Men have tried to explain the awesome power of volcanoes for centuries. The poet Virgil claimed that Mount Etna, in Sicily, is the place where the gods buried the giant Enceladus, and that the frequent earthquakes in the area are his attempts to free himself.
In Greek mythology, the name of Hephaestus, the god of fire, means "burning," "shining," or "flaming." In Roman mythology, he is associated with Vulcan, one of the three children of Jupiter and Juno. There, Vulcan was the god of fire, volcanic eruptions, and the hearth and forge. He was the gods’ blacksmith, making arrows and shields for the deities. Ancient poets wrote of various volcanoes, claiming them to be the forges of Vulcan. Whenever a mountain erupted, it was said to be Vulcan pounding on his anvil, with fire and smoke coming from the forge. In many ancient writings, his forge was located on the island of Vulcano off the coast of Sicily. The name volcano is derived from the Latin name Vulcanus, and today means all mountains which give off "smoke and fire" around the world.
In other primitive societies, the earliest pyramids in Mexico are round and shaped much like volcanic cones. This is no surprise, since many volcanoes are located in the region. Early Polynesian myths also relate fire to volcanoes. The Tongans tell an old story about Maui, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to people. The Samoan peoples tell of an ancestor who won fire from the god Mafuie. Mafuie still lies somewhere below Samoa, shaking the island from time to time in anger.
In Hawaii, the well-known tale of Pele, fire goddess of Hawaiian volcanoes, relates how Pele searched for a home from island to island. Pele is said to appear at the beginning of each volcanic eruption, and many residents of Hawaii claim they have seen an old woman prior to the event. In many variations of the story, Madam Pele is a revengeful goddess who takes care of her friends but destroys enemies.
In early Christian society, the idea remained that volcanoes were the gateway to hell. The fiery eruptions came from the fires of hell inside the earth, and the noise were the shrieks of departed souls. Dante describes hell as a vast crater with Lucifer at the center in his Divine Comedy. Other cultures worship mountain gods, such as the Japanese revere the sacred volcano Fujiyama.