Wanderings around the Bookshelves

Biblio Obscura

One of the problems with collecting caving books for a hobby is that there really are not very many titles that have been published. This means that the collection can very quickly stagnate and if one is to continue to indulge the hobby one is forced to diversify into either the rare or the obscure. Rarity tends to place books outside the affordable bracket; a copy of Hutton's "Tour of the caves" 1795, for instance, could cost over £500. So the obscure it has to be.

In the pursuit of the obscure, my only criteria are that the books should in some way connected with the underground, however tenuous that connect may be. One recent acquisition certainly comes into that category.

In the footsteps of Orpheus by R.F. Paget was published by Robert Hale in 1967. It concerns itself with the archaeological remains in the Naples area which date from both the Greek and Roman periods. The author has investigated many manmade tunnels and passages excavated in the area.

Through reference to Greek texts the author has concluded that this are should be the location of the "oracle of the dead" and by drawing similarities with the texts of Virgil and other classical writers, they claim to have discovered "conclusive" proof that the story of Orpheus and the Underworld is not a legend at all but a Historical fact.

What appears to be true is that they did discover a very strange network of tunnels totalling about 300m in length. They are described in detail, complete with a survey and terminate in a flooded passage; the Styx; containing hot water; probably of volcanic origin. There is even record of a cave dive having been carried out here.

This book is not very good archaeology; a classic case of the investigation proving preconceived theories and alternative explanations being ignored, but an intriguing tale nevertheless.

Now if you want something really different for a summer expedition - a trip to the Orphean underworld would make a change. It might create a few raised eyebrows at the BCRA conference.

Allan Ockenden