Searching for the Oracle of the Dead
Dr Robert Ferrand Paget and Keith Jones
Dr Paget, who liked to be known to his friends simply as ‘Doc’, retired to Baia intending to lead a peaceful life.
He had a deep interest in the local archaeology and he had read the tales of an Oracle of the Dead, traditionally said to be in the area of Lake Avernus, which is not so very far away from Baia.
Doc Paget met a kindred spirit in a younger man, of the United States Navy, and together they explored the region. The more they read about stories of the Oracle of the Dead, visiting libraries in Naples and reading extensively, the more they realised people seemed to be talking about an actual place that existed; this was no fairytale location.
So Doc Paget and Keith Jones set out, like Schliemann who discovered Troy a century earlier, to find the actual place where the Oracle of the Dead might be found.
Together Doc Paget and Keith Jones searched every tunnel they could find, within a wide radius of Avernus, and eventually discovered the location of the tunnel complex at Baia in 1962. By 1967, after much measurement and research, Doc Paget published a book about his findings, called "In the Footsteps of Orpheus".
When Doc Paget and Keith Jones first made the discovery, the first person to be informed was J. B. Ward-Perkins CMG, CBE, FBA, Director of the British School at Rome. It was due to his encouragement and help that researches at the site were continued. Permission was kindly given by Professor Alfonso di Franciscis, the Superintendent of Antiquities for the Campania region, to allow Doc Paget to continue work at Baiae.
The original attempts at dating the stonework were greatly helped by M. W. Frederiksen and after 1965 a detailed study of the surface buildings was undertaken with the help of Colin G. Hardie who later provided the inspiration for Robert Temple’s interest.
Doc Paget continued this work until his death on January 8th, 1973.
Two of Doc Paget’s loyal friends from those days remain passionate about his discoveries and are an active part in shaping this website, which is dedicated in no small part to continuing the research of Doc Paget and his discoveries. The research continues…
Doc’s Paget’s book
Doc’s book "In the Footsteps of Orpheus" was originally published by Robert Hale, London, in 1967.
Robert Hale edition
A reprint issued by the Scientific Book Club, London.
Oracle of the Dead? What is this about?
An "Oracle of the Dead" or ‘Necromanteion’ was an ancient Greek temple of necromancy, devoted to Hades and Persephone who ruled the underworld, under the ground, from which life sprang and returned to after death.
Necromancy is the art of communication with the dead – either by summoning a person’s spirit to the surface from under the ground or more literally by raising a person’s bodily remains, for the purpose of divination.
Although strange to us today, the Greeks and Romans had complete belief in divination and rarely made an important decision without consulting the gods through divination of one kind or another, whether it be military, political or an important decision in someone’s personal life.
Before the Greeks and Romans, records show that necromancy was an art already practiced in Babylon and Egypt.
Various mythical stories speak of someone who journeys to the underworld or to the land of the dead and who returns either with a desired object, a loved one, or heightened knowledge or abilities, often called an initiation of some kind.
Stories of a return from the underworld allow exploration of themes such as life after death, the cyclical nature of time and existence and questions of mortality and immortality.
Herodotus tells us that Periander, The Tyrant of Corinth, consulted the spirit of his dead wife Melissa at an Oracle of the Dead at Ephyra in Thesprotia. It is likely that this consultation involved a ritual to summon up her spirit from under the ground.
When Homer wrote his story of Odysseus (known as Ulysses in Roman tales) he turned the idea on its head. Instead of summoning up the spirits from the dead, Odysseus descends to the ‘Underworld’ to consult the spirit of his dead mother, Antikleia.
The Odyssey story starts 10 years after the Trojan War. Many dates are given for the fall of Troy. Ephorus gives 1135 BC, Sosibius 1172 BC, Eratosthenes 1184, Timaeus 1193 BC, the Parian marble 1209 BC. Dicaearchus 1212. Herodotus around 1250 BC. Eretes 1291 BC and Douris 1334 BC.
Traditionally it is said that Homer lived soon after the fall of Troy. Others say much later, at some time around 730-700 BC and was writing about events long in the past. Homer possibly lived at a time shortly after the founding of the Greek colony at Kyme nearby in 754 BC. The Greeks had occupied Ischia some time earlier. Homer may not have been a single person and various stories were collected and assembled in his name. There is even a plausible argument that the author of the Odyssey may have been an aristocratic Sicilian female because of the romantic perspective and recorded detail of court life.
Why should an Oracle of the Dead be here?
Homer’s Odyssey story is one of a journey in a ship up the west coast of Italy and so the adventures of Odysseus became located between Capri and Ostia, soon after the Greek settlements in Italy became established.
The flaming volcanic region, where a gate to hell might be found, fomed an ideal setting for the legendary descent of Odysseus to the underworld. It would seem possible that because of its reputation, an Oracle of the Dead here may have been established to fulfil a need and expectation.
The sheer labour and collective collaboration needed to create the extent of the tunnel complex would seem to indicate that this is no mere casual tourist attraction, it must have had far greater significance.
I am indebted to retired US naval Commander Tory Failmezger for his generosity in presenting me with a signed copy of Doc Paget’s book when we met in London in May 2013.
Commander Tory Failmezger has written his own story of the life of Doc Paget and those who worked with him until his death. The book includes a FREE DVD.
94 illustrated pages and a FREE full length DVD.
Please order the book directly from the author through: www.ancientimports.com.