(urth) Lake of Birds

Gerry Quinn gerry at bindweed.com
Sun May 20 07:05:22 PDT 2012

From: Bruno de Albuquerque Furtado 

> Anyway, while searching for "avern" on google, I stumbled upon lake 
> Avernus, which is a real lake in Italy. In addition to "Avernus" meaning 
> "birdless" (apparently due to ancient Romans' belief that birds that 
> flew over this lake would die), and to this lake being considered a 
> sort of gate to Hades (and therefore a place in which many dead 
> people lie), it is also the abode of the "mythological" Cumean Sibyl. 
> he "Lake of Birds" is thus obviously lake Avernus.
> This raises some questions. What are the gardens in the Botanical 
> Gardens - illusions, reconstructions of past landscapes, or, as I'm 
> more inclined to believe, those landscapes themselves? If the Lake 
> of Birds is Avernus itself, in which time period is it? Ancient Rome? 
> Or is it possible to experience many different periods of time in the 
> Lake of Birds, as it appeared to be in the Jungle Garden? What I 
> thought most interesting, though, was the part in which the old man 
> with the boat (Severian's grandfather?), says that there is a pipe that 
> links the Lake of Birds to Gyoll, and that apparently that was the 
> reason why this lake does not dry up. Is that Wolfe giving us an 
> early clue that, in his world, the future can determine the past, and 
> not only the other way around? Would lake Avernus dry up in ancient 
> Rome, if the pipe that connects it to Gyoll would clog up in the future?
>  Given the general theme of Wolfe's work, that would "make sense".

I think you are certainly correct that Wolfe was inspired by the Romans’ belief – perhaps the myth inspired not only the avern and the Lake, but even in some part the Cumaean.  But I think I would be content to think of it as just inspiration with no direct identification with the events of the story.  There are no Roman citizens wandering around after all, and the Romans did not pick averns.

And as Freud observed, sometimes a pipe is just a pipe.

- Gerry Quinn
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