The Authoress of the Odyssey, by Samuel Butler, , at sacred-texts.com
I have now given, though far more briefly than the subject requires, some of my reasons for believing that from the first Book of the "Odyssey" to the last we are in the hands of a young woman. Who, then, was she? Where did she live and write? She was of flesh and blood, lived in time and place, looked on sea and sky, came and went somewhither and somewhen—but where? and when? and above all, who? It will be my object to throw what light I can upon these subjects in the following chapters.
I will follow the same course that I have taken earlier, and retrace the steps whereby I was led to my conclusions.
By the time I had finished Book x. I was satisfied that the "Odyssey" was not a man's work, but I had seen nothing to make me think that it was written rather at one place than at another. When, however, I reached xiii. 159-164, in which passage Neptune turns the Phæacian ship into a rock at the entrance of the Scherian harbour, I felt sure that an actual feature was being drawn from, and made a note that no place, however much it might lie between two harbours, would do for Scheria, unless at the end of one of them there was a small half sunken rock. Presently I set myself to consider what combination of natural features I ought to look for on the supposition that Scheria was a real place, and made a list of them as follows:—
1. The town must be placed on a point of land jutting out as a land's end into the sea between two harbours, or bays in which ships could ride (vi. 263); it must be connected with the mainland by a narrow neck of land, and as I have just said, must have a half sunken formidable rock at the entrance of one of the harbours.
2. There must be no river running into either harbour, or Nausicaa would not have had to go so far to wash her clothes. The river when reached might be nothing but a lagoon with a spring or two of fresh water running into it, for the clothes were not, so it would seem, washed in a river; they were washed in public washing cisterns ("Od." vi. 40, 86, 92) which a small spring would keep full enough of water "to wash clothes even though they were very dirty." The scene is laid close on the sea shore, for the clothes are put out to dry on a high bank of shingle which the sea had raised, and Nausicaa's maidens fly from Ulysses along the beach and spits that run into the sea.
3. There must be a notable mountain at no great distance from the town so as to give point to Neptune's threat that he would bury it under a high mountain. Furthermore, the whole combination above described must lie greatly further west of Eubœa than Ithaca was, and hence greatly west of Ithaca (vii. 321). Surely, if a real place is being drawn from, these indications are ample to ensure its being easily found.
Men of science, so far as I have observed them, are apt in their fear of jumping to a conclusion to forget that there is such a thing as jumping away from one, and Homeric scholars seem to have taken a leaf out of their book in this respect. How many striking points of correspondence, I wonder, between an actual place and one described in a novel, would be enough to create a reasonable assurance that the place in which they were combined was the one that was drawn from? I should say four well marked ones would be sufficient to make it extremely improbable that a like combination could be found elsewhere; make it five and unless we find something to outweigh the considerations which so close a correspondence between the actual place and the one described in the novel would suggest, or unless by some strange coincidence the same combination in all its details can be shown to occur in some other and more probable locality, we may be sure that the novel was drawn from the place; for every fresh detail in the combination required decreases the probability of error in geometrical ratio if it be duly complied with.
Let us suppose that a policeman is told to look out for an elderly gentleman of about sixty; he is a foreigner, speaks a little English but not much, is lame in his left foot, has blue eyes, a bottle nose, and is about 5 ft. 10 in. high. How many of these features will the policeman require before he feels pretty sure that he has found his man? If he sees any foreigner he will look at him. If he sees one who is about 5 ft. 10 in. high he will note his age, if this proves to be about sixty years, and further, if the man limps on his left foot, he will probably feel safe in stopping him. If, as he is sure to do, he finds he has a bottle nose, he will leave the blue eyes and broken English alone, and will bring the man before the magistrate.
If it is then found that the man's eyes are hazel, and that he either speaks English fluently or does not speak it at all—is the magistrate likely to discharge the prisoner on account of these small discrepancies between him and the description given of him, when so many other of the required characteristics are found present? Will he not rather require the prisoner to bring forward very convincing proof that it is a case of mistaken identity?
Or to take another illustration, which is perhaps more strictly to the point as involving comparison between an actual place and one described in a novel. Here is an extract from a novel:—
Is there any man of ordinary intelligence and acquainted with Shrewsbury who will doubt that Shrewsbury was the place that Mr. Clarke was drawing from?
