On not finding Hercules

It’s not especially hard to get to Lago di Vico, if you don’t mind getting lost a few times on the state roads leading up the mountain in far northern Lazio. The sun was beginning to set as I arrived and though I still wasn’t sure exactly where to find the B&B with the lovely name of Nostra Senora del Lago, I got out to take a few photos.

From Classical Journal 98 (2002)

From Classical Journal 98 (2002)

Why have I come here? It’s a lovely local vacation spot, but my interest is scholarly–a few years ago, I had written an article about the mythical origins of Lago di Vico, supposedly created by Hercules himself.  I argued that the Etruscan mirror to the right was an illustration of the lacus Ciminius, the ancient name of the lake. I spent a lot of time a decade and a half ago thinking about this lake and its legends–I figured it was about time I went to go see it for myself.

The nearby town is called Ronciglione, but the town on the water is called Punta del Lago. After a few wrong turns, I arrived to my B&B around 8 pm–the sunset was moving from orange to purple by this point, and under this beautiful sky the painful truth was crashing in that I could not get into Nostra Senora del Lago.  Ring the bell, bang the door, yell  all I might, nobody was there. Some neighbors walking by could speak English, and let me know that the owner was at the tennis club down the street. We talked in broken French to each other, and eventually I settled in– it was hard to stay mad, I have to say, in a hotel as charming as this one.

I walked over to a restaurant on the lake, down the Via della Selva Ciminia– the road of the Ciminian Forest, a dire omen. The Romans hated this forest: Silua erat Ciminia magis tum inuia atque horrenda quam nuper fuere Germanici saltus … Eam intrare haud fere quisquam praeter ducem ipsum audebat, “The Ciminian forest was more fearsome and pathless than recently were the German groves. … To enter it was a thing nobody but the gneral dared to do,” writes Livy (9.36). With dauntless courage I sally forth to the touristy fish restaurant just beyond.

Kids are running around, parents and grandparents are enjoying glasses of the excellent local white wine.  Alas, the food is not so excellent. My server is a young man for whom this is summer job–let’s just say that waitering doesn’t seem to be in his blood. In America his name would be Chip, I think to myself. His English is not so bad, better by far than my Italian, but neither of us can translate the names of the fish on the menu into English. There’s no wifi reception here, so I can’t access an online dictionary.  “Well, what do you like on the menu?” I ask.  “Nothing,” he replies. “I don’t like fish.”

10378159_539451502831506_4237772195019662659_nAt tables all along the lakefront, there are large groups of men celebrating. Chip explains that today was the Palio delle Barche, a race across the lake. “That group way over there is singing because they won,” he tells me. “The ones down this way are singing because they lost.” My meals, some fried fish (what kind? who can say?) comes out. It’s terrible, as is the singing, but the wine is very good and very cheap. I do believe I’ll have another.

Do you know any myths about the lake, I ask Chip. “It is an old volcano,” he tells me.  Yes, yes, but myths?  Any old gods or heroes? He points to Monte Venere across the lake, noting its connection with the goddess of love. Yes, yes, but what about male heroes? Perhaps Hercules?  “Who is that?” he asks.  Never mind.  Ah well.  The wine is fine here, I think, and the restaurant has a pretty view, and the singing has grown louder as both groups try to outdo one another. Tomorrow, I may drive over to Caprarola to see the frescos of Hercules at the Palazzo Farnese before heading to Tivoli. But perhaps I will sleep in instead. 

Postscript. The next day, in fact, I went into Ronciglione instead of Caprarola–I just couldn’t bear another palazzo. It’s a small city picturesquely poised along a ravine. A toothless old man I ask tells me that there is a museum in town, but it isn’t very interesting. Am I an American? he wants to know, and then recalls for me the Allied bombing in the Second World War. He points out the areas that were most devastated.  Later I see signs for the Via Francigena, on which Ronciglione is a waystation. It would be nice to pass through here again someday, I think, though I doubt I ever will.

About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Classics, Italy, Military, Nautical. Bookmark the permalink.

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