“Through The Double Gates Of Sleep” (Verg. Aen. 6.236. ): Cave-Oracles In Graeco-Roman Antiquity

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“Through The Double Gates Of Sleep” (Verg. Aen. 6.236. ): Cave-Oracles In Graeco-Roman Antiquity

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  Stable Places and Changing Perceptions: Cave Archaeology in Greece Edited by Fanis MavridisJesper Tae Jensen BAR International Series 25582013  Published byArchaeopress Publishers of Brish Archaeological Reports Gordon House 276 Banbury Road Oxford OX2 7ED England bar@archaeopress.comwww.archaeopress.com BAR S2558 Stable Places and Changing Percepons: Cave Archaeology in Greece © Archaeopress and the individual authors 2013ISBN 978 1 4073 1179 1Printed in England by Informaon Press, OxfordAll BAR tles are available from:Hadrian Books Ltd122 Banbury Road OxfordOX2 7BP England www.hadrianbooks.co.uk The current BAR catalogue with details of all tles in print, prices and means of payment is available free from Hadrian Books or may be downloaded from www.archaeopress.com  W IEBKE F RIESE  228 14 “Through The Double Gates Of Sleep” (Verg.  Aen . 6.236.   ): Cave-Oracles In Graeco-Roman Antiquity Wiebke Friese Introduction In Graeco-Roman Antiquity the consultation of the divine through an oracle was the most powerful guidance a hu-man being could get. The variety of divination rituals was countless, reaching from the interpretation of a god’s statue’s movements during a procession in ancient Egypt (Diod. Sic. 17.50-17.51 )  to the close examination of the eating habits of the holy chickens on the Capitol Hill in Rome (Plin.  HN   10.48 ) . While the early oracles in Egypt or the Near East were mainly connected to a particular deity or ritual, in ancient Greece they were established at specific places in nature, primarily groves, sources or - caves. While the remains of the best-known cave oracle - the vapour-covered adyton of Delphi are probably destroyed  by earthquakes, many others could be reconstructed (for a classical approach to caves in Antiquity, see Ustinova 2009, also Egelhaaf-Gaiser and Rüpke 2000, 155-176 ) . In the following article I present a short overview on the ar-chaeological and written material of cave oracles and their connected deities in Graeco-Roman Antiquity, fol-lowed by a discussion about their ritualistic use and their architectural development from Greek to Roman times. The Case Study The Gates To The Underworld. Death Oracle Caves In Greece And Rome The Graeco-Roman mythology refers to several places as the entrance of the Hades, foremost in connection with the final labour of Herakles, who was send by the king Eurystheus to capture and bring back alive Kerberos, the guard-dog to the gates of the underworld. Since the 5 th  century B.C. all of these places were associated with the Greek term nekyomantion , which can be translated as “place of necromancy” or “oracle of death” (Ogden 2001, xix; Friese, 2010b, 29-40). From the literary sources we also know about other nekyomantia in Phygalia in Arka-dia (Plut.  Mor  . 555C), a Thessalic oracle (Scholiast Eu-ripides Alkestis 1128) and the Stymphalos lake at Arka-dia (Aesch. Psychagogoi F273A), but none of these plac-es were of supraregional importance and none of them has been found so far. The Nekyomantion Of Odysseus Near Ephyra The first bequeathed evidence for necromancy in Greek literature is Odysseus’ consultation of the dead seer Tiresias in the Homeric Odyssey (around 700-650 B.C.). Be-ing pressed by her lover Odysseus to reveal to him the way to his home island Ithaka, the witch Kirke send him to the entrance of the underworld to ask the dead: “There is a rock, and the meeting place of the two roaring rivers. There, hero, ...dig a pit… and around it pour a libation to all the dead, first with milk and honey, thereafter with sweet wine, and in the third place with water, and sprin-kle on it white barley meal… Then many ghosts of men that are dead will come forth. … and the seer will quickly come to you, and he will tell you your way” (Hom. Od. 10.515-10.539 ) . Unfortunately, the location of the nekyomantion , where Odysseus met Tiresias, is still ambiguous. Herodotos and Pausanias placed it at the Acheron Valley (Hdt. 5.92; Paus. 9.30.6 )  in modern Epirus. There, in the middle of the 20 th  century Sotirios Dakaris identified the oracle with a Hellenistic vaulted cave-like crypt, excavated under-neath the monastery of St. John Prodromos at Mesopota-mo (Fig. 14.1.) (Dakaris 1993 ) . Following the Homeric text, he reconstructed a labyrinth-like sanctuary, dedicat-ed to the underworld goddess Persephone, whose 7 th -5 th  century statuettes were found inside the building and in a treasury, buried 100 m down the hill. According to Da-karis the enquirers were left in complete darkness