HISTORY AND LEGENDS
How Sicily Was Born
The “Siculi” in the East, and the “Sicani” in the West, were the first inhabitants of the island of Sicily was originally named “Sicania”. After circumnavigating the island the Greeks called it Thrinakia, meaning “island of the three capes” (in Greek treis-three and akra-cape).
Dante Alighieri , in the eighth canto of the Paradise of the Divine Comedy, wrote three triplets poems in describing it as “the beautiful Trinacria”. Myths and legends surround the birth of Sicily. The Triskele, symbol of energy, probably coming from the “Far East”, brought by the Macedonian Emperor Alexander the Great, tells us that Sicily might have arisen thanks to “three nymphs”. The symbol of Trinacria is a mythological figure with the head of Medusa, whose hair is comprised of entwined serpents in the ears of corn, probably added by the Greeks in honor of Demeter (goddess of the mother earth and the four Seasons) , and three legs bent at the knee that revolve around. According to the legend, three beautiful creatures roamed the world taking the best things from each place they visited. They hauled it all to an area of land characterized by an exceptionally clear sky and an intensely blue sea. They danced to celebrate feeling happy and fulfilled about their harvest. Then, in that place of unparalleled beauty, each of them threw into the sea their fruit, giving rise to three capes. The sky shone with a bright rainbow and a rich land emerged from the sea with all the wonders of the world united by the three nymphs. And so was born, the beautiful Sicily, the island of the three capes.
from AmuniSicily.com #4 edited by Vanvakys
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THE LEGEND OF DIONYSUS – The arrival of the vines in Sicily
As we well know, the ancient Greeks, and then the Romans, loved myths and legends – myths and legends that were recorded by the eminent poets and philosophers of their time, and who remain fundamental to western culture today, including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, just to name a few.
Their narratives touched upon weakness and virtue, nobility and gods, and depicted women and men who confronted wars and adventures, whether for passion or simply in search of a better understanding of the mysteries of the world and this life.
According to some of these legends, it was jealousy that precipitated the arrival of grapevines in Sicily. Zeus, the father of the gods, and always on the lookout for new love interests, fell for Armonia, a beautiful young maiden. It was his wife Hera who, upon learning of this betrayal, went straight for the counterattack, transforming herself into the young maiden’s food, and convincing the young girl to ask Zeus to appear to her in all of his majestic splendor with which he ruled Olympus.
Armonia was already pregnant when, between claps of thunder, and flashes of lightning, Zeus appeared. The glorious sight was too much for her to bear, and the strength of her emotion caused her to give birth prematurely, shedding light on a most breathtakingly beautiful baby boy.
At that moment, Zeus recognized the foul play, and immediately sewed the infant to one of his legs, completing the gestation period much as an incubator would, and for this reason, the child was called “Dionysus,” that is, the son of Zeus, the god of fertility, joy, and well-being. Dionysus decided to leave the Ellade and escape to Sicily, bringing a grape vine with him. As he was undertaking a long sea voyage, and needed to protect the small plant from the elements, he first placed it inside the bone of a bird, and later inside that of a lion, and since it kept growing, he finally placed it in the bone of a donkey. Thus was born the first ancient rule of drinking, and which is still worth remembering today: “A good glass of wine makes you light as a bird, another drink and you are courageous as a lion, but when you exaggerate with wine, you end up an ass!.” Upon his arrival in Sicily, Dionysus planted the first vineyard at Naxos, just below Taormina, the first Greek colony.
Read More about the Arrival of Wines in Sicily
THE LEGEND OF SAINT LUCY
Saint Lucy of Syracuse (Santa Lucia 283-304) is the saint of Light and a protector of the Christian Faith, and, in terms of popular tradition, probably the most venerated Sicilian saint in the world.
On December 13th of each year, presumably since the XV Century, Sicilians pay tribute to her at the dinner table. On this day it is customary to renounce pasta, the traditional Italian meal, as well as all other foods containing wheat flour, in her honor. In Sicily, the majority of food stores are closed on St. Lucy’s Day. So what do they eat? If you are in Palermo, the answer to this question is obvious: panelle and arancine. Arancine, or arancini di riso, fried balls of rice (a grain introduced by the Arabs) typically made with fillings such as tomato sauce with meat (ragù), butter with peas and prosciutto, and, more recently, dark chocolate.
Panelle, on the other hand, are thin cutlets made of chickpea flour and fried in seed oil. Once referred to as “piscipanelle”, panelle were traditionally sold by street vendors as a pedestrian snack food. Today, however, panelle have become a popular food in the home, and a “must” among typical Sicilian antipasto selections in restaurants, as well.
Thus, arancine and panelle became the unofficial foods eaten in celebration of the feast day of Saint Lucy.