitutes the application, I argue, of the Classical learning that he worked to acquire both before and during his stay in Sicily: while he records his direct experience of the mountain in De Aetna, this short work is also crucially centered on his literary experience of the storied volcano.
After thus far tracing Bembo’s progress from Messina to the foot of the literal volcano, then, we embark in this chapter on a preliminary journey of our own, as if traversing the literary landscape that stands before Bembo’s idiosyncratic Etna as drawn in De Aetna. A central contention of this study is that he drew from the ancients the stimulus that shapes his own highly imaginative elaboration of what I term the Etna Idea—the generic name that I give to the phenomenon, or rather the dynamic principle, that underlies the diverse, highly inventive portrayals of Mount Etna in the Greco-Roman literary tradition.3 The Etna Idea constitutes no formal ancient category of definition; rather, it brings to order in this chapter a (p.25) collection of treatments that may in many cases be related through allusive contact or thematic overlap, but that nevertheless differ profoundly in their idiosyncratic meaning(s) within their given works or contexts.
To introduce the Etna Idea more fully, and to establish a vantage point from which to observe major developments in its Latin literary evolution in particular, we turn first to the Greek tradition, and specifically to Pindar’s first Pythian ode—the earliest extant example of Etna’s complex elaboration to symbolic effect in Greco-Roman literature. Thereafter we turn to Lucretius, Virgil, Ovid, Seneca and the so-called Aetna poem (its author unknown) of the later first century CE. Yet other treatments of Etna could have been chosen for analysis, but my focus on these authors is designed to exploit one particular interpretive opportunity. First, however, an important caveat is to be registered. In surveying modern interpretations of (say) Lucretius, Virgil, and Ovid below, I hardly insist that Bembo himself would necessarily have interpreted the texts in those particular ways, or that he would have applied anything like the same literary-critical apparatus and outlook to those texts. My claim is rather that he was all too alive to the creative impulse that underlay those prior treatments—an impulse that is broadly visible even if the niceties of a particular interpretation of (say) Lucretius on Etna can hardly be straightforwardly attributed to, or intuited in, Bembo’s own reading of Lucretius.
But then the opportunity just prefigured: for all the safeguards expressed in my caveat above, this chapter is designed to introduce the feature of Etna’s doubleness which, I argue, is basic to De Aetna. By that doubleness I mean the different perspectives from which Pietro simultaneously portrays Etna within his text: as we shall see in Chapter 6 in particular, Bernardo’s cool, detached, and rationalizing approach to the mountain is set in tension with Pietro’s warm vibrancy of expression as he describes his direct engagement with Etna. This doubleness of vision is already encoded, I contend, in the Greco-Roman tradition of Etna treatments, albeit with several variations in how that doubleness is deployed. In Lucretius and Ovid, for example, we shall see that Etna is differently represented at different points within both the former’s De rerum natura and the latter’s Metamorphoses, and that each poet enterprisingly exploits the tension that results from that duality of representation in their respective works. Then there is the doubleness that results from one poet asserting a vision of Etna that engages with, challenges, or counters a prior representation of it: our prime illustration in this category will be the “corrective” that Virgil applies in the Aeneid to the Lucretian representation of Etna in De rerum natura. In turn, the younger Seneca offers a further variation on this doubleness in his Moral Letters, or at least in those missives that are addressed to his friend Lucilius after the latter is installed as procurator of Sicily: hovering as it does between its status as so familiar a literary landmark on the one hand, its subjection to Seneca’s inquiring, “scientific” eye on the other, his Etna is drawn with a wry (p.26) ambivalence of tone that is fully in keeping with his larger authorial persona in the Letters. But if Seneca already exploits this tension between Etna as a staple literary phenomenon on the one side, Etna as the object of naturalistic inquiry on the other, we shall see that the Aetna poet sets these two visions of the volcano against each other in a still more confrontational fashion in his treatment of those twin peaks, the Etna of fabula and the Etna of ratio.
In touring this chosen landscape of Etna receptions from Lucretius to the Aetna poem, then, this chapter aims not just to contextualize Pietro’s treatment of the volcano within the Greco-Roman lineage of the Etna Idea, thereby asserting the Classical provocation for his own idiosyncratic development of that Idea. By focusing on the doubleness of Etna’s deployment in the Latin tradition in particular, this chapter also seeks to identify an important subcategory within the larger Classical repertoire of the Etna Idea—a subcategory that strikingly anticipates Pietro’s own elaboration of Etna’s doubleness in De Aetna. Hence the structuring principle that coordinates my coverage below of authors such as Lucretius and Virgil is this phenomenon of double vision; but for initial orientation on the Etna Idea we turn to Pindar.
1.1: Pindar, Pythian 1
The eruption of Etna that Thucydides reports for the year 426/5 BCE occurred, he asserts, fifty years after the last such event (3.116.1–2).4 No eruption for 475 or so is reported in the Parian Chronicle; but the Chronicle does record one—the same or a different eruption?—under 479–8.5 If on the basis of these sources we broadly accept that Etna erupted in the 470s BCE, Pindar surely evokes that event6 when, writing in his first Pythian ode, he tells of Typhoeus/Typhon’s7 imprisonment under the volcano:
- ὅσσαδὲ μὴ πεφίληκεΖεύς, ἀτύζονταιβοάν 13
- Πιερίδων ἀίοντα, γᾶντεκαὶ πόν-
- τονκατ᾿ ἀμαιμάκετον,
- ὅςτ᾿ ἐναἰνᾷ Ταρτάρῳ κεῖται, θεῶνπολέμιος, 15
- Τυφὼς ἑκατοντακάρανος· τόνποτε
- Κιλίκιονθρέψενπολυώνυμον ἄντρον· νῦνγεμάν
- ταί θ᾿ ὑπὲρ Κύμας ἁλιερκέες ὄχθαι
- Σικελίατ᾿ αὐτοῦ πιέζει
- στέρναλαχνάεντα· κίωνδ᾿ οὐρανίασυνέχει,
- νιφόεσσ᾿ Αἴτνα, πάνετες χιόνος ὀξείαςτιθήνα· 20
- Β΄ τᾶς ἐρεύγονταιμὲν ἀπλάτου πυρὸς ἁγνόταται
- ἐκμυχῶνπαγαί· ποταμοὶ δ᾿ ἁμέραισιν
- μὲνπροχέοντι ρ‛όονκαπνοῦ
- αἴθων᾿· ἀλλ᾿ ἐν ὄρφναισινπέτρας
- φοίνισσακυλινδομέναφλὸξ ἐςβαθεῖ-
- ανφέρειπόντου πλάκασὺνπατάγῳ.
- κεῖνοδ᾿ Ἁφαίστοιοκρουνοὺς ἑρπετόν 25
- δεινοτάτους ἀναπέμπει· τέραςμὲν
- θαῦμαδὲ καὶ παρεόντων ἀκοῦσαι,
- οἷον Αἴτνας ἐνμελαμφύλλοιςδέδεταικορυφαῖς
- καὶ πέδῳ, στρωμνὰ δὲ χαράσσοισ᾿ ἅπαννῶ-
- εἴη, Ζεῦ, τὶνεἴη ἁνδάνειν,
- ὃςτοῦτ᾿ ἐφέπεις ὄρος, εὐκάρποιογαί- 30
- αςμέτωπον, τοῦ μὲν ἐπωνυμίαν
- κλεινὸςοἰκιστὴρ ἐκύδανενπόλιν
- γείτονα, Πυθιάδοςδ᾿ ἐνδρόμῳ κά-
- ρυξ ἀνέειπέ νιν ἀγγέλ-
- λων Ἱέρωνος ὑπὲρκαλλινίκου
- But those whom Zeus does not love are stunned with terror 13
- when they hear the cry of the Pierian Muses, whether on the earth or on the resistless sea; (p.28)
- among them is he who lies in dread Tartarus, that enemy of the gods, 15
- Typhon with his hundred heads. He was nurtured of old by the famed Cilician cave,
- but now the steep cliffs above Cumae, and Sicily too,
- lie heavy on his shaggy breast.
- And the column that soars to heaven
- holds him down, snow-covered Aetna, nurse of keen frost all year round, 20
- from whose inmost caves burst forth the purest streams of unapproachable fire.
- In the daytime her rivers roll forth a fiery flood of smoke,
- while in the darkness of night the crimson flame hurls rocks down
- with crashing din to the deep plain of the sea below.
- And that monster sends forth the most terrible streams of fire; 25
- it is a marvelous wonder to behold, and a wonder even to hear when men are present.
- Such a creature is he that lies bound beneath the dark-leafed heights of Aetna
- and beneath the plain, while his rugged bed goads the whole length
- of his back stretched out against it.
- Grant, grant that we may please you, Zeus,
- you who frequent this mountain, this brow of a fruitful land, 30
- whose namesake city near at hand was glorified
- by its renowned founder, when the herald at the Pythian racecourse
- proclaimed her by telling of Hiero’s triumph with the chariot.
This ode was occasioned by the victory won by Hiero I, tyrant of Syracuse from 478 to 467 BCE, in the chariot race at the Pythian Games at Delphi in 470. He had himself proclaimed there as Hiero of Aetna, in celebration of the city that he had recently established near the volcano (cf. 30–2), and in that same year, 470 BCE, he also installed his son, Deinomenes, as ruler of Aetna. This new city was formerly Catana (modern Catania); as part of his broader resettlement program to consolidate Syracusan control over the northern and eastern coasts of Sicily, Hiero had in 476 transferred the original population of Catana as well as Naxus to Leontini and replaced the people with 10,000 Dorian colonists, renaming the city Aetna.8 If the (p.29) eruption happened soon after Aetna was founded, Pindar’s portrayal of Typhoeus’ punishment would be all the more topically relevant, even admonitory, given the ode’s complex fusion of athletic celebration, political resonance, and symbolic message through mythological appeal.9
Already in his Theogony Hesiod had recounted how, after defeating the Titans, Zeus faced a final challenger in the form of monstrous Gaia’s last child, Typhoeus (820–80); defeating him in single combat, Zeus “in terrible anger threw him into wide Tartarus” (868). If Αἴτνης is read at Theogony 860 (“And flame shot forth from the thunder-stricken lord in the rugged glens of the mountain Etna”), Typhoeus is first associated with Mount Etna in Hesiod—an association perhaps playfully taken up by Pietro Bembo in his suspicion, à propos of Hesiod’s vivid description of the earth burning after Typhoeus’ demise at Theogony 861–8, that “that famous shepherd from Ascra had at some point climbed Etna, and that he took from there the lines that he wrote about the entire earth” (De Aetna §39). But the reading Αἴτνης is clearly open to serious objection,10 not least because Hesiod departs from the Etna myth in portraying Typhoeus not as languishing under the (unidentified) mountain but as lying aflame on the mountainside before being hurled into Tartarus; Hesiod “seems not to be thinking of a volcano, but of a bare, scorched region.”11 If Αἴτνης is duly rejected, and if we accept that [Aeschylus’] account of Typhoeus’ imprisonment under Etna in Prometheus Bound 363–72 is later than and closely modeled on Pythian 1,12 then it is Pindar who provides the first attestation of eastern Typhoeus13 in the Greek west. Moreover, Pindar’s departure from the Hesiodic tradition is explicitly signaled by his initial allusion to Tartarus (“he who lies in dread Tartarus,” 15; cf. Theog. 868) before his Typhoeus is emphatically placed under “snow-covered Aetna” (20).14 By locating Typhoeus in both places, Pindar may partly exploit the belief that Mount Etna was an opening to the underworld;15 but he also achieves a movement from the general and the eternal to the specific in the here and now, as Kathryn Morgan nicely observes: “An account that started with the monster lying (p.30) Hesiodically in remote Tartaros now has him much closer to the surface, where he can and does affect everyday life.”16
But the Pindaric Typhoeus’ association with Etna as well as with “the steep cliffs above Cumae” (18) is no less topical for political reasons. In answer to a delegation from Cumae (on the Tyrrhenian coast north of the Bay of Naples) for help in its struggles against the Etruscans, Hiero promptly dispatched a fleet that shared in a famous naval victory over a coalition force of Etruscans and Carthaginians off Cumae in 474 BCE.17 In Pythian 1 Pindar alludes directly to this much heralded victory, which contributed to the revival, after the Persian War struggles against Darius and Xerxes, of the Panhellenic myth of heroic Greek resistance to the barbarian Other:18
- λίσσομαινεῦσον, Κρονίων, ἥμερον
- ὄφρακατ᾿ οἶκον ὁ Φοίνιξ ὁ Τυρσα-
- νῶντ᾿ ἀλαλατὸς ἔχη, ναυσίστονον
- ὕβριν ἰδὼντὰνπρὸ Κύμας,
- οἷα Συρακοσίων ἀρχῷ δαμασθέντεςπάθον,
- ὠκυπόρων ἀπὸ ναῶν ὅ σφιν ἐνπόν-
- τῳ βάλεθ᾿ ἁλικίαν,
- Ἑλλάδ᾿ ἐξέλκωνβαρείαςδουλίας.
- I entreat you, son of Cronus, grant that the war-cry of the Phoenicians
- and Etruscans
- may remain at home in peace and quiet, now that they have seen their
- bring lamentation to their ships off Cumae. Such were the losses they
- when conquered by the lord of the Syracusans—a fate that flung their young
- warriors from their swift ships into the sea,
- delivering Hellas from oppressive bondage.
“[B]ut now the steep cliffs above Cumae, and Sicily too, lie heavy on [Typhoeus’] shaggy breast” (17–19): beyond the geological linking of Cumae and eastern Sicily here as connected hotbeds of volcanic activity,19 Hiero’s recent naval victory “off (p.31) Cumae” (πρὸ Κύμας, 72) aligns the defeated Etruscans and Carthaginians (72) with the vanquished Typhon of lines 15–20.20 Just as Zeus subdues Typhoeus, so Hiero, by implication Zeus’ earthly surrogate, dispenses an equivalent form of justice in thwarting his own eastern challengers.21 If Hiero is configured as Zeus’ regent on earth, then in his different way Pindar functions as Zeus’ instrument, channeling the music that is heaven-sent:
- Χρυσέαφόρμιγξ, Ἀπόλλωνοςκαὶ ἰοπλοκάμων
- σύνδικον Μοισᾶνκτέανον· τᾶς ἀκούει
- μὲνβάσις ἀγλαΐας ἀρχά……………
- …………………. …. .
