Siracusa, Sicily with Post conference trip thru Sicily and Malta
During Ancient Greek times, Sicily was one of the most important colonies with its temples, philosophers, forests and cities. Across the sea, not far from Persephone's Island, as Sicily was known, lay Crotona, home of Pythagoras's school. This was truly a fount of wisdom in antiquity that exerted a profound influence on Plato. It has always been said that Pythagoras had studied for many years with the Egyptian priests before beginning his spiritual community on the Southern shores of what is now Italy.
In fact, Siracusa, where the conference is based, was the home of Archimedes, a student of Euclid in Alexandria, and its fountains, temple ruins, and amphitheater all hark back to the days when it was one of the most vibrant ports in the Mediterranean. The island of Sicily is permeated with Greek mythology, traces of which still live in its cuisine and festivals.
Perhaps less commonly known is that Palermo became in the 11th Century the Jewel of the Islamic world, renowned from Cordoba in the West to Baghdad and Damascus in the East. Hard as it may be to imagine, there were in fact Sicilian Sufis, and Siracusa's own Ibn Hamdi remains this period's most loved and gifted poet.
The Norman conquest brought with it the beauty of the Romanesque cathedrals with their sublime images of Christ as Pantocrator, shaped by Byzantine craftsmen, and a culture of tolerance toward Muslims and Jews that was exemplary in the 12th Century - a mini, Christian-ruled Andalusia for almost a century. Nowhere in Europe of that time embodied to a greater degree the enlightened acceptance of multiple spiritual paths:
"In Sicily one might find, all within a few miles of each other, the castle of some newly-created baron, an Arab village, an ancient Greek or Roman city and a recent Lombard colony; in one and the same town, together with the native populace, there might be one quarter of Saracens or Jews, another of Franks, Amalfitans or Pisans; and among all these various peoples, there would reign that peaceful tranquility which is born of mutual respect."
This brilliant period came to a climax with the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, known as Stupor Mundi, the wonder of the world. He was fluent in six languages including Arabic, and gave refuge to the Sicilian School of poets, Neoplatonists fleeing the Albigensian crusade in Languedoc who created the sonnet and shaped the Italian language before Dante. He was also friends with the Scottish alchemist, Michael Scot, who had translated Aristotle in Toledo and who has continued to fascinate writers through the centuries. In fact, our Quest will meet each morning on the island of Ortigia at a small conference center in the foreground of one of Frederick II's castles. The spirit of this deeply fascinating man will, then, be a significant topic for us.
Sadly, while Florence enjoyed the Renaissance and the brilliant influence of Marsilio Ficino and his Platonic Academy, Sicily fell under the influence of the regressive Spanish monarchy and suffered a long eclipse. But our goal will be to bring alive once again the beauty of its ancient and medieval periods when its light shone across the known world. We will honor Sicily as a great cultural crossroads where the spirit of the people has endured with passion through waves of conquest and millennia of change.
We will be fortunate to have a brilliant collection of presenters to speak to us on this rich theme.