When I have urged the much more numerous and weightier points of agreement between Scheria as described in the "Odyssey," and Trapani as it still exists, eminent Homeric
scholars have told me, not once nor twice—and not meekly, but with an air as though they were crushing me—that my case rests in the main on geographical features that are not unknown to other parts of the coast, and upon legends which also belong to other places.
Grammerton, they argue—to return to my illustration—must not be held as Shrewsbury, for at Harrow as well as Shrewsbury the School is on the highest part of the town. There is a river, again, at Eton, so that Eton may very well have been the place intended. It is highly fanciful to suppose that the name Saber may have been a mere literary travesty of Sabrina. At Nottingham there is a castle which was in ruins but a few years since, and from which one can see the Trent. Nottingham, therefore, is quite as likely to be the original of Grammerton as Shrewsbury is.
And so on ad infinitum. This line of argument consists in ignoring that the force of the one opposed to it lies in the demonstrable existence of a highly complex combination, the component items of which are potent when they are all found in the same place, but impotent unless combined. It is a line which eminent Homeric scholars almost invariably take when discussing my Odyssean theory, but it is not one which will satisfy those before whom even the most eminent of Homeric scholars must in the end bow—I mean, men of ordinary common sense. These last will know that Grammerton can only be dislodged from Shrewsbury on proof either that the features of Shrewsbury do not in reality correspond with those of Grammerton, or else that there is another town in England which offers the same combination, and is otherwise more acceptable.
So with Trapani and Scheria. Eminent Homeric scholars must show that I have exaggerated the points of correspondence between the two places—which in the face of Admiralty charts and of the "Odyssey" they will hardly venture; or they must bring forward some other place in which the same points of correspondence are found combined—which they will not attempt; or they must show reason for thinking that the very numerous and precise correspondences between Trapani and all
[paragraph continues] Scherian and Ithacan scenes are referable to mere accident—and this will satisfy those only who will believe that a man has held thirteen trumps in his hand three deals running, without having tampered with the cards. I need not discuss this last supposition, and as for the other two, I can only assure the reader that no attempt has been made to establish either of them during the close on six years since my theory was first put before the public.
Neither will it ever be made. For Scheria should be looked for on some West coast to the West of Greece, and there are no such West coasts except those of Italy and Sicily, both of which I know well enough to be sure that if the Scherian combination could be found elsewhere than at Trapani I should long since have found it. Even could such a place be found with its rock Malconsiglio, legend and all, before it could compete with Trapani in claiming the "Odyssey" it would have to offer the Ithacan combination as well as the Scherian; for surely a place which provides us with both Ithacan and Scherian topography would have a greater right to be considered as that from which the "Odyssey" was drawn, than one which could only offer the details of Scheria.
Furthermore, could they find another place with all both Scherian and Ithacan features, my opponents would be only half way through their troubles; for Trapani could still hold its own against it, unless it also had four islands (neither more nor fewer) lying off it, one of them long and narrow, and all of them corresponding with the inaccurate Odyssean description of the Ionian islands. Nor would it even then begin to be on equal terms with Trapani, till it was shown that the effective part of the voyages of Ulysses begins and ends with it. When all this has been done, but not before, it will be time to weigh the comparative claims to the two sites.
For I rest my case on the harmonious concurrence of four lines of argument, each requiring the fulfilment of many and very rigorous conditions, and each by itself sufficient to raise a strong presumption that Trapani was the place which was most prominent in the mind of the writer of the "Odyssey." They are:
1. That Scheria is drawn from Trapani. This I will substantiate by bringing forward a much stronger combination of correspondences than exists between Grammerton and Shrewsbury.
2. That Ithaca also is drawn from Trapani and its immediate neighbourhood. My case for this will be found even stronger if possible than that by which I established that Scheria was Trapani.
3. That the Ionian islands as described in the "Odyssey" cannot have been drawn from the actual Ionian islands, nor from any others but those off Trapani; and that the writer sinned against her own knowledge in order to force these islands into her narrative.
4. That the voyages of Ulysses practically resolve themselves into a voyage from Troy to the neighbourhood of Sicily, and thenceforward into a sail round Sicily, beginning with Trapani and ending with the same place.