- καὶ τὸναἰχματὰνκεραυνὸνσβεννύεις 5
- αἰενάου πυρός. εὕδειδ᾿ ἀνὰ σκά-
- πτῳ Διὸςαἰετός, ὠκεῖ-
- ανπτέρυγ᾿ ἀμφοτέρωθεν χαλάξαις,
- ὅσσαδὲ μὴ πεφίληκεΖεύς, ἀτύζονταιβοάν 13
- Πιερίδων ἀίοντα …
Pythian 1.1–2, 5–7, 13–14
- Golden lyre, rightful joint possession of Apollo and the violet-tressed
- lyre, to which the dance-step listens, the beginning of splendid festivity ……………
- You quench even the warlike thunderbolt of everlasting flame;
- and the eagle, king of birds, sleeps on the scepter of Zeus, relaxing his swift wings on either side ……………
- But those whom Zeus does not love are stunned with terror
- when they hear the cry of the Pierian Muses ……………
(p.32) The lyre’s music enchants its hearers as long as they enjoy Zeus’ favor: from the outset, the lyre—and, by extension, Pindar’s own song—operates within an overarching structure of obedience to Zeus, with both Hiero and the poet aligned as his servants.22 But while Pindar’s Etna imprisons Typhoeus, the recent eruption of c. 475 BCE allows no room for complacency: the Etruscan threat may have been thwarted in 474, but Etna’s eruption signals the restlessness of an enemy who yet struggles, however intermittently, against his captivity. Hence the further implication for Hiero, perhaps, is that the repression of disorder is no once-and-for-all achievement but an ongoing challenge that tasks the divinely ordained ruler with ceaseless vigilance; from another angle, Typhoeus’ fate may also warn of the dangers of misapplying absolute power by failing to heed measurement and (Pindaric) stricture about the art of rule, and thereby failing to stay on the side of Zeus and the lyre.23
For all the omissions in this brief overview of a poem as complex as Pythian 1, our priority for now is Pindar’s treatment of Etna and Typhoeus. Here is the earliest Greco-Roman example of Etna configured not just (or only) as an intimidating physical immensity per se, but also as an idea of immense imaginative appeal, a landmark that Pindar molds and exploits as a highly versatile carrier of both symbolic meaning and artistic possibility. Pindar claims the mountain as his own, as if inscribing it with his idiosyncratic design of Typhoeus- and Hiero-centered interpretation. A central claim of this study is that Pietro Bembo, in his De Aetna, appropriates Etna as a symbolic landmark in a similar way, albeit with a figurative meaning that is very much his own. He was evidently directly familiar with Pythian 1,24 and his experience of Pindar’s creative fashioning of the mountain may well have contributed to his experimentation with the Etna Idea, but only as one of multiple influences. From Pindar, we therefore progress to my promised coverage of the doubleness of viewpoint that characterizes Etna in Lucretius, Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, and the Aetna poet. In relating that doubleness to a parallel phenomenon in De Aetna, I introduce and illustrate via my ancient comparanda the tension that Pietro exploits between (p.33) a “scientific,” rationalizing approach to volcanic nature on the one hand, and a more fictive, myth-based perception of Etna on the other; a harder formulation of this point would propose that Pietro directly, if differently, applies in De Aetna the dynamic of doubleness that he already found embedded in the Classical Etnean intertexts that he knows so well. In mining this tradition, sections 1.2 to 1.4 below amount to a form of literary geology as we probe into the Classical substrata of De Aetna: just as the lava effusions from Etna cool to form fresh layers on the mountain, reshaping it in the process (cf. De Aetna §§41–2), so the Greco-Roman past supplies its own multiple layers to the evolving literary history of the volcano, all of which give underlying support, substance, and stimulus to Bembo’s development of the Etna Idea. Before we ascend Etna with Bembo, then, we first build on our initial sampling of Pindar’s Pythian 1 by exploring the mountain’s literary layers, with Lucretius and Virgil supplying our first accretions.
1.2: Virgil and Lucretius
In his hyperbolical description of Etna in Aeneid 3, Virgil sought to rival (aemulari) Pindar’s version in Pythian 1—or so thought the Roman sophist, philosopher, and polymath Favorinus of Arelate (modern Arles, c. 85–c. 165 CE),25 at least according to his devotee Aulus Gellius in his Noctes Atticae, published (internal evidence suggests) c. 180 CE. Although no stranger to Latin study,26 Favorinus, a pupil of Dio Chrysostom and a friend of Plutarch, worked exclusively in Greek throughout his professional career—an orientation that seemingly colors his critique in Noctes Atticae 17.10 of what he presents as those parts of the Aeneid that lacked finish, the allegedly overblown lines on Etna a special case in point. In the Virgilian description, Aeneas tells Dido and the Carthaginian court of how, voyaging from Troy, he and his men eventually approached the Sicilian coast near Etna (Aen. 3.570–82):
- Portus ab accessu ventorum immotus et ingens
- ipse, sed horrificis iuxta tonat Aetna ruinis,
- interdumque atram prorumpit ad aethera nubem,
- turbine fumantem piceo et candente favilla,
- attollitque globos flammarum et sidera lambit;
- interdum scopulos avolsaque viscera montis 575
- erigit eructans, liquefactaque saxa sub auras (p.34)
- cum gemitu glomerat, fundoque exaestuat imo.
- fama est Enceladi semustum fulmine corpus
- urgeri mole hac ingentemque insuper Aetnam
- impositam ruptis flammam exspirare caminis, 580
- et fessum quotiens mutet latus, intremere omnem
- murmure Trinacriam et caelum subtexere fumo.
- There is a haven out of the winds’ reach, undisturbed and vast
- in itself, but nearby Etna thunders with dreadful eruptions,
- and now spews forth a black cloud into the sky,
- a cloud smoking with its pitch-black eddy and white-glowing ashes,
- and it throws up balls of flame and licks the stars;
- and now it hurls high the rocks that it vomits up, and the mountain’s
- ripped-out entrails, and with a roar it gathers up the molten rocks
- in the air and boils up from its furthest depths.
- The story goes that Enceladus’ body, half-scorched by a lightning bolt,
- is buried under this mass, and that, piled on top of him, massive Etna
- breathes forth flame from its ruptured furnaces;
- and as often as he turns over his weary side, all Sicily moans
- and trembles, and veils the sky with smoke.
Just before quoting lines 570–7 in a direct synkrisis with Pythian 1.21–6,27 Gellius’ Favorinus characterizes the passage as “among those that particularly seem to have needed revision and correction … For since he wanted to rival the verses that the earlier poet Pindar composed about the nature and burning of [Etna], he has heaped up such expressions and words that in this passage at least he is more abnormal and inflated (insolentior … tumidiorque) even than Pindar himself, who was thought to have too overloaded and rich a style of eloquence (nimis opima pinguique … facundia)” (17.10.8). Whereas Pindar realistically (cf. veritati magis obsecutus, §11) distinguishes the sight of smoke by day from that of flame by night, Virgil is taken to task for confusing day and night in a bombastic description (in strepitu sonituque verborum, §12) that vastly elaborates on its model, importing emphases and, for Favorinus, excessive infelicities of diction that render the Virgilian passage self-referential, its monstrous theme (cf. already τέρας “monster” at Pyth. 1.26) matched by a form of verbal monstrosity: “It is (p.35) the most monstrous of all monstrous descriptions” (omnium quae monstra dicuntur monstruosissimum est, §19).28
It may be that the contrast drawn by Favorinus here between Pindar’s realism and clarity (cf. luculente, §13) on the one side, Virgil’s overblown grandiosity on the other, is implicated in a strand of ancient literary criticism in which Pindar offered one paradigmatic model of the “high style”; further, that in Noctes Atticae 17.10 Gellius reflects the movement of a Greek discourse of stylistic criticism that sets two passages or authors against each other toward a cross-lingual discourse that sets a Latin text against its Greek model.29 But beyond the fact that Favorinus makes nothing of the seething sound effects that Virgil so powerfully pounds out through assonance and alliteration,30 his critique is blinkered because of his fixation with Pindar alone: nothing is said of Virgil’s likely engagement with [Aeschylus’] Prometheus Bound as well as with Lucretius’ portrayal of Etna in his De rerum natura (cf. 1.722–5, 2.593, 6.639–702), and Richard Thomas duly stresses the Homeric frame that unmistakably surrounds the localized Pindaric presence in Aen. 3.570–87 as a whole.31 From this enlarged perspective, Favorinus’ critique is not only one-dimensional; it also gives no hint of how Virgil actively distances himself from his Pindaric model among competing models. Whereas Pindar locates Typhoeus under Etna, Virgil follows the alternative tradition that placed Enceladus under the volcano (578), and he thereby sides with Callimachus on this Alexandrian zetema, signaling the arcane literariness of his maneuver through the “Alexandrian footnote” delivered in fama est Enceladi … corpus/ urgeri mole hac (578–9).32 Yet still more important as a line of defense against Favorinus’ critique are the cosmic implications of Virgil’s hyperbole at 3.570–7—implications widely felt throughout the epic, to the effect that the alleged excesses of the Etna hotspot in Book 3 cannot be judged, as they are in Noctes Atticae 17.10, purely on their own terms and regardless of the wider poetic context.
Throughout the night Aeneas and his men endure the sound of Etna’s monstrous horrors (immania monstra, 583), only to encounter a different monstrosity on the next day: already warned of Polyphemus’ presence by the (p.36) traumatized Achaemenides, that companion of Ulysses who was left behind on the island (616–18), the Trojans finally witness the Cyclops on the mountain top (summo … monte, 655), moving his great mass (vasta … mole, 656) toward the shore, “a terrifying monster, shapeless, massive, robbed of the light” (monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum, 658). The hyperbole and verbal cacophony that erupt in the description of Etna are now suitably matched in Virgil’s description of this monstrous man-mountain:33 already when we first glimpse him on high (summo … monte) in line 655, his spatial positioning anticipates the assimilation to Etna that is surely irresistible in lines 670–4, where the roar that he unleashes when he cannot catch the fleeing Trojans causes the seas to shudder, Italy to tremble, and Aetna to bellow in its winding caverns (curvis … immugiit Aetna cavernis, 674). Just as Aeneas and his men cower during the night, hidden in the woods (silvis, 583) and assailed by Etna’s monstrous noise (cf. immania monstra, 583), so the castaway Achaemenides relates how he “drags out his life in the woods” (vitam in silvis … traho, 646–7), ever trembling at the Cyclopes’ “voices and the sound of their feet” (sonitum … pedum vocemque tremesco, 648). At 3.423 the monstrous Charybdis is said to “lash the stars with her waves” (sidera verberat unda), as if in symbolic emulation of the Gigantomachic assault on the heavens. In his different way the towering Polyphemus “strikes against the high stars” (alta … pulsat/ sidera, 619–20), thereby also emulating Etna, which “licks the stars” through its effusions (sidera lambit, 574). Charybdis alternately sucks in the waves and throws them up (erigit, 423), an action echoed in Etna’s spewing of its innards (avolsa … viscera montis/ erigit eructans, 575–6); after gorging on his human victims and drowning in wine, Polyphemus completes the chain of eructation when, stretched out on the floor of his cave in his measureless bulk (immensus, 632: Etna-like in his massiveness?), he vomits forth his gory feast (saniem eructans et frusta, 632).
Through these linkages Virgil’s Etna is anthropomorphized (cf. viscera, 575; eructans, 576; gemitu, 577) as a mountain in some ways akin not just to Polyphemus, but also to the Giant Enceladus imprisoned beneath it: as Philip Hardie has shown so well, the Gigantomachic implications of Etna assaulting the heavens by hurling its ash cloud and fire balls to the skies and by “licking the stars” (572–4) align the volcano as one of the forces of disorder, one of the monstra, that challenge cosmic stability in the Aeneid more generally.34 Hence Aeneas’ experiences in Sicily as described in Aeneid 3 can be viewed, as Francis Sullivan well puts it, as “a prelude and preparation for [the Trojans’] future struggles against monstra of all kinds, whether embodied in natural forces, such as storms, or in human beings moved (p.37) by violence and furor.”35 Among these monstra of all kinds are Charybdis, Etna, and Polyphemus, the three of them so tightly connected by the verbal bindings just sampled above; but the list extends to Cacus in Aeneid 8, his cannibalistic cruelty and primitive cave (cf. 8.193–7) so reminiscent of Polyphemus. Etna-like in his great bulk and in vomiting fire (8.198–9), Cacus still more closely resembles the volcano when Hercules, for Virgil that “symbol of the heroic qualities needed to establish Roman power,”36 leaps down into the cave and throttles the smoke- and fire-spewing monster (cf. faucibus ingentem fumum … /evomit, 8.252–3; Cacum in tenebris incendia vana vomentem, 259).37 Beyond Cacus, Virgil’s Allecto, Turnus, and Mezentius all show conspicuously volcanic signs of character,38 with Turnus and Mezentius in particular applying at the human level the disordering implications of Virgil’s Etna description in Aeneid 3: in their resistance to Aeneas and, by extension, to Rome’s sanctioned destiny, they threaten the order of fatum, just as Etna symbolically threatens the sanctity of cosmological and theological order in the epic. On this approach, Favorinus’ dismissive quip that Virgil’s Etna passage is “the most monstrous (monstruosissimum) of all monstrous descriptions” (NA 17.10.19) could not be truer, but for a reason absent in his critique. The excessive, monstrous, hyperbolical element is essential to Etna’s function in the Aeneid’s larger symbolic tectonics: rather than describing the volcano simply for itself, as if in an isolated purple passage of set-piece description in Book 3, Virgil applies the Etna Idea to highly creative, connective effect within a network of cross-poem significations.