for several hours, performing purification and sacrifice ritu-als, before they were let in an inner chamber, where they were supposed to meet the dead. Dakaris also recon-structed parts of several iron wheels, which were found in this area, to a kind of deus ex machina  machinery, which was used by the priest for a dramatic illumination of the dead’s appearance. How convincing Dakaris’ argumentation might be and how mystic the place itself appear to the modern visitor - it is not very likely, that such an elaborate sanctuary is not mentioned by any ancient author and misses any in-scription or dedication. Therefore the German archaeolo-gist Dietrich Baatz suggested a completely different in-terpretation of the place (Baatz 1999 ) . He believes that the superstructure belongs to a Hellenistic fortification, the vaulted chamber was used as a central storage room and the iron wheels were part of catapults, which were  burned down, when the building was finally destroyed by the Romans in the 2 nd  century B.C.  Nevertheless, even if Baatz’s explanation of the remains themselves seems to be more rational, the location of the nekyomantion must be nearby, as the similarities between the literary descriptions of the place and the topograph-ical reality are obvious. The monastery hill, indeed, lies “on a rock/hill, at the meeting place of two roaring rivers” and also the Homeric description of Odysseus’s journey can be traced in the geography of the Acheron Valley .  Furthermore, the presence of the 6 th -5 th century treasury of Persephone statuettes definitely refers to a cult place of this goddess near by. While Daniel Ogden suggests that the rites took place at a natural, but architecturally not specified area at the lakeside (Ogden 2001, 49 ) , it is also likely that the nekyomantion was located in a natural cave  “T HROUGH T HE D OUBLE G ATES O F S LEEP ”   (V ERG .    A  EN  .   6.236.   ):   C AVE -O RACLES I  N G RAECO -R  OMAN A  NTIQUITY  229 at the slope of the hill, which was architecturally modi-fied in later times, to meet the demands of the ritual. The Nekyomantion Of Herakleia Fortunately, the nekyomantion  of Herakleia Pontike (Fig. 14.2), at the south coast of the Black Sea, provides much  better archaeological material. The city Herakleia was named after Herakles by the Megarians, who established a colony here at 560 B.C. but it is likely that there was a kind of oracle or death cult before that. In 1966 Wolfram Hoepfner located the cave with the help of the Late An-tique writer Quintus Smyrnaeus, who described the oracle in the 3 rd  century A.D. as “a marvellous cave …with wa-ter running through and niches all around” (Quint. Smyrn. Post-Homerica 6.469-6.491 ) . It is the middle of three caves on the south side of the so-called Acheron Valley (Hoepfner 1972 ) . A narrow dromos -like entrance leads over a twisting stairway to a roughly rectangular chamber (45 m wide and 20 m deep), which is mostly flooded by water over a meter deep. Two polished stone  pillars support the roof. At least on the east side the walls are worked. Small half round niches are tooled into three of the walls. On the south side is a plastered alcove, where Hoepfner suggests a cult statue of Herakles. Archi-tectural fragments may indicate that there have been other structures within the chamber. Another narrow tunnel leads from the northwest-end to a small low unworked chamber, where the excavators found some human bones, which can be dated in Post-Roman times. While Hoep-fner denies any Pre-Greek structures - but could not pro-vide any other dating at all - a Pre-Greek cult could either have taken place in an unworked cave or a smaller cham- ber, which was enlarged in Greek times. The Nekyomantion Of Tainaron The sanctuary of Tainaron is situated at the north end of the Sternis Bay (Fig. 14.3) at the very South of the Pelo- ponnese (Cummer 1978, 35-43; Schumacher 1993, 62-87 ) . According to Pomponius Mela, it was close to the tip of the promontory and close to a temple of Poseidon in a  bay and in a grove (Pompon. 1.103 ) . Pausanias men-tioned it as a temple “ made like a cave ” (Paus. 3.25 ) , though he was disappointed, that there was “ no path in the underground from there ”. What we see nowadays are the remains of a small cave above the beach, 50 m below a Hellenistic structure. Interestingly the Christian chapel  build over these remains was dedicated to the  Agioi Aso-matoi , the “bodyless saints”, which reminds on the an-cient ghosts. The cave is 15 m deep and 10-12 m wide. Its roof is collapsed. A 2 m thick ashlar wall, build on rock cut foundations and fitted with a doorway, closed the en-trance. East of the entrance the natural rock has been trimmed to form a terrace. On the western side were cut-tings for the erection of statues and  stelai  with the records of the