It will be necessary that no argument adduced in support of any of these propositions should clash with those in support of any other, but all the four lines of argument must corroborate each other, so that they fit into one another as the pieces of a child's puzzle. It is inconceivable that anything but a true theory should comply with conditions so exacting. I will now proceed to show that Scheria is Trapani, and will return to the steps by which I arrived at this conclusion.
Armed with the list of points I had to find in combination, as given at the beginning of this chapter, I went down to the map room of the British Museum intending to search the Mediterranean from the Troad to Gibraltar if necessary; but remembering that I ought to look (for reasons already given) some distance West of Greece, and also that the writer of the "Odyssey" appeared to have lived on a coast that looked West not East, I resolved to search the West coasts first. I knew that Colonel Mure and a respectable weight of ancient testimony had placed the Cyclopes on Mt. Eryx, and it seemed to me that the island where Ulysses hunted the goats, and the whole Cyclopes incident suggested drawing from life more vividly than any other part of the voyages. I knew, moreover, that
the writer was a young woman who was little likely to have travelled, and hence felt sure that if one place could be found, none of the others would be long in finding; I asked, therefore, for the map of the Lilybæan promontory, as the West coast West of Greece that offered the greatest prospect of success, and hardly had I got it in my hand before I found the combination
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TRAPANI AND MT. ERYX
I wanted for Scheria lying right under Mt. Eryx. The land's end jutting into the sea—the two harbours one on either side of it—the narrow entrance between two marshes—the high mountain hard by—the rock at the entrance of one of the harbours—the absence of any river—will be found in the map here given, which Messrs. Walker & Boutall have made for me from the Italian Government survey, and from our own Admiralty chart.
But this was not all. Not only was the rock of the right height, and so turned as to give the idea of a ship coming into port, but it bore the strange name of Malconsiglio, or "Evil counsel." I was so much struck with this that I wrote to Trapani enquiring whether there existed any local tradition in connection with the rock, and was told that there were two—the one absurd, and the other to the effect that the rock had been a ship of Turkish Pirates who were coming to attack Trapani, but were turned into stone at the entrance of the harbour by the Madonna di Trapani. I did not doubt that the name and the legend between them preserved the Odyssean version, in a Christianised form—the legend recording the fact of a ship's having been turned into stone as it was entering harbour, and the name telling us the other fact that this had been brought about in consequence of an evil counsel.
I believe the above sufficient for reasonable assurance that Scheria was drawn from Trapani, and will, therefore, proceed to establish that the Ithaca scenes are drawn also from the same place and its immediate neighbourhood.
To this end it will be incumbent upon me to find that near Trapani, though not actually at the town, there exists, or can be shown to have in all reasonable probability existed, a harbour which has, or had, a current in it, and which lies hard by the foot of a mountain. This harbour should have a shelving bottom, for the Phæacian crew which brought Ulysses to Ithaca ran half the ship's length on shore before the way was off it. At no great distance there must be two caves near together (xiii. 103-112 and 347-349). One of them must have two entrances—one turned towards the North, by which people can go down into the cave, and the other towards the South, by which the gods alone can enter. It must have water in it, and also prehistoric implements should be found there. From near it one must be able to see harbours (in the plural), and it should be on the side of a mountain. Here Ulysses hid the treasures that the Phæacians had given him. The other cave need present no special features.
A man ascending the mountain from these caves, and keeping along the top of it should come to a place on ground
commanding an extensive prospect, where there is a spring and a rock that is called Raven. This site must be bitterly cold in winter, and must be about two hours' walk from Trapani; the path to the town must be so rugged that a man in ordinary vigour would not like to take it without having a stick; and lastly, it must pass a notable mound or hill much nearer Trapani than the high ground above alluded to, and commanding a full view of the city and harbour. The reader who turns to the abridgement of Books xiii., xiv., xv., xvi. and xvii. given in this work, will find that all these points are necessary.
They all of them exist at this day, even to the calling of the rock "Raven," except one—I mean the mouth of the harbour where the Phæacians entered; this is now silted up, like the harbour of Selinunte, * which I might almost call on the same coast. The inner part of the harbour is still full of sea water, but has been converted into Salt Works † which are slightly below the level of the sea. The bed of the old exit is clearly seen, and there are still rushes in it though it is quite dry: it is very narrow, is often full in winter, and is marked with dotted lines in the Italian Ordnance Map, but not so in our Admiralty Chart.
