Cumae and the Mysterious Sybil

The Cave of the Sybil in Cumae and Apollo's Oracle are one of the most important mysteries of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Cumae, a few kilometers from Naples, is one of the oldest Greek colonies in the West. It was founded in the VIIIth century BC. This port resisted the Etruscans and fell into the hands of the Romans in the IIIrd century BC and in turn became one of their colonies. On the Vth and VIth centuries, a village was created on the remnants of the higher town devastated by the Saracens in 915. The best known sites presently are the acropolis and necropolis in the plain. The walls of the acropolis and two great temples are well preserved. Apollo's Temple expands on the lower esplanade and Jupiter's temple on the upper terrace. Located in the Archaeological Park, most of the findings date from the Romans. At the beginning of the Christian Era, Apollo's temple was turned into a basilica and sepultures were digged into the older foundations. Jupiter's Temple became a Paleochristian church. Fragments of the altar and baptistry are still visible.

At the foot of the acropolis can be found the Cave of the Sybil. This is here that, according to the myth, the Cumaean Sybil prophesied. Lit by narrow side galleries, the tuff corridor is trapezoidal  and leads to a vaulted room. Nothing proves that this undoubtedly fascinating tunnel had a whatever religious function. It is more likely that it was part of a network of underground paths used for military purposes. This complex system includes the Roman Crypt and the Cocceius Grotto linking Cumae to the lake of Avernus, also known as the Entrance to the Underworld. However, ancient texts are here, let us see what they say. The Cumaean Sybil presided over an Apollonian Oracle. The Ancient Greek Civilization counted several Sybils, the Cumaean Sybil being the most famous in early Roman legends. It was codified by Virgil in his Aeneid. The Antro della Sibilla, the Cave of the Sybil, was discovered in 1932. Amedeo Maiuri based his works upon Virgil's Book 6 of Aeneid. The Sybil used to be the guide to Hades (the Underworld) whose entrance was located at the Avernus crater. Aeneus was instructed by the Sybil before visiting his father Anchises in the lower world. She warned him that: "the descent of Avernus is easy...But to retrace the path, to come up to the sweet air of heaven, that is labour indeed" (Aeneid.6.10). Later, Ovid in his Metamorphoses tells that failing to accept Apollo's love, her beauty withered away as she forgot to ask for eternal youth. Her body became so small that it was kept in an ampulla. Only her voice was left (Metamporphoses 14). The Sybilline Books acquired by Tarquinius Priscus remained in Rome, first in Jupiter's Temple and then in Apollo's Temple  under Augustus. The Christian general Flavius Stilico in 405 AD, considered they were Pagan and ordered that they be burnt. The loss of the precious books was so much bemoaned that certain apologists considered that the invasion of Rome by the Visigoths was due to the Pagan Gods' wrath.

The lower part of Cumae where studies and excavations still take place, includes several thermae, a forum and an amphitheater. The vestiges from several periods were also unveiled. The forum from the Samnite Period hides the older agora in the center of the Greek town. In recent years, a sanctuary dedicated to Isis was found in the port area.

Michelangelo painted the Cumaean Sybil at the Sistine Chapel. She is represented old as she failed to ask Apollo for eternal youth. Cerrini also painted the Sybil who asked Apollo to let her live as long as the grains of sand in here hand.

Baptistry

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6a/Baptistere_Temple_de_Jupiter_2.JPG

Ruined Apollo's Temple.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Ruined_temple_to_Apollo%2C_Avernus.jpg

Entrance of the Cave of the Sybil.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/db/Antre_de_la_Sybille.JPG

The Via Sacra and ruins, Cumae.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/47/Cuma_resti.jpg

Temple of Apollo.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/Temple_of_Apollo_%28Cumae%29.jpg

Cave of the Sybil.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d4/Antro_della_Sibilla_cumana.1.jpg

Cumae Acropolis

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7b/Verso_l%27acropoli_di_Cuma.jpg

Cumaean Sybil by Michelangelo at Sistine Chapel, Rome. The Sybil is represented old because she failed to ask Apollo for eternal youth. The putti are in charge of the Books.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8f/CumaeanSibylByMichelangelo.jpg

Apollo and the Cumaean Sybil by Cerrini.  The Sybil asks Apollo to let her live as long as the grains of sand she holds in her hand.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/Cerrini-apollo.jpg

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