sanctuary. Around the bay, several other structures were found, which might have been houses for priests and pilgrims. The Sibyllian Cave At Cumae Another possible setting of the Homeric nekyomantion  is the lake Avernus, a flooded volcanic crater, located about 20 km east of Naples. Strabon wrote, that “Avernus is shut in by steep beetling banks, …which were formerly covered with a wild wood of black and impenetrable trees. These made the gulf into a home for shades, be-cause of superstition …there was a source there of drink-able water by the sea, but all keep back from this, consid-ering it to be the water of the Styx… the oracle is situated somewhere nearby and priests guide through the pro-gress, who managed the place under contract...” (Strabon 5.4.5 ) . At the latest since Virgil’s Aeneid, the area is also connected with the cave oracle of the Cumaean Sibyl, a  prophetess, who gave her answers in ecstatic trance (Verg.  Aen . 6.237-6.242 ) . Virgil describes the place Ae-neas descends into the underworld, as “a deep cave, huge with vast gape, rugged, safe because of the black lake and the darkness of the groves” (Verg.  Aen . 6.237-6.239). In-deed, the scenery seems to be perfect for the entrance to the underworld. Still, the surrounding Phlegraean fields are full off active volcanic fumaroles, hot springs, and mephitic gases. The slopes of the hills surrounding the lake are covered with a dark forest and the soft tufa rock abounded in natural and man-made caves. However, none of them could have been identified as the nekyomantion  cave, yet. A huge vaulted chamber, the so-called Grotta della Sibilla  at the south side of the lake turned out to be an military supply tunnel (Amalfitano 1990, 174-175 )  and a tunnel at the Roman resort Baiae was probably not used as a death oracle (Paget 1967 ) , but for the warm water supply of the near by bath. At least the cave underneath the akropolis of nearby Cumae, if not used as an oracle in the first place, was already shown to ancient tourists as the Sibyl’s Cave (Maiuri 1958; Pagano 1985-1986 ) . This 50 m man-made tunnel with three cisterns at the east and closable window-like openings at the western sea-side, ends before a vaulted chamber, which could be closed by a iron door (Fig.14. 4). The Plutonion Of Acharaka And Hierapolis While there is no nekyomantion attested for the area of Asia Minor - there is a similar group of sanctuaries relat-ed to the god Pluton - the so-called charonia  or  plutonia . Like the Greek death oracles, these cult places were es-tablished around caves. In Acharaka, about 5 km west of the ancient Nysa on the northern shore of the Maiandros River, Strabon describes a healing sanctuary of Pluton, with a temple for Pluton and Kore next to a holy grove and the charonion , a cave “ by nature wonderful  ” (Strabon 14.1.44 ) . The ill either stayed in the sanctuary, and let the priest sleep in the cave on their behalf to find a cure for their disease, or they were “left in the cave, to remain in quiet, like animals in their lurking-holes, without food for many days” (Strabon 14.1.44 ) . For all other creatures the cave was dangerous, which was demonstrated in an annual ritual, when a bull  W IEBKE F RIESE  230was let into the cave, who then fell down and died imme-diately. Today one could find the remains of a peripteral limestone temple (6 x 12 columns) possibly built in Hel-lenistic times (Diest 1913, 60-77; Friese 2010a, 165-166, 386-387 ) . Next to the temple there are several vaulted structures at the edge of a small canyon, which let to an open cave. Its walls show several man-made structures. Yellow sediment next to a small river at the bottom of the canyon might indicate a high level of sulphur in the wa-ter, which is typical for healing sources.  Not far away, there was another well known  plutonion  - in the Apollon sanctuary of Hierapolis. South of the well  preserved theatre of the ancient city is a walled courtyard with stoas at two sides. The now seen in antis  temple was  built in the 3 rd  century A.D. above a Hellenistic predeces-sor. Underneath its south side, which was built on solid rock, was the  plutonion (Fig. 14.5) (Carettoni 1963-1964; Friese 2010a, 173-175, 389-390 ) . Located in the back of a  paved courtyard with several statue bases in situ, its en-trance was a cleft in the natural rock vaulted by a roof. It leads to a small paved chamber with a narrow gap in its  back wall. Behind it is a deep and dark chasm with a strong smelling river at its bottom. As the vapour could still be dangerous for the tourists visiting the nearby trav-ertine terraces of Pamukkale, the entrance to the chamber is nowadays blocked. In Roman times Strabon described the  plutonion as “full of vapour so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground” (Strabon 13.4.13 ) . Only the Galloi , the eunuch priests of the Phrygian goddess Kybele, could enter the chamber without harm. Accord-ing to Plinius, they would get into trance by breathing in the vapours from the cave and then become divine like the Pythia of Delphi (Plin.  