L’Orecchio di Dionisio: the Sicilian cave where you can pay attention to every whisper

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.
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L'Orecchio di Dionisio: the Sicilian cave where you can pay attention to every whisper

The Ear of Dionysus is an ancient artificial cave, carved into the limestone. It is located in Sicily, in the so-called “Latomia del Paradiso”, a stone quarry under the magnificent Greek Theater of Syracuse. Today we will try to make you discover this great attraction, whose history lies between myth and reality – like so many other historical structures.

With a height of 23 meters and a depth of up to 65, the cave of Dionysus is recognized as one of the largest and most peculiar ancient structures in Sicilian soil. His S-shaped trend allows you to amplify the sound up to 16 times more than normal human perception (an aspect, as shown by a recent study, in common with Stonehenge). For this reason, tourists from all over the world are fascinated every time they enter it.

This characteristic has always been a fulcrum in the historical narrative of attraction. Suffice it to say that, according to tradition, it was precisely the bizarre tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse to have it built to overhear every whisper of the prisoners he put inside.

Among these was also the poet Philoxenus of Kythera -of which Dionisio himself was a patron- who was locked up inside the cave for having expressed severe judgments regarding the poor poetic skills of his financier. However, if you want to look at the positive aspect of the event, it is said that the poet wrote in captivity one of the most famous myths in the Mediterranean tradition: “The Cyclops“.

Moreover, it is customary to think that it was thanks to the cave that the tyrant managed to thwart numerous coups d’etat and plots against his person – leaving his possible perpetrators unaware of how he actually found them out in time.

However, tall this remains only a legend. Historically it is very difficult to define whether this use of the cave was really applied in reality or not.

Many historians believe that, in fact, the whole Latomia of Paradise, including the Ear of Dionysus, was exploited for play sound effects during the shows exhibited in the Greek Theater. It had to be a very innovative technique at the time, because it didn’t visually show viewers where the sound was coming from – consequently, amazing them.

On the other hand, however, there are other experts who believe the cave never had a particular functionality. It was a simple quarry, dug from top to bottom, to make the water flow better than an ancient aqueduct in the upper part of the structure.

The name “Ear of Dionysus“does not have its roots in remote antiquity, but in the seventeenth century. It was Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, to coin it, during a visit to the city of Syracuse in 1608, accompanied by the historian Vincenzo Mirabella.

Ear“it derives from the peculiar shape of the cave, which can immediately be visually attributed to a human ear;”Dionysius“, inevitably, he went alongside the first term, because Caravaggio was fascinated by the myth that is still a precious element in the Sicilian tradition today.

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