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Lipari: Home of the God of the Winds
A walk through the Aeolian island’s history
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
Today we’re going to take a quick sojourn... a walk on a beautiful island... so grab a cup of coffee, a hot tea or perhaps even a glass of wine... and journey with me to the Mediterranean for a moment...we may even learn something along the way ;-)
Lipari: Home of the God of the Winds
On this side of Sicily, at a distance of nearly 25 miles from Italy, are the seven islands called the Aeolian, as also the Liparaean islands; by the Greeks they are called the Hephaestiades, and by our writers the Vulcanian Isles; they are called "Aeolian" because in the Trojan times Aeolus was king there.
Pliny the Elder - Historia Naturalis - Book III - Translation by John Bostock and H. T. Riley
An island, its rocks smoking, rises steeply by the Sicilian coast, near the flanks of Aeolian Lipare. Beneath it a cave, and the galleries of Etna, eaten at by the Cyclopean furnaces, resound, and the groans from the anvils are heard echoing the heavy blows, and masses of Chalybean steel hiss in the caverns, and fire breathes through the furnaces. It is Vulcan's home and called Vulcania. Virgil - Aeneid - Book VIII - translation by A. S. Kline
The largest and most populous of the Aeolian Islands, Lipari sits in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the northern coast of Sicily...replete with beauty, mythology and a story of its own.
According to the Homeric tradition, Lipari is the home of Aeolus, God of the winds, that Odysseus encountered during his extensive travels.
To ensure safe passage home for Odysseus and his men, Aeolus gave the man of many twists and turns a bag containing all the winds, except the gentle west wind. When almost home, however, Odysseus' men opened the bag, thinking it contained treasure... and thus, they were all driven by the winds back to Aeolia.
Believing that Odysseus must evidently be hated by the gods, Aeolus sent him away without further help... and so the epic adventure home begins.
So we came to the floating island of Aeolia, where Aeolus lived, son of Hippotas, dear to the deathless gods. A wall of unbroken bronze surrounds it, and the cliffs are sheer. In those halls his twelve children live as well, six daughters and six fine sons, and he has given his daughters to his sons in marriage. They are always feasting with their brave father and good mother, with endless good food set before them. All day long the house is full of savoury smells, and the courtyard echoes to the banquet's sound, while at night they sleep by the wives they love, on well-covered well-strung beds. We came, then, to their city with its fine palace, and Aeolus entertained me there for a month, questioning me on everything: Troy, the Argive fleet, and the Achaean return. And I told him the whole tale in order. When I asked, in turn, to depart with his help, he too denied me nothing. He gave me a leather bag, made from the flayed hide of a nine-year old ox, and imprisoned all the winds there.
Homer - Odyssey - Book X - translation by A. S. Kline
Thus the story of Lipari, that floating island with sheer cliffs, was entered into Greek mythology. The true chronicle of the place, however, is equally fascinating and rich with history.
While inhabited since 5000 BC (including an Ausonian civilization), our story today will begin in the 6th century BC.... Journeying from across the Mediterranean, Greek colonists from Knidos (modern day Turkey) arrived at Lipara around 580 BC. They had actually attempted to first colonize Sicily, but failed when, according to Diodorus Siculus, their leader Pentathlos was killed. Thus, they continued onto the site of the village now known as Castello and subsequently, successfully fought the Etruscans for control of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
In 427 BC, during the first Athenian expedition to Sicily, the people of Lipari entered into an alliance with the Syracusans, most likely due to their common Doric origins. Thucydides reports that they were then attacked by the fleets of Athens and Regium, suffering badly. But the story does not end there...
You see, due to its location and beauty, it is an island that everyone wanted at one point or another.
It was in 394 BC, for example, that Carthaginian forces succeeded in taking the place briefly during their struggles with Dionysios I, tyrant of Syracuse. However, once they were gone, the polis entered a three-way alliance which included Dionysios' new colony at Tyndaris.
Lipara prospered until 304 BC, when Agathokles, yet another Greek tyrant of Syracuse (317–289 BC), took the town by treachery. The self-styled king of Sicily imposed a ransom of 50 talents, but when the ships of Syracuse that carried back the booty (votive offerings to Aeolus and Ephestus from the prytaneum of the town) were sunk in a storm, it was said all of his pillage was lost at sea. Many objects recovered from old wrecks are now in the Aeolian Museum of Lipari.
During the first Punic War, Lipara became a Carthaginian naval base, before it fell to Roman forces in 252–251 BC. Then, in 36 BC, the fleet of Octavius, commanded by Agrippa, won an important victory in the waters between Lipari and Milazzo over Sextus Pompeius, who would later that year finally be defeated in the naval battle of Nauloco. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) mentions in his ‘Naturalis Historia’ that Lipari was ‘oppidum civium romanorum’, a ‘Roman town’ whose inhabitants had Roman citizenship and enjoyed administrative autonomy.
Indeed, under the Roman Empire, Lipari was a place of retreat and exile and was enjoyed because of its baths.
In fact, today the hydrothermal waters are still used as a spa.... And a panoramic tour of the island affords wonderful views with its unique volcanic features.
The history of these small Aeolian islands, including its Middle Ages, Ottoman occupation and famous 20th century exiles, can be seen throughout. Modern-day Lipari town boasts a 16th-century Norman castle that sits atop the town’s ancient acropolis and houses the Aeolian Archaeological Museum, displaying finds from all of the islands and illustrating the evolution of the archipelago as an active volcano system... a mountain that truly inspires.
In the words of the great American author:
At seven in the evening, with the western horizon all golden from the sunken sun, and specked with distant ships, the full moon sailing high over head, the dark blue of the sea under foot (..) we sighted superb Stromboli. (..) Distance clothed him in a purple gloom, and added a veil of shimmering mist that so softened his rugged features that we seemed to see him through a web of silver gauze. His torch was out; his fires were smouldering; a tall column of smoke that rose up and lost itself in the growing moonlight was all the sign he gave that he was a living Autocrat of the Sea and not the spectre of a dead one.
Mark Twain - The Innocents Abroad - 1867
For those of you wishing to step on those same narrow walkways that have been traversed by so many greats... from Odysseus to Mark Twain, as well as enjoy the opportunity to converse with your fellow Classical Wisdom readers... you are cordially invited to join us this March.
In fact, Lipara is just one of many fantastic stops on our spring 2023 voyage, which will explore the ancient shores of Greece, Southern Italy and Sicily. From Athens and Amorgos to Rhodes and Retymnon, it will be a trip of a lifetime.
All the best,
Founder and Director
PS: There is limited space on this voyage and cabins are already being snatched up. So please make sure to take advantage of this opportunity and secure your spot, before they are all taken.