Thursday, April 5, 2012

From the Classics: The Cave of the Sibyl

The mad prophetic Sibyl you shall find,
Dark in a cave, and on a rock reclin'd.
She sings the fates, and, in her frantic fits,
The notes and names, inscrib'd, to leafs commits.
What she commits to leafs, in order laid,
Before the cavern's entrance are display'd:
Unmov'd they lie; but, if a blast of wind
Without, or vapors issue from behind,
The leafs are borne aloft in liquid air,
And she resumes no more her museful care,
Nor gathers from the rocks her scatter'd verse,
Nor sets in order what the winds disperse.

- Virgil, Aeneid

The mad prophetess who lives in this cave does not admit visitors. If any person tries to force her to tell their future, they will earn the wrath of the Furies. Instead, this Sibyl writes down her visions on leaves of paper and posts them outside the entrance to her cave. She uses tree sap to affix the paper to the rocks and trees, like a prophetic bulletin board. However, the sap is not very strong and whenever the winds blow roughly, the papers are carried away.

Many men have come here to pore over the loose pages, searching for their fate amongst hundreds of others. A certain village which lies downwind of the cave has become noted for its prescient inhabitants, who often know what is going to befall them before it actually happens. A little further afield, there is a sage who has spent most of his adult life compiling the pages of the Sibyl into a single tome. The specific prophecies he sells on to those who seek them; what interests him are the more esoteric pages which seem to tell not of the future but of the past - perhaps of the very genesis of the world.

Rumour has it that this sage was once betrothed to the woman who is now the Sibyl, before she was struck down with her holy madness.

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