(urth) Lake of Birds

David Stockhoff dstockhoff at verizon.net
Sun May 20 07:53:54 PDT 2012

On 5/20/2012 10:05 AM, Gerry Quinn wrote:
> *From:* Bruno de Albuquerque Furtado <mailto:meuemaildobruno at gmail.com>
> > 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.

The pipe still has to have a purpose. Surely Wolfe did not include it 
simply because he was worried his readers would complain if he didn't 
explain the lake, nor to demonstrate the builders' skill in hydrology.

The key is, as always, Christ. Getting a little further into the Wiki, 
you find:

[Cumaean Sibyl] In the Middle Ages, both the Cumaean Sibyl and Virgil 
were considered prophets of the birth of Christ, because the fourth of 
Virgil's Eclogues appears to contain a Messianic prophecy by the Sibyl. 
In it, she foretells the coming of a savior, whom Christians identified 
as Jesus.[4][5][6] and this was seized on by early Christians as 
such—one reason why Dante Alighieri later chose Virgil as his guide 
through the underworld in The Divine Comedy.

Many here already know about this. I also note, for those of you who are 
interested in the possible role of the Cumaean and Father Inire as 
"tutelary gods":

[Cumae] Cumae was the first Greek colony on the mainland of Italy (Magna 
Graecia), and the seat of the Cumaean Sibyl. It was the Cumaean alphabet 
that was adopted in Italy, first by the Etruscans (800 - 100 BC) and 
then by the Romans (300 - 100 BC), thus becoming the Latin alphabet, the 
world's most widely used phonemic script. The Cumaean alphabet was also 
used throughout the Greek island of Euboea.

And here's the clincher:

[Lake Avernus] It was linked by a canal to a nearby lake (Lucrinus 
Lacus) and from there to the sea. The lake shore was also connected to 
the Greek colony of Cumae by an underground passage known as Cocceio's 
Cave (Grotta di Cocceio) which was 1 km (0.62 mi) long and wide enough 
to be used by chariots. This was the world's first major road tunnel; it 
remained usable until as recently as the 1940s.

Damned if I knew about that! Anyway, the link is obscure, but you can 
almost see the Wolfean mind at work.

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