In contrast to Virgil’s seething hot, cosmically threatening Etna in Aeneid 3 stands another man-mountain, the personified Atlas: there Mercury briefly pauses at 4.246–51 as he descends to Carthage to remind the tarrying Aeneas of his duty in Italy (cf. 223–37). Aged, weather-beaten, and ice-bound (249–51), Virgil’s Atlas is impressively steadfast (cf. duri, 247) in his Stoic-like apatheia;39 a giant who has been “immobilized and rendered safe,” transformed from “hubristic skyreacher” to “a stable prop of the established order,”40 he is the upholder of the cosmic firmament (p.38) (caelum … vertice fulcit, 247), and hence symbolic (contra Etna) of the containment of Gigantomachic energies.41 Within Book 4 Atlas is also set in contrast to Virgil’s Fama (173–88):42 while Atlas towers to the heavens, his head girded by clouds (248–9), Fama, quick and agile (cf. mobilitate viget, 175) like an incendiary thunderbolt,43 spans heaven and earth, walking on the ground but with her head hidden in the clouds (177). Whereas Atlas upholds the cosmic order, Fama sows disorder and terror (territat, 187) through the facts and falsehoods she spreads as she flits about between heaven and earth (caeli medio terraeque, 184); through this disordering effect, this sister of Enceladus (179–80; in retrospect the “Alexandrian footnote” at 3.578, fama est Enceladi … , takes on added nuance),44 fully lives up to her heritage as the daughter of Earth, enemy of the gods (cf. Terra parens, ira inritata deorum, 178). Fama, this monstrum horrendum, ingens (181), is also Polyphemus-like in her monstrousness (cf. monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, 3.658), a linkage underscored by the derivation of Polyphemus’ name from the Greek φήμη/fama.45 But these points of contact between Etna in Aeneid 3 and Atlas and Fama in Book 4 are further complicated by Virgil’s simultaneous engagement with Lucretius: the latter’s portrayal of religio in De rerum natura 1 has important affinities with Virgil’s Fama, and his deployment of Etna in connection with the Gigantomachy theme also provides a counterpoise for Virgil’s experimentation with the same idea.
If Virgil re-mythologizes46 Etna after Lucretius applies a cold dose of ratio to explain its workings at De rerum natura 6.639–702, Lucretius ironizes the Gigantomachy theme through a technique that appears to be “corrected” in the Aeneid through Virgil’s starker juxtaposition of the forces of cosmic chaos on the one side (Etna symbolically prominent among them) and those of order on the other (Atlas symbolically prominent among them).47 Early in DRN 5 Lucretius assails belief in the (p.39) divine nature and governance of the world, appropriating for himself the language of oracular authority as he readies to deliver his Epicurean “prophecies” (fundere fata, 110) on the mortality of the world “more scrupulously and with much surer reason (sanctius et multo certa ratione magis)” even than the Pythian oracle (111–12). In this rebellion against bridled obedience to religio (cf. religione refrenatus, 114), he in effect aligns himself with the Giants as drawn in lines 117–21:
- … proptereaque putes ritu par esse Gigantum
- pendere eos poenas immani pro scelere omnis
- qui ratione sua disturbent moenia mundi
- praeclarumque velint caeli restinguere solem,
- immortalia mortali sermone notantes.48
- [ … I shall set out comforts lest you think that the world is immortal,]
- and for that reason you believe it right that, in the manner of the Giants,
- all they should pay the penalty for a monstrous crime
- who shake the walls of the world through their reasoning
- and want to extinguish the radiant sun in heaven,
- branding things immortal with mortal speech.
The association that is all but explicitly drawn here between thrusting Epicurean-Lucretian ratio and the Giants’ assault on the heavens is suggestively anticipated in Lucretius’ eulogy of Epicurus in Book 1:
- Humana ante oculos foede cum vita iaceret
- in terris oppressa gravi sub religione,
- quae caput a caeli regionibus ostendebat
- horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans, 65
- primum Graius homo mortalis tollere contra
- est oculos ausus primusque obsistere contra,
- quem neque fama deum nec fulmina nec minitanti
- murmure compressit caelum, sed eo magis acrem
- irritat animi virtutem, effringere ut arta 70
- naturae primus portarum claustra cupiret.
- ergo vivida vis animi pervicit, et extra
- processit longe flammantia moenia mundi
- atque omne immensum peragravit mente animoque,
- unde refert nobis victor quid possit oriri, 75 (p.40)
- quid nequeat, finita potestas denique cuique
- quanam sit ratione atque alte terminus haerens.
- quare religio pedibus subiecta vicissim
- obteritur, nos exaequat victoria caelo.
- When human life lay before all eyes groveling on the ground,
- miserably crushed beneath the weight of superstition,
- which showed its head from the regions of heaven,
- pressing upon mortals from above with ghastly aspect,
- a Greek man first dared to raise mortal eyes against it,
- the first to stand against it. Neither the renown of the gods
- could suppress him, nor thunderbolts, nor the heavens
- with their threatening roar, but all the more they stirred up
- the fierce courage of his soul, so that he was first of mortals to desire
- to shatter the confining barrier of nature’s gates.
- Therefore, the vigorous force of his mind prevailed, and he proceeded
- forth far beyond the flaming ramparts of the world,
- and wandered over the universal immensity in mind and thought;
- from there he brings back in victory knowledge of what can come
- into being and what cannot, and, in sum, by what principle each thing
- has its power limited, and its boundary mark set deep.
- Hence superstition is in turn cast down and trampled underfoot,
- while his victory now makes us stand equal to heaven.
Like those who “shake the walls of the world (moenia mundi) through their reasoning” at 5.119, so Epicurus’ force of mind reaches dynamically beyond the flammantia moenia mundi (1.73), attacking the gods and—unlike the Giants—succeeding in the attempt (cf. victor, 75; victoria, 79). On the Gigantomachic analogy, Epicurus leads the charge from below (in terris, 63) and upward to the celestial heights (caelum, 64, 69), freeing human life from oppression beneath the (mountain-like?) weight of religio. In this uprising, the truer monsters, perhaps, are religio (cf. horribili … aspectu, 65) and the traditional gods:49 if the Virgilian portrait of Fama is based in part on Lucretius’ religio, Virgil arguably exploits the correlation drawn between religio and fama deum at DRN 1.63 and 68, fully activating the pejorative shading that is already implicit in Lucretius’ use of fama; and while the clinical assault of Epicurean ratio results in Lucretius’ controlled surveillance of the cosmic whole (74), the combination of fama deum, fulmina, and minitanti/ murmure … caelum (68–9) appears (p.41) backward-looking, as if confronting the new pretender with old lore and primeval repression and succeeding only in goading him to greater virtus (cf. 70). The reversal of fortunes is complete by the passage’s end, with religio now cast down (pedibus subiecta, 78) as once was human existence (cf. in terris oppressa [sc. vita], 63); moreover, even though the Gigantomachic analogy is obviously crude in one way (Epicurus is in a class of his own as an intellectual giant), it becomes still more compelling in retrospect when these laudes Epicuri are viewed in light of Lucretius’ treatment of Empedocles later in Book 1.
Given his atomistic commitment to the perishability of fire, air, earth, and water, Lucretius could hardly endorse Empedocles’ pluralistic theory that the world sphere consisted of the four root elements that remained permanent and unchanged, and that formed the world of things by combining with one another in varying proportions under the influence of Love and Strife. Yet Lucretius’ admiration for Empedocles is reflected in the profound influence that the latter’s own poem on nature, Περὶ φύσεως, exerted on De rerum natura; Lucretius was, in David Sedley’s neat formulation, “the servant of two masters. Epicurus is the founder of his philosophy; Empedocles is the father of his genre.”50 Already at 1.62–79 Empedocles is an important sub-presence, his own praises of (almost certainly) Pythagoras offering a “clear … model” for Lucretius’ laudes Epicuri.51 Hence, when Lucretius pays homage to Empedocles at 1.716–33, he balances out his praises of his two masters, with Etna now crucially illuminating the implied volcanic subtext of 1.62–79. Empedocles is introduced as follows:
- quorum Acragantinus cum primis Empedocles est,
- insula quem triquetris terrarum gessit in oris,
- quam fluitans circum magnis anfractibus aequor
- Ionium glaucis aspargit virus ab undis …
- Foremost among them52 is Empedocles of Acragas,
- who was born within the three-cornered coasts of that island
- around which the Ionian sea flows with its great windings,
- spraying salt-water from its green waves.
As Sedley points out, terrarum here is no “otiose addition” as Cyril Bailey would have it,53 but a detail that contributes importantly to Lucretius’ broader representation (p.42) not just of Sicily itself, but also of why it gave rise to Empedocles’ theory of the four elements: earth and water are supplemented later by fire (ignis, 724, of Etna) and air (caelum, 725)54 in a symbolic topography that, for Emily Gowers, resembles (via the picture of the sea surrounding the island in 718–21, and then of fiery Etna at the heart of the Empedoclean passage in 722–5) “a larger version of Empedocles’ inner bodily landscape of fiery heart surrounded by cooling blood.”55 At 1.722–5 Etna threatens to erupt once more:56
- … hic Aetnaea minantur
- murmura flammarum rursum se colligere iras,
- faucibus eruptos iterum vis ut vomat ignis
- ad caelumque ferat flammai fulgura rursum.
- … here the rumblings of Etna threaten
- that it gathers once more the rage of its flames,
- that again in its might it may vomit forth the fires bursting from
- its throat, and once more carry to the heavens its flashes of flame.
As later in Virgil, Etna is here personified (minantur, 722; faucibus, 724) to telling effect: in its threatened eruption and assault on the heavens (725) it heaves with seemingly Gigantomachic intent,57 as if countering the Jovian bolts and threats (cf. 1.68–9: quem [sc. Epicurum] neque fama deum nec fulmina nec minitanti/ murmure compressit caelum) with bolts of its own (flammai fulgura, 725). But given Empedocles’ elemental inscription within the Lucretian-Sicilian landscape, Etna’s effusions offer a tempting analogy for Empedocles’ own rationalizing assault on traditional theology, with Etna’s roars and Empedocles’ god-like vociferations (carmina … divini pectoris eius/ vociferantur, 731–2) combining in a form of “counter-fama to the fama deum [cf. 1.68] of the unenlightened.”58 On this approach, Empedocles and Etna, (p.43) that potent symbol of “an Empedoclean sublimity,”59 anticipate Epicurus’ assault on the heavens at 1.62–79; but whereas Epicurus triumphs (75, 79), Empedocles is ultimately no more successful than any other of Epicurus’ philosophical predecessors, all of whom are said to “have come to a crash with regard to the first-beginnings of things: great they were, and great and heavy was their fall in this matter (graviter magni magno cecidere ibi casu)” (740–1).60 Given this stress on ultimate failure, a certain irony may in retrospect color Empedocles’ credentials as superhuman (733) and divine (cf. sanctum, 730; divini, 731); for can the language of falling in line 741 fail to remind us of the legend that Empedocles wanted physically to vanish so that people would think he had become a god, and that he therefore died by hurling himself into Etna’s fires?61 Yet one of his brazen sandals was thrown up in the flames, exposing his mortality: if casu (741) gently recalls Empedocles’ fate, the divine aspect at DRN 1.731–3 is instantly complicated, even compromised, with Lucretius’ adoration now in tension with Lucretian irony, and another “god” struck down.
For Lucretius, then, the Gigantomachic associations of Etna emblematize the struggle of philosophical rationalism against monstrous (cf. horribili, 1.65) religio; and by arraying Empedocles and Epicurus on the rebel side against belief in the gods, he applies the Etna Idea to seemingly paradoxical effect, at least in comparison with Virgil’s “corrective” alignment of Etna with the other forces of cosmic disorder in the Aeneid. Hence the doubleness that I claim for the Lucretian and Virgilian visions of Etna in combination, the one countering the other; yet within the six-book arc of De rerum natura itself, the doubleness phenomenon is no less discernible in Lucretius’ own shifting perspectives on Etna in Books 1 and 6. Given the symbolic importance of Etna in Book 1, Epicurus’ triumph as portrayed in Lucretius’ eulogy of him (cf. victor, 1.75) is suitably complemented by Lucretius’ treatment of terrestrial phenomena in Book 6 (535–1137), volcanoes prominent among them, Etna his main exhibit in lines 639–702. And if at 1.716–33 Empedocles’ four-element theory is itself symbolically inscribed into Lucretius’ Sicilian topography, we find a comparable process of meta-inscription at work in 6.639–702. As we saw above, in Book 1 Epicurus’ force of mind advances far beyond the “ramparts of the world” (moenia mundi, 73) as he “wander[s] over the universal immensity in mind and thought” (74): the controlling perspective that masters the all here (omne immensum) is re-applied in Book 6, where the far-reaching effects of Etna’s (recent?)62 (p.44) eruption are at first described in a hyperbolical pitch that relates the perceived scale of the phenomenon (“all the regions of the heavens smoke and sparkle …,” 644) to the degree of panic that it induces in its observers (“they filled their breasts with shuddering distress,” 645). But against this vastness of volcanic action and popular reaction Lucretius re-invokes the universal viewpoint as attributed to Epicurus at 1.73–4: “In considering these matters you must look far and deep,” the poet asserts at 6.647–8, “surveying widely into all quarters” so as to impose a sublime form of controlling perspective on the particularized phenomenon. Through the technique of proportion Etna is re-conceptualized as but an infinitesimal fraction of the universal whole (649–54); through analogy Etna becomes explicable by relation to normative human experience, with disease in the body related to disease in the cosmic body (655–72); and through relativity the seemingly singular scale of Etna’s eruption is recalibrated through a further retraining of perspective, whereby measurement by human standard gives way to measurement by a universal standard (673–9).63 Through this expansionist repertoire Lucretius re-inscribes Etna in a form of cosmic topography that “normalizes” and reduces its seemingly wondrous dimensions and features; in this way the Epicurean mindset as portrayed at 1.72–4 is itself inscribed or, perhaps better, embedded, as a modus videndi of pervasive application not just in Lucretius’ coverage of Etna and other terrestrial phenomena in this part of Book 6, but throughout the whole of De rerum natura.
