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Roman Roamin

Roman Roamin > About the Sibyl of Cumae

About the Sibyl of Cumae

Historical sources do not agree on who was given the Sibylline Books; some cite Tarquinius Priscus, and others cite Tarquinius Superbus. I have chosen Priscus, because his wife Tanaquil had some familiarity with prophecy herself, and I have chosen to set the meeting on the plain of Campania instead of the city of Rome, thinking it more likely that the Sibyl would appear close to her own cave. Ovid recounts that she was so old her withered body was kept in a jar, and eventually only her voice remained. Such a spirit would limit her travels to nearby fields, if possible.

Were the Sibylline Books written on palm leaves or oak leaves? Historical records suggest both. Oak carries supernatural properties and was greatly revered by the Druids. Virgil recounts the Sibyl writing prophecies on oak leaves and stacking the leaves in their correct order, but when her cave was opened the wind blew the leaves around and the prophecies could no longer be read in order, leaving them open to interpretation.

However, Marcus Servius Honoratus' "Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil (sic)" cites the use of palm leaves, and I am inclined to agree with him, simply because it is easier to imagine pages of a book written on broad, round palm leaves instead of small, angular oak leaves. The palm tree is not native to Italy, but palm leaves might have been imported from Crete, the only place in Europe where palm trees grow naturally.

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