We tend to think of ancient stories of visits to the Underworld - by, for example, Odysseus, Orpheus and Aeneas - as being poetic fictions, but in fact in the ancient world the Underworld was believed to be real place that actually existed. Unfortunately, this entrance to the Underworld was lost in the Dark Ages, and hasn't been rediscovered since - or at least until the 1960s. Recently Robert Temple heard a rumour that an archaeological expedition in 1962 HAD actually rediscovered the entrance near Baiia in Italy, but that the Italian authorities had forbidden exploration. While lobbying to be allowed to excavate, he researched all the classical sources relating to the Underworld and began to piece together what actually happened on these visits to the underworld - how waters in the ritual bathing that preceded entry would be full of hallucinogenic drugs, how a system of trap doors would be used to fake supernatural happenings and how the priests would quiz you as to what you'd experienced when you re-emerged - and if you didn't believe in it, they'd kill you!
Netherworld is the extraordinary story of what Temple discovered when he did eventually get permission to make his own descent into the Underworld - including the river Styx, the false doors, the snake pit and carved invocations to the Goddess of the Underworld, all seen here for the first time since ancient civilization.
Robert Temple is the author of The Sirius Mystery, a bestseller in many countries. He is also the author of China- Land of Discovery and Invention, and a translator of the epic Gilgamesh, which was staged at the Royal National Theatre to critical acclaim, and the recent Penguin Classic edition of Aesop's Fables. He is also a television producer, whose credits include Kenneth Clark's Civilisation.