A further implication of Lucretius’ treatment of Etna in Book 6, and his explanation of its volcanic workings at 6.680–702, leads us back to his highly dramatic, personifying description of the mountain in his eulogy of Empedocles in Book 1. He offers two causes of eruptions, the first (6.680–93) based on the heating and violent agitation of air in caverns under the volcano, the second (694–702) positing that sand and rock are driven by wave action into caves and passages beneath the crater, only then to be violently expelled through wind action.64 We have seen how, at 1.722–5, Etna symbolically erupts against the heavens, as if a metaphor for Empedocles’ own rationalizing assault on the gods. If in Book 1 Lucretius thereby exploits the mythological apparatus of Etna to cast it as a form of Gigantomachic challenger to the divine order, that exuberant yet fictive embellishment is itself reined in and controlled when Lucretian ratio takes a different approach to the volcano in Book 6. Hence the doubleness effect as “correction” thus finally qualifies fabulist dalliance: in a revisionist gesture that effects a mini-form of closure to the volcano theme across the span of De rerum natura, the imaginative elaboration of (p.45) Empedocles-Etna as fiery collaborators in Book 1 gives way in Book 6 to Lucretius’ cool, methodical decoding of the volcano, that wonder no more.
1.3: Seneca, Ovid, and the Aetna Poet
Seneca’s appropriation of the Etna Idea in his Moral Letters conveniently introduces Ovid’s earlier experimentation with the Idea, and also the further development that it undergoes in the so-called Aetna poem, probably of the later first century CE. Our Senecan focus is mainly on Letter 79, written in c. 64 CE and addressed, as are all of Seneca’s extant Moral Letters, to his younger friend, Lucilius Junior. Of humble origin (Letter 19.5) in Campania, Pompeii apparently his birthplace (Letter 49.1, 70.1), Lucilius rose to equestrian rank (Letter 44.2, 6); after varied military service outside Italy (cf. Letter 31.9), he eventually rose to become procurator of Sicily in or around 62 CE—in fact, “not a very important post.”65 As Lucilius embarks on his new role in Sicily, however, Seneca, for so long that guiding power behind Nero’s throne, is in a very different position. If Tacitus’ account in Annals 14.52–6 of the deteriorating relations between Nero and Seneca in the early 60s CE is to be credited, Seneca became increasingly detached from the Neronian court in and after 62—a de facto withdrawal that culminated in his enforced suicide in 65 CE (cf. Ann. 15.60–4). But whatever the precise historical truth of the matter, Seneca’s persona as drawn in his Natural Questions of c. 62–466 is that of one at last released in mind and being: announcing, in the preface to Natural Questions 3,67 his ambitious new task of surveying the universe (mundum circumire, 3 pref. 1) and enquiring into nature’s workings (his special focus in the Natural Questions is on meteorological phenomena), he claims to have thrown off all the encumbrances of his formerly preoccupied life in order to devote himself exclusively to his new project, his mind now entirely free for itself (3 pref. 1–3). From this philosophically liberated and cosmically enlightened vantage point, Seneca hopes that Lucilius, again his addressee, can maintain at least a measure of detachment from his task at hand as procurator of Sicily:
To judge by what you write, my excellent Lucilius, you take delight in Sicily and your office of procurator, with its leisure time (officium procurationis otiosae); and you will continue to take delight if you are willing to keep all this (p.46) within its own bounds, and not treat a procuratorship as supreme power. I know how uninterested you are in ambition, and how at home with leisure and study (familiaris otio et litteris).
QNat. 4a pref. 1
Lucilius evidently takes pride in his responsibilities as procurator of an island of such historical importance (cf. QNat. 4a pref. 21–2). He may have traveled far on his career path to this point; but Seneca has nevertheless traveled further as a cosmic voyager in the Natural Questions, with Sicily now but a mere point (cf. punctum, 1 pref. 11) in the cosmic mindscape. Hence the change of perspective that he seeks to inculcate in Lucilius by drawing him away from Sicily and its marvels and by introducing him instead to the wonders of Egypt and the Nile later in Natural Questions 4a: by this geographical leap Seneca moves to ensure that Lucilius avoids “putting too much confidence in history and beginning to be pleased with himself” whenever he reflects on Sicily’s tumultuous past (QNat. 4a pref. 21).68 Just as Seneca qualifies Lucilius’ (self-)importance in Sicily by wittily characterizing his office there as a mere procuratiuncula (Letter 31.9, “a mini-caretakership”), so the wonders of Sicily—and, by silent implication, even the wonder of wonders that is Etna—are subsequently dwarfed by the awesome spectacle of the Nile and its summer flood in the main body of Natural Questions 4a: through this change of place Lucilius is gently put in his place.
This tension between Seneca’s philosophical release and Lucilius’ dutiful persistence in officio is no less marked in the contemporaneous Letters. In Letter 14 Lucilius has apparently already left for Sicily and “crossed the straits” (traiecisti fretum, 8): the epistolary relationship between Seneca and Lucilius, friends separated but still very much attached, is symbolically matched by Sicily’s closeness to and yet detachment from the Italian peninsula.69 By Letter 49 Seneca is himself on the move, shaking up the coordinates of their epistolary dynamic70 by writing from Campania (49.1) before he moves on in Letter 51 to a one-night stopover in lax and luxurious Baiae, that ultimate test of philosophical resolve. Within the Moral Letters Etna first appears in this postcard from Baiae:
Each man does as best he can, my dear Lucilius. You have Etna there, that lofty and most renowned mountain of Sicily—although I fail to discover why Messal(l)a (or was it Valgius, for I’ve been reading in both?) called it unique (unicum),71 since very many places belch forth fire, and not just (p.47) elevated places (where the phenomenon happens more often, no doubt because fire is carried to the greatest possible height) but low-lying places as well. As for myself, insofar as I’m able I’m making do at Baiae …
Etna is symbolically suggestive here on various fronts, such as the inviting contrast to be drawn between the natural volcanic heat in Sicily and the unnatural steaminess (in every sense) of the baths and sweat rooms of Baiae as featured at 51.6; or between the unbridled effusions of Etna and other volcanic phenomena on the one hand (cf. plurima loca evomant ignem, 51.1), and the drunken revelries that erupt with their own brand of monstrosity at Baiae (cf. 51.4) on the other. But a further possibility is that Seneca’s appeal to Etna is designed once more to check, or at least to ironize, any pretensions to grandeur that Lucilius may harbor as procurator: as Emily Gowers puts it, “a posting in the shadow of sublime Mount Etna … isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Etna is not so unique: plenty of lesser volcanoes belch flames. …”72 In his different way Seneca, too, finds himself in a dangerous hotspot, enduring the seething cauldron that is Baiae; but at least he was able to leave the place after only a day (51.1),73 while Lucilius continues patiently to work through his tour of duty in Sicily.
If Etna’s appearance at the opening of Letter 51 offers a wry insinuation about Lucilius’ (grand)standing as procurator, experience of that earlier missive should perhaps color or qualify our approach to the different Etna configured in Letter 79;74 again, the doubleness effect is operative here. In this case, Seneca has apparently been keenly awaiting a letter from Lucilius, who has been on his travels: Seneca is eager to know “what new information was revealed to you by your tour of the whole of Sicily” (circuitus Siciliae totius quid tibi novi ostenderit, 79.1). But true to the naturalistic, cosmic inquirer that he has become in the Natural Questions, Seneca immediately thwarts any expectation that he craves political news. Far from it: what he wants far more urgently, he asserts, is a full description of Charybdis, (p.48) so that he can assess how the physical reality fits with mythological accounts of the phenomenon (§1). For all his loftiness of position as Rome’s representative in Sicily, Lucilius appears recast as Seneca’s personal researcher, his time diverted from the practicalities of government to “higher” things, Etna paramount among them: after he has completed his assignment on Charybdis, would Lucilius be kind enough to climb to Etna’s summit in order to establish the truth or otherwise of claims that the mountain is growing smaller (§2), and also to ascertain just how near to the crater lies the snow that apparently lingers even in summer (§4)? Not that Seneca need ask Lucilius to do this: the latter’s own interest would seemingly take him to Etna unbidden, engaged as he apparently is in a poem on Sicily (§5); the volcano is bound to feature in that work, but, urges Seneca, there is ample scope not merely for an episodic treatment of Etna (as in Ovid, Virgil, and, possibly, Cornelius Severus: §5), but for a whole poem devoted to the subject.75 Thus far, it is as if literary-philosophical otium were, or should have been, Lucilius’ priority in his time in Sicily, that rich resource for poetic (let alone political) opportunity; it is as if Seneca, writing in c. 64 CE, viewed and shaped Lucilius through his own “retired” eyes. But then the letter takes a new turning. Whatever Etna’s changes of size and form over time, towering virtue remains constant:
I don’t know whether this Etna of yours can collapse and fall upon itself, or whether the unceasing power of its fires diminishes this lofty peak, which is visible across great stretches of the vast sea; but virtue will never be brought low by flames or collapse. Hers is the sole greatness that cannot be lowered; for her there can be no further extension or reduction. Her greatness, like that of the stars, is fixed.
From its beginning in Lucilius’ circuit of Sicily, the letter moves outward in this increasingly abstract direction, discoursing at length on the nature of virtue (§§11–18) while Etna recedes ever further from view; the literal climb (Aetnam … ascendas, §2) gives way to the superior, figurative climb to wisdom (cf. ascenditur, §8).76 On this approach, Seneca draws creatively on the Etna Idea to set a natural wonder against the still greater conceptual wonder that is virtue itself; in relativizing Etna in this way, he varies the tactic by which (as we saw above) the volcano’s claim (p.49) to uniqueness is undermined in Letter 51. And if we find that Seneca approaches Lucilius with gentle humor in Letter 79, addressing him as if he were first and foremost a devotee of literary otium and naturalistic observation and only secondarily the businesslike procurator of Sicily,77 then this playful reshaping of Lucilius’ priorities and identity may be compounded by another witty touch. When we observe Lucilius on his circuitus Siciliae totius(79.1), the ghost of the satirist Lucilius (c. 180–c. 102 BCE) hovers enticingly before us, evoking the older Lucilius’ own Iter Siculum:78 by association with this shade, perhaps, Seneca reaffirms our Lucilius’ credentials as one who is evidently so very literary (cf. familiaris … litteris, QNat. 4a pref. 1) in name and nature, a procurator only by officious title.
In stating that “Ovid could not be prevented from treating this [Etna-]theme just because Virgil had already fully covered it” (Letter 79.5), what Ovidian passages does Seneca have in mind?79 There are two outstanding candidates, both in the Metamorphoses, the first in Book 5 when Minerva visits Mount Helicon to see for herself the newly created spring of Hippocrene (250–9). There, one of the Muses goes on to recount to the goddess the story of the singing contest between the upstart Pierids (i.e., the daughters of King Pierus of Emathia) and the Muses. With the nymphs appointed as judges (316–17), a single voice represents each side: first, reports the Muse, one of the Pierids sang of the Gigantomachy (319–20), and of how the gods fled before Typhoeus to Egypt, where they transformed themselves into animals to evade the monster (321–31). In reply, Calliope (her sister, the narrating Muse, recounts) tells the story of Pluto’s rape of Persephone, of Ceres’ desperate quest for her daughter, and of the final settlement, brokered by Jupiter (564–7), by which Persephone was to spend half the year with her mother, half with her new husband. In setting the scene for her story, Calliope first introduces Ceres (341–5) (p.50) and then Sicily, pointedly describing how Typhoeus is buried beneath the island as a whole, his head weighed down by Etna in particular:
- Vasta Giganteis ingesta est insula membris
- Trinacris et magnis subiectum molibus urget
- aetherias ausum sperare Typhoea sedes.
- nititur ille quidem pugnatque resurgere saepe,
- dextra sed Ausonio manus est subiecta Peloro, 350
- laeva, Pachyne, tibi, Lilybaeo crura premuntur;
- degravat Aetna caput, sub qua resupinus harenas
- eiectat flammamque ferox vomit ore Typhoeus.
- saepe remoliri luctatur pondera terrae
- oppidaque et magnos devolvere corpore montes; 355
- inde tremit tellus …
- The vast island of Sicily is heaped up on the Giant’s limbs,
- and with its great mass it presses down on the buried Typhoeus,
- who dared to aspire to a heavenly abode.
- Often that monster struggles and fights to rise again,
- but his right hand is held captive by Cape Pelorus, nearest to Italy,
- his left hand by you, Pachynos, his legs by Lilybaeum.80
- Etna weighs down his head; laid out on his back beneath it,
- wild Typhoeus belches forth sand81 and vomits flame from his mouth.
- Often he strains to heave back the weight of the earth
- and to roll from his body the towns and great mountains.
- Hence the earth trembles …
For present purposes, the interest of Ovid’s exploitation of the Etna Idea here lies above all in his “emphatically mythological description of the volcano,” in pointed, “anti-rationalizing” contrast to Lucretius’ accounts at DRN 1.722–5 and 6.680–702:82 we shall soon see that this mythological approach is in tension with the seemingly very different, rationalizing perspective on Etna offered in Metamorphoses 15—the second passage of major Etna activity within the poem, and one to which (p.51) we shall turn momentarily. But first some implications of Ovid’s portrayal of Typhoeus under Etna at 5.346–56: what factors might lead him to begin Calliope’s reply to the Pierids with so elaborate a description of the Sicilian and Etnean topography? What agenda, what barbs, might Calliope’s portrayal of Typhoeus under Etna barely conceal?
