According to Jewish tradition, Gehenna is the place in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to the south of Jerusalem where children were sacrificed to the god Moloch in ancient times.

For this reason the valley was deemed to be accursed, and Gehenna therefore soon became a figurative equivalent for ‘hell’ in Judaism. Twenty centuries ago, Gehenna also became a literal equivalent of hell (as a place of eternal damnation) in accordance with the Christian faith to account for this newly thought of concept at the time.

Later versions of the Bible have included more faulty translations of this nature to interject the Christian concept of hell. In the King James Version of the Bible, for instance, the terms Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna are translated as ‘hell’ to accommodate this Christian dogmatic idea.

In Islam, the name given to hell, Jahannam, directly derives from the term Gehenna.

‘To have to leave my little cottage and take a stuffy, smelly, over-heated hole of an apartment in this Heaven-forsaken, festering Gehenna.’

– P. G. Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves

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Avernus or Lago d’Averno is a lake of Campania, Italy. To be more precise, it is an old volcanic crater 2 km (1.2 mi) in circumference which has been filled with water at least since Roman times.

Lake Avernus or lago d'Averno

Lake Avernus or lago d’Averno

In ancient times it was surrounded by dense forests, and was the centre of many legends.

It was represented as the entrance by which both Odysseus and Aeneas descended to the infernal regions, the entrance to Hades.

It was also thought to be the abode of the Cimmerii – an ancient people of the far north or west of Europe, first spoken of by Homer who describes them as living in perpetual darkness.

It was also believed that all birds flying over lake Avernus were destined to fall dead because of the toxic fumes that mouths of the crater gave off into the atmosphere. It is unclear whether the lake actually was as deadly as its reputation held it to be – it certainly holds no fears for birds today.

Despite the alleged dangers of the lake, the Romans were happy to settle its shores, on which villas and vineyards were established. In fact, general Hannibal visited the lake in 214 BC.

The lake was owned by the Bourbon rulers of Naples and ceded in 1750 to an aristocratic family which sold up in 1991 to the Cardillo family. In 2010 the lake was confiscated by the police after the owner was accused of being a mafia frontman.

Orpheus and Eurydice

‘He could have been the happiest man on the earth, but it was not to be, for his marriage with the beautiful nymph Eurydice was not to last long. They were still only newly-weds when she, while walking through the meadows, stepped on a snake that bit her heel and tore away her young life. Orpheus dared travelling to the underworld and approach the throne of Hades. He accompanied his wistful song with string music. Then the shades cried, Tantalus forgot to bow to the water, Sisyphus sat listening on the stone that would not role away any more and even the Erinyes were moved to tears. Eurydice was called and returned to her husband; he was allowed to carry her to the world above as long he would not look at her before they had left the land of the shades. When they had come close to the exit, Orpheus – afraid that she might not make it to the exit, and filled with a desire to see her – looked behind him and saw her disappear; when he tried to grasp her, he reached out into air. A barely audible farewell reached his ears. When he tried to follow her, the hound Cerberus forbade him to pass. Seven days and seven nights he sat on the riverbank of the Styx before finally returning to earth.’

– Hoffmann. E. 1971. Goden- en Heldensagen [Sagas of Gods and Heroes] Groningen, The Netherlands: Wolters-Noordhoff (1977) p. 24-25