The existence of this bed was pointed out to me by Signor Sugameli, of Trapani. He assured me that till 1848 when the Salt Works were made, the whole space covered by them was an open mere where his father used to go to shoot wild ducks. One great difficulty in making the Salt Works was the abundance of fresh water springs, which made it necessary to cement the salt pans in order to keep the fresh water from mixing with the salt. It was perhaps from some of these springs that the πλυνοί, or washing cisterns, of vi. 40 were supplied—unless indeed Nausicaa washed the clothes in sea water as I have seen women in the island of Pantellaria still do.
Given a mass of water, nearly a mile long and a quarter of a mile broad, with a narrow exit, and the tide, which here has a rise and fall of from two to three feet, would cause a current
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THE HARBOUR RHEITHRON, NOW SALT WORKS OF S. CUSUMANO
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MOUTH OF THE HARBOUR RHEITHRON, NOW SILTED UP
that at times would be strong, and justify its being described as a river and also as a harbour with a current in it; returning for a moment to Scheria, I suppose this to be the river at the mouth of which Ulysses landed, and the river's staying his flow (v. 451), I take to mean that he arrived there just at the turn of the tide. I may also say that this harbour is used five times in the "Odyssey":
1. As the "flowing harbour, in the country beyond the town, under Mt. Neritum"—reading, as explained earlier, Νηρίτῳ for Νηίῳ—where Minerva said she left her ship, when she was talking with Telemachus i. 185, 186. 2. As the place where Ulysses landed in Scheria and where Nausicaa washed her clothes. 3. As the place where Ulysses landed in Ithaca. 4. As the place where Telemachus landed in Ithaca on his return from Pylos (xv. 495, &c.). 5. As the spot pointed to by Ulysses as the one where his ship was lying "in the country beyond the town" (xxiv. 308).
I will now return to the two caves which ought to be found at no great distance from the head of this harbour. It is clear from the text that there were two not one, but some one has enclosed in brackets the two lines in which the second cave is mentioned, I presume because he found himself puzzled by having a second cave sprung upon him when up to this point he has been only told of one.
I venture to think that if he had known the ground he would not have been puzzled, for there are two caves, distant about 80 or 100 yards from one another, at the place marked in the map as the grotta del toro. The one is conspicuous, but without special feature; the other, which is not very easily seen, and which is called by the peasants the grotta del toro, looks due North, and is universally believed to contain a treasure, which a bull who lives in its recesses is continually grinding, but which can only be found by a virgin, who will eat a whole pomegranate without spilling a single pip. I suspect the toro to be a children's corruption of tesoro. The bull having thus got into the cave has never got out again, and as the treasure is also confidently known to exist—well—what can the bull be there for but to turn a mill and grind the treasure?
The cave runs due South into the rock by a passage so rough and narrow that no one is likely to go more than a very few feet with it. No one, therefore, can enter the cavern from the South—it is only the gods who can do so.
In August, 1894, I visited the ground with some Sicilian friends, and we discoursed with the contadino who had charge of the farm on which the caves are found. While we were talking there came up a nice intelligent lad on a donkey, and he seemed much interested in our conversation.
"Is there," we asked, pointing to the grotta del toro, "a treasure in the cave?"
"Certainly," was the immediate answer. Here the boy broke in. He was quite sure there was one. Everybody knew it. It could not be doubted.
"Is there a treasure in the other cave?"
"Which of the two caves is called the grotta del toro?"
"That one "—from both peasant and boy, who pointed at once to the cave that corresponded with the "Odyssey."
"You are quite sure that the other cave is not called 'la grotta del toro'?"
"Where does the grotta del toro go to?"
"It gets narrow and goes far into the rock."
"Has any one ever been to the end of it?"
"No, no; no one knows where it ends. There was a cattle driver who went in once to explore it, but he never came back, and they say that after this there was a wall built to stop any one from going further."
"Have you ever been inside the cave yourself?"
"Have you been as far as the wall?"
"How far did you go?"
"Not very far; I was afraid."
"Then you have no idea how far the cave goes?" "No."
"Is there water in the cave at all times?
"Have you seen it?"
"I was there in May last, and there was water then."
"Is there water there now?"
"I should think so, but cannot be certain."
