Palicorum lacus (he ton Palikon limne: Lago di Naftia), a small volcanic
lake in the interior of Sicily, near Palagonia, about 15 miles W. of Leontini.
It is a mere pool, being not more than 480 feet in circumference, but early attracted
attention from the remarkable phenomena caused by two jets of volcanic gas, which
rise under the water, causing a violent ebullition, and sometimes throwing up
the water to a considerable height. On this account the spot was, from an early
period, considered sacred, and consecrated to the indigenous deities called the
Palici, who had a temple on the spot. This enjoyed the privileges of an asylum
for fugitive slaves, and was much resorted to also for determining controversies
by oaths; an oath taken by the holy springs, or craters as they are called, being
considered to possess peculiar sanctity, and its violation to be punished on the
spot by the death of the offender. The remarkable phenomena of the locality are
described in detail by Diodorus, as well as by several other writers, and notwithstanding
some slight discrepancies, leave no doubt that the spot was the same now called
the Lago di Naftia, from the naphtha with which, as well as sulphur, the sources
are strongly impregnated. It would, however, seem that in ancient times there
were two separate pools or craters, sometimes termed fountains (krenai), and that
they did not, as at the present day, form one more considerable pool or lake.
Hence they are alluded to by Ovid as Stagna Palicorum ; while Virgil notices only
the sanctuary or altar, pinguis et placabilis ara Palici. (Diod. xi. 89; Steph.
Byz. s. v. Palike; Pseud.-Arist. Mirab. 58; Macrob. Sat. v. 19; Strab. vi. p.
275; Ovid, Met. v. 406; Virg. Aen. ix. 585; Sil. Ital. xiv. 219; Nonn. Dionys.
xiii. 311.) The sacred character of the spot as an asylum for fugitive slaves
caused it to be selected for the place where the great servile insurrection of
Sicily in B.C. 102 was first discussed and arranged; and for the same reason Salvius,
the leader of the insurgents, made splendid offerings at the shrine of the Palici.
(Diod. xxxvi. 3, 7.)
There was not in early times any other settlement besides the sanctuary
and its appurtenances, adjoining the lake of the Palici; but in B.C. 453, Ducetius,
the celebrated chief of the Siculi, founded a city close to the lake, to which
he gave the name of Palica (Palike), and to which he transferred the inhabitants
of Menaenum and other neighbouring towns. This city rose for a short time to considerable
prosperity; but was destroyed again shortly after the death of Ducetius, and never
afterwards restored. (Diod. xi. 88, 90.) Hence the notices of it in Stephanus
of Byzantium and other writers can only refer to this brief period of its existence.
(Steph. B. l. c.; Polemon, ap. Macrob. l. c.) The modern town of Palagonia is
thought to retain the traces of the name of Palica, but certainly does not occupy
the site of the city of Ducetius, being situated on a lofty hill, at some distance
from the Lago di Naftia. Some remains of the temple and other buildings were still
visible in the days of Fazello in the neighbourhood of the lake. The locality
is fully described by him, and more recently by the Abate Ferrara. (Fazell. de
Reb. Sic. iii. 2; Ferrara, Campi Flegrei della Sicilia, pp. 48,105.)
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited August 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)