|Sicily, “The Clue to Everything.”
Douglas Kenning, PhD (Edinburgh)
"To have seen Italy without seeing Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything” (Goethe)
Sicily calls itself the “Crossroads of the Mediterranean”, but a crossroads is a much-trampled place. Sicily sits like a cork strategically plugging the center of the Mediterranean, so no people have been as stepped upon; no people have as many different ancestors written in their faces, their language, their customs, their beliefs. Her history is Mediterranean history. Hers is an epic populated with heroes from Aeneas to Falcone, and monsters from Cyclops to Totò Riina, and it is on the wings of her stories that we will travel more than three thousand years through the history of Sicily.
Week 1: 20,000~480 BCE: Sicily of Legend & Colonization - Prehistory: Cave paintings in Levanzo, Copper Age, Bronze Age, monsters & sorceresses. 8th~7thC. BCE: Phoenician. found Carthage near modern Tunis, and colonize Sicily, Iberia, & north Africa. 735~5thC. BCE: Greeks colonize central Mediterranean and spread westward.
Week 2: 480 BCE~211 BCE. The Glory that was Greece, 480~412 BCE: Classical Greek. 412~212 BCE: Hellenistic Greek. Dominance of Syracuse. Carthaginian invasions destroy western Greek cities, then Syracuse dominates the region.
Week 3: Romans to Barbarians to Byzantines - 211 BCE~ 410 CE: Roman. Sicily becomes first province of Rome, whose governors steal everything moveable. 410~535: ‘Barbarian’. Vandals rule, then Goths. Sicily continued to speak Greek & keeps the Eastern Rite. 535~829: Byzantine. Conquest & rule by Byzantine Emperors. Stagnation. Arabs (Saracens) begin raids.
Week 4: Arabs & Normans create a second Golden Age - 829~1061: Arab. Saracens arrive from north Africa & only slowly conquer Sicily. 1061~1194: Norman. Normans Robert & Roger retake Sicily for Western Christendom, but defy the Vatican by making a multicultural, multi-religious society. 1194~1268: Swabian. Sicily a wedding gift to the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by Germans, especially Frederick II, the “wonder of the world”. Palermo the center of pre-Renaissance culture; Italian language & poetry invented at Frederick’s court.
Week 5: Centuries of Spanish Neglect (Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) - 1268~1282: French (Anjou). 1282~1492: Spanish (Aragón). Aragón (Spain) & Anjou (France) war over Sicily. Treaty 1302. 1492~1713: Spanish (Catalan, Hapsburg). Unification of Spain, expulsion of Jews. Aristocratic, urban Sicily becomes a showcase of the Spanish empire, wealthy with New World silver, while 90% live miserably as serfs. Sicily a prize to be passed around. 1720~1734: Austrian (Hapsburg). Austrian rule ineffective. Banditry. Jews readmitted. 1734~1860: Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Spain takes over again. Jews re-expelled. Jesuits expelled.
Week 6: Italy, the Latest Occupier - 1861~1946: United Italy (Monarchy). Italy united under the House of Savoy, but poverty, corruption, & oppression of the South continue. The rise of the Mafia, socialist movements, World Wars, Fascism, Futurism, Liberty Style. 1946~today: united Italy (Republic). Sicilian autonomy, Mafia revived, Italy has a government per year, prosperity, fashion, style, movies, cars, Mafia wars, Max-Trials, Dirty Hands, assassinations, & political buffoonery (send in the clowns).
Douglas Kenning (PhD, Edinburgh) has taught at universities in Tunisia, Japan, and Italy. Besides a university professor, he has been a biologist, actor, army officer, Manhattan taxi driver, academic administrator, and writer. He divides each year between the Bay Area, lecturing on Mediterranean histories and cultures, and Sicily, where he runs Sicily Tour, a small tour guide business.