Many are the myths and legends that from time immemorial have hovered around the grandiose greatness of Vesuvius. This volcano, so majestic and frightening, has made people talk about it, inspiring stories and tales, mythologies, legends and characters, assuming, in time, both a positive and mild role and an impetuous meaning of destructive and malignant force.
The Myth of the Gods on Vesuvius
At the time of the ancients, Vesuvius, appeared as a very high mountain (higher than it is today after being shaped by exogenous agents), green and isolated bathed by the waters of the sea. This led the Latins to believe that Mount Vesuvius was actually the home of Zeus and the Gods, as the Mount Olympus was for the Greeks.
Others defined it as “volcano Vesuvinum” associating it to the God Bacchus because of the cultivation of wine vines used to produce this beverage since that time. As a confirmation of this, wine amphorae found in the excavations of Pompeii, are written “vesvinum” or “vesuvinum”.
Why “degli dei” and not “dei dei”? Usually, in Italian, in front of a consonant should be used the article “i” but the word gods derives from iddei so he wanted the article gli that then remained so despite the fall of the i.
The infernal Vesuvius
However, following the great historical eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, the volcano was associated to the mouth of Hell and the home of the Devil. This was the moment in which the very high and flourishing mountain took on a very frightening and negative aspect.
Just from this association of Hell and evil, was born the legend about the birth of Pulcinella. According to this belief, Pulcinella would be born from an egg suddenly sprouted on the mouth of Vesuvius, at the behest of Pluto, God of the underworld and the dead following the request of two Neapolitan witches. They had asked the God to give them a savior who would heal the conditions of injustice and malaise of the city.
During the apocalyptic eruption of 1631, the Neapolitan population relied on its patron saint, Saint Gennaro. The archbishop decided to send out the statue of the Patron Saint in procession. Its blood liquefied (a positive omen) and the wrath of the eruption was calmed and it stopped completely.
The legends of Vesuvian loves
Love legends could not miss.
It is told, in fact, the story of the sea nymph Leucopetra, loved and contended for love between two men: Vesevo and Sebeto. One day it is said that while the nymph was intent on collecting shells on the seashore, the two men launched themselves towards her with the intention of wanting to kidnap her. She dived into the sea and turned into a rock, saving herself. The two men, however, had different fates: Vesevo turned into stone and grew from anger to explode with passion in the form of lava, Sebeto, however, wept so much to turn into a river that wet the lands of Neapolis until it dried up.
Another legend, instead, tells of the love story between a young nobleman of the Vesuvio family and a beautiful girl of the Capri family. Their bond was so deep and sweet that the two were inseparable. The families, however, were rivals and could not allow this union. So one day the girl’s parents forced her to embark off the coast of Naples. She, however, could not bear to part with her beloved and, diving into the sea, she drowned. When the young man heard of the death of his companion, he began to shed tears of fire and turned into the volcano Vesuvius. Where the girl had drowned, however, sprang up the beautiful island of Capri.
The sorceress Amelia
The sorceress Amelia, an imaginary Disney character invented by Carl Basks in 1961, lives in a small house on the slopes of Vesuvius. The American cartoonist created her, inspired by the Mediterranean beauty of Sophia Loren, enriched by the charm of Morticia of the Addams Family, but always preserving the timeless Neapolitan accent.
Stories of volcanic magic
It is said that the birth of Vesuvius was an accident caused by the most powerful magician Naples had ever known. He lived on a mountain that overlooked the entire Gulf of Naples and from there he watched over the city. But his undisputed power could not spread as much as he wanted because the Wizard could not move: his leg, in fact, was stuck between the rocks and he could not expand its boundaries. One day the Earth trembled and the Wizard could finally pull out his leg. In doing so, however, accidentally opened a chasm from which fire and lava came out.
Another legend belongs to the abbot Desiderio. The latter writes about a Neapolitan monk who lived as a hermit on the slopes of Vesuvius. On a night of full moon, he noticed two figures carrying a large bale of hay to the volcano. Intrigued, the monk went to the two men to ask for an explanation and the two answered him, in fact, that the hay would have fed the flames of the volcano that in exchange would have eliminated all the rich and evil men. In particular the two wanted the death of the Duke of Naples, Giovanni and the Prince of Capua, Pandolfo. The monk then rushed to warn Duke John who, in turn, sent emissaries to Prince Pandolfo. At the arrival of the two messengers, the Prince was already dead and after a while the same destiny happened to the Duke.