The Sylvan Woods of Lake Nemi
Elena Morandi has only her fieldwork left to complete her degree in anthropology. Her topic: how the ancient cult of Diana and its practices influenced the social structure and culture of the Roman people. She takes the summer to work under the supervision of a local history specialist, Professor Riccardo Benenati. She also adds to her knowledge by helping the well-respected archaeologist Doctor Vincenzo Nerezza, who is working on a dig at the famous Temple of Diana on the northeastern shore of Lake Nemi.
Elena discovers a secret tunnel under the Nemi cliffs and a way back in time to Nemi’s ancient sylvan woods. Between keeping in touch with her husband Leo back in Portland, her work with the professor and archaeologist, and her visits to the ancient cult of Diana’s priestesses, she is also trying to figure out who is stealing temple antiquities. She doesn’t know who she can trust, but she ends up learning a lot more about human behavior and an ancient culture than she ever expected.
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Published 2021 by Templar Media | 378 pages | ISBN: 0996627286 | ISBN-13: 978-0996627283
“Goddess of the hunt and the moon”
Review by Lilah Shahkhor
Elena Morandi thinks she’s traveling to Italy in order to complete fieldwork for her anthropology doctorate degree, but destiny has more than that in store for her. Her particular area of study is in researching how the ancient cult of the goddess Diana affected the culture and development of the Roman people. She seeks out the expertise and mentorship of Professor Benenati, a cultural historian who specializes in the folk history of the area, and with whose assistance she is also able to secure work with Doctor Nerezza, an archaeologist on a dig at the famous Temple of Diana on the northeastern shore of Lake Nemi.
Her explorations of the dig site lead Elena to discover a secret tunnel under the Nemi cliffs. Whether by exposure to the mind-altering poison that has been set to booby trap the tunnel’s entrance, or by magical forces, or a combination of both, Elena is literally transported into the past and into an underground chamber where ancient priestesses worship at the living Temple of Diana. She is taught the traditional rites of the goddess and is eventually initiated into their sacred circle. Moving back and forth between their world and ours via a sort of mystical veil that only she has access to, Elena finds evidence that artifacts are being stolen from the temple to be sold on the black market. Not only has she stumbled into one of the most profound spiritual experiences of her life, but she’s also now entangled herself in the very dangerous criminal underworld of antiquities smuggling.
What follows is Elena’s fascinating and sometimes harrowing journey in which we along with her learn of the forgotten traditions and folklore of bygone Rome, along with the rituals performed within its sacred sanctuaries – not just as mere observers, but as actual participants. What begins as Elena’s vacation-cum-academic pursuit of a PhD becomes not only a case of solving a crime, but also a transcendent otherworldly adventure through time and space.
Of note: the lovely cover art chosen for this book is of a 1931 painting by the author’s grandfather, titled “the Temple of Diana”. Lamberto Zannazzi grew up in Rome and would visit Lake Nemi with his parents as a child. The book is dedicated to him and also includes one of his original poems, translated from the original Italian. Lita’s brief bio on him reveals an interesting and unexpected artistic connection to early Los Angeles history.