Calliope’s reply to the Pierid song competes at the level not just of artistic virtuosity, but also of ideological attitude toward the gods. From the outset the Pierids are cast as brashly confident and aggressive in challenging the Muses (cf. 310–11: “We shall not be outdone in voice or art”). Spoiling for battle (cf. proelia, 307), the Pierid who rudely starts the contest without waiting for the drawing of lots to determine which side sings first (sine sorte, 318) unsurprisingly “tells of war with the gods (bella … superum), granting false honors to the Giants, and diminishing (extenuat) the actions of the mighty deities” (319–20). Given the Augustan implications of the Gigantomachy as a powerful symbol of order triumphing over disorder, and given that the Gigantomachy is so often represented by the Augustan poets as a byword for the ultimate epic task (a task that they routinely reject, renounce, or defer),83 the Pierid’s song is provocative at all levels, as un-Augustan as it is impious in its treatment of the gods. The full extent of this impiety is suggestively revealed by Antoninus Liberalis’ second to third century CE summary of the Typhoeus story as recounted in the fourth book of Nicander’s lost Heteroioumena (second century BCE), also in the context of a Heliconian song competition between the Pierids and the Muses. If the Pierid’s song at Met. 5.319–31 was directly modelled on the Nicandrian original,84 Ovid appears to have modified certain details of the storyline, at least as it is preserved in Liberalis’ summary:
He [Typhoeus] desired to have Zeus’ rule, and none of the gods could stand up to him as he attacked. They all fled for Egypt out of fear, and only Athena and Zeus stayed behind. Typhoeus followed the gods’ tracks. They escaped through foresight by changing their appearances into animals. Apollo became a hawk; Hermes an ibis; Ares the lepidotus fish; Artemis a cat; Dionysus changed into a goat; Heracles into a fawn; Hephaestus a bull; and Leto a field mouse. Each of the other gods changed his appearance as he could. But when Zeus hit Typhoeus with a thunderbolt, Typhoeus, burning, hid himself in the sea and put out the flame. But Zeus did not relent; no, he threw Etna, (p.52) the biggest mountain, on top of Typhoeus, and set Hephaestus on its peaks to guard him.85
Against this background, Ovid’s Pierid indeed “diminishes” (extenuat, 320) the achievements of the gods by portraying Zeus/Jupiter disguised as a ram, in craven flight in Egypt (327–8); by making no allusion to Athena’s courageous stand alongside Jupiter (the point matters because the Pierid story is of course being reported directly to Athena/Minerva in Metamorphoses 5); by demoting Apollo from a hawk in Nicander to a raven (Delius in corvo, 329); and, above all, by studiously avoiding any mention of Jupiter’s ruthlessly efficient suppression of Typhoeus under Etna. Through these modifications Typhoeus’ attack on the gods is matched in its own way by the Pierid’s ridicule of them. She also counters the standard portrayal of Typhoeus as a singular monstrosity by saying nothing of his appearance as he mounts his seemingly brave assault on the gods86—a silence made still more eloquent if she caricatures the Olympian gods as monstrum-like because of their strange animal shapes in lines 327–31.87
If the Pierid’s song transgresses the limits of theological propriety and generic extremism in its high-epic rerun of the Gigantomachy theme,88 Calliope more closely resembles “a half-hearted epicist” in her complex, and compromising, generic dialogue with Ovid’s elegiac version of the Persephone story in Book 4 of his Fasti.89 But further to distinguish the two sides in point of detail: in contrast to the Pierid’s brashness in bullying her way into singing first (318), Calliope’s sister is a model of tact in politely seeking Minerva’s permission (333–4) before she proceeds to recount Calliope’s song. After Typhoeus, child of the Earth, runs riot in the Pierid’s song, Calliope offers a far more benign, nurturing vision of the earth by turning to Ceres, “she who first gave to the lands (terris) its fruit and wholesome (p.53) foods” (342), in the hymn-like opening of her song (341–5).90 This tactical shrewdness extends much further, not least in the way Calliope controls her storyline so that its content and emphases appeal all too calculatedly to the nymphs who are judging the contest;91 most important for now, however, is the rebuke she delivers by wasting no time in locating Typhoeus under Etna (346–56), thereby “correcting” the Pierid’s song.92 As if reclaiming the “true” strand of the mythological tradition that the Pierid had apparently edited out of her storyline, namely that Jupiter piled Etna on the vanquished Typhoeus, Calliope ensures that the monster is now duly punished in canonical fashion beneath the volcano; and she perhaps presses the point through her own added hyperbole, crushing the monster under the full weight not just of Etna but of the whole of Sicily as well. Divine order is thus restored, the Pierids are exposed as blasphemous liars, and Calliope delivers a thinly veiled warning of the punishment that awaits them unless they change their ways (cf. 5.664–78 for their transformation into magpies after they gracelessly lose the contest with the Muses).
But the Pierids may yet command a certain sympathy. After all, the silkily skillful Muse, Calliope’s sister, surely tailors her entire narrative of the contest to win Minerva’s favor: in describing the Pierid’s song in only thirteen lines, some of them delivered through the distancing mechanism of indirect discourse (321–6), she passes implicit judgment on the story by telling it, and dismissing it, so briefly.93 But can we be sure that she delivers the Pierid’s song faithfully in the first place, without enhancing or exaggerating its pro-Typhoean bias? Can we avoid the suspicion that she shrewdly offers Minerva a storyline precisely in keeping with the authoritarian vision of the divine establishment that the goddess herself will go on to weave into the tapestry she produces in her contest with Arachne in Metamorphoses 6?94 On this approach, Calliope’s portrayal of Typhoeus under Etna at 5.346–56 offers but one version of the mythological “truth”; within its larger context, Ovid’s engagement (p.54) in this “emphatically mythological description”95 of Etna amounts to an object lesson in how to construct, even invent, a version of reality through the partisan appropriation of inherited storylines—an implication of the singing contest in Book 5 that has troubling reverberations throughout the poem, not least in its effusive (or double edged?) celebration of Julius Caesar and Augustus at the climax of Metamorphoses 15 (745–870).96
The second Etna passage that concerns us in the Metamorphoses occurs in Pythagoras’ long, eccentric discourse that dominates the earlier part of Book 15 (75–478). The speech consists of two main movements, the first an impassioned assault on meat eating and animal sacrifice, the second an extended, visionary account of cosmic mutability and imperishability (cf. 165: omnia mutantur, nihil interit); the two movements are coordinated by Pythagoras’ doctrine of the transmigration of the soul, with its attendant danger that meat eating risks devouring our own familiars (cf. 139–42). This discourse poses major challenges for our understanding of the poem as a whole: beyond the difficulty of gauging its tone (is it a serious didactic experiment, or a spoof?), how, if at all, is its theme of metempsychosis to be reconciled with the metamorphic flux of the previous fourteen books? Does Ovid attempt to offer through Pythagoras some kind of philosophical underpinning for the metamorphic world that he has created? Or does he jeopardize that whole metamorphic framework by propagating, at the very end of the poem, a theory of soul migration that may be couched in the Ovidian language of change (cf. in varias … figuras, 15.172), but that surely constitutes a process fundamentally at odds with Ovidian metamorphosis?97 These questions remain very much alive, but my limited focus for now is on Pythagoras’ turning to Etna to illustrate his principle of cosmic changefulness at 15.340–55:
- nec quae sulphureis ardet fornacibus Aetne 340
- ignea semper erit; neque enim fuit ignea semper.
- nam sive est animal tellus et vivit habetque
- spiramenta locis flammam exhalantia multis,
- spirandi mutare vias, quotiensque movetur,
- has finire potest, illas aperire cavernas; 345
- sive leves imis venti cohibentur in antris (p.55)
- saxaque cum saxis et habentem semina flammae
- materiam iactant, ea concipit ictibus ignem,
- antra relinquentur sedatis frigida ventis;
- sive bitumineae rapiunt incendia vires 350
- luteave exiguis ardescunt sulphura fumis,
- nempe ubi terra cibos alimentaque pinguia flammae
- non dabit absumptis per longum viribus aevum
- naturaeque suum nutrimen deerit edaci,
- non feret illa famem desertaque deseret ignis. 355
- And Etna that gleams with its sulfurous furnaces
- will not always have fire; for it never did always have fire.
- For [first theory] if the earth is an animate creature and lives
- and has breathing holes that discharge flame in many different places,
- she can alter these breathing channels and, whenever she quakes,
- she can close some caverns and open others.
- Or [second theory] if sprightly winds are confined in deep caves,
- throwing rocks against rocks and matter containing the seeds of fire,
- and if that matter generates fire through friction,
- the caves will grow cold when the winds have abated and left them.
- Or [third theory] if bitumen has the power quickly to take fire,
- or yellowish sulfur burns with small traces of smoke,
- then when the earth gives no rich food and nourishment for the flames,
- its strength worn out through the long passage of time,
- and when voracious nature98 is denied the fuel it needs,
- she will not endure starvation and, abandoned, she will abandon the fires.
True to the “scientific” Empedoclean and Lucretian imprint that is conspicuous throughout Pythagoras’ discourse,99 that variation on Lucretius’ own De rerum natura,100 his rationalization of Etna’s fires here applies the Epicurean-Lucretian technique of multiple explanation in seemingly textbook fashion (sive … sive … sive);101 (p.56) and after Ovid’s purely mythological treatment of Etna in Book 5, this natural-philosophical method applies to the volcano a corrective of sorts late in the poem—a contrast arguably designed to burnish Pythagoras’ credentials as a hardheaded theorist who is indeed to be taken seriously in Metamorphoses 15. The schematic contrast between these two approaches to Etna, mythological on the one side and scrupulously rationalizing on the other, offers an important template for our treatment of the Aetna poem in (iii) below, and still more for what we shall see to be a comparable tension in Bembo’s De Aetna. Before we leave Metamorphoses 15, however, can we really be sure of Pythagoras’ unqualified commitment to the rationalizing cause? Or could it be that the schematic contrast drawn above between the categories of the mythological and the rationalizing may underestimate Pythagoras’ own sense of wonder—his struggle to remain unequivocally “scientific”—as he is transported (cf. 143–52, especially 147–8 iuvat ire per alta/ astra) by his trance-like outpourings?
Of the three causae of Etna’s fires that Pythagoras gives at 15.340–55, only the second of them in fact approximates to the cause of ignition posited by Lucretius,102 who holds that the flames take their start from the heating and violent friction effect of the air trapped in Etna’s underground caverns (6.680–93; for wind-and-water action from the sea as a contributory cause of the eventual eruption by “lifting up the flame,” see 6.694–702 and my p. 44); and the first causa Pythagoras mentions could not be further from Lucretius’ worldview in positing a living, breathing earth in Stoic fashion (342), just as his position that “souls are free from death” (158) is wholly incompatible with Lucretius’ insistence that the soul is mortal (cf. DRN 3.136–829). This ambiguous relationship to Lucretius is symptomatic of the larger tension that becomes increasingly discernible between Pythagoras’ exposition of natural fact on the one hand and, on the other, the rhetoric of wonder that gains impetus as his long discourse takes wing. For all his Lucretius-like impatience with the fictions of poets on such matters as the terrors of death and the myths of the underworld (153–5), he shows a disconcerting nostalgia for that most familiar of poetic topoi—the Golden Age (96–103), here configured as an era lost when appetites were turned to the carnivorous (103–6). Later, in warming to his thesis that nothing retains its original form (Nec species sua cuique manet, 252; cf. 259–60), he cites the transformation of places as a case in point (sic totiens versa est fortuna locorum, 261), and proceeds to give examples that quickly embrace the outlandish and marvelous. In lines 293–306, for example, he cites the Achaean cities of Buris and Helice, submerged by earthquake in 373 BCE, and then “the tall and treeless mound” (295–7) apparently formed near Troezen on the Greek Argolid through the violence of winds seeking exit from the subterranean caverns that have entrapped (p.57) them.103 By this mound Ovid apparently refers to the event that Strabo records for Methone near Troezen, just after he too mentions Buris and Helice (1.3.18):
In regard to Boura [= Buris] and Helike, the former disappeared under a chasm, the latter under waves. At Methone in the Hermionic Gulf a mountain seven stadia high was thrown up because of a fiery eruption, and it was inaccessible by day because of the heat and sulphur odor. At night it shone for a great distance, and the sea boiled five stadia away and was disturbed for twenty stadia, heaped with broken-off rocks no smaller than towers.104
Significantly, Strabo mentions these cases and others like them to reduce the wonder effect of such events, “normalizing” them through their sheer weight of numbers and their frequency of occurrence (1.3.16):
In order not to marvel at those changes that we have said are the reason for the inundations and happenings that have been mentioned regarding Sikelia, the islands of Aiolos, and Pithekoussai, it is worthwhile to provide things that do occur, or have occurred, in other places. A mass of such examples placed before the eyes will cause a stop to consternation. At present, the unaccustomed troubles the senses and shows ignorance of natural happenings and the conditions of life generally …105
But whereas Strabo resists the wonder effect, Ovid’s Pythagoras seems to want to indulge the marvelous by selecting from his evidently vast stock of wonders (cf. 307–8: “Although many more instances occur to mind that I’ve heard of or know of, I’ll add only a few”). Hence he launches into a lengthy catalogue of wondrous waters in lines 308–34, a passage that shows clear signs of derivation from the paradoxographical tradition;106 and for the first time in his entire discourse he begins to use the explicit language of wonder (quodque magis mirum est, 317; mirum … soporem, 321). After his allusion to the entrapped winds that gave rise to the mound at Methone (296–306), his account of Etna (340–55) marks a dramatic escalation within his discourse as—in accordance with at least one of his three Etna theories—the trapped air now promises not merely to produce a tumulus from below, but to spark a full-blown volcanic eruption (cf. 346–9) as (p.58) well. But just before he turns to Etna, Pythagoras visits firmly mythico-poetic territory in citing the wondrous cases of Ortygia/Delos, the island that used to float freely, and the Symplegades, or Clashing Rocks, their danger narrowly evaded by Jason and the Argonauts (336–9); then, immediately after his coverage of Etna, he turns abruptly to “two especially miraculous stories,”107 the first of the Hyperboreans apparently sprouting feathers after bathing nine times in Lake Tritonis (356–8), the second of Scythian witches reportedly acquiring plumage by sprinkling themselves with their poisons (359–60)—another concession to the marvelous after Pythagoras has (amusingly, given his larger interest in wonders) shown due skepticism (haud equidem credo, 359) about the mere story (fama, 356) of the Hyperboreans’ feathers.108
In effect, Pythagoras’ natural-philosophical disquisition on Etna, that prominent wonder in itself,109 is incongruously juxtaposed with allusions of a very different register, disconcerting our response to his rationalization of the volcano’s workings in between those two bizarre sequences.110 In turn, the tension in this passage (336–60 as a whole) between the mythological and the “scientific,” between mirum and ratio, exemplifies a far-reaching feature of his entire discourse, and one perhaps with major implications for the interpretation of the Metamorphoses more generally: if in Pythagoras’ discourse the task of explaining nature struggles to avoid the allure of mythico-metamorphic wonder, the irresistibility of the unpredictable, chaotic, and marvelous in his speech arguably reflects—even sums up—Ovid’s own weight of narrative emphasis throughout Books 1 to 14. Pythagoras apparently has no trouble in holding his listeners in silent wonder (cf. coetus … silentum/ dictaque mirantum magni primordia mundi/ … docebat, 66–8), but his overall speech in Metamorphoses 15 apparently fails to persuade (ora/ docta quidem solvit, sed non et credita, 73–4: “he enunciated a doctrine that was learned but not given credit”). Even before Pythagoras gives voice, it seems, the wonder element (cf. again mirantum, 67) takes precedence over the substance of his ensuing argument—a calibration of response that not only conditions our reading of the speech to come, but also suggestively confirms Ovid’s own balance of priorities in the poem thus far.
