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LA´RIUS LACUS

LA´RIUS LACUS ( Λάριος λίμνη: Lago di Como), one of the largest of the great lakes of Northern Italy, situated at the foot of the Alps, and formed by the river Addua. (Strab. iv. p.192; Plin. Nat. 3.19. s. 23.) It is of a peculiar form, long and narrow, but divided in its southern portion into two great arms or branches, forming a kind of fork. The SW. of these, at the extremity of which is situated the city of Como, has no natural outlet; the Addua, which carries off the superfluous waters of the lake, flowing from its SE. extremity, where stands the modern town of Lecco. Virgil, where he is speaking of the great lakes of Northern Italy, gives to the Larius the epithet of “maximus” (Georg. 2.159); and Servius, in his note on the passage, tells us that, according to Cato, it was 60 miles long. This estimate, though greatly overrated, seems to have acquired a sort of traditionary authority: it is repeated by Cassiodorus (Var. Ep. 11.14), and even in the Itinerary of Antoninus (p. 278), and is at the present day still a prevalent notion among the boatmen on the lake. The real distance from Como to the head of the lake does not exceed 27 Italian, or 34 Roman miles, to which five or six more may be added for the distance by water to Riva, the Lago di Riva being often regarded as only a portion of the larger lake. Strabo, therefore, is not far from the truth in estimating the Larius as 300 stadia (37 1/2 Roman miles) in length, and 30 in breadth. (Strab. iv. p.209.) But it is only in a few places that it attains this width; and, owing to its inferior breadth, it is really much smaller than the Benacus (Lago di Garda) or Verbanus (Lago Maggiore). Its waters are of great depth, and surrounded on all sides by high mountains, rising in many places very abruptly from the shore: notwithstanding which their lower slopes were clothed in ancient times, as they still are at the present day, with rich groves of olives, and afforded space for numerous villas. Among these the most celebrated are those of the younger Pliny, who was himself a native of Comum, and whose paternal estate was situated on the banks of the lake, of which last he always speaks with affection as “Larius noster.” (Ep. 2.8, 6.24, 7.11.) But, besides this, he had two villas of a more ornamental character, of which he gives some account in his letters (Ep. 9.7): the one situated on a lofty promontory projecting out into the waters of the lake, over which it commanded a very extensive prospect, the other close to the water's edge. The description of the former would suit well with the site of the modern Villa Serbelloni near Bellaggio; but there are not sufficient grounds upon which to identify it. The name of Villa Pliniana is given at the present day to a villa about a mile beyond the village of Torno (on the right side of the lake going from Como), where there is a remarkable intermitting spring, which is also described by Pliny (Plin. Ep. 4.30) ; but there is no reason to suppose that this was the site of either of his villas. Claudian briefly characterises the scenery of the Larius Lacus in a few lines (B. Get. 319--322); and Cassiodorus gives an elaborate, but very accurate, description of its beauties. The immediate banks of the lake were adorned with villas or palaces (praetoria), above which spread, as it were, a girdle of olive woods ; over these again were vineyards, climbing up the sides of the mountains, the bare and rocky summits of which rose above the thick chesnut-woods that encircled them. Streams of water fell into the lake on all sides, in cascades of snowy whiteness. (Cassiod. Var. 11.14.) It would be difficult to describe more correctly the present aspect of the Lake of Como, the beautiful scenery of which is the theme of admiration of all modern travellers.

Cassiodorus repeats the tale told by the elder Pliny, that the course of the Addua could be traced throughout the length of the lake, with which it did not mix its waters. (Plin. Nat. 2.10b. s. 106; Cassiod. l.c.) The same fable is told of the Lacus Lemannus, or Lake of Geneva, and of many other lakes formed in a similar manner by the stagnation of a large river, which enters them at one end and flows out at the other. It is remarkable that we have no trace of an ancient town as existing on the site of the modern Lecco, where the Addua issues from the lake. We learn, from the Itinerary of Antoninus (p. 278), that the usual course in proceeding from Curia over the Rhaetian Alps to Mediolanum, was to take boat at the head of the lake and proceed by water to Comum. This was the route by which Stilicho is represented by Claudian as proceeding across the Alps (B. Get. l.c.) ; and Cassiodorus speaks of Comum as a place of great traffic of travellers (l.c.) In the latter ages of the Roman empire, a fleet was maintained upon the lake, the head-quarters of which were at Comum. (Not. Dign. ii. p. 118.)

The name of Lacus Larius seems to have been early superseded in common usage by that of LACUS COMACINUS, which is already found in the Itinerary, as well as in Paulus Diaconus, although the latter author uses also the more classical appellation. (Itin. Ant. L. c.; P. Diac. Hist. 5.38, 39.)

[E.H.B]

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