Why you should care
Because certain fatal attractions, and mystical vibes, transcend myth.
One of the hottest holiday spots in Italy is Mount Circeo — and not just because of the heat, the cool people and the gorgeous beaches. It’s where mythology’s most scandalous affair took place. In a dense forest at the top of Mount Cicero (a sort of peninsula jutting out into the sea that’s often mistaken for an island), Greek stud Odysseus fell prey to the stunning sorceress Circe, who bewitched him by turning the poor lad into her sex toy.
On his way back home from burning Troy, the warrior was longing to embrace his beloved yet cuckquean wife Penelope. To get Odysseus’ buddies out of the way (Circe didn’t like orgies), the sorceress transformed them into pigs. The couple’s kinky games took place in a tiny sea grotto, which you can visit today when the waves aren’t nasty. The two lovers were insatiable: They couldn’t keep their hands off each other, and so, for years on end (10, to be precise), they fucked. They even had an “illegal” son, who disappeared into thin air but then came back looking for his father and ended up having an affair with Circe, his mom.
But that’s another story.
I’m lucky — not only do I admire the hill in the far distance from my beach house each morning, but I’m also among the few locals who can actually see the witch. Don’t freak out: I don’t mean that I literally see her. The enchantress’ profile is sculpted on the mount; it has the shape of a sleeping woman, her long hair curling down her side, her long draped dress, her hands joined together as in prayer. I can even spot her nose, eyes, eyelashes and fringe (guess it was a fad back then). “Do you take drugs?” my friends ask, bewildered. No matter how much they strain their eyes and let their imagination run free, all they see is a plain mountain covered in thick vegetation. “How the hell do you make out her image?” It’s my power. Oh my God, hold on, could I possibly be descended from Circe? Considering my miserable love life, I wish I were.
She has turned many evil men into pigs. Just have a look at how many wild boars roam the forest.
Franco Domenichelli, shop owner
The witchy park has a mystical atmosphere. I can feel the sorceress’ presence as I swim and sunbathe at her feet. Mount Circe, part of a lush natural reserve, overlooks the miles-long sand dunes of a protected Mediterranean bush where you can kayak in former marshes, rock climb and snorkel. Beaches are dotted with free-grazing white buffalo, and the countryside with Sikhs — yes, red turbaned Indian farmers! — who look after the animals and make some of the best mozzarella in Italy.
So how did the legend start? I climb to the top of the hill, where there’s a temple dedicated to Circe, daughter of the sun. One day, back in the 1800s, the head of the statue fell off and rolled down the hill, all the way to the village of San Felice, where an archaeologist found it, pored over Homer’s Odyssey 100 times and decided that Mount Circe was the lair of Odysseus’ sex-maniac jailer.
The place is indeed spooky. Locals still think the sorceress — or what remains of her — is alive and hidden somewhere, and that her vibrations can be felt everywhere. “We think the witch still looks over us, protecting all those who live here, despite [that] she has turned many evil men into pigs. Just have a look at how many wild boars roam the forest,” says Franco Domenichelli, who runs Modern Times, a jewelry shop.
When trying to get their screaming babies to sleep, mothers threaten that the maga (the Italian word for “sorceress” or “enchantress”) will turn them into pigs if they don’t settle down. And among the tips given to male foreigners and oblivious tourists on their first visit is one concerning the “eye.” They’re told (not quite jokingly) to avoid the stare of pretty girls, it could be fatal.
But what about the remote chance of bumping instead into enchanting guys? I wouldn’t mind that. Why hasn’t Odysseus, or one of his muscular companions, left a ghost behind to entertain lonely (modern) women?
Even mythology can be unfair. OK then, let’s concentrate on speleology. It might sound boring compared with sexy visions, but it’s not. Within its belly, the hill conceals prehistoric treasures such as dark caves, skeletons of troglodytes and burial sites where cannibals once devoured their enemies’ brains. Yep, you heard that right. But no worries, a brain-based diet has long been abandoned; today, residents prefer fishy delicacies rather than raw meat.
C’mon, they’ve evolved! Give it a try.