(p.59) (iii) The Aetna Poem111
We turn finally to the Aetna, that didactic tour de force of more than 600 hexameters—on many fronts, “not an easy poem”112—whose authorship is unknown, its date of composition far from certain. Given that its author portrays the region between Naples and Cumae as volcanically dormant for many a year (locus … multis iam frigidus annis, 431), the poem surely predates Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 CE; but a terminus post quem is far more elusive, and even though the poem is generally thought to be either late or post-Augustan, no narrower time frame for its composition can be reliably established on linguistic, metrical, or stylistic grounds.113 Allusive contact with other authors is also of limited help in dating the poem: while likely echoes of Virgil and Ovid and possible reminiscence of Manilius suggest at least an early post-Augustan date, the Aetna’s precise chronological relationship to Seneca’s Natural Questions (of c. 62–4 CE) in particular remains controversial.114 The two works show contact, but which of them depends on the other cannot be definitively proven. Hence, even though the Aetna may belong to the Vespasianic era before Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 CE, that dating is at best provisional; the case for a late-Neronian dating (c. 63?) in close proximity to the Natural Questions remains open, not least because Seneca’s portrayal of Etna in Letter 79 as a “ritual topic for all poets” (sollemnem omnibus poetis locum, §5) and one that must surely appeal (§§6–7) to the poet in Lucilius Junior, his addressee, has fueled speculation that the Aetna was composed by Lucilius himself—an enticing conjecture, perhaps, but it has drawn strong opposition.115
Since the extant Greco-Roman tradition offers no parallel for a didactic poem devoted exclusively to volcanology, the Aetna appears to be a strikingly original production. Certainly, Lucretius offers a key precedent for the Aetna’s rationalizing poetics on a topic that already surfaces in De rerum natura 6, as we have seen,116 and strands of Epicurean influence have been discerned in the Aetna; however, our poet (p.60) hardly operates as a doctrinaire Epicurean in, for notable example, the (Stoically inflected?) ways in which he personifies Etna as a bodily constituent of the living, breathing earth (98–101) and places it under divine protection (divina … rerum/ … cura, 194–6; cf. divinis … rebus, 370).117 The nature and extent of the poet’s debt to particular scientific authorities are also unclear, although Posidonius and Theophrastus are likely to have been prominent sources.118 Yet despite these uncertainties about our poet’s specific lines of indebtedness, and despite the notoriously corrupt state of the text, there is no mistaking the quasi-Lucretian, missionary-like zeal with which he sets about explaining Etna’s workings. After announcing his theme and invoking the aid of Apollo and the Muses (1–8), the poet orientates his scientific agenda by first setting the supposedly hackneyed nature of so much mythological versifying on such themes as (inter alia) the Golden Age (9–16), the Argonauts (17), and Troy’s fall (18–19) against the daring originality of his own undertaking (24–8); then by rejecting as “the deceit of poets” (fallacia vatum, 29) their various mythological explanations of Etna’s fires, the first of them that Etna houses Vulcan’s forge (30–5), the second that the Cyclopes manufacture Jupiter’s bolts at Etna’s furnaces (36–40), and the third “the sacrilegious legend” (impia … fabula, 42) that Enceladus, buried under Etna by Jupiter after being defeated in the Gigantomachy, yet breathes fire as he struggles rebelliously against his confinement (41–73). In all the dramatic detail and dexterity with which he briskly narrates his own mini-Gigantomachy in lines 41–73 in particular, the poet perhaps archly asserts his effortless ability to excel in so hackneyed a genre if he so chose; but not for him the “common license of deceitful rumor” (mendosae vulgata licentia famae, 74; cf. fallacia, 76) with which poets tell of the torments that await us in the afterlife (76–84), or of the private improprieties committed by the gods (85–90).
For present purposes, the importance of this rejection of the fallacia vatum lies in our poet’s configuration of two Etnas in the Aetna. In contrast to the Etna of mythological fiction, his own pledge of truth (sed omnis/ in vero mihi cura, 91–2) ushers in his systematic explication of the “real,” scientifically revealed Etna in three main movements.119 First, lines 94–176 describe the hollows, cracks, and chasms that apparently exist beneath the earth, perforating it throughout (175–6). Secondly, 177–384, on wind as the cause of Etna’s volcanic action:120 when air (p.61) that has accumulated in the hollows under the mountain is compressed and set violently in motion, the wind that coalesces in the high-pressure form of spiritus (324, 343) loosens and breaks through the surrounding matter, thereby causing the volcano to belch forth fire, rocks, and other debris. Thirdly, lines 385–567, on the nature and fuel source of volcanic fire: Etna is composed of various combustible substances, such as sulfur, alum, and bitumen, but when volcanic fire is produced by friction, the chief material that sustains it is lava stone (molaris … lapis, 399–400), which has the extraordinary property of retaining the flames that it absorbs when it burns;121 inside the mountain the burning lava stone kindles fire in what surrounds it, thereby fueling and feeding the eventual eruption, and the lava that flows from the erupting volcano subsequently cools and hardens back into rock. After repudiating false assumptions about the nature of this lapis molaris (510–64), the poet ends his long scientific disquisition with a brisk, three-line summation of what has preceded (565–7). But then comes an unexpected change of direction: the poem draws to a close on a very different note, first condemning man’s appetite for distant travel to visit shrines, famous artifacts, or the sites of legendary events (e.g., Thebes, Sparta, Athens) when none of these sights can rival nature’s marvels, Etna chief among them (568–602); and after attributing the impia fabula (42) of the Gigantomachy to “the deceit of poets” (fallacia vatum, 29), the poet concludes with a fabula (603) of a very different stamp: the legend of the pious brothers (cf. pietas, 633; pios iuvenes, 634) of Catania who rush, during an eruption, to save their aging parents, not their possessions122—an act of devotion respected even by the morally sentient lava flows, which gave the brothers free passage as they carried their parents to safety (603–45, esp. 634: erubuere pios iuvenes attingere flammae).123
How, if at all, is this concluding fabula to be reconciled with the Aetna poet’s rejection of poetic muthos in favor of his truth-telling, rationalizing logos? How, if at all, are the two Etnas as distinguished above to be reconciled within a coherent conceptual framework that unifies the poem? Or is the Aetna’s investigative thrust accompanied, even obstructed, by obligatory genuflection to literary tradition, or by (p.62) “idle conventions that decorate, rather than enhance, the scientific content?”124 And if the poet is at pains to assert the primacy of his natural-philosophical approach to the volcano, why dwell at such length—a sixth or so of the entire poem—on the falsities of poetic muthos, and why show such “persistent, if sneaking respect for the power of his rejected divine beings?”125 One partial solution to the problem of reconciling the concluding fabula with the poet’s unwavering commitment to unveiling the naturalistic truth (cf. nosse fidem rerum dubiasque exquirere causas, 226) is to interpret the story of the brothers’ piety in light of the earlier praises (219–81) of physical inquiry that seeks to know the earth and its wonders (251–2):126 whereas greed induces man to mine the earth for gold and silver (277), and whereas gain motivates the farmer to fill his barns and wine casks with his produce (cf. 266–7), the mind’s most precious harvest and reward (fruges, merces, 271) are the gaining of insight into nature’s workings (270–305); just so, as the greedy throng (avara manus, 629) rushes to rescue all the valuables that it can from the lava flows in the concluding fabula, the only riches that concern the brothers are their parents (illis divitiae solae materque paterque,/ hanc rapiunt praedam, 630–1). By extension, the eruption that engulfs Catania symbolically punishes earthly greed, while the flames’ reluctance to endanger the brothers (634) signals the natural way of, and nature’s reward for, their pietas—a vision compounded by the explicit evocations of pius Aeneas carrying Anchises to safety from the ruins of Troy in Aeneid 2.127 But the larger problem remains: after railing against the use of legend and myth in naturalistic explanation, why might the poet choose to end with this moralizing fabula? “[A] bit of poetic license,” perhaps,128 or possibly a fusing of naturalistic investigation with moral commentary of the sort that we find (albeit on a much more ambitious scale) in Seneca’s Natural Questions, to the effect that the Aetna is didactically engaged in ethical as well as physical instruction.129 But more relevant for now is a different approach to the problem.
(p.63) Staple techniques that the Aetna poet uses to demystify the volcano’s workings are multiple explanations (e.g., 102–17, on the possible causes of the earth’s perforation with many channels), careful observation and appeals to common experience (e.g., 135–6, 177–9, 191, 329–31, 448–9), inference from the seen to the unseen (e.g., 117–19, 144–5, 306–10, 546–7), analogy (e.g., 98–101, 320–8, 475–7), and self-conscious reflection on methodological principles (e.g., 247–50).130 Such techniques are of course hardly unique to our poet, who is doubtless influenced by Lucretius’ deployment of them in De rerum natura, and possibly also (if the dating controversy allows) by Senecan practice in his Natural Questions.131 But as these techniques take their experimental course through the Aetna, our experience of the volcano becomes inseparable from the literary operation that explains it: as Jarrett Welsh well puts it, “the activity of writing and reading [this] poem about science is equivalent to doing science.”132 In this sympathetic correlation between theme and medium, the opus of the poet’s designing hand is balanced by the physical opus that is Etna, with high-pressure wind (spiritus, 217) the ultimate agent of its volcanic activity:
- nec tamen est dubium penitus quid torqueat Aetnam,
- aut quis mirandus tantae faber imperet arti.
- But there is no doubt about what tortures Etna deep below ground, or who the amazing craftsman is who commands such great skill.133
The word opus is used with striking frequency of Etna’s “workings” or “process” through the agency of this artisan-like spiritus (so, e.g., 117, 159, 169, 184, 219, 458; cf. also artificis naturae ingens opus inspice, 600),134 and it notably recurs with this sense in the poet’s summation of his preceding discourse at 565–7:
- haec operis summa est, sic nobilis uritur Aetna:
- terra foraminibus vires trahit, urget in artum
- spiritus, incendi vis it per maxima saxa.
- This is the essence of the process, this is how famous Etna burns: the earth absorbs energy through its pores, wind squeezes it into a restricted space, and a powerful fire moves through the huge rocks.135
The poet’s own project is enunciated through opus in line 188 (nunc opus artificem incendi causamque reposcit, “Now my project seeks to know the agent and cause of the fire”136), and the word again figures prominently when the action of water and air under Etna is illustrated by two extraordinary mechanical examples:137
- … praecipiti deiecta sono premit unda fugatque
- torpentes auras pulsataque corpora denset;
- aut, veluti sonat †ora duc† Tritone canoro
- (pellit opus collectus aquae victusque moveri
- spiritus et longas emugit bucina voces) 295
- carmineque irriguo magnis cortina theatris
- imparibus numerosa modis canit arte regentis,
- quae tenuem impellens animam subremigat unda,
- haud aliter summota furens torrentibus aura
- pugnat in angusto et magnum commurmurat Aetna.
- … the water, streaming down with a rushing noise, presses and drives away the sluggish breezes and condenses the particles (of air) as it dashes against them; for, just as [… ] sounds with a singing Triton (the reservoir of water and the air that is forced into motion drive the mechanism, and the trumpet blares out its long note), and just as in large theatres, the organ sings its hydraulic song, playing melodies with its pipes of different length, through the player’s skill, which makes a rowing movement in the water and thus sets the gentle current of air in motion, in just the same way the wind, displaced by torrents of water, rages and fights in its narrow confines, and Etna roars loudly.138
(p.65) The mechanism described in the first analogy (293–5) is all the harder to define because of the corruption in line 293, but the poet seems to allude to a device shaped as a singing Triton and emitting a musical note.139 But if Munro’s hora duci is read in 293, to the effect of “just as the hour of battle is sounded to the general by the trumpeting tones of Triton,”140 then a suggestive parallel for the device is to be found in Suetonius’ account of an extravagant naumachia that the Emperor Claudius staged on the Fucine Lake in 52 CE:
The extravaganza was a clash between the navies of Sicily and Rhodes, twelve triremes on each side. A silver Triton rose up from the middle of lake, hoisted by a mechanical device, and summoned the navies to battle with his trumpet.
If, despite the textual crux in line 293, we tentatively accept that the Aetna poet means an elaborate mechanical Triton approximating to this Suetonian kind, then the Etna tamed by domesticating analogy here is transformed from an intimidating monstrum to a mechanistic marvel142—a process underscored by comparison with the water organ, or hydraulus, in lines 296–8,143 where the positive, mechanistic analogy is nevertheless offset by the vast difference of scale and sound effect between organ and mountain, and by the contrast between the cortina in the theater (296) and the vast natural theater that is Etna.
