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Genesis : The Delphic Sibyl

Michelangelo's rendering of the Delphic Sibyl , The number of sibyls was given as ten or twelve, and of these Michelangelo selected five. His idea here, as with the prophets, seemed to be to represent some in old age and some in youth.... The scroll which she unrolls in her left hand is the scroll of her prophecy. The two little figures holding a book, just behind her right shoulder, are genii, or spirits, symbolic of her inspiration. One reads eagerly from the volume while the other listens with rapt attention. The picture makes a very interesting study in the composition of lines. Starting from the topmost point of the turban, draw a line on the right, coming across the shoulder along the outer edge of the drapery to the toe. On the left, let the line connecting the same two points follow the outer curve of the scroll, along the slanting edge of the mantle, and we get a beautiful pointed oval as the basis of the composition The sibyl's left arm drops a curve across the upper part of the figure, and this curve is repeated a little lower down by the creases in the drapery across the lap. Such are the few strong, simple lines which compose the picture, producing an effect of grandeur which a confusion of many lines would entirely spoil. ", Estelle M. Hurll

The Delphic Sibyl was a legendary figure who gave prophecies in the sacred precinct of Apollo at Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The Delphic Sibyl was not involved in the operation of the Delphic Oracle and should be considered distinct from the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo.

There were several prophetic figures called Sibyls in the Graeco-Roman world. The most famous Sibyl was the Cumean Sibyl located at Cumae.


There are several, not necessarily consistent, legends about the Delphic Sibyl:

Pausanias claimed (10.14.1) that the Sibyl was "born between man and goddess, daughter of sea monsters and an immortal nymph". Others said she was the sister or daughter of Apollo. Still others claimed the Sibyl received her powers from Gaia originally, who passed the oracle to Thetis, who passed it to Phoebe.

The Sibyl came from the Troad to Delphi before the Trojan War, "in wrath with her brother Apollo", lingered for a time at Samos, visited Claros and Delos, and died in the Troad, after surviving nine generations of men. After her death, it was said that she became a wandering voice that still brought to the ears of men tidings of the future wrapped in dark riddles.

  • References
  • Goodrich, Norma Lorre, Priestesses, 1990.
  • Hamilton, Edith (1942). Mythology, Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316341142.
  • Mitford, William, The History of Greece, 1784. Cf. Chapter II, Religion of the Early Greeks.
  • Parke, Herbert William, History of the Delphic Oracle, 1939.
  • Parke, Herbert William, Sibyls and Sibylline Prophecy, 1988.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece, (ed. and translated with commentary by Sir James Frazer), 1913 edition. Cf. v.5
  • Potter, David Stone, [1], Prophecy and history in the crisis of the Roman Empire: a historical commentary on the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle, 1990. Cf. Chapter 3.
  • West, Martin Litchfield, The Orphic Poems, 1983. Cf. especially p.147.


Suda: Delphic Sibyl from Suda On-Line. The Suda is a 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia, incorporating earlier material.

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