The Sicilian Language (continued)
So many things about ancient Sicily are shrouded in mystery. One of those mysteries is the origin of the name Trinacria. Where did it come from and does it have a meaning.
From the field of archeology we know that humans occupied the caves of the Grotta dell'Uzzo in north western Sicily about 10,000 years ago, based on radiocarbon dating. Archeologists have also found implements similar to those found in the Cala dei Genovese grotto on the island of Lťvanzo. (Spoto, 21) Traces of humans were found in the Addaura Caves on Monte Pellegrino near present day Palermo that date from around 7,000 B.C. Sicans appear on the island around 6,000 B.C. Sikels around 1400 followed by Elymians around 1200 and Phoenicians around 1000 B.C. The Trojan War is thought to have occured during this period and Homer's Odyssey is about the adventures of Odysseus on his way home to Ithaca after the war. Everything up to and perhaps including the Trojan War is prehistory. With Homer's epic poems, The Iliad, and The Odyssey, we bridge from prehistory to history.
In 814 B.C. the Phoenicians established the city of Carthage on the coast of what is now Tunisia and in 735 B.C. the first Greek colony is founded at Naxos on the eastern shore of Thrinakiei. These colonists were very familiar with Homer's Odyssey.
The Perseus tool yielded the following Greek texts that use the name ThrinakiÍi. Column 1 of the Greek text is a transliteration to english text, column 2 is the original ancient Greek, and column 3 is the English translation.
Homer's Odyssey is the earliest text that names the island. The name is also used by Pausanias in his Description of Greece, Apollonius Rhodius in his Argonautica, and by Strabo in his Geography. These writers span about a thousand years of history.
Now we know the origin of the name, and we learn that it means the island of the three points or capes. The following hard copy definitions came from the scanned online English to Attic Greek dictionary of S.C. Woodhouse, M.A.
|By the time of Strabo (c 58 B.C.-c 24 A.D) the name, Trinacria, is in common use. The cape or point north of Messina, is called Cape Peloro, the one in the southeast, south of Siracusa, is called Cape Passaro. It used to be called Cape Pachino and the nearby town of Pachino still retains that name. The western point, by the city of Marsala, is called Cape Lilibeo.
The map was scanned from page 32 of the Hammond World Atlas of 1988. On the left you can see the tip of Tunisia which is about 95 miles southwest of Sicily. On the right you see the Strait of Messina that separates Sicily from the Italian mainland. Scylla is on the Sicilian side and Charybdis is on the Italian side.
Given the Greek mythology, I can imagine their joy the first time Greek sailors successfully navigated the straits of Scylla and Charybdis in their boats. Even today with our motorized ships it's an impressive stretch of water with a fast current. As lush as Sicily is today, imagine how it must have looked to those first sailors who saw it when all the forest watersheds were full and all the rivers ran deep.
Odysseus has to pass Sicily on his way back to Ithaca and he is cautioned by the god Circe not to molest the cattle and sheep of Helios that are pastured on the island of Thrinakie. Unfortunately his men do steal some of the cattle and as a result the ship and all his men are destroyed by a thunderbolt. Only Odysseus survives.
Of course the cattle and sheep of Helios, the Sun, were pastured on Sicily. Why wouldn't the Sun have picked the choicest place to pasture his herds? Those of us who are fortunate enough to have visited Trinacria understand.
|Return to... The Language|
|or to the... Sicily Page|