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promontory, where before it was deep water. This lava, I imagined, from its barrenness, for it is as yet covered with a very scanty soil, had run from the mountain only a few ages ago; but was surprised to be informed by Signior Recupero, the historiographer of Ætna, that this very lava is mentioned by Diodorus Siculus to have burst from Ætna in the time of the second Punic war, when Syracuse was besieged by the Romans. A detachment was sent from Taurominum to the relief of the besieged. They were stopped on their march by this stream of lava, which having reached the sea before their arrival at the foot of the mountain, had cut off their passage; and obliged them to return by the back of Ætna, upwards of one hundred miles about. His authority for this, he tells me, was taken from inscriptions on Roman mon uments found on this lava, and that it was likewise well ascertained by many of the old Sicilian authors. Now as this is about two thousand years ago, one would have imagined, if lavas have a regular progress in becoming fertile fields, that this must long ago have become at least arable: this, however, is not the case, and it is, as yet, only covered with a very scanty vegetation, and incapable of producing either corn or vines. There are indeed pretty large trees growing in the crevices, which are full of a rich earth; but in all probability will be some hundred years yet before there is enough of it to render this land of any use to the proprietors.
It is curious to consider, that the surface of this black and barren matter, in process
of time, becomes one of the most fertile soils upon earth. But what must be the time to bring it to its utmost perfection, when after two thousand years it is still in most places but a barren rock ? Its progress is possibly as follows: The lava being a very porous substance, easily catches the dust that is carried about by the wind; which, at first, I observe only yields a kind of moss : this rotting, and by degrees increasing the soil, some small meagre vegetables are next produced ; which, rotting in their turn, are likewise converted into soil. But this progress, I suppose, is often greatly accelerated by
, showers of ashes from the mountain, as I have observed in some places the richest soil, the depth of five or six feet and upwards; and still below that, nothing but rocks of lava. It is in these spots that the trees arrive at such an im mense size. Their roots shoot into the crevices of the lava, and lay such hold of it, that there is no instance of the winds tearing them up; though there are many, of its breaking off their largest branches. A branch of one of the great chesnut-trees, where we passed yesterday, has fallen across a deep gully, and formed a very commodious bridge over the rivulet below. The people say it was done by St. Agatha, the guardian saint of the mountain, who has the superintendence of all its operations,
In the lowest part of the first region of Ætna, the harvest is almost over; but in the upper parts of the same region, near the confines of the Regione Sylvosa, it will not begin for several weeks.
The reapers, as we went along, abused us from all quarters, and more excellent blackguards I have never met with; but indeed, our guides were a full match for them. They began as soon as we were within hearing, and did not finish till we were got without reach of their voices, which they extended as much as they could. As it was all Sicilian, we could make very little of it, but by the interpretation of our guides; however, we could not help admiring the volubility and natural elocution with which they spoke. This custom is as old as the time
of the Romans, and probably much older, as it is mentioned by Horace, and others of their authors. It is still in
much as ever; the masters encourage it ; they think it gives them spirits, and makes the work go on more cheerfully: and I believe they are right, for it is amazing what pleasure they seemed to take in it, and what laughing and merriment it occasioned.
I forgot to mention that we passed the source of the famous cold river (il fiume Freddo). This is the river so celebrated by the poets in the fable of Acis and Galatea. It was here that Acis was supposed to have been killed by Polyphemus, and the gods out of compassion converted him into this river; which, as still retaining the terror inspired by the dreadful voice of the Cyclops, runs with great rapidity, and about a mile from its source, throws itself into
It rises at once out of the earth, a large stream. Its water is remarkably pure, and so extremely cold, that it is reckoned dangerous to drink it; but I am told, it has likewise a poisonous quality, which proceeds from its being impregnated with vitriol to such a degree, that cattle have often been killed by it. It never freezes ; but, what is remarkable, it is said often to contract a degree of cold greater than that of ice.
These particulars I was informed of by the priests at Aci ; which place, anciently called Aci Aquileia, and several others near it, Aci Castello, Aci Terra, &c. take their names from the unfortunate shepherd Acis.
A little to the east of the river Acis, is the mouth of the river Alcantara, one of the most considerable in the island. It takes its rise on the north side of Mount Ætna, and marks out the boundary of the mountain for about sixty miles.
Its course has been stopped in many places by the eruptions of the volcano ; so that, strictly speaking, the skirts of Ætna extend much beyond it, though it has generally been considered as the boundary. We passed it on our way to Piedmonte, over a large bridge built entirely of lava; and near to this the bed of the river is continued for a great way, through one of the most remarkable, and probably one of the most ancient lavas that ever ran from Ætna. In many places the current of the river, which is extremely rapid, has worn down the solid lava to the depth of fifty or sixty feet. Recupero, the gentleman I have mentioned, who is engaged in writing the natural history