THE SIBYL OF CUMA

Published November 23, 2012 by Tony

Famous places in Naples
THE SIBYL OF CUMA

First reaction her color became ashen, then were the facial features to transform into hideous mask, and finally the breath, gasping at the beginning and into a mere gasp in the end. Seemed so, as Virgil says, in the fourth canto  of “Aeneid”, one of the most famous and disturbing prophets of antiquity: the Cumaean Sibyl. After Parthenope, myth siren and women, Naples owes its poetic origins also to Virgil, poet and demigod, master of Dante. Publio Virgilio Marone,  in Latin Publius Vergilius Maro, in 42 BC moved to Naples, where he went to the school of philosophers Sirone and Philodemus to learn the precepts of Epicurus, and where he met several important political and artistic figures. The remains of the great poet are kept in a mound still visible on the hill of Posillipo. Unfortunately the urn containing his remains left scattered in the Middle Ages. On the tomb was placed the famous epitaph: “Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc Parthenope; Cecini pascua, rural, duces,” or, “I gave birth to Mantua, Calabria (Puglia) kidnapped me: I now houses Partenope (Naples ) sang the pastures (the Eclogues), fields (the Georgics), the chiefs (the Aeneid) “. The history or the legend say that when Virgil came to Naples, was a young, nice, tall but always walking with his head down, babbling things that people did not understand. Although living in Posillipo, every day he roamed the hills between Baia and Cuma.  At that time, the flies were a big problem for the locals and it is said that Virgil built and gave birth to a gold fly which soon destroyed all the flies that upset the locals. For this he was considered a magician. Another of his miracle was the healing of some fetid swamps Virgil's tomband dangerous that were in the area. The people asked for his help to destroy a snake that sowed terror and victims, and he fearless killed it by his spells. He also healed sick people and animals, and to save the girlfriend of his friend Albino, revealed the mystery of the cave of Cuma, where a time the priests were deceiving people with fake responses produced by a natural sound distortion caused by the echo of the cave.

Sibyls were virgin priestesses devoted to Apollo, known in all the ancient world. The most famous lived in Cuma, a Greek colony built on the Campania coast, then became one of the main religious centres of the Roman Empire.  When the Sybil was Prophesying , she is described like a pale woman, with her breast deflated, her hair standing on end and speaking with an inhuman voice. Thanks to the Sybil, Enea could make the trip in the Hades whose gate was supposed to be in the Lake of Averno n Naples.  The Cuma  temples were  well known in the Greek age. Believers came from every parts of the Mediterranean area to wait for the precious prophesies of the Sybil. She lived in a Cave and wrote her responses on leaves and then she scattered them in the wind so that the believers could hardly interpret them. It is told that one day the sybil went to the last king of Rome, Tarquinio the proud one. She offered him 9 books, called Sybillean Books, where were collected all the Sibyl of Cumaeprophesies about Rome. She asked for 300 golden coins but the king didn’t accept. So the Sybil started to burn the books one at the time. So the books diminished but not their price. Finally Tarquinio accepted to pay but there were only three books left. Made by leaves, they were written in verses and hieroglyphics. They were kept in the Jove Temple on the Campidoglio (one of the seven hills Rome was built on) and were consulted each time the town was in trouble.

The legend says that the Sibyl was a beautiful girl, the daughter of Glaucus,  a fisherman from Boeotia, who like his father was endowed with the ability to predict the future. One day Apollo saw her and fell in love with her and promised to conquer to make a wish. The girl picked up a handful of sand and asked God to live as many years were the grains of sand in her hand. Apollo satisfied her, but the gift was transformed into a prison for her, because longevity does not mean eternal youth, and because of old age and disease, the woman turned into a human larva, whose voice was used by Apollo to communicate with men.

Cuma (Cumae in Latin) is an archaeological site in the province of Naples, near the territory of Pozzuoli, located in the volcanic area of Campi Flegrei.
The name comes from the greek name Κύμη (Kyme), which means “wave”, referring to the shape of the peninsula on which it is located.

Antro_della_Sibilla

The famous cave known as the “Antro della Sibilla” (Sybil cave), was discovered by Amedeo Maiuri (a renowned Neapolitan archaeologist,) in 1932. A nearby 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. The inner chamber was later used as a burial chamber during the 4th or 5th century AD  by people living at the site. The Sybil’s Cave was one of the most venerated sanctuaries of antiquity, dug, in the oldest part, by the Greeks in the fifth-fourth century. BC, while the terminal environment had to be expanded and transformed into its current form in IV-III century. B.C.
The cave consists of a straight tunnel, the dromos, trapezoidal and without the original entrance. The outer side is divided into six large cracks, also trapezoidal, giving light in the tunnel. On the eastern side it opened a gallery with three rectangular rooms arranged in a cross forming as many tanks supplied by a channel in which is said the Sibyl washed and then, wearing a long robe, went into the inner room, whence by a high throne prophesied.
In the bottom of the gallery opens a rectangular room, with a vaulted higher than the rest and with three large niches, with a vestibule on the left side closed by a gate that leads into a small room divided into three smaller cells: the endotatos and the oikos, the oracle room, the place where the Sibyl uttered the prophecies.

Apollo_temple in Cuma

Some archaeologists have proposed an alternative cave site as the home of the sibyl. A tunnel complex near Baiae (modern Baia) leads to an underground geothermally-heated stream that could be presented to visitors as the river Styx. The layout of the tunnels conforms to the description in the Aeneid of Aeneas’ journey to the underworld and back.

Entrance to the Cave of the Sibyl

448px-Cueva_de_sibila_DSCN3814

800px-Antro_della_Sibilla_1

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