Cumae: Its Nomos and Places of Prophecies

The Cumaean Sibyl

Cumae, on the Campanian Plain, is the oldest Greek colony on mainland Italy, founded in the 8thC. BCE. The cave depicted above (top left : the entrance; top right : the view outward from the inner chamber) was carved in the 6thC. BCE by Greeks and/or Etruscans. Here, the famous ancient Sibyl of Cumae gave her prophecies from her 3-leaf clover shