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The myth of the Mermaids

by Salvatore Cangiani
(Translated by Marianna Mastro)


As we read from the works of the ancient Greek and Latin writers, from the Odissea of Omero to the Selve of Stazio it is extremely evident that the subjects concerning the poetry of the place have been the charm of the myth of the mermaids and the incomparable atmosphere of the landscape which have always granted initially an epic character and later a more and more sentimental and bucolic character.

The theme of the charming mermaids which Ulisse meets along the Sorrentine and Massalubrense coast whose residence is presumed on the islands of “Li Galli”, also called “Le Sirenuse”, gives origin not only to the place-name of the Peninsula, but also to a real cult of these winged creatures characterized by a gentile and magic song. This matter is proved by the existence of a temple dedicated to them, not yet exactly located, but which authoritative testimony seem to confirm.

Li Galli - detailLi Galli - detail

Very impressive is the millenarian myth of the mermaids in which the famous “Partenope” gave its own name to the city who will be later Naples and still today enchants us and worries us with its everlasting ambiguity, as it also appears in the poem “Sirenes” of the Massalubrense Paolo Pulcarelli, 16th century poet.

The poem “Sirenes” is dedicated to the bishop Palma of Massalubrense and evokes the myth of the three creatures “Ligeia”, “Leucosia” and “Partenope” the daughters of Acheloo who charmed the navigators from the reefs of the headland Peloro, between Scilla and Cariddi, until they were submerged by the sea.

Punta CampanellaPunta Campanella

For this reason, the mermaids very anxious to see the shores of our coasts, ploughing the Tyrrhenian sea landed on the rocky ram which looms on the sea (now called Punta Campanella ) where today still stand the remains of the temple dedicated to Minerva built by Ulisse who was able to avoid the tragic effects of the songs of those harmful creatures, tied to the fore mast of his ship and plugging with wax the ears of his sailors.

Disappointed in being defeated by Ulisse, the mermaids precipitated from the steep precipice into the sea and were transformed in three small islands the “Galli”, also called the “Sirenuse”,
situated opposite the Coast of Positano.

 'Li Galli' or 'Sirenuse'

Copyright 2003 Salvatore Cangiani. All rights reserved.