Imagining the Imaginary

An archaeological park, a stone cave that had meaning only if you knew that Aeneas, the hero that Virgil imagined as the father of Rome, had entered it in search of a prophetess who would tell him how to reach his own father, Anchises, in the Underworld. The Sybil told Aeneas that he would first have to find the golden bough to present to Charon, the boatman who would ferry him across the River Styx.

The cave of the Sybil has throbbed in my imagination since I first read Virgil's Aeneid, and here I was at last at Cumae, the largest mainland colony of Magna Greece, first settled by Euboan Greeks in the 8th century BCE. The Greeks sure knew how to pick their sites, this one on a height above a long beach where the azure Mediterranean ruffles onto shore, and from where you can see the fabled island of Ischia. Oak groves, fluttering bay leaves. Stones scabbed with the growth of millennia. Tranquil paths that lead to the ruins of the Temple of Apollo and the nearby Temple of Diana, so situated because the full moon beams directly onto it on August 13, the feast of Diana who is the goddess of the full moon. Tender-aged Diana's were strolling the paths the day I visited, part of a historical exercise that serendipitously boosted my fantasies.

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