The Cumaean Sibyl spoke in oak leaves, which, when scattered by the wind, tended to result in the most ambiguous prophesies.

In John Dryden’s bouncing-ball translation (Aeneid 6, 126-129), she says to Aeneas:

The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labour lies.

The hill of Cumae is close to Lago Averno, which was called Avernus in the classical period. This was one of the entrances to Hades, the one guarded by the three-headed dog Cerberus. (Man, that’s a riot-lot of barking!) Trojan-boy Aeneas — I didn’t not like Virgil’s suck-up nationalist fantasy — didn’t have far to go to slip the hound some narcotic and descend.

2000-ish years later, apropos: algae in the Averno’s waters turned the round lake a dark red in summer. It was a sight on the road from Napoli and Pozzuoli to Parco Azzurro, where we lived up on the terraces. From which we could see Cumae. More prosaically, the hotels along the beach would suck up all our water in summer, so we had to use the outside tape, which had to be boiled. One day, it was regular, potable inside water that filled the tub with twitching red larval something or other.

This is a cratered and caldera’ed landscape. Historically a trampoline. Parts of old Pozzuoli (Puteoli)) are now underwater. Other parts used to be underwater; c.f. the “Temple of Serapis“. The U.S. Navy’s Carney Park, also nearby, is ringed by the steep walls of an old volcano. In my day in the early 1970s, there was a drive-in theater there along with the baseball diamonds. Carney Park — our military myrmidons never name an overseas facility after a local — is where I discovered how poor my eye-sight was: I couldn’t read the scoreboard at the football game. I got glasses, but have never been to another football game.

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