Aitna is a primordial demi-goddess who rules over the volcanic Mount Etna. This goddess isn’t widely known, and her story isn’t as significant as other figures in Greek mythology. But despite her subtle influence over ancient Greece, her presence is still valuable.
This demi-goddess is a primordial deity. Like other divine beings of her time, she represented fundamental principles of nature. Her purpose was to explain the existence of mountains and volcanoes to early humans. She existed long before Titans and Olympians, entering the world in a time of relative peace and harmony.
The Origins of Aitna
Aitna is not your average immortal goddess. She’s a primordial deity, a group of divine beings who came into existence shortly after Chaos. Chaos was the primeval state of nothingness. From Chaos came Gaia, one of the first immortals to exist.
Gaia is the personification of the world and the mother of all things. She gives birth to many significant figures. In addition to birthing the Titans, she created the Ourea. It’s not sure when the Ourea sprung from Gaia, but most scholars assume it was long before the first generation of Titans.
The Ourea were a group of gods who represented the various mountains of Greece. There were 10 in total. Not too many artistic depictions exist of the Ourea. However, most poets wrote about them as older men living in the mountains they represented. They were not active characters in Greek mythology. Usually, they only emerged to provide counsel over conflicts happening on their mountain. Their older appearance was ideal for their roles as judges and arbitrators.
Of course, things are a bit different for Aitna. She’s the only female Ourea. Unfortunately, there aren’t any surviving works of art showing her physical appearance. We can assume that her human form was not old like her Ourea brothers. Aitna has a relationship with a well-known god, proving that she must have had a younger maiden-like appearance.
Aitna presided over Mount Etna. It’s a volcanic mountain located in Sicily. Today, it’s considered an active stratovolcano. But back in ancient Greece, its unpredictable behavior was the source of many legends.
One account says that the giant Typhon or Enceladus are imprisoned below Mount Etna. Typhon, also known as Typhos or Typhoeus, was a monstrous serpentine giant. Meanwhile, Enceladus is a standard giant who participated in the Gigantomachy war. It’s not clear which figure is buried below. Different variations of their respective tales make things unclear.
But despite the inconsistencies, ancient Greeks used that explanation for the reasoning behind the volcanic activity. They believed that the monsters’ restlessness caused the earthquakes and lava flows.
Another explanation was that the billows of smoke came from Hephaestus. According to some records, the blacksmith to the gods had one of this many workshops on Mount Etna. Some poets even say that it’s where Hephaestus first made the thunderbolts of Zeus! Whenever he visited, the smoke of his furnaces would be visible. Meanwhile, the heat of the fire caused lava flow and geysers to erupt.
The fact that Aitna is a female demi-goddess makes her instantly different from the other Ourea. Other Ourea had children, but it was uncommon. Aitna is one of the few to extend her lineage.
She’s the mother of the Palici. The Palici, or Palikoi, are a pair of deities that represents geysers and thermal hot springs. Later, the creation of Aitna’s offspring was thought to rationalize the unique behavior of Mount Etna. The other Ourea presided over austere mountains that had no volcanic activity. But Mount Etna was active, requiring different mythology to explain the natural phenomena.
The father of the Palici is not clear. There are two potential suitors. One is Hephaestus. Some accounts say that Hephaestus fell madly in love with the goddess-nymph. The two had a brief fling, resulting in the birth of the Palici.
Another possible father is Zeus himself! The king of the gods had a reputation for infidelity. He often disguised himself to have affairs with other immortals. It happened so often that many of his escapades are lost to history. The events surrounding this union are murky. But most agree that it was nothing more than a brief affair.
Other Stories with Aitna
Like the other Ourea, Aitna was relatively anonymous and unseen in Greek mythology. The primordial deities had less of a human-like presence in the mythos than later gods. Other figures represented human emotions and complex ideologies. Meanwhile, the early immortals personified the fundamentals of the known world.
As a result, there wasn’t a need for them in later storytelling. Most of the Ourea stayed in the background, only intervening when necessary. Stories of Aitna are sparse. Beyond her children and brief affair, she’s largely silent.
That said, she does make an appearance in one story. It involves the possession of Sicily. Hephaestus and Demeter both wanted control over the largest island in the Mediterranean. Because Mount Etna is on the east coast of Sicily, she provided counsel.
Ultimately, Sicily went to Demeter. It became the backdrop for many stories involving the goddess and her daughter Persephone.
Aitna is the demi-goddess of Mount Etna. Her mountain rises 3,329 meters from sea level.
Other spellings of Aitna include “Aetna” and “Aitne.”
Aitna is one of the ten Ourea. She’s also the only female.
The demi-goddess was the mother of the Palici, the gods of geysers and hot springs.
Aitna might be the same figure as the nymph Aetna.
According to some accounts, Typon or Enceladus is buried under Mount Etna.
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