Strait of Sicily
The Strait of Sicily is the name given to the extensive stretch of water between Sicily and Tunisia. Depending on the degree to which glaciation lowered the world’s sea levels during the last Ice Age; three views have emerged relating its possible effect on Sicily during that period:
(ii) The Strait of Messina was closed, joining Sicily to Italy, while the Strait of Sicily remained open.
(iii) Both the Straits of Messina and Sicily were closed, providing a land bridge between Tunisia and Italy, separating the Eastern from the Western Mediterranean.
I find it strange that what we call today the Strait of Sicily is 90 miles wide. Now the definition of ‘strait’ is a narrow passage of water connecting two large bodies of water. How 90 miles can be described as ‘narrow’ eludes me. Is it possible that we are dealing with a case of mistaken identity and that the ‘Strait of Sicily’ is in fact the Strait of Messina, which is narrow? Philo of Alexandria (20 BC-50 AD) in his On the Eternity of the World(a) wrote “Are you ignorant of the celebrated account which is given of that most sacred Sicilian strait, which in old times joined Sicily to the continent of Italy?” (v.139). The name ‘Italy’ was normally used in ancient times to describe the southern part of the peninsula(b). Some commentators think that Philo was quoting Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor.
It is worth pointing out that the Strait of Messina is sometimes referred to in ancient literature as the Pillars of Herakles and designates the sea west of this point as the ‘Atlantic Ocean’. Modern writers such as Sergio Frau and Eberhard Zangger have pointed out that the term ‘Pillars of Herakles’ was applied to more than one location in the Mediterranean in ancient times.
In 1910, the celebrated Maltese botanist, John Borg, proposed that Atlantis had been situated on what is now submerged land between Malta and North Africa.*A number of other researchers, Axel Hausmann and Alberto Arecchi, have expressed similar ideas.
The Strait of Sicily is home to a number of sunken banks, previously exposed during the Last Ice Age. As levels rose most of these disappeared, an event observed by the inhabitants of the region at that time. The MapMistress website(c) has proposed that one of these banks was the legendary Erytheia, the sunken island of the far west. The ‘far west’ later became the Strait of Gibraltar but for the early Greeks it was the Central Mediterranean.*