Apart, however, from the noble scenery of this drive, what adds immensely to its charm is the inseparable fascination of its legendary history. For, after all, what other joy that travel gives is equal to the exquisite delight afforded by the realization that we actually stand at last on sites made glorious by heroic deeds and classic memories, or really see before us mountains, cities, villages, or ruins, whose names have been to us from childhood household words! Thus, just across the strait, and nearly opposite to Messina, lies the town of Reggio, whose modern name is but a softened echo of the ancient Rhegium, where St. Paul landed on his way to Rome. Moreover, on the same shore, only a few miles northward from this former rival of Messina, is the little village known as Scylla, because beside it the historic promontory of that name still thrusts its rugged form into the sea, no less impressively than when Ulysses and his awe-struck crew sailed by its dreaded cliffs. Yet as I looked across the peaceful strait which separates this headland from the coast of Sicily, I marveled at the fearful character given to it by the ancients. For, as all readers of these pages know, in the old days when the adventurous Greeks were bringing to these shores Hellenic culture and the Hellenic tongue, a cave beneath this promontory was believed to be the home of a ravenous, six-headed monster, which leaped forth at all passing ships, and snatched away in each of its grim mouths one member of their crew, and to this horrible creature the writer of the Odyssey attributes the loss of six of the companions of Ulysses.
Reggio, Opposite Sicily.
Looking Across To Scylla.
Between Scylla And Charybdis.
"The swiftest racer of the azure plain Here fills her sails, and spreads her oars in vain; Fell Scylla rises, and in fury roars, At once expands six mouths, at once six men devours. Beneath, Charybdis holds her boisterous reign Midst roaring whirlpools, and absorbs the main. Oh. if thy vessel plow the direful waves When seas, retreating, roar within her caves. Ye perish all! Though he who rules the main Lend his strong aid. that aid he lends in vain. Ah. shun the horrid gulf ! By Scylla fly! Tis better six to lose, than all to die."'
Such language seems the acme of exaggeration now, yet who can tell what terrible convulsion of the earth, or devastating fury of Mount Etna, may have originated the tradition of these dangers? Thus, even as recently as 1783, a fearful earthquake drove the population of this town out on the strip of sand between their dwellings and the sea, only to meet destruction in another form. For a gigantic wave, caused by the falling of the neighboring promontory, suddenly overwhelmed the hapless refugees, and swept four thousand souls to instant death. The legendary whirlpool of Charybdis has always been associated with Scylla, not only in the writings of the Greek and Roman poets, but also in some variation of the proverb which, from time immemorial, under these two names has warned mankind to take heed, lest, in trying to avoid one danger, it fall into another. The modern Charybdis is a circular current, or eddy, some seven miles distant from the rock of Scylla, and near the harbor of Messina. No doubt, in stormy weather, this may have offered serious difficulties to the navigators of antiquity; for I was assured that even now, under certain conditions of winds and tides, it is possible for a good-sized sailing vessel to be whirled about upon its vortex, and driven to destruction on the neighboring rocks. But even apart from the treacherous currents which have always been proverbial here, there is another reason why this strait was dreaded by the early mariners. For the tempestuous squalls, which sometimes swoop down from the gullied mountains of Calabria or Sicily, have always made the passage of this channel dangerous; and many a stately yacht, capsized by these crated to the ocean deity.
The Sicilian Coast Opposite Calabria.