Authors:
Loredana Lancini UCLouvain, CEMA – Centre d'étude des mondes antiques, Belgium

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Francesca Diosono Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Institut für Klassische Archäologie, Germany

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Abstract

The lake of Avernus and the lake of Nemi have played a very important role in Roman religion and mythology. Both lay on collapsed volcanic craters along the Tyrrhenian coastline, and the peculiar nature of the landscape surrounding the two lakes is suggestive enough to feel a divine presence in these places. But connections between the two lakes are less superficial than it appears.

In his Commentary on the Aeneid (VI 136), Servius establishes a strong parallelism between the lakes of Avernus and of Nemi. According to this author, Aeneas has to pluck a golden bough to enter the Underworld, whose gate is near the Avernus Lake, following the instruction of the Sybil: it was this very same sacred bough that played a central role in the life-or-death fight between the rex nemorensis (the “king of the wood” in charge) and the pretender in the cult founded by Orestes in Nemi, once he returned from Tauris. The centrality of a bough to be torn off to go below the lake in both myths seems to imply that the lake of Nemi itself can be linked to the Underworld.

The Avernus in particular is known for being a gateway to the Underworld: Virgil presents the lake in this way, and he locates here Aeneas's katabasis, while Homer places here the Odysseus' necromancy. It appears therefore logic to explore the hypothesis that the lake of Nemi could have had similar relation to the Underworld. Finally, the paper also examines the possibility that the presence of a passage to the Underworld is also connected to divination activities.1

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