Friday, 18 May 2012

Thaleia and The Palikoi.

Before Persephone-  in Ovid's retelling her name is Proserpine- other girls accidentally or purposefully, found their way into The Underworld. Some are goddesses such as cool and clever Inanna, who 'turned her ear to The Great Below' and followed the road that leads one way to offer comfort to her sister the Queen of the dead/ or to try and claim the throne of the Underworld for her self.

And selfless Geshtinanna (Lady of the grape vine) who chooses to spend half the year in hell so that her brother may not spend all his time down there.

Some who take the path of no-return are human, such as Alcestis, who out of either love or despair of her husband, chose to die in his place. Latter she was restored to life, but what she made of the other-place is not recorded. In the Tibetan tradition, someone who dies and then 'comes back' is called a delog and their stories are told as warnings to the living about the importance of a good life, whilst Alcestis's story is more about this life than the next, how a man who lets someone die in his place suffers more than if he had faced death himself.

And then there is the tale of Thaleia.

In Ovid's story we are given something of a travel guide to Sicily. The story begins in the center of the island, at lake Pergusa, site of a necropolis and temples to Demeter.

It ends in Syrakousa (SE Sicily).

On their journey, Pluto and Persepina pass over the deep lakes and sulphurous pools of Palici and it is here that I find another story of one more lost girl, called Thália. Her story preserved in Aeschylus' lost tragedy the Women of Aetna or Aetnaeae.

Her name Thaleia is in meaning similar to Proserpine: "proserpere" to emerge, in respect to the growing of grain. Thaleia means spring-time - "the Joyous, the Flourishing", from  thállein , to flourish, to be green, or from thalo- to bloom, so it is reasonable to guess that both Proserpine and Thaleia are the invisible,  underground force that makes plants grow.

Thaleia is the child of a god, of Hephaestus (god of black smiths), her mother isn't mentioned.

One bright day Thaleia was by the banks of the river Symethe (The Simeto: Sicilian: Simetu, Latin: Symaethus) which flows around the volcano Etna when she was spotted by Zeus who 'made love' to her in the form of an eagle...

In another story it is the god Andanus (of a thousand dogs) solar fire who gives her sons...other say it was her father,  Hephaestus.

Thaleia was so terrified of Hera, the wife of Zeus she begged  the ground to open up and swallow her.

She got her wish, but nine months latter, as she gave birth, the earth once more opened and twin boys emerged:  The Palikoi.

Some call them demons, the Greeks called them The Dioscori, another name is the Kabiri (of Samothrace).

Nothing else is said of poor Thaleia, but all volcanic soils are enriched by her...Her story stops there whilst her sons are another subject all together.

Thaleia's children lived under a lake that reeks of naphtha described by Aeschylus as 'the boiling lake'. The lake may well have dried up, but about seventy years ago there were, at its center, twin Geysers. The naturalist Francesco Ferrara described there being right in the middle of the lake two big jets, which blow the water more than two feet in height. Birds did not come close to Lake Palici ¸even the animals refuse to drink its water. But some animals too thirsty to ignore the water are found dead on the shores of the lake.

Rather like Lake Avernus once described by Virgil in The Aeneid as the entrance to the underworld. Birds were said to avoid it for fear of its noxious fumes, hence its name.

Strabo, Geography 6. 2. 9 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) wrote :
"The territory of the Palikoi (Palici) [in Sicily] has craters that spout up water in a dome-like jet and receive it back again into the same recess."
It is shame if it is no longer there, but I think it has gone.

The sanctuary of The Palikoi is at the Rocchicella Hill, in the Caltagirone River valley south of the Plain of Catania in Sicily, close by is another temple to The Dioscuri.

I'm always going to be stuck with this quote from Eusebius  about a connection between Samothrace and Britain...I truly doubt that I'll ever work it out!

Worse Strabo says that in an island near Britain, Ceres and Proserpina were worshipped with the same rites as at Samothrace.
The curious thing is this lake (this long gone lake...). was linked to a different, non-volcanic fire.
Naft. Old Persian.
There is no trace of Old Persian or Akkadian in the name of the lake or area as far as I can see, but the qualities of Naphtha- like a mixture of petrol and gas- were well known to the 'Persians' .

Mysterious water that could burst into flame.
Sacred fire to purify.

The boat building Phoenicians had more than a little in common with the Persians, and the Phoenicians it is said, believed the Kabiri to be present in St Elmo's fire. Sicily has more than a passing connection to the Carthaginians.

In this story of Thaleia, the The Palikoi/ Dioscori are earth born fire-spirits. Diodorus Siculus believed that the water thrown up by the twins under the lake was boiling hot:
"Now the water that is thrown up gives the impression of being boiling hot, but this is not known for certain because of the fact that no man dares touch it"
But, other than being sorry that the geysers have gone, this story leaves me with many the moment my mind keeps returning to the odd tale about Nergal and Erra- how they are one and the same person- twins? And the famous Erra and Ishum story, where Ishum is a fire god. Then there is the connection between Nergal and Mars and Nergal and Apollo.

Finally Apollo's connection with noxious gasses and oracles...

To be continued..