Archaeologists from the University of Salento recently found a cave in southwestern Turkey that they believe was once considered the entrance to the underworld. Their findings include remains of a temple, a pool, steps into the cave, and inscriptions dedicated to Pluto and Kore — the god of the underworld and his wife. Oh yeah, and birds that flew inside of the cave died immediately.
The remains outside and the toxic air inside of the cave are consistent with ancient writings about the entrance to the underworld, where priests would lead bulls and birds inside for sacrifice, dragging the dead bodies out as offerings to Pluto.
The toxic air is naturally occurring CO2 gas, a phenomenon that occurs in lakes and caves around the world. The Turkish cave is also not the first to be called the gate to the underworld. The Aenid references a cavern in Cumae, Italy named Avernus ("without birds"), which also emits toxic chemicals and was believed to be an entrance to the underworld. In fact, ancient naturalists referred to lakes and caves with toxic air as "averni."
And you were wondering what to do with your two weeks of vacation this year. Luckily for you, I’ve prepared you a quick guide to the Greek and Roman underworld to prepare you for your first visit to hell.
First, you need to die. But make sure you die with some cash in your pocket, because you’ll need to pay Charon to ferry you across the river Styx (aka "the river of hatred"). Hermes will take to you to Charon and if you can’t pay, you become a ghost, wandering aimlessly forever, which according to Greek mythology is a rather uncomfortable way to spend eternity. The entrance to the underworld is guarded by Cerberus, a gigantic three headed dog. He doesn't let living souls in or dead souls out, so taking a trip to the underworld requires a bit more commitment than your typical 10-day vacation to the Bahamas.
Top Underworld Destinations:
If you’re a seriously evil person, don’t worry about checking Priceline — you’ve already got a reservation in Tartarus (aka "hell"). Daily activities include pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down again, or reaching for, but never being able to grab, food and drink. Activities run all day, every day, for all of eternity (contact Sisyphus and Tantalus for more details).
The Asphodel Meadows:
If you're a mediocre person that never made anything of yourself, you’ll probably end up in the Asphodel Meadows, wandering about, feeling neutral about everything and making no impact on anyone whatsoever. Commonly used phrases in the Meadows include: "Meh" and "I guess …"
The Elysian Fields:
If Santa never put coal in your stocking and/or you’ve fought in battle, you may be headed for the coveted Elysian Fields. Here, you will live a peaceful "life," with no labors and no worries, just like the warthog in The Lion King. From here, you may be reborn, or earn an especially distinguished place on the Isle of the Blessed, where residents live in eternal paradise (aka "heaven"). Keep an eye out for Achilles and Socrates (but whatever you do, don’t ask Socrates any questions).
People to Meet:
Pluto (aka Hades) is the god of the underworld and by all accounts is a fairly serious, assertive, distinguished dude (not to be confused with Satan, who is all about torture).
Kore (aka Persephone) is Pluto's wife and daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvests. Kore spends a quarter of the year in the underworld, which is always depressing for Demeter and results in winter for the rest of us regular, living mortals.
Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus are judges of the underworld. Rhadamanthus handles Asians, Aeacus Europeans, and Minos has final say over all appeals.
Of course, if you actually visit the Turkish cave, you will probably keel over as quickly as the birds and bulls, but once you do, you can't say I didn't prepare you for your trip.