HN   2.207 ) . Like in Acharaka, the priests demonstrated the danger of their business by leading animals in the inner chamber, which then died immediately (Strabon 13.4.14 ) . A small rectangular room with benches on the terrace above the  plutonion courtyard might be used as the theatron , mentioned by Kassios Di-on, where people could sit and watch these demonstra-tions (Cass. Dio 68.27.3 ) .  Between God And Men: Hero Oracle Caves In Greece  And Rome Ritually as well as mythologically related to the death or-acles, though never mentioned with the term nekyoman-tion,  were the cults of deified (dead) heroes. Usually they were established at the site of the hero’s real or mythical  burial place or the place, where a hero descended into the earth (Kearns 1992, 65-99; Ekroth 2002 ) . In this context, caves, as a kind of antechamber to the underworld, were very common. Cave oracles connected to a specific hero are known for Amphiaraios in Oropos, Herakles in Bura, Sarpedon in Lykia, Kalchas at the Monte Gargano in Apulia and Trophonios in Leivadia (for hero cults in gen-eral, see Antonacchio 1995; Ekroth 2002, for oracle he-roes and their sanctuaries, see Friese 2010a, 40-52 ) . As the last two provide the most interesting archaeological and written evidence, they should be introduced below. The Trophonios Oracle Of Leivadia  Next to the healing cult of the Amphiaraos of Oropos, north of Athens, which was established at the very place, the hero descended into the earth (Hom. Od  . 15.243-15.255; Diod. Sic. 4.68.4 )  - the most popular hero oracle was the sanctuary of the Boeotian hero Trophonios, which was established in the 6 th  century B.C. and reor-ganized in Hellenistic times. While Pausanias and other ancient authors give a very valuable description of this  popular oracle site, until today no remains of the sanctu-ary could be found for certain (Paus. 9.39.4; Plut.  Mor  . 590-592; Philostr. V A  8.19, for the site today, see Schachter 1984, 268; Turner 1994, 475; Bonnechère 2003, Friese 2010a, 142-144). In a canyon south of the modern city one could see some artificial grottos with stone benches next to the source of the Herkyna River. Several stones and column fragments in the vicinity could have belonged to one of the temples that Pausanias is mentioning inside the temenos . Besides the temple of the hero himself he refers to a temple of the nymph Herkyna, as well as sanctuaries of Demeter Eu-rope, Zeus Hyetios and the sons of Trophonios (Paus. 9.39.4 ) . There was also a hospice and the so-called “ both-ros  of Agamedes”, where the oracle client would sacrifice  before he went to the oracle cave to meet the hero. On the top of the mountain at the end of the canyon local archae-ologists excavated the remains of a Hellenistic temple dedicated to Zeus Basileus (Vallas and Faraklas 1969, 228-232 ) . The location of the oracle cave itself is still controversial. According to Pausanias it “ … is on the mountain above the sacred grove. A platform of white stone has been built around it... Within an enclosure is a chasm in the earth, not natural, but artificially constructed. The shape is like that of a potter’s kiln... They have not made a way down to the bottom… they bring a narrow portable ladder… After going down, one finds a hole between the construc-tion and the bottom.” (Paus. 39.39.9-39.39.12 ).  Following this description, it is very likely, that a natural cave of at least two chambers, was overbuild by a prestigious en-trance structure. In the 20 th  century E. Waszink suggested that it was located at the site of a small Christian chapel  built in the steep mountainside at the end of the canyon.  Narrow stairs lead to an open niche carved into the stone. In its backside right next to the modern altar, is a hole, filled with water, which might lead to another deeper cave chamber (Waszink 1968, 23-30 ) . The excavators of the akropolis, located the oracle in a round structure (3 m east) from the 3 rd  century A.D. southeast of the Zeus Ba-sileus temple (Vallas and Faraklas 1969, 228-232 ) . How-ever, it is very unlikely that a mystic place like the oracle Cave of Trophonios should be erected directly next to the main temple on the akropolis. Furthermore, there are no natural or artificial structures underneath the round build-ing dating before the 3 rd  century A.D. But as the oracle of Trophonios is mentioned by Herodotos as one of the ora-cles visited by Kroisos, it must have been a well known divination place already in the 5 th  century B.C. As Lee
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