Sibilla (english version)

If one day you could meet a god and make a wish, what would you ask?

Millennia ago, a woman asked to Apollo to live as many years as the number of sand grains that she could squeeze in one hand. God contented her, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth and so she found herself getting old, until the only thing that remained was her voice.

This woman was not just a laundress, she was the Cumaean Sibyl.

To date, the Sybil’s Cave remains a mysterious place: the deeply branched tuff tunnels suggest that this was the home of a mysterious animal. Even the name, Sybil, may recall some disturbing hiss, the cry of some dangerous creature.

But none of this happened at the time of the Cumaean Sibyl.

Many historians claim the existence of this character, and it was not always the same person, but rather, the Sibyl was a role, obtained from year to year by several priestesses who, by their purity and with the inspiration of Apollo, could utter prophecies.

This role did not arise only in Campania, but all over the Mediterranean. Indeed there were ten Sibyls, each distinguished by an adjective to indicate the geographical position: together with the Cumana, there were ‘’la Persiana”, “l’Eritrea”, “la Libica”, “la Tiburtina”, “l’Elespontia”, “la Frigia”, “la Cimmeria”, “la Samia”, and “la Delfica”.

The origin of the name is uncertain, but one of the most fascinating version is about the Sibyl’s Cave of Cuma. It was rumored that the priestess used to transcribe the premonition on palm leaves. These leaves were left to the wind current created by the numerous openings of the caves, which generated cryptic sounds, like a whisper of the future.

Until the time when this role fell into disuse, the cave was always full of people paying homage to Apollo and trying to take a peek at their future. Even the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, could not resist the temptation and asked the priestess all the prophecies concerning his city. The Sibyl offered him nine books in which she wrote the future of Rome, at the price of 300 gold coins. The king refused the deal, and the woman began to burn the books. When there were only three books left, the king decided to pay the agreed sum.

Ancient texts always tell us amazing stories, stories that we think are far from us, but if the Sibyl Cumana still existed, she would have far longer lines than the ones for singers or football teams.

-Giovanni Ottaiano

Author: I lettori di Storie di Napoli

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