"Can you take us to it?"
"No; the key of the ground is at Trapani."
"They say there is a bull in the further recesses of the cavern?"
"They say so, but we have never seen him; all we know for certain is that there is a treasure."
Here the boy again brightened up, and said that this was certain.
When we had finished our questions the contadino took one of our party aside, and said, confidentially, "Be sure of me, for I have a strong stomach" (i.e., I can keep a secret). "When you come to remove the treasure, which I can see that you intend to do, you must take me with you and give me my share. If you come by night the dogs will bark, and I shall know that you are there. I will then come down and help you, but you must give me my share."
I wrote the above conversation down, in Italian, immediately on my return to Trapani, and my Sicilian friends signed it, at my request, as a correct report. It occurs to me to add that there is no other cave near Trapani to which any story of a hidden treasure attaches.
Last year (May, 1896) I visited the cave again, this time with my friend Mr. H. Festing Jones, who has gone over the whole of the ground described in this book, to make sure that I have not overstated my case. We were accompanied by Signor Sugameli of Trapani, to whom I owe the correction of my error in believing the more conspicuous of the two caves to be called the grotta del toro—for so, on my first visit to Trapani in 1892, my friends in the town had assured me, not knowing the existence of the one which really bears the name. Jones and Signor Sugameli scrambled into the interior of the cavern, but I, being elderly and somewhat lame, did not venture. They found the cave end, after about thirty feet, in
a mass of solid rock; but few who have gone above ten or twelve feet will be likely to go any further, and I can well believe that the writer of the "Odyssey," like the peasants of to-day, believed that no one could get to the end of it. My friends found water.
The cave is full of bees’ nests in summer, as are all the caves hereabouts. They are small, solitary, of red clay, and about the size of the cup of an acorn. All the caves in the neighbourhood of Mt. Eryx abound in remains of stone-age man, some fine examples of which may be seen in the museum at Palermo. These remains would doubtless be more common and more striking three thousand years or so ago than they are at present, and I find no difficulty in thinking that the poetic imagination of the writer of the "Odyssey" ascribed them to the nymphs and naiads.
From hard by both the caves one can see, of course, the precipices of Mt. Eryx, which I suppose to be Neritum in the mind of the writer (xiii. 351), the straight paths on the cultivated land some couple of hundred feet below, the harbour of the old merman Phorcys, and also the harbours of Trapani, all which are requisite by lines xiii. 195, 196, and 345-351.
The reader will note that while more than one Scherian detail is given casually and perhaps unintentionally, as for example the harbour where Ulysses landed in Scheria, and the harbours, which I do not doubt are the two harbours of Trapani, there is no Ithacan detail given so far which conflicts with any feature in the description of Scheria.
The number and value of the points of correspondence between the cave in which Ulysses hid his treasure, and the grotta del toro greatly exceed those between Grammerton and Shrewsbury. Nevertheless it will be well to see whether his movements on leaving the cave confirm my view or make against it.
I suppose him to have ascended the steep, and then, doubtless, wooded slopes of Mt. Eryx and to have passed along its high and nearly level summit (δἰ ἄκριας, xiv. 2) to the other end of the mountain, where the Norman Castle stands now 2500 feet above the sea level. Here he descended some two or
three hundred feet to the spot now called i runzi, where there is a spring near a precipice which is still called il ruccazzù dei corvi, i.e. "the rock of the ravens," it being on this part of the mountain that these birds breed most freely. This walk would take him about two hours, more or less.
The site is seen from far and wide, it is bitterly cold in winter, and is connected with Trapani by a rough mountain path which Ulysses may well have been afraid to travel without a stick (xvii. 195). * The path passes close to the round-topped Colle di Sta Anna which answers perfectly to the Ἕρμαιος λόφος of xvi. 471. The time it takes to walk from the runzi to Trapani corresponds with all the indications furnished us in the "Odyssey" concerning the distance between Eumæus's hut and the town of Ithaca—which seems roughly to have been a winter's day walk there and back.
