SibylThe Sibyl of Erithrea had prophesied the acrostic: JESUS CHRIST IS GOD SON CROSS, not only the coming of God, but also the end of the World!
Erythraean SibylThe Erythraean Sibyl was sited at Erythrae, a town in Ionia opposite Chios.
Apollodorus of Erythrae affirms the Erythraean Sibyl to have been his own countrywoman and to have predicted the Trojan War and prophesised to the Greeks who were moving against Ilium both that Troy would be destroyed and that Homer would write falsehoods.
The word acrostic was first applied to the prophecies of the Erythraean Sibyl, which were written on leaves and arranged so that the initial letters of the leaves always formed a word.The word Sibyl (in English, /ˈsɪbəl/) comes (via Latin) from the Greek word σίβυλλα sibylla, meaning prophetess. The earliest oracular seeresses known as the sibyls of antiquity, "who admittedly are known only through legend" prophesied at certain holy sites, under the divine influence of a deity, originally— at Delphi and Pessinos— one of the chthonic deities. Later in antiquity, sibyls wandered from place to place.
The Sibyl, with frenzied mouth uttering things not to be laughed at, unadorned and unperfumed, yet reaches to a thousand years with her voice by aid of the god.'
Walter Burkert observes that "Frenzied women from whose lips the god speaks" are recorded very much earlier in the Near East, as in Mari in the second millennium and in Assyria in the first millennium".
Until the literary elaborations of Roman writers, sibyls were not identified by a personal name, but by names that refer to the location of their temenos, or shrine.
In Pausanias, Description of Greece, the first Sibyl at Delphi mentioned ("the former" [earlier]) was of great antiquity, and was thought, according to Pausanias, to have been given the name "sibyl" by the Libyans. Sir James Frazer calls the text defective. The second Sibyl referred to by Pausanias, and named "Herophile", seems to have been based ultimately in Samos, but visited other shrines, at Clarus. Delos and Delphi and sang there, but that at the same time, Delphi had its own sibyl.
James Frazer writes, in his translation and commentary on Pausanias, that only two of the Greek Sibyls were historical: Herophile of Erythrae, who is thought to have lived in the 8th century BC, and Phyto of Samos who lived somewhat later. He observes that the Greeks at first seemed to have known only one Sibyl, and instances Heraclides Ponticus as the first ancient writer to distinguish several Sibyls: Heraclitus names at least three Sibyls, the Phrygian, the Erythraean, and the Hellespontine. The scholar David S. Potter writes, "In the late fifth century BC it does appear that 'Sibylla' was the name given to a single inspired prophetess".
Number of SibylsLike Heraclitus, Plato speaks of only one Sibyl, but in course of time the number increased to nine, with a tenth, the Tiburtine Sibyl, probably Etruscan in origin, added by the Romans. According to Lactantius' Divine Institutions (i.6, 4th century AD, quoting from a lost work of Varro, 1st century BC) these ten sibyls were those in the following list. Of them, the three most famous sibyls throughout their long career were the Delphic, the Erythraean and the Cumaean. Not all the following Sibyls were securely identified with an oracular shrine, and in the vague and shifting Christian picture there is some overlap.
Persian SibylThe Persian Sibyl was said to be prophetic priestess presiding over the Apollonian Oracle; though her location remained vague enough so that she might be called the "Babylonian Sibyl", the Persian Sibyl is said to have foretold the exploits of Alexander the Great. The Persian Sibyl, by name Sambethe, was reported to be of the family of Noah.
The 2nd-century AD traveller Pausanias, pausing at Delphi to enumerate four sibyls, mentions the "Palestinian Sibyl" who was: "brought up in Palestine named Sabbe, whose father was Berosus and her mother Erymanthe. Some say she was a Babylonian, while others call her an Egyptian Sibyl."
The medieval Byzantine encyclopedia, the Suda, credits the Hebrew Sibyl as author of the Sibylline oracles.
|Michelangelo's Libyan Sibyl, Sistine Chapel|
|Michelangelo's Delphic Sibyl, Sistine Chapel|
Cimmerian SibylNaevius names the Cimmerian Sibyl in his books of the Punic War and Piso in his annals.
The Sibyl's son Evander founded in Rome the shrine of Pan which is called the Lupercal.
Samian SibylThe Samian sibyl's oracular site was at Samos.
Cumaean SibylThe sibyl who most concerned the Romans was the Cumaean Sibyl, located near the Greek city of Naples, whom Virgil's Aeneas consults before his descent to the lower world (Aeneid book VI: 10). Burkert notes (1985, p 117) that the conquest of Cumae by the Oscans in the 5th century destroyed the tradition, but provides a terminus ante quem for a Cumaean sibyl. It was she who supposedly sold to Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome, the original Sibylline books (q.v.). Christians were especially impressed with the Cumaean Sibyl, for in Virgil's Fourth Eclogue she foretells the coming of a savior - possibly a flattering reference to the poet's patron - whom Christians identified as Jesus.
Hellespontine SibylThe Hellespontine, or Trojan Sibyl presided over the Apollonian oracle at Dardania.