But beyond the presentation of Etna as the work (opus) crafted or set in motion by the ars of its faber-like wind agency (cf. again 197–8), Patrick Glauthier usefully presses the insight that Etna as natural opus and the Aetna as poetic opus are one, a unity already encoded in the opening lines, where the poet announces that “Etna … will be my song” (Aetna [the work’s title or the mountain itself?144] mihi … carmen erit, 1–4):
As a musical Triton or sonorous cortina, Mount Aetna is both spectacular and familiar. It constitutes a marvelous wonder that operates according to readily accessible scientific principles and therefore can supplant the falsely constructed and erroneously explained mountain of the literary tradition …
The poem itself becomes the mountain—its sounds are those of the “sonorous” Triton (Tritone canoro, 293), its flowing verses are the “wet song” of the water organ (carmine … irriguo, 296). At the same time, the poet becomes the skilled worker who actually runs the Triton, the musician whose “art” allows the cortina to “sing” (canit arte regentis, 297).145
On this approach the poet composes or constructs both the Aetna and Etna in a fusion of the natural-philosophical and literary operations—a merging process that results, as Jarrett Welsh puts it, in “a volcano that is as textual and poetic as it is scientifically ‘real.’ ”146 For Welsh, this ability of the poem “to create reality within itself” by fully enacting the investigative experience (“poetry is the scientific enquiry”)147 importantly transcends the fictive, mythological poetic mode rejected in lines 9–93: on Welsh’s reading, the scientific Etna/Aetna is as incompatible with that fictive tradition as the poet’s commitment to truth telling (cf. again sed omnis/ in vero mihi cura, 91–2) is alien to the fallacia vatum impugned in line 29. The dissonance between these two modes as distinguished by Welsh will in due course offer a helpful paradigm (and arguably even a direct model) for the conflicting discourses, fictive and scientific, that Pietro Bembo builds into his portrayal of Etna in De Aetna. But whereas the scientific approach clearly wins out in Welsh’s vision of the Aetna poem, we shall see that Bembo portrays an uneasy tension in De Aetna between two versions of Etna itself, the one imaginative, ludic, and rooted in the mythico-poetic tradition, the other far more soberly rationalized in terms of its volcanic workings. Traces of a similar tension, I argue, are already discernible in the Aetna poem, but they give way before Welsh’s predominant focus on “poetry as science”; hence we turn to Glauthier for guidance on how to relate the different faces of Etna in the Aetna.
Central to Glauthier’s vision of the Aetna is that, for all its ostensible hostility to vatic fictions, the poet ultimately recognizes the irrepressibility of that literary tradition:
I will argue that, even though the poet champions scientific analysis of natural phenomena and sets forth an integrated theory on the nature of Aetna’s volcanic activity, he continually encourages the reader to conceive of the mountain as a literary artifact that exists outside the world of scientific analysis. From the poet’s perspective, science cannot suppress the literary history of the natural world, and literature cannot offer causal accounts of nature that satisfy contemporary demands for rationalism. Despite an ostensible opposition, these are complementary ways of thinking about and giving meaning to the natural world.148
For all his efforts methodically to explain the volcano, its vast explosiveness—the kinds of horrors unleashed and hyperbolically magnified in the vatic tradition—continually threatens to disrupt the rationalizing process within the Aetna itself. So in lines 199–207, one of what Glauthier characterizes as the poem’s “collection of miniature eruptions”149 by which the legendary Etna sporadically reasserts its wondrous volcanic powers, it is as if the scientific impulse were suddenly distracted, even overwhelmed:
- pellitur exustae glomeratim nimbus harenae,
- flagrantes properant moles, volvuntur ab imo 200
- fundamenta, fragor tota nunc rumpitur Aetna,
- nunc fusca pallent incendia mixta ruina.
- ipse procul tantos miratur Iuppiter ignes,
- neve sepulta novi surgant in bella gigantes,
- neu Ditem regni pudeat, neu Tartara caelo 205
- vertat, in occulto tantus fremor omniaque extra
- congeries operit saxorum et putris harenae.
- A cloud of burnt sand is ejected in a mass, blazing lumps fly out, deep below ground the foundations are convulsed, now a crash resounds throughout Etna, now the fires mix with dark debris and give out only a faint light. Jupiter himself, from far away, is astounded at such powerful fires, afraid that new giants are rising up to fight long-buried wars, that Dis is ashamed of his kingdom and is moving from Tartarus to heaven: there is such an uproar hidden within, and outside an accumulation of rocks and crumbling sand covers everything.150
(p.68) As Glauthier points out,151 the order imposed by the scientific treatment of Etna thus far in the poem is challenged by this outbreak of extreme (albeit temporary) disorder; and after the poet’s dismissal of the mere fabula (42) of the Gigantomachy in lines 41–73, this reversion to the unfettered literary topos of the mountain in explosive action is accompanied by a revitalization of the mythological store, with Jupiter a passive onlooker and the Giants seemingly resurgent (203–4). These mini-eruptions reach their climax in the macro-explosion that sets the stage for the pious brothers’ rescue of their parents at the poem’s close (603–45). But in their lurking threat throughout the poem, they demonstrate above all for Glauthier “the vitality of the literary tradition and scientific inquiry’s inability to silence it”;152 to press the analogy between poem and mountain, the Aetna itself, like the volcano it represents, might be said to be interpenetrated by conceptual fissures and hollows, and the explosive force that gathers there is capable of sporadic narratival eruptions (such as that at 199–207) that destabilize the work’s rationalizing agenda.
The two Etnas that stand in tension in the Aetna poem, the one mythologically embellished, the other systematically demystified, merge to form a highly inventive application of our central theme so far in this chapter: the versatility, especially the doubleness, with which the Etna Idea is deployed in the Greco-Roman literary tradition. In the Aetna the volcano emerges as a multivalent commodity that receives very different kinds of treatment: while the scientific eye looks to the ordering principles that govern Etna’s (and any volcano’s) mechanics, to the artistically intuitive gaze the mountain is a locus of mythological drama and possibility; at the same time, the legend of filial piety in 603–45 applies the mountain’s lava flows to uplifting, moralizing effect. These different perspectives are in tension with one another, but the key point for now is that all are in their diverse ways equally valid, pertinent, and engaging; so much depends on the vantage point from which the mountain is viewed, be it that of the natural scientist, that of the fabulist, or that of the moralist. Similarly, in Pietro Bembo’s dialogical exchanges with his father, Bernardo, we shall see in Chapter 6 that each brings his own perspective to bear to Etna, the one youthful, exuberant, and adventurous in his direct engagement with the mountain, the other far more sedate, measured, and scientifically detached in his explanation of its volcanic workings. On this approach, the different Etnas of the Aetna poem offer an especially useful paradigm for what I take to be Bembo’s differentiation between the competing Etna perspectives of father and son in De Aetna: here, perhaps, the Aetna poem influences De Aetna far more profoundly than (just) through various contact points of volcanic theorizing.153
The Etna Idea hardly ends here. Further Classical and post-Classical manifestations could be elucidated at length, through coverage of authors as diverse as (e.g.) Callimachus and Claudian, Valerius Flaccus and Nonnus.154 Beyond the frequency of the Idea, the sheer inventiveness with which it is deployed also hardly lacks for further illustration, as one last example will show. In the fourteenth book of Silius Italicus’ Punica, that late first-century CE epic on Rome’s struggle against Hannibal in the Second Punic War, the action suddenly moves to Sicily, and to the campaign waged there by the consul M. Claudius Marcellus in 214–212 BCE. After the city of Leontini is quickly taken by storm (125–77), Marcellus blockades Syracuse by land and by sea (178–91); but the Syracusan resistance is stubborn and the maneuvering prolonged before the city finally succumbs to Marcellus’ forces only at the book’s end (618–83). In the larger context of the Punica, Silius’ Sicily in Book 14 functions as a meta-poetic island of sorts,155 a mini-epic that stands in microcosmic relation to the entire war and to the entire poem, delivering “a re-run of the epic”156 with Rome now resurgent. Along the way, Sicily fully lives up to its reputation as a famed locus of natural marvels in Silius’ introductory description of its geography and the genealogy of its inhabitants (11–78). So, in his account of Etna (14.55–69), the volcano is a wonder not just because of its sustained ragings (cf. 64–5: “Inside it boils with an abundant storm of flames, and the constantly regenerated fire flows forth”), but also—mirabile dictu (66)—because the mountaintop is snow covered even as Etna seethes within: it is a paradoxical marvel in terms of both its heat index (red hot yet ice clad, 67–8) and color contrast (white with snow, black with burnt ash, 69).157
A wondrous vision, then, but when the name Aetna/Aetne recurs later in Book 14, it is in still more astonishing circumstances. In the great sea battle that rages at 14.353–579, the Romans on one side, the Syracusans and Carthaginians under Himilco on the other, the Romans finally prevail, but only after a series of bitter and bizarre encounters. At one point two ships, Perseus on the Roman side, Io on (p.70) the Carthaginian, meet in such close proximity that a quasi-land battle (terrestria proelia, 521) ensues between the crews. The Romans try to invade the other ship, but on the Carthaginian side a certain Polyphemus, reared in a cave on Etna and suckled by a she-wolf (!), breaks the chains connecting the boats, in an effort to thwart the attack (527–33). He dips his oars so as to maneuver the Io away, only suddenly to be transfixed by an enemy shaft; his dying hand still moves the oar, but uselessly, and the Io subsequently sinks, albeit not because of any direct Roman action, but because the Carthaginians crowded the part of the ship that was free of the enemy, thereby causing it to give way under the sudden weight (534–41). Here is surely a first in literary history, a Polyphemus of impeccable, Romulus-like158 credentials who reverses his namesake’s Odyssey story by trying to effect a ship’s (his own ship’s) deliverance, not its destruction (cf. Od. 9.473–542), and who is oar plying, not rock throwing, when we last see him in the Silian (distinctly non-Homeric) saga. After the Carthaginians’ defeat, “their captive ships were soon towed to shore in a long procession, while others remained at sea, aflame in their burning” (563–5). Among the burning ships were the Cyane, Siren, Europa and Python; but among those taken captive was “Etna of the rocky peaks” (ardua rupibus Aetne, 578). The Syracusan-Carthaginian failure is indeed total: far from blazing forth in a spectacular eruption of fire that would at least be true to its name, the Etna limps to shore as if truly a damp squib159—surely a knowing touch by which Silius concludes his Etna coverage in Punica 14 with a headlong plunge into bathos.
Here we leave our coverage of the Etna Idea, but the Idea itself will remain an immanent presence throughout this study, especially in the form of the doubleness of perspectives on Etna that we have so far witnessed either across works (notably, Lucretius’ De rerum natura and Virgil’s Aeneid) or within the same work (notably, De rerum natura, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the Aetna poem); for that doubleness of viewpoint is fundamental to De Aetna, as we shall see in Chapter 6 in particular. Our coverage of the Etna Idea has also amounted to an extended exercise in literary memory thus far, an itinerary that has caused us to visit Pindar, Lucretius, Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, and the Aetna poet. But this form of visitation has yet to be related to the full mnemonic properties of De Aetna as a textual fusion of landscape and memory. In Chapter 2, therefore, we supplement our treatment of the Etna Idea (p.71) by contextualizing it within the larger mnemonic repertoire that Bembo deploys in recalling his ascent of Etna; that memory function will also be related to the forward-looking, “modern” sensibility that De Aetna displays in comparison with the earlier, and especially pre-Petrarchan, history of mountaineering in the medieval imagination. (p.72)
(1.) For the renown of Mamertine wine (i.e., produced around Messina [ancient Messana], whose inhabitants were known as Mamertini), Plin. HN 14.61–6 (there fourth ranked after (1) Caecuban, (2) Falernian, and (3) Alban and Surrentine wines), Mart. 13.117 (“If a jar of Mamertine, as old as Nestor, is given to you, it can have whatever name you please,” i.e., it is the equal of any wine whatsoever); Dalby (2003) 206–7, 356–7 with Nesto and Di Savino (2013) 7.
(2.) Nas-/Nesiades to the effect of “ ‘of the island’: Sicily may have been so called par excellence” (A. Palmer  429). Nisiades might be taken to denote the female descendants of Nisus, king of Megara (and father of Scylla), the Sicilian connection then tenuously supplied by Megara in Sicily being a colony of the Greek Megara. But for (effectively identical) Nas-/Nesiades favored, see the interesting expatiations of Ellis (1892) 344–6 and (1901b) 260. Cf. also Knox (1995) 290 on Her. 15.54 Nisiadesque (in effect “Sicilian”): “One wonders whether the unusual epithet occurred in Sappho.”
(3.) Vesuvius predictably lends itself to a similar Idea (cf. now C. Connors ), but for present purposes it remains another matter. Etna is now well surveyed in the Greco-Roman tradition by Buxton (2016), but my own approach to the Etna Idea is significantly different, esp. in what I identify below as the “doubleness” phenomenon in certain Roman treatments of it.
(7.) Τυφώς-Typhon at Pyth. 1.16, 8.16, but Τυφάων-Typhaon at Hes. Theog. 306 (Τυφῶν -ῶνος in Pind. Ol. 4.7) and then Τυφωεύς-Typhoeus at 821, 869; “The origin of the name and its variant forms are unexplained” (West  252 on Theog. 306). Apart from “Typhon” as given in Pythian 1 as quoted below, for standardization I use “Typhoeus” throughout this study. In Hesiod, Typhoeus—half man, half dragon—comes after the Giants, but for his later identification as a Giant, and for the frequent conflation of the Titano- and Gigantomachic legends in the Hellenistic and Roman eras, see Nisbet and Rudd (2004) 72 on Hor. Carm. 3.4.53 with Hinds (1987) 165 n.30.
(11.) West (1966) 393. Cf. also the Homeric simile at Il. 2.780–5, where Typhoeus is surely not buried under a volcano (let alone Etna), but the earth groans as when Zeus “scourges it about Typhoeus in Arima,” “which probably implies an earthquake” (Kirk  243; cf. Hine  59).
(12.) The chronological relationship of the two works remains a vexed question, but for the anteriority of Pythian 1 see Griffith (1983) 149–50 on 351–72 and 152 on 363–72 with Berranger-Auserve (2004) 41 and Billault (2004) 198 and n.12.
(15.) See Kingsley (1995) 73–4 and n.10.
(19.) For the reference to “steep cliffs above Cumae (ὑπὲρ Κύμας … ὄχθαι)” perhaps suggesting “the whole surrounding volcanic region, including Vesuvius” or “possibly referring to the heights of the volcanic island of Ischia, ‘opposite’ … to Cumae,” Kirkwood (1982) 132 on 18 with Hine (2002) 70–1 and n.39.
(20.) The topical importance of the allusion to Cumae in this context is underscored by the fact that (as Hine  71 points out) when Pindar refers elsewhere to Typhoeus under Etna (Ol. 4.6–7), there is no mention of Cumae.
