By Nick Squires in Rome
Published: 6:30AM GMT 18 Feb 2010
Golden Bough from Roman mythology 'found in Italy'
In Roman mythology, the bough was a tree branch with golden leaves
that enabled the Trojan hero Aeneas to travel through the underworld
They discovered the remains while excavating religious sanctuary built
in honour of the goddess Diana near an ancient volcanic lake in the
Alban Hills, 20 miles south of Rome.
They believe the enclosure protected a huge Cypress or oak tree which
was sacred to the Latins, a powerful tribe which ruled the region
before the rise of the Roman Empire.
The tree was central to the myth of Aeneas, who was told by a spirit
to pluck a branch bearing golden leaves to protect himself when he
ventured into Hades to seek counsel from his dead father.
In a second, more historically credible legend, the Latins believed it
symbolised the power of their priest-king.
Anyone who broke off a branch, even a fugitive slave, could then
challenge the king in a fight to the death. If the king was killed in
the battle, the challenger assumed his position as the tribe's leader.
The discovery was made near the town of Nemi by a team led by Filippo
Coarelli, a recently retired professor of archaeology at Perugia
After months of excavations in the volcanic soil, they unearthed the
remains of a stone enclosure.
Shards of pottery surrounding the site date it to the mid to late
Bronze Age, between the 12th and 13th centuries BC.
In Aeneid 6, the Sybil says to Aeneas:
A bough is hidden in a shady tree;
its leaves and pliant stem are golden, set
aside as sacred to Proserpina.
The grove serves as its screen, and shades enclose
the bough in darkened valleys. Only he
may pass beneath earth's secret places who
first plucks the golden-leaved fruit of the tree.
Lovely Proserpina ordained that this
be offered her as gift. And when teh first
bough is torn off, a second grows again--
with leaves of gold, again of that same metal.