|Introduction by Juris Lidaka|
A Fiery Nymph
In Classical mythology, Mt. Aetna was named after the Sicilian nymph Aetna. There Hephaistos (Vulcan, in Latin) made thunderbolts for Zeus (Jupiter). Enkelados, disabled by Athena’s spear in the war between the Titans and the Gods, was buried alive, causing earthquakes when he rolled in pain.
Those "pagan" days being over by the thirteenth century, Bartholomew turns to Isidore of Seville to explain that the largest active European volcano was in his days seen as a possible analogue to Hell. Other tales just make it the entryway. Either way, brimstone -- and hence sulfur -- is involved. As Bartholomew notes, Gregory the Great’s fourth Dialogue does, indeed, refer to “gaping gulfs of torments, casting out fire continually” at Sicily, but Gregory does not explicitly name Aetna.
How are mountains made?
Bartholomew's account of mountain-building is far different than ours and makes no mention of plate tectonics. Instead medieval thinkers believed that the world was first made as a perfect sphere. They supposed that the waters (created the second day) must have washed away the soft parts and thus left the hard parts as mountains. Soft parts within the mountains also washed away, making way for springs.
Having erupted now for 500,000 years, Mt. Aetna itself is Europe's tallest volcano and also one of the most active. Aetna's caves are also the stuff of myths, since they are the only caves in Europe of volcanic origin, and they are huge. The "Cave of Ices" is approximately 2,000 meters high.