Lake Averno, just up the coast from Naples near Pozzuoli, is so bound up with our Western mythology and history that it's difficult to think of it as the focus of a court battle. What is to become of this major arena of Greek mythology, also one of the training lakes for the Roman western fleet and, then, the entrance to the underworld for Dante and Virgil in The Divine Comedy?
The stench connected with the mythological fires and the very real sulfur fumes in the vicinity shed some popular etymological light on a few items: the name "Averno," itself, may come from "Aorno", from Greek, meaning "without birds" (they avoid the fumes). Thus, "Averno" gives us the related word, "infernal" and even "inferior," as in "the bottom part of," meaning, here, the entrance to the underworld.
After 10 years of litigation, a local court may be on the verge of deciding if and how the entire area is to be protected from encroaching and illegal overbuilding and turned into the protected national treasure it deserves to be.
In the middle of the 1300s, the Angevin rulers of Naples gave the lake to the Monastery of Santa Chiara. Then, in 1798 the Bourbon ruler of Naples, Ferdinand IV, transferred that ownership to Juliano Pollio—a doctor—apparently as a reward for medical services. The lake remained in the Pollio family until 1991, when the legal machinery geared up to expropriate the property as a national treasure. The decision on just how expropriation should take place—in other words, who gets compensated for what?—has turned into a 10-year rigmarole. The final decision is, according to Neapolitan papers, now pending.
"All hope abandon ye who enter here,"—who knows if that sign is still up over the entrance to the Inferno at Lake Averno? Maybe they have moved it to the Naples court that is trying decide all this.