Sunday, 5 June 2011

Lake Pergusa.

Near Enna's walls a spacious lake is spread,

Fam'd for the sweetly-singing swans it bred;

Pergusa is its name: and never more

Were heard, or sweeter on Cayster's shore.

Woods crown the lake; and Phoebus ne'er invades

The tufted fences, or offends the shades:

Fresh fragrant breezes fan the verdant bow'rs,

And the moist ground smiles with enamel'd flow'rs

The chearful birds their airy carols sing,

And the whole year is one eternal spring.
From Ovid's The Rape of Proserpine.

"Not far from Henna's walls, there is a deep lake called Pergus" writes Ovid. Unfortunately the deep lake and the perfect field of flowers have changed considerably since Ovid wrote those words. During the Greco-Roman period the area around Lake Pergusa was farming land and probably a primary grain provider for the Roman Empire, it is reasonable to believe that the lake and its waterbirds held particular sacred importance for the local people.

Ovid, begins the story in Sicily, I guess, because he had read Diodorus of Sicily who gives this account:

Again, the fact that the Rape of Kore took place in Sicily is, men say, proof most evident that the goddesses made this island their favorite retreat because it was cherished by them before all others. And the Rape of Kore, the myth relates, took place in the meadows in the territory of Enna. The spot is near the city, a place of striking beauty for its violets and every other kind of flower and worthy of the goddess. And the story is told that, because of the sweet odor of the flowers growing there, trained hunting dogs are unable to hold the trail, because their natural sense of smell is balked. And the meadow we have mentioned is level in the center and well watered throughout, but on its periphery it rises high and falls off with precipitous cliffs on every side. And it is conceived of as lying in the very center of the island, which is the reason why certain writers call it the navel in Sicily. Near to it also are sacred groves, surrounded by marshy flats, to the north, and through it, the myth relates, Pluton, coming out with his chariot, effected the rape of Kore. And the violets, we are told, and the rest of the flowers which supply the sweet odor continue to bloom, to one's amazement, throughout the entire year, and so the whole aspect of the place is one of flowers and delight.
(Diodorus Siculus V, 3)
The Pergus lake itself is filled by rainwater and underground streams. Symbolically it is the meeting place of water from the underworld and from the sky. The lake is the meeting place of two realms: the heavens and the underworld. And the area around lake Pergusa became a place of the dead; described by the archaeologists Paolo Orsi and Bernabo Brea as 'one large necropolis, from the eighth through sixth centuries BCE'.

There are signs of the living though, there is Cozzo Matrice: the remains of a fortified village consisting of walls dating to the 9th millennium BC, some chambered tombs and the remains of an temple dedicated to Demeter, dating more than 2,000 years ago.

But there is another strange thing about Lake Pergusa...periodically the water turns red.

The lake periodically undergoes a remarkable reddening phenomenon because of the presence of a red, sulfur-oxidizing bacterium (Thiocapsa roseopersicina) in its waters. During summer months of years in which the sulfur content reaches a critical level, the bacteria proliferate to such an extent that the lake's waters turn either partially or entirely a deep red color, and the environs smell of sulfur for miles around. Over a period of several weeks, the bacteria reduce the sulfur level; they, in turn, are eaten by a tiny, transparent crustacean; and the lake returns to its normal color. The phenomenon, which has been documented only since the twentieth century, was studied in 1932 by Italian scientist Achille Forti, who dubbed Pergusa "the lake of blood." [LINK] 

The Unique Red Water Lake close to the Ancient city of Enna Sicily,
originally uploaded by Sicily Tourist Guide.

Diodorus also tells us that Hercules was initiated into the Eleusinian mystery at the time when Musaeus, son of Orpheus, was said to have been in charge of the temple (at Eleusis) and Herakles brought the myth of Demeter and Kore to Sicily:
[Diodorus - 4.23.4] While Heracles was making the circuit of Sicily at this time he came to the city which is now Syracuse, and on learning what the myth relates about the Rape of Kore he offered sacrifices to the goddesses on a magnificent scale, and after dedicating to her the fairest bull of his heard and casting it in the spring Cyane he commanded the natives to sacrifice each year to Core and to conduct at Cyane a festive gathering and a sacrifice in splendid fashion

Hercules is a difficult name to deal with. On Sicily, Greek, Phonician and indigenous communities intermarried. Gods and Goddesses, trade and political alliances likewise crossed from one culture to another. From the seventh centuary BC Heracles had come to be associated with Melqart (who in turn had previously been associated with the Akkadian god of plagues and the underworld, Nergal -though that link is tenuous: William F. Albright in Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore, 1953; pp. 81, 196) suggested Melqart was a god of the underworld partly because a god Malku who may be Melqart is sometimes equated with the Mesopotamian god Nergal, a god of the underworld, whose name also means 'King of the City').

Hercules has a lot in common with Gilgamesh, but the subject is too long for me to consider here and now.

It is Herodotus who makes the connection between Hercules and Melqart:
In the wish to get the best information that I could on these matters, I made a voyage to Tyre in Phoenicia, hearing there was a temple of Heracles at that place, very highly venerated. I visited the temple, and found it richly adorned with a number of offerings, among which were two pillars, one of pure gold, the other of smaragdos (emerald green -possibly glass illuminated inside by a lantern), shining with great brilliancy at night. In a conversation which I held with the priests, I inquired how long their temple had been built, and found by their answer that they, too, differed from the Hellenes. They said that the temple was built at the same time that the city was founded, and that the foundation of the city took place 2,300 years ago. In Tyre I remarked another temple where the same god was worshipped as the Thasian Heracles. So I went on to Thasos, where I found a temple of Heracles which had been built by the Phoenicians who colonised that island when they sailed in search of Europa. Even this was five generations earlier than the time when Heracles, son of Amphitryon, was born in Hellas. These researches show plainly that there is an ancient god Heracles; and my own opinion is that those Hellenes act most wisely who build and maintain two temples of Heracles, in the one of which the Heracles worshipped is known by the name of Olympian, and has sacrifice offered to him as an immortal, while in the other the honours paid are such as are due to a hero.

I am still trying to get away from the death aspect of Persephone's cult (and failing). It is a fact that the mysterious lake turns a menstrual red signifying perhaps the return of the dead to the bloody realms of the womb...I don't know if the lake has been doing this for thousands of years though?