(21.) On this point, Murgatroyd (1988) 59–60; Lefkowitz (1976) 109 (“Like Typhos, the Etruscans were believed to originate from Asia Minor”); Skulsky (1975) 21–2 (noting that ὁ Φοίνιξ in 72 [= Phoenician] “recalls the φοίνισσαφλόξ  associated with Typhon”); Berranger-Auserve (2004) 45–7; Morgan (2015) 309, 314, 318.
(23.) Cf. Lefkowitz (1976) 109 with Billault (2004) 197–8, setting Typhoeus’ fate in lines 13–33 against the protocols of just and measured rule that Pindar urges on Hiero in lines 85–100 (e.g., 86: “Direct the host with the steering oar of justice. Forge the tongue on the anvil of truth”); Segal (1986) 131 for “[b]oth Pythian 1 and 4 … offer[ing] paradigms of hybristic violence (Typhon, the Aloades) and cruel or illegitimate kingship (Phalaris, Pelias) that might be construed as a warning to the ruler who commissioned the poems” (my emphasis).
(24.) Cf. De Aetna §46: “On this matter you can also appreciate Pindar’s knowing choice of soubriquet when he called Etna ‘nurse of snows.’ ”
(26.) See Holford-Strevens (2003) 118–29 on “Favorinus the Latinist.”
(27.) Cf. also Macrob. Sat. 5.17.8–14, a passage based on NA 17.10.8–19. On the comparative technique as “a critical procedure much favoured by Gellius,” see Vardi (1996), esp. 502–4 for his Gellius’ partiality to originals (p. 503: “Out of eleven instances of such comparative evaluations only once does he come near to asserting the superiority of an imitation over its model”).
(32.) For Callimachus’ Enceladus (Aet. fr. 1.36 with schol. ad Pind. Ol. 4.7 = p. 132.5–7 11c Drachmann) and for the knowing touch in fama est see Hollis (1992) 273–4 with Thomas (1999) 286 and Horsfall (2006) 400–1 on 578.
(37.) On Cacus in relation to Etna and Polyphemus, Hardie (1986) 115, 116–17, 266 and (2009a) 97 with Sullivan (1972) 190, Johnston (1996) 60–1, and Scarth (2000) 601–3. For Hercules’ leap into Cacus’ cave possibly evoking Empedocles’ leap into Etna, Hardie (1986) 116 and (2009a) 172.
(41.) Hardie (1986) 281, with implications for Aeneas, who “in his resolution is identified with the universal steadfastness of which Atlas was a general symbol” (p. 280; further, pp. 372–3 on 8.729–31).
(55.) Gowers (2007) 23; already on this “pictorial catalogue of Empedocles’ four elements,” Snyder (1972), and on the treatment of Empedocles in 1.714–41 in general, Garani (2007) 1–5, 136–7. For the sea as “the sweat of the earth” in the Empedoclean system, D-K 31A66 and B55 with Graham (2010) 377.99, 100, and for the physiology of the heart in relation to the surrounding blood, D-K 31B105 with Graham 399.163 and 429 ad loc. (“Blood is the medium for thought, and the central processing center is the area around the heart”).
(61.) Cf. already Hardie (2009a) 216–17. For the legend cf. D. L. 8.69, Strab. 6.2.8, 10, etc., with (also on its symbolic implications) Chitwood (1986) and Kingsley (1995), esp. 233–56, 272–7, 289–92.
(62.) See n.56 above.
(67.) Surely the first book in the original ordering of the work, its sequence confused in the medieval manuscript tradition: succinctly on the whole question, Hine (2010) 1–2 and 193 n.2 with G. D. Williams (2012) 13–14.
(69.) Further, Gowers (2011) 168–9.
(71.) For C. Valgius Rufus, suffect consul in 12 BCE and protégé of M. Valerius Messalla Corvinus, Courtney (1993) 286–90 and Hollis (2007) 290–1 and 298–9 on 171 with Nisbet and Hubbard (1978) 134–5. Nisbet and Hubbard 135 speculate on the basis of Letter 51.1 that Valgius may have written “a didactic poem” on Etna, but Courtney 290 on fr. 7 has none of it (“no doubt prose”); if both Valgius and Messalla termed Etna unicus (whether in prose or verse), the point at issue at 51.1 may amount to (Hollis 299) “which of them wrote first, and which was merely following the other.”
(72.) Gowers (2011) 187.
(73.) Cf. W. H. Alexander (1951), proposing on the basis of an awkward tense sequence in 51.1 (contenti sumus Bais; quas postero die quam attigeram reliqui, locum … devitandum) that Seneca interrupted his writing of the letter after Bais, to the effect of “ ‘Everyman as best he can. You, down there, have Etna; we, doing our best, get along with Baiae.’ [Time gap.] ‘I left it the next day after arriving there. It is a place for one to avoid.’ ”
(74.) See already the fine treatment in Hine (2002) 60–3.
(75.) So at least appears to be the drift of 79.5–10, with a full (rather than a merely episodic) treatment perhaps also presupposed in §7: “Now if Etna doesn’t make your mouth water, I’m mistaken in you. For some time you’ve been wanting to write something on a large scale and on the level of your predecessors (grande aliquid et par prioribus scribere)”— albeit grande here arguably denotes “little more than ‘fine writing’ ” (Summers  274).
(77.) Cf. already Hine (2002) 62–3 for the possible vein of humor: “The lack of specific detail [sc. in the naturalistic inquiries about Etna that Seneca raises with Lucilius] might mean that on this occasion Seneca is, as it were, just bluffing, going through the motions of scientific curiosity for literary purposes. Or, more sympathetically, one might suggest that in this highly literary correspondence, written for publication, generic considerations made him disinclined to give precise dates [sc. about Etna’s changing height] and distances [sc. about the distance of snow from the craters]. Be that as it may, we do not know whether anything came of his suggestion to Lucilius, nor indeed how seriously Seneca expected Lucilius or anyone else to take it” (my emphases).
(79.) In general on Ovid on Etna, Guzmán Arias (2003).
(80.) Pachynos the southeastern promontory of Sicily, Lilybaeum the island’s westernmost promontory; cf. De Aetna §22.
(86.) Rosati (2009) 270–1.
(87.) Cf. Rosati (2009) 272–4 on the Pierid’s blasphemy (p. 273: “imagining the gods in animal shape is an act of impiety”).
(88.) For the Pierids therefore cast as “rank bad poets,” Hinds (1987) 130. A metaliterary reading of intumuit numero stolidarum turba sororum (305) may already imply as much (Hinds 131), but for extenuat (320) nevertheless perhaps signaling a certain Alexandrian competence (underscored by the Pierid’s learned manipulation of Nicander in lines 327–31), Hinds 166–7 n.40; cf. also Chaudhuri (2014) 97 for the Pierid’s “iconoclastic art … as more intellectually challenging and rich in content than the conventional song of the Muses.” If the Pierid has thus found a way of “producing a Gigantomachy with some redeeming features” (Hinds 166 n.40), this positive dimension is of course hardly stressed by the biased Muse-narrator.
(92.) On this “devastatingly dismissive rejoinder to the Pierid,” now Chaudhuri (2014) 99.
(93.) On the (unfairness of the) vast disproportion between the two songs as told by the Muse, Hinds (1987) 128 and 166 n.40 with Rosati (2002) 299–301 and Chaudhuri (2014) 98; on the Pierid’s movement from indirect (321–6) to direct (327–31) speech, Rosati (2002) 300 (it is “as if the narrating Muse wished [in 327–31] to distinguish her own voice, not contaminating it with that of her impious enemy”).
(94.) See now Chaudhuri (2014) 101–3 on “[t]he deliberate emphasis on divine majesty and constancy” in Minerva’s tapestry at 6.70–102, and on the comparison of the Pierid’s song and Arachne’s tapestry, both featuring theriomorphic portrayals of the gods (albeit in Arachne’s case with a still more scandalous sexual dimension).
(95.) Chaudhuri (2014) 100.
(97.) For these issues, Myers (1994) 133–66, esp. 134–5 with bibliography; Hardie (1995) 204 and nn.1, 2, (2009a) 137, and (2015) 487–9. If (e.g.) Niobe is transformed into a rock that endlessly weeps (6.301–12), how to reconcile that unending state (cf. lacrimas etiamnum marmora manant, 6.312) with the Pythagorean theory of changeful soul migration/reincarnation?
(98.) I.e., natura here as elemental fire (Hardie  528 ad loc.), taken up in illa in 355.
(100.) His speech is after all delivered in answer to Numa’s inquiry as to quae sit rerum natura (15.6); cf. also 15.68–9 rerum causas et quid natura docebat … esset with Myers (1994) 158, and for the didactic dimension, Volk (2002) 64–7.
(103.) For sources, Hardie (2015) 521–2 on 15.293–5, 296–306.
(108.) The phenomenon is (perhaps all too tellingly) unattested before Ovid here: Hardie (2015) 528 on 15.356–60.
(111.) The text followed below is that of Goodyear (1966), which is almost identical to that in Goodyear (1965) (see on the changes Hine  317 n.6). The translations below are drawn from Hine (2012), which is itself based on Goodyear (1966).
(113.) See Goodyear (1965) 59 and (1984), esp. 358 (“No evidence excludes composition at about A.D. 70 and much evidence, some strong, some plausible, some tenuous, points in that direction”). Further on date and authorship, De Vivo (1989); Wolff (2004) 79–80; Volk (2005) and (2008) xx–xxi; Taub (2008) 45 and (2009) 125 and n.1.
(115.) For the history of the ascription to Lucilius, and for trenchant dismissal of it (“unsupported by anything which could be called evidence”), Goodyear (1965) 57–8 with (1984) 351; but the theory persists in (e.g.) Paisley and Oldroyd (1979) 6–11.
(116.) See on 6.639–702 pp. 43–5 above.
(117.) For the personifying aspect, e.g., fauces (319, 374), corporis (392), alimenta and nutriat (386), evomit (411), etc., with Wolff (2004) 83–4. For mediation between attempts to show that the poem is Stoic (Sudhaus ) or Epicurean (Rostagni ), De Lacy (1943) remains valuable.
(120.) For fine in-depth coverage of this section, Garani (2009).
(121.) I use “lava stone” for convenience, but Hine favors the more literal “mill-stone,” pointing out ( 321 n.74) that “Classical Latin has no distinct word for ‘lava.’ ”
(122.) For the legend and its considerable variations in different sources, Goodyear (1965) 207–8 with Santelia (2012), esp. 24–43 on “Le fonti della miranda fabula.” Our poet names Amphinomus (625) but not his brother, who is commonly called Anapias; other names are recorded in the tradition.
(123.) The verb erubuere nicely combines the connotations of “red hot” and also “red with shame” (cf. OLD 1); line 634 alludes (Santelia  71) to Prop. 4.1.44 et verita est umeros urere flamma pios (of Aeneas carrying Anchises from Troy), but our poet may also have in mind Aen. 2.633 dant tela locum flammaeque recedunt.
(124.) Welsh (2014) 98, referring to Taub (2008) 55 and (2009) 136 for the line that “[t]he Aetna poet is critical of myth and legend as a means to explain natural phenomena, … yet he ends his poem with a story about the benevolence of nature, and a god, towards humans. In this way, the Aetna poet delineates a boundary for the use of legend and the role of gods.”
(127.) For the Virgilian dimension see n.123 above with Volk (2005) 80, Glauthier (2011) 125–6, and now Santelia (2012) 38–40, 68 on 625, 69 on 627–8, etc.; at Ben. 3.37.1–2 and 6.36.1, Seneca explicitly sets Aeneas and the two brothers alongside one another. For the poet himself arguably “like the twins who rescue their ageing parents” cf. Toohey (1996) 191: “We [sc. the readers] are rescued from the conflagration of divine displeasure by poet and poem.”
(129.) On this line, Taub (2008) 55 and (2009) 135 with Santelia (2012) 44–5. Cf. also Welsh (2014) 109–13, intriguingly relating the intermittent abating of Etna’s volcanic action in the main body of the poem to the flames’ reluctance to burn the brothers: “That pause in the onslaught of the pyroclastic flow , I would propose, is how the poet at last fulfills, albeit in a seemingly altered form, the promise [cf. 221, 281] to discuss the intermission of the volcano’s activity” (p. 113).
(131.) See now on the Senecan aspect Garani (2009).
(133.) Hine (2012) 320.
(135.) Hine (2012) 323.
(136.) Hine (2012) 319.
(138.) Hine (2012) 320–1; my emphases.
(142.) For further interesting implications of a mechanical Triton horn, see Garani (2009) 113: according to Hyg. Astr. 2.23, in the war against the Giants Triton’s horn served to frighten them into taking flight; our poet’s mechanical Triton horn not only rationalizes Etna as machine-like by analogy, but also symbolically counters the volcano’s mythological/Gigantomachic associations.
(143.) For the de facto equivalence of cortina (296) and the water organ/hydraulus, Ellis (1901a) 142–3.
(147.) (2014) 126, 127.
(151.) (2011) 118–19.
(154.) See Callim. Hymn 4.141–7; Claud. De raptu Pros. 1.153–78 with Moro (1999) and Leroux (2004a); V. Fl. Argon. 2.25–33; Nonnus Dionys. 1.154–2.649. In the latter case, after being worsted by Zeus in a truly mind-boggling confrontation, Typhoeus is finally buried under Sicily at 2.620–30 in circumstances that depart significantly from the literary tradition (cf. Vian  32), and Etna is specifically named in association with him only at 13.318–20. For Classical treatments of Etna broadly surveyed see the essays assembled in Foulon (2004) and Bertrand (2004c) with Muecke (2006) and now Buxton (2016).
(159.) At 14.579 this Aetne is described as “pyre of the living Enceladus” (spirantis rogus Enceladi), but at 14.196 Silius associates Typhoeus with Etna. Perhaps, in combination, a learned nod to a divided tradition (see p. 35 and n.32); or Silius perhaps resorts to Enceladus under Etna after associating Typhoeus with the island of Inarime (now Ischia) at 8.540–1. But if in Book 14 we take it that the “official” Silian line locates Typhoeus under Etna, the failure of the ill-starred Carthaginian Aetne is redoubled: a damp squib that is ineptly identified with the “wrong” giant.