Etna was known in the greek-roman age as Aetna, a name that was also attributed to the city of Catania, taken perhaps from the Greek word aitho (to burn). The Arabs called the mountain Jabal al-Jabal or Burkan Atma Ṣiqilliyya (volcano or mountain summit of Sicily); this name was later changed into Mons Gibel to indicate the mountain Gibel, and subsequently, during the Middle Age, became Mongibello. People who live near the volcano, call Etna “A Muntagna” (the Mountain) in all its simplicity. Today the name Mongibello indicates the top of Etna: the area of the two central craters, the south-eastern crater and the north-eastern one. The regular and spectacular eruptions, often dramatic, made the volcano the subject of great curiosity in classical mythological and folk beliefs; attempts to explain the volcano’s behaviour were made in religion, where gods and giants of Roman and Greek legends were believed to control the volcano.
Here are some of the religious based theories that were popular in the past.
Firstly, Aeolus, the king of the winds, who is said to have imprisoned the winds in the caves of Etna. According to the poet Aeschylus, the giant Typhon was confined to the Etna walls and this is cause of the eruptions.
Another theory is the wrath of the giant, Enceladus, who rebelled against the gods, was killed and burnt in Etna.
Another legend is that of Hephaestus or Vulcan, the god of fire and metallurgy and gods’ blacksmith. It is said, he kept his forge beneath Mount Etna, and he tamed Adranus, the demon of fire, and to drive him from the mountain.
The Cyclops supposedly also held a forge where they produced the arrows used as weapons by Zeus.
According to the legend, the greek god of the defunctes, Tartarus, was situated under Mount Etna.
Empedocle, was an important pre-Socratic philosopher and greek politician of the fifth century BC who supposedly threw himself into the crater of the volcano, even if apparently he died in Greece.
Another legend says that when the Mount Etna erupted in 252 a.d., one year after the martyrdom of Saint Agatha, people from Catania carried the red veil of the Saint to the lava flow, and called her name. And the eruption ended!
But the legends also came from the Anglo-Saxon world: according to one of these, the soul of Queen Elizabeth I of England now resides in the bowels of the volcano Etna, because of the pact she made with the devil in exchange for his help during her reign.
Even today Etna is still surrounded by mysteries, that’s why there are so many legends about it.
During our Etna tours, our guides will not only accompany you along the natural paths explaining the origins of our volcano: they will also intrigue you with the legends of Etna!