Praetorian until he was deposed by Romulus and Remus son of the god Pan and
the nymph Marcia
of Romulus raised by the shepherd Faustulus and his wife Acca Larentia. Founded
the city of Praetoria
Sibyl, by name Carmentis, was the prophetic priestess presiding over the Apollonian
Oracle at Cimmerium in Italy, near Lake Avernus (i.e. Cumae). This sibyl may
have been a doublet for the Cumaean since the designation Cimmerian refers
to priestesses who lived underground near Lake Avernus. An oracular shrine
dedicated to Apollo, as at Delphi, stood on the Acropolis of Cumae. An underground
Roman road ran from the southeastern part of Cumae, through Mount Grillo to
the shores of Lake Avernus.
Sibyl comes (via Latin) from the ancient Greek word sibylla, meaning prophetess.
There were many Sibyls in the ancient world, but the Cimmerian Sibyl was venerated
by the pre-Hellenic native populations.
names the Cimmerian Sibyl in his books of the Punic War and Piso in his annals.
son Evander founded in Rome the shrine of Pan which is called the Lupercal.
Cumaean Sibyl by Andrea del Castagno.
Cumaean Sibyl was the priestess presiding over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae,
a Greek colony located near Naples, Italy.
sibyl comes (via Latin) from the ancient Greek word sibylla, meaning prophetess.
There were eventually many Sibyls in the ancient world, but because of the
importance of the Cumaean Sibyl in the legends of early Rome codified in Virgil’s
Aeneid VI, she became the most famous among Romans, supplanting the Erythraean
Sibyl famed among Greeks: in Latin she was often simply referred to as The
various names for the Cumaean Sibyl besides the “Herophile” of Pausanias
and Lactantius or the Aeneid’s “Deiphobe, daughter of Glaucus”:
“Amaltheia”, “Demophile” or “Taraxandra” are
all offered in various references.
cave at Cumae
Entrance to the Cave of the Sibyl
cave known as the “Antro della Sibilla” was discovered by Amedeo
Maiuri in 1932, the identification of which he based on the description by
Virgil in the 6th song of the Aeneid, and also from the description by an
anonymous author known as pseudo-Justin.( Verg. Aen. 6. 45-99; Ps-Justin,
37). The cave is a trapezoidal passage over 131 m long, running parallel to
the side of the hill and cut out of the volcanic tufa stone. An innermost
chamber, where the Sibyl was thought to have prophesied has later been identified
as an early Christian burial chamber from the 4th or 5th century AD (M. Napoli
tunnel through the acropolis now known as the “Crypta Romana” (part
of Agrippa and Octavian’s defenses in the war against Sextus Pompey) was previously
identified as the Grotto of the Sibyl.
of the acquisition of the Sibylline Books by Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the
semi-legendary last king of the Roman Kingdom, or Tarquinius Priscus, is one
of the famous mythic elements of Roman history.
ago, concurrent with the 50th Olympiad and the Founding of the City of Rome,
an old woman “who was not a native of the country” (Dionysius) arrived
incognita in Rome. She offered nine books of prophecies to King Tarquin; and
as the king declined to purchase them, owing to the exorbitant price she demanded,
she burned three and offered the remaining six to Tarquin at the same stiff
price, which he again refused, whereupon she burned three more and repeated
her offer. Tarquin then relented and purchased the last three at the full
original price, whereupon she “disappeared from among men” (Dionysius).
were thereafter kept in the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill, Rome,
to be consulted only in emergencies. The temple burned down in the 80s BC,
and the books with it, necessitating a re-collection of Sibylline prophecies
from all parts of the empire (Tacitus 6.12). These were carefully sorted and
those determined to be legitimate were saved in the rebuilt temple. The Emperor
Augustus had them moved to the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill, where
they remained for most of the remaining Imperial Period.
were burned in AD 405 by the General Flavius Stilicho, who was a Christian
and regarded the books as Pagan and therefore “evil”. At the time
of the Visigothic invasion five years later in AD 410, certain Pagan apologists
bemoaned the loss of the books, claiming that the invasion of the city was
evidence of the wrath of the Pagan gods over the destruction of the books.
recounted in Virgil’s Æneid
Sibyl prophesied by “singing the fates” and writing on oak leaves.
These would be arranged inside the entrance of her cave but, if the wind blew
and scattered them, she would not help to reassemble the leaves to form the
original prophesy again.
was a guide to the underworld (Hades), its entry being at the nearby crater
of Avernus. Aeneas employed her services before his descent to the lower world
to visit his dead father Anchises, but she warned him that it was no light
Anchises‘ son, the descent
of Avernus is easy.
All night long, all day, the doors of Hades stand open.
But to retrace the path, to come up to the sweet air of heaven,
That is labour indeed. (Aeneid 6.10.)
she was a mortal, the Sibyl lived about a thousand years. This came about
when Apollo granted her a wish; she took up
a handful of sand and asked to live for as many years as the grains of sand
she held. But she failed to ask for eternal youth and Apollo
allowed her body to wither away because the Sibyl did not consent to have
sex. Her body grew smaller with age and eventually was kept in a jar (ampulla).
Eventually only her voice was left.
of Mankind is owned and created by Mark John Goodwin
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