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Other names: Sibyl

Location:  Greece

Notes from Hrana

Goddesses & Heroines text

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Hrana's Notes

I painted Sybil in 1995 for The Goddess Oracle. She is on the back of every card.

from Goddesses and Heroines
  Exerpt from Goddess & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan
[Used by permission. This text is NOT included in the Goddess Oracle]

There were 10 famous female prophets of the ancient world, one each in Persia, Libya, Delphi, Samos, Cimmeria, Erythraea, Tibur, Marpessus, and Phrygia, and one-most renowned of all-in Cumae near Naples, where Sibyl's cave was discovered in 1932 to have a 60-foot-high ceiling and a 375-foot-long passageway entrance.

The Cumaean Sibyl wrote her prophecies on leaves, which she then placed at the mouth of her cave. If no one came to collect them, they were scattered by winds and never read. Written in complex, often enigmatic verses, these "Sibylline Leaves" were sometimes bound into books. It was said that the Sibyl herself brought nine volumes of these prophecies to Tarquin II of Rome, offering them to him at an outrageous price. He scoffed, and she immediately burned three volumes, offering the remaining six at the same high price. Again-rather less casually--he refused. Again she burned three volumes, again asking the original price. This time the king's curiosity was high, his resistance low, and he purchased the Sibylline prophecies.

The volumes were carefully kept in the Capitol and consulted only on momentous occasions by the Senate. Some were destroyed by fire in 83 B.C. while the rest survived until A.D. 405, when they perished in another fire. The people of Rome searched the world looking for prophecies to replace the Sibylline Leaves but were unable to find any. The Sibyl herself, it was discovered, had vanished. So the way was left clear for the production of pseudo-Sibylline prophecies, a profitable business until the end of the Roman Empire.

The Sibyl of Cumae gained her powers by attracting the attention of the sun god, Apollo, who offered her anything if she would spend a single night with him. She asked for as many years of life as grains of sand she could squeeze into her hand. Granted, the sun god said; and Sibyl, glad to win her boon, refused his advances. Thereafter she was cursed with the furfillment of her wish--eternal life without eternal youth. She slowly shriveled into a frail undying body, so tiny that she fit into a jar. Her container was hung from a tree; Sibyl needed, of course, no food or drink, for she could neither starve nor die of thirst. And there she hung, croaking occasional oracles, while children would stand beneath her urn and tease, "Sibyl, Sibyl, what do you wish?" To which she would faintly reply, "I wish to die."

Back to TOP Text from Patricia Monaghan's The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines
Published by Llewellyn, copyright 1997.   Used by permission of the author.

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