THE PALIKOI (Palici) were twin demi-gods (daimones) of the geysers and hot-springs of Palakia (Palacae) in Sicily. They also presided over the solemn oaths sworn upon their springs and provided refuge to escaped slaves in their sanctuary.
FAMILY OF THE PALICI
PA′LICUS (Palikos), commonly found in the plural Palici, Palikoi, were Sicilian daemons, twin sons of Zeus and the nymph Thaleia, the daughter of Hephaestus. Sometimes they are called sons of Hephaestus by Aetna, the daughter of Oceanus. Thaleia, from fear of Hera, desired to be swallowed up by the earth; this was done, but in due time she sent forth from the earth twin boys, who were called Palikoi, from tou palin hikesthai. They were worshipped in the neighbourhood of mount Aetna, near Palice; and in the earliest times human sacrifices were offered to them. Their sanctuary was an asylum for runaway slaves, and near it there gushed forth from the earth two sulphureous springs, called Deilloi, or brothers of the Palici; at which solemn oaths were taken, the oaths being written on tablets and thrown into one of the wells. If the tablet swam on the water, the oath was considered to be true, but if it sank down, the oath was regarded as perjury, which was believed to be punished instantaneously by blindness or death. (Steph. Byz. s. v. Palikê; Aristot. Mirabil. Auscult. 58; Diod. xi. 89; Strab. vi. p. 275; Cic. De Nat. Deor. iii. 22; Virg. Aen. ix. 585, with the note of Servius; Ov. Met. v. 406; Macrob. Sat. v. 19.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Aeschylus, Women of Aetna (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Aeschylus' lost tragedy the Women of Aetna or Aetnaeae told the story of Thaleia, mother of the Sicilian Palikoi (Palici). The plot is summarized by Weir Smyth (L.C.L) : "A Sicilian maiden named Thaleia or Aetna, having been embraced by Zeus, in fear of Hera's wrath prayed that the earth might open and swallow her up. Her prayer was granted, but when the time of her delivery was at hand, the earth opened again and twin boys came forth, who were called Palïci, because they had ‘come back’ (apo tou palin hikesthai) from the earth. The Palici were worshipped (originally with human sacrifices) in the neighbourhood of Mount Aetna (Macrobius, Saturnalia, v. 19. 17; cp. Servius on Virgil, Aeneid, ix. 584)."
The history pf the play's composition in the ancient Life of Aeschylus : "Having arrived in Sicily, as Hiero was then (476 B.C.) founding the city of Aetna, Aeschylus exhibited his Aetnae as an augury of a prosperous life for those who were uniting in the settlement of the city."
Aeschylus, Fragment 3 Aetnaeae (from Macrobius, Saturnalia 5. 19. 24) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"A. What name, then, shall mortals put upon them?
B. Zeus commandeth that they be called the holy Palikoi (Palici).
A. And shall the name ‘Palikoi’ abide as rightly given?
B. Aye, for they shall ‘come back’ from darkness to this light."
Strabo, Geography 6. 2. 9 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The territory of the Palikoi (Palici) [in Sicily] has craters that spout up water in a dome-like jet and receive it back again into the same recess."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 11. 79. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Near the sacred precinct of the Palikoi (Palici), as they are called, he [the Sicilian leader Douketios (Ducetius)] founded an important city, which he named Palike (Palice) after the gods just mentioned. Since we have spoken of these gods, we should not omit to mention both the antiquity and the incredible nature of the shrine, and, in a word, the peculiar phenomenon of The Craters, as they are called. The myth relates that this sacred area surpasses all others in antiquity and the reverence paid to it, and many marvels there are reported by tradition. For first of all there are craters which are not at all large in size, but they throw up extraordinary streams of water from a depth beyond telling and have very much the nature of cauldrons which are heated by a strong fire and throw up boiling water. Now the water that is thrown up gives the impression of being boiling hot, but this is not known for certain because of the fact that no man dares touch it; for the amazement caused by the spout of water is so great that men believe the phenomenon to be due to some divine power. For not only does the water give out a strongly sulphurous smell but the yawning mouth emits a mighty and terrifying roar; and what is still more astonishing than this, the water neither pours over nor recedes, but has a motion and force in its current that lifts it to a marvellous height.
Since so divine a majesty pervades the sacred area, the most sacred oaths are taken there and men who swear falsely are immediately overtaken by the punishment of heaven; thus certain men have lost their sight when they depart from the sacred precinct. And so great is the awe of the deities of this shrine, that men who are pressing claims, when, for instance, they are being overborne by a person of superior dignity, have their claims adjudicated on the strength of the preliminary examination of the witnesses supported by oaths taken in the name of these deities.
This sacred area has also been recognized for some time as a place of sanctuary and has been a source of great aid to luckless slaves who have fallen into the hands of brutal masters; for if they have fled there for refuge, their masters have no power to remove them by force, and they remain there protected from harm until their masters, having gained their consent upon conditions of humane treatment and having given pledges, supported by such oaths, to fulfil their agreements, lead them away. And history records no case, out of all who have given slaves such a pledge as this, of a violation; so faithful to their slaves does the awe in which these gods are held make those who have taken the oath. And the sacred area, which lies on a plain meet for a god, has been appropriately embellished with colonnades and every other kind of lounging-place."
Virgil, Aeneid 9. 585 ff (trans. Day-Lewis) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"[The son of Arcens] had grown up in the woods of his mother about Symaethus river, where stands the Palici's rich and reverenced altar."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 404 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Hades abducts Persephone from the island of Sicily :] On through deep lakes he [Hades journeys], on through the Palici's sulphurous pools that boil in reeking chasms."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 13. 311 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Those who lived around the seat of the Palikoi (Palici)." [I.e. A lake, now named the Lago dei Palici.]
- Aeschylus, Fragments - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Virgil, Aeneid - Latin Epic C1st B.C.
Other references not currently quoted here: Macrobius Saturnalia 5.19.15, Stephanus Byzantium s.v. Palike, Aristotle On Marvellous Things Heard 58.