Near Centoripa is the town of Aetna
, which was mentioned a little above, whose people entertain and conduct those who ascend the mountain; for the mountain-summit begins here. The upper districts are bare and ash-like and full of snow during the winter, whereas the lower are divided up by forests and plantations of every sort. The topmost parts of the mountain appear to undergo many changes because of the way the fire distributes itself, for at one time the fire concentrates in one crater, but at another time divides, while at one time the mountain sends forth lava, at another, flames and fiery smoke, and at still other times it also emits red-hot masses; and the inevitable result of these disturbances is that not only the underground passages, but also the orifices, sometimes rather numerous, which appear on the surface of the mountain all round, undergo changes at the same time. Be this as it may, those who recently made the ascent gave me the following account: They found at the top a level plain, about twenty stadia in circuit, enclosed by a rim of ashes the height of a house-wall, so that any who wished to proceed into the plain had to leap down from the wall; they saw in the center of the plain a mound1
of the color of ashes, in this respect being like the surface of the plain as seen from above, and above the mound a perpendicular cloud rising straight up to a height of about two hundred feet, motionless (for it was a windless day) and resembling smoke; and two of the men had the hardihood to proceed into the plain, but because the sand they were walking on got hotter and deeper, they turned back, and so were unable to tell those who were observing from a distance anything more than what was already apparent. But they believed, from such a view as they had, that many of the current stories are mythical, and particularly those which some tell about Empedocles, that he leaped down into the crater and left behind, as a trace of the fate he suffered, one of the brazen sandals which he wore; for it was found, they say, a short distance outside the rim of the crater, as though it had been thrown up by the force of the fire. Indeed, the place is neither to be approached nor to be seen, according to my informants; and further, they surmised that nothing could be thrown down into it either, owing to the contrary blasts of the winds arising from the depths, and also owing to the heat, which, it is reasonable to suppose, meets one long before one comes near the mouth of the crater; but even if something should be thrown down into it, it would be destroyed before it could be thrown up in anything like the shape it had when first received; and although it is not unreasonable to assume that at times the blasts of the fire die down when at times the fuel is deficient, yet surely this would not last long enough to make possible the approach of man against so great a force. Aetna
dominates more especially the seaboard in the region of the Strait and the territory of Catana
, but also that in the region of the Tyrrhenian Sea
and the Liparaean Islands. Now although by night a brilliant light shines from the summit, by day it is covered with smoke and haze.