Book review: The Goddess of the Lake by Margaret Stenhouse

Margaret Stenhouse has now published her second and more authoritative book on Lake Nemi and all its fascinating history, ancient and modern. She goes right back to its glacial formation and finishes in contemporary times, with the restoration of the burnt-out museum which housed the two enormous and mysterious ancient Roman ships which were salvaged from the lake in the 1920s.

In her well-researched book she includes an extensive description of the worship of the goddess Diana, from Greek through Roman to Mediaeval times. She hazards a re-reading of the four-year reign of the dreaded Roman emperor Caligula. She describes the amateur archaeological digs of the British ambassador, John Savile, to find the Temple of Diana at the end of the 19th century, the greed of the Orsini nobleman on whose land the magnificent temple was found, and the subsequent dispersal of the artefacts to museums in Denmark and England.

She includes explanations of the influence of the lake on the writing of John George Frazer's Golden Bough and on William Turner's paintings. She describes the herculean salvage of the two enormous Roman ships from the lake where they had lain for nearly two millennia (what were they used for and how did they get there is still guesswork). And then she tells of their subsequent and mysterious destruction when the special museum in which they were housed went up in flames during the battle between the German and Allied troops soon after the Anzio landings in 1944.

People have been fascinated by this most mysterious of the Castelli lakes since time immemorial. Margaret Stenhouse joins an illustrious list of names.

An index would have been a precious addition to a book that contains so much information.

The Goddess of the Lake by Margaret Stenhouse

MW