Aornos – “Avernus”

The sixth book of Vergil’s Aeneid is devoted to Aeneas’ descent into the Underworld, where the ghost of his father Anchises gives him a vision of the future glory of the Romans, a future dependent on Aeneas’ fulfilling the destiny assigned him by the gods to settle the Trojans in Italy at whatever cost. Guided by the haggard prophetess, the Sibyl of Cumae, Aeneas enters the Underworld by way of Lake Avernus. Vergil sets the scene (lines 237-242, my translation):

There was a deep cave, its vast chasm beyond measure, full of jagged rocks, shielded by a black lake and the darkness of a silvan canopy. No flying creatures could navigate with their wings over this cave with impunity. Such is the stench it used to vomit forth from its black jaws, mounting to the heavens above. Hence the Greeks named this place Aornos [Bird-less].

spelunca alta fuit vastoque immanis hiatu,
scrupea, tuta lacu nigro nemorumque tenebris,
quam super haud ullae poterant impune volantes
tendere iter pennis: talis sese halitus atris 
faucibus effundens supera ad convexa ferebat.
unde locum Grai dixerunt nomine Aornum.

Vergil plays with the etymology of this location in southern Italy, Avernus, by suggesting that its original Greek inhabitant named in Aornos, as no birds dared fly over it, so terrible the smell exhaled from the infernal cave. This passage, it would seem, inspired the name of the Hungarian symphonic black metal band Aornos, along with the opening track “Avernus” to their 2015 debut album Orior. An deep interest in Classics and especially Latin language and literature is quite evident in the band’s mastermind Algras. While his lyrics are not direct adaptations of classical themes, his song titles nevertheless suggest inspirations for his own lyrical meditations on life, the universe, and everything. “Aere Perennius” (‘more lasting than bronze’) is from the first line of the Roman poet Horace’s ode that beings “I have created a monument more lasting than bronze.” A song from a later album is titled “Alea Iacta Est” (‘the die is cast’), which Julius Caesar is said to have uttered as he led his troops across the Rubicon River into Italy, thereby declaring civil war against his own city.

As for this song “Avernus,” we detect echoes of Vergil’s original words: ‘Swelling waves blow the stink of their brimstone kiss’. Indeed, the song’s introspective journey through existence mirrors the psychological aspects of Aeneas’ journey into and through Hades in the Aeneid. Easy is the descent into Avernus, climbing out and seeing the light of day again. That’s the true labor.

The ethereal Being, revealed from the deep
Leading me on the wings of spirit
Towards the blood-red Avernus
In labyrinth of life I roam
Among the visions of dethroned reality
I walk on the Land of Illusions

Wild streams of ideas gallop away from their beds
Living behind the dreary death
No-faces turned inside out search for the Empire of Wisdom
Their bonesteeds roll in the moisture of the eternal life

Black shadows follow in my track
And whisper unspeakable secrets in my ears on honey-sweet voices
But in the distance shines on the sly
The Water of Forgetting

Exile is the branded Wanderer’s fate
The Valley of Sighs gives hope of nothing
But the Will kills faded desire and releases
The army of the Lunatic Heralds

Amorphous certainty is my companion
The Something is where the Light is mirrored
In the damned Lake’s bottom full of embedded souls
Do I walk on the Land of Illusions?!

Swelling waves blow the stink of their brimstone kiss
My heavy heart dives as a stone
Into the madding vortex of the revived dreams…

Before me, an Embers-Face’s fading contour I see
It’s still whispering something
But I don’t understand, I can’t understand!
And why is the Light ever-blinding eye to eye?

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