The Hellespontian Sibyl was born in the village of Marpessus near the small town of Gergitha, during the lifetimes of Solon and Cyrus the Great. Marpessus, according to Heraclides of Pontus, was formerly within the boundaries of the Troad. The sibylline collection at Gergis was attributed to the Hellespontine Sibyl and was preserved in the temple of Apollo at Gergis. Thence it passed to Erythrae, where it became famous.
Phrygian SibylThe Phrygian Sibyl appears to be a doublet of the Hellespontine Sibyl.
Later SibylsThe medieval, Christianized role for these augmented Sibyls was as precursors, prophets of the New Dispensation, Christian allies in a Hellenistic world:
Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla.
("Day of wrath, that day / will loose the age in ash / by the witness David with the Sibyl.")
In the Middle Ages the number of Sibyls was canonized as twelve, a symbolic number. See, for example, the Apennine Sibyl, though sometimes, e.g. for François Rabelais, ten was still the proverbial number: “How know we but that she may be an eleventh Sibyl or a second Cassandra?” Gargantua and Pantagruel, iii. 16, noted in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1897. Late Gothic Sibyls, each with her emblem and a single line of prophecy, lettered on a fluttering banderole, were fixtures of Late Gothic illuminations, in 14th and 15th-century France and Germany.
From the early Renaissance, the Sibyls were also represented in publicly available art. Michelangelo fixed our image of the sibyls forever, in his powerful representations of them, seated, both aged and ageless, beyond mere femininity, in the frescos of the Sistine Chapel. Five sibyls were painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo; the Delphic Sibyl, Libyan Sibyl, Persian Sibyl, Cumaean Sibyl and the Erythraean Sibyl. The library of Pope Julius II in the Vatican has images of sibyls and they are in the pavement of the Siena Cathedral. The Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli crowning the Campidoglio, Rome, is particularly associated with the Sibyl, because a medieval tradition referred the origin of its name to an otherwise unattested altar, ARA PRIMOGENITI DEI said to have been raised to the "firstborn of God" by the emperor Augustus, who had been warned of his advent by the sibylline books: in the church the figures of Augustus and of the Tiburtine sibyl are painted on either side of the arch above the high altar. In the 19th century Rodolfo Lanciani recalled that at Christmas time the presepio included a carved and painted figure of the sibyl pointing out to Augustus the Virgin and Child, who appeared in the sky in a halo of light. "The two figures, carved in wood, have now  disappeared; they were given away or sold thirty years ago, when a new set of images was offered to the Presepio by prince Alexander Torlonia." (Lanciani, 1896 ch 1) Like prophets, Renaissance sibyls forecasting the advent of Christ appear in monuments: modelled by Giacomo della Porta in the Santa Casa at Loreto, painted by Raphael in Santa Maria della Pace, by Pinturicchio in the Borgia apartments of the Vatican, engraved by Baccio Baldini, a contemporary of Botticelli, and graffites by Matteo di Giovanni in the pavement of the Duomo of Siena.
The 19th century French historian Jules Michelet attributed the origins of European witchcraft to the religion of the sibyls. In his introduction to La Sorcière (1862), Michelet wrote:
A powerful, tenacious religion, as Greek paganism was, begins with the sibyl, ends with the witch. The former, a beautiful virgin, in the full light of day, rocked its cradle, gave it its charm and glory. Later, fallen, ill, in the darkness of the Middle Ages, on heaths and in forests, it was hidden by the witch...
Sibylline booksThe sayings of sibyls and oracles were notoriously open to interpretation (compare Nostradamus) and were constantly used for both civil and cult propaganda. The Sibylline Books are not the same as the Sibylline Oracles. The Roman Sibylline Books were quite different in character from the preserved Sibylline Oracles, which typically predict disasters rather than prescribe solutions. Some genuine Sibylline verses are preserved in the Book of Marvels of Phlegon of Tralles (2nd century CE).
The oldest collection of written Sibylline Books appears to have been made about the time of Solon and Cyrus at Gergis on Mount Ida in the Troad. The sibyl, who was born near there, at Marpessus, and whose tomb was later marked by the temple of Apollo built upon the archaic site, appears on the coins of Gergis, ca 400–350 BCE. (cf. Phlegon, quoted in the 5th century geographical dictionary of Stephanus of Byzantium, under 'Gergis'). Other places claimed to have been her home. The sibylline collection at Gergis was attributed to the Hellespontine Sibyl and was preserved in the temple of Apollo at Gergis. Thence it passed to Erythrae, where it became famous. It was this very collection, it would appear, which found its way to Cumae and from Cumae to Rome. Gergis, a city of Dardania in the Troad, a settlement of the ancient Teucri, and, consequently, a town of very great antiquity (Herodotus iv: 122). Gergis, according to Xenophon, was a place of much strength. It had a temple sacred to Apollo Gergithius, and was said to have given birth to the Sibyl, who is sometimes called Erythraea, from Erythrae, a small place on Mount Ida (Dionysius of Halicarnassus i. 55), and at others Gergithia ('of Gergis').