Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Many Versions of the Sibyl

Dr Abe V Rotor

Michelangelo immortalized the Sibyl among his murals in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. 

For centuries since Homer, creator of the Greek's greatest epics The Iliad and The Odyssey, first mentioned of Sibyl, nobody had the idea who she was or who they were, except that that the sibyls were believed to be female prophets of Greek and Roman mythology. And their prophesies, which emerged as riddles to be interpreted by priests, were inspired by Apollo or other gods. The number of sibyls varied from 1 to 12.

In my class I often relate a version of the sibyl as a beautiful woman who gained favor from Apollo who asked her of whatever wish as a reward for being so good and kind and beautiful. 

At first she thought there is nothing more to ask as a mortal. You are just too naive, Sibyl, replied Apollo. 

If you insist I  wish to live forever.  She was transgressing into the realm of the gods and goddesses.  But Apollo could not retract from his offer.  Foolish, Sibyl, he sighed, you will have your wish anyway.

So Sibyl lived very, very long.  Until one day she met a handsome young man. Looking at her he exclaimed, Oh, Sibyl, what is it that you wish Apollo this time?

Downtrodden she answered,  I only wish to die.

Poor Sibyl she missed in her wish to live forever young.   

There is another version - that of Cumaean Sibyl.  Apollo offered to grant her any wish if she would make love to him. Scooping up a handful of sand, the Sibyl asked to live one year for each grain of sand she held. Apollo granted her wish, but then the Sibyl refused him. As punishment, Apollo (The god of music) gave her long life but not eternal youth. As the Sibyl grew older, she shrank in size, finally becoming so small she lived in a bottle. When someone asked the Sibyl what she wanted, she would reply that she wished only to die.

Another story also from the Cumaean Sibyl is that Sibyl led the Greek hero Aeneas (Trojan hero, the son of the prince Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite or Venus) to the underworld to meet his dead father. Anchises then predicted that from Aeneas would come the greatest empire the world had ever seen. According to tradition, Aeneas's descendants founded Rome.

In another well-known tale, the Sibyl offered to sell nine books to the Roman king Tarquin. He refused to buy them. The Sibyl burned three of the books and came back to offer the remaining six at the same price. Again he refused. She burned three more and returned again. This time Tarquin bought the books, which contained prophecies about the future of Rome. Tarquin kept the books in the temple of Jupiter, where officials consulted them on special occasions to interpret the prophecies. The books were consumed in a fire in 83 B.C.

The sibyl in the oracle of the Siwa in the middle of a treacherous desert told Alexander the Great on his way to conquer Egypt that he is the son of god. The pharoah will kiss your feet, the priestess said.

True.  The Pharoah rose from his throne and met the great conqueror bowing low to kiss his feet. It is possible that Alexander believed he was endowed with supernatural powers. 

The sibyl is a prophet, one who claims to have received divine messages or insights. Acknowledgement: Wikipedia, and related sources from the Internet.

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