Is the name by which several prophetic women are designated who occur in various countries and at different times in antiquity. The name is said to be formed from Διὸς (Dios) and βουλή (boulē), so that it would signify the counsel of Zeus.1
The first Sibyl, from whom all the rest are said to have derived their name, is said to have been a daughter of Dardanus and Neso. Some authors mention only four Sibyls, the Erythraean, the Samian, the Egyptian and the Sardian;2 but it was more commonly believed that there were ten, namely the Babylonian, the Libyan, the Delphian (an elder Delphian, who was a daughter of Zeus and Lamia, and a younger one,3 who is called Demo), the Cimmerian, the Erythraean (here too we find an elder and a younger one, who is called Herophile4), the Samian, the Cumaean (who is sometimes identified with the Erythraean5), the Hellespontian or Trojan,6 the Phrygian and the Tiburtine.7
The most celebrated of these Sibyls is the Cumaean, who is mentioned under the names of Herophile, Demo, Phemonoë, Deiphobe, Demophile, and Amalthea.8 She was consulted by Aeneas before he descended into the lower world.9 She is said to have come to Italy from the East,10 and she is the one who, according to tradition, appeared before king Tarquinius, offering him the Sibylline books for sale.11 He stored them in a vault beneath the Capitol, and in times of trouble they were consulted by a special commission of two, and later ten or fifteen men.12
Pausanias also mentions a Hebrew Sibyl of the name of Sabbe, who is called a daughter of Berosus and Erymanthe.
In medieval art and later, Sibyls are often depicted on choir chairs, stained-glass windows, and tapestries. Famous are the paintings of Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel where he depicted five Sibyls. Medieval art transformed heathen prophetesses and placed them occasionally besides prophets.
- Plato. Phaedrus, p. 244; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid iii, 445.
- Aelian. Varia Historia xii, 35.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 12.1.
- Strabo. Geography xiv, p. 645.
- Pseudo-Aristotle. On Marvellous Things Heard, 97.
- comp. Tibullus, ii, 5.19.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 12; Lactantius. Divine Institutes i, 6.
- Pausanias, l.c.; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid iii, 445; vi, 72; Tibullus, ii, 5. 67; Suidas, s.v.
- Ovid. Metamorphoses xiv, 104 ff.; xv, 712; Virgil. Aeneid vi, 10.
- Livy. The History of Rome i, 7.
- Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia xiii, 28; Gellius. Noctes Atticae i, 19.
- Livy. The History of Rome xxxviii, 45.3.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.