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then, from whence come the towering car and multitude of oxen? I answer, from paganism. From the rites of Juno, of Cybele, or of Ceres. Thus, in the murrain amongst the cattle, so beautifully described in the third Georgic, it is expressly mentioned that no heifers could be found to drag the chariot of the Queen of Heaven:
Tempore non alio, dicunt regionibus illis
'Twas then that buffaloes, ill-paired, were seen
In the Æneid the same honours are recorded to have been paid to the Mother of the Gods:”
Qualis Berecynthia mater
So thro' the Phrygian cities forth is led
Ah, me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen,
Than those whereof such things the bard relates,
We deferred our visit to the summit of Ætna till we were about to leave Catania, on our return to Messina.
In the structure of this “snow-clad pillar of the heavens, this nurse of endless frost,” as Pindar calls it
Κιων δ' ουρανια
every thing wears a character of vastness. The base of the mountain, which covers an area of eighty-seven miles in circumference—the greater diameter extending from east to west—is well defined by the rivers Symæthus and Alcantara, and the sea-shore. The inclination of the sides is very various; the whole length of the ascent from Catania being about four-and-twenty miles, while from Linguagrossa it is but eighteen, and from Randazzo scarcely twelve- Ætna differing in this respect from most other mountains, which are generally steepest towards the south. Owing to this gentle inclination on the side of Catania, the height of the mountain, to a spectator placed there, appears to be much less than it really is. It is only when the traveller has accomplished half the ascent, and, beginning to look down upon the rest of the island, finds the summit to all appearance as far removed from him as ever, that he becomes thoroughly sensible of its commanding altitude.
Ætna is divided by nature into three distinct zones or regions, usually distinguished by the names of the Cultivated, Woody, and Desert Regions; differing so widely from each other in aspect, climate, and produce, that, as Brydone observes, they might with equal propriety be denominated the Torrid, Temperate, and Frigid Zones.
The Cultivated Region comprises a tract of country of variable width, to whose luxuriant beauty no language can do justice; for here the soil, fertilized by the matter ejected by the volcano, and situated in one of the most genial climates upon earth, teems with every variety of flower and shrub and tree that can delight the eye, and every species of fruit that can gratify the palate. Some idea of the fertility of this tract may be formed from the circumstance that it contains a population of upwards of a hundred and forty thousand souls. 66 We are not to be surprised,” observes Brydone, with reference to this wonderful fertility, “ at the obstinate attachment of the people to this mountain, and that all his terrors have not been able to drive them away from him: for though he sometimes chastises; yet, like an indulgent parent, he mingles such blessings with his chastisements, that their affections can never be estranged; for at the same time that he threatens with a rod of iron, he pours down upon
them all the blessings of the age of gold.” In general this beautiful region varies from six to nine miles in width; towards Catania, however, on the line of road leading to Nicolosi, the width equals eleven miles; while, towards the north, it dwindles to little more than one and a half.
About three miles above Nicolosi —an assemblage of unsightly huts one story high, built of the dark ferruginous substance ejected by the mountain, and surrounded by a wide plain of black sand disgorged by the neighbouring Monte Rosso* in the year 1669, and as yet presenting no other sign of vegetation than a few lichens and straggling weeds- we entered upon the Woody Regiont, a vast forest, varying from six to seven miles in
* The name Monte Rosso, derived from the red colour of the scoriæ, is common to many of the conical hills formed round every crater. They are all nearly alike in shape, the inside resembling a funnel, the outside a sugar-loaf, and consisting of black or red scoriæ.--Simond.
† The neighbourhood of Maletto is richly clothed with fine oaks, pines, and poplars; above Nicolosi and Milo are produced stunted oaks, with fir, beech, cork, hawthorn, and bramble; and in the districts of Mascali and Piraino, there are groves of cork and luxuriant chesnut trees. The vicinity of Bronte abounds with pines of great magnitude; but the Carpinetto boasts that father of the forest, the venerable “ Castagno di cento Cavalli,” supposed to be the oldest tree in the world. It appears to consist of five large and two smaller trees, which, from the circumstance of the bark and boughs being all outside, are thought to have been one trunk originally: some say the two smaller ones are saplings, planted purposely to complete the circle; the peasants strongly affirmed that the roots, having been inspected, were found to be in common.
The largest trunk is thirty-eight feet in circumference, and the circuit of the
width, encircling the mountain like a mighty belt; affording pasturage to numerous flocks and herds, and abounding with charming sylvan scenes on the grandest scale. Near its upper extremity we found the Grotta dei Capri, so called from serving as a place of refuge to the flocks of sheep and goats that browze upon the herbage of this wild tract. It is to some such cavern as this and there are many such on the sides of Ætna— that the goatherd in Theocritus alludes, when, in the full feeling of the varied blessings of a rural life, he exclaims —
Αιτνα ματερ εμα κηγω καλον αντρον ενοικω,
Ætna's my parent! there I love to dwell
In the vicinity of this grotto are the reservoirs of snow, from whence Catania and several other towns both of Italy and Sicily are supplied with that refreshing article, so necessary to the comfort of these children of the sun. From several fragments of the old poets preserved by Athenæus, it would seem that the ancients were as much
whole five, measured just above the ground, is 163 feet: it still bears rich foliage, and much small fruit, though the heart of the trunks is decayed, and a public road leads through them.-Smyth's Memoir.