The reader will see, therefore, that we have the whole road taken by Ulysses from his landing in the harbour of Phorcys to the cave (with all its complex requirements) in which he hid his presents, up Mt. Neritum, along its long top to the spring and the Raven Rock, and finally the path passing the hill of Mercury down to Ithaca, as accurately presented to us by the road from the saline di S. Cusumano to the grotta del toro, Mt. Eryx, the fountain, the Raven Rock, and the road to Trapani, as though the "Odyssey" had been written yesterday. When the reader can find me in all literature, ancient or modern, any like chain of correspondences between an actual place and one described in a work of fiction as an effect of mere chance, I will accept the coincidences to which I have called attention as possibly accidental only; but I am convinced that no such case nor anything approaching it can be adduced.
I, therefore, claim that Ithaca, like Scheria, must be taken as drawn from Trapani. There is, however, this important point to be remembered, that though the writer, when she has to consider Ithaca ab extra, as an island and nothing more, pictures it to herself as the high and striking island of
[paragraph continues] Marettimo some 22 miles off Trapani, when she wants details she takes them from her own immediate neighbourhood on the mainland.
Young people when transferring familiar stories to their own neighbourhood, as almost all young people do, never stick at inconsistencies. They are like eminent Homeric scholars, and when they mean to have things in any given way they will not let the native hue of resolution be balked by thought, and will find it equally easy to have an Ithaca in one place and also in another, and to see the voyages of Columbus to the tropics in their own sliding over a frozen pool. So Lord Selborne writes:
(Memorials, &c., by Roundell Palmer, Earl of Selborne, Macmillan, 1896, pt. i. p. 66.)
Before I leave the Ithaca scenes I ought to show that there may well have existed at Trapani a sheet of water which cattle would be likely to cross in a boat, as described in "Od." xx. 186-188. The land on the East side of Trapani was artificially raised in 1860, till which time the two seas on either side the town were often joined in winter after a continuance of Northerly Winds. Several people have assured me that they remember having to be carted over the water between Trapani and the mainland. I was at first tempted to believe that Philœtius had come to the town when the narrow entrance to it was flooded; but a few lines above we find that Eumæus had also come to the town with three pigs, and Melanthius with some goats. These men had both unquestionably come from Mt. Eryx, and the text seems to forbid the idea that they too had had to cross the water. There is nothing, however, to imply that Philœtius had come from Mt. Eryx; indeed, it is more likely that his cattle would feed on the flat land south of the harbour, which he had crossed by boat to save the long
détour which would have been otherwise necessary. If the water had been that of any such river as is to be found in Asia Minor, Greece, or Sicily, one man would probably have been enough, whereas there seem to have been several plying for hire, as in a port or harbour.
The fact that Scheria and Ithaca would be perfectly well-known by the audience as drawn from their own neighbourhood explains another difficulty. "How," some hypercritical listener might ask, "could so sagacious and experienced a mariner as Ulysses have failed to note that he was only travelling two miles, or even less, from Scheria to Ithaca? And how again could he fail to recognise the place at which he landed as the one where he had met Nausicaa a few days previously?"
The writer of the "Odyssey" admits with some naiveté that the Phæacian mariners were already acquainted with the harbour in which they left Ulysses. They probably would be. But how prevent Ulysses from remonstrating both during the voyage and on being landed? It is not easy to see what better course the writer could take than the one she actually did take, i.e., put Ulysses to sleep as soon as ever he was on board, and not wake him till after the sailors were gone. A sleep, therefore, is prepared for him (vii. 318, and viii. 445) and he falls into it apparently before even leaving the harbour; it is so profound that it is more like death than sleep (xiii. 80). Nothing, not even the men lifting him off the ship next morning, laying all his treasures hard by him and going away, can disturb him till the Phæacian sailors are beyond all reach of question, Then, of course, the sooner he wakes up the better.
As for the other difficulty of his not seeing that he was only at the spot where he had met Nausicaa two days earlier, this was got over by making it a misty morning, and muddling Ulysses generally so that he does not even recognise the place as Ithaca, much less as Scheria, till Minerva meets him and has a long talk with him, in the course of which the audience slides into the situation, and accepts the neighbourhood of Trapani for that of Ithaca without more demur.
166:* A few years ago the stone work at the entrance to the harbour of Selinunte was excavated, but it was silted over again in a single winter.
166:† Shown in the plan as the Salt Works of S. Cusumano.
171:* Of recent years an excellent carriage road has been made from Trapani to the town on the top of Mt. Eryx, but pedestrians still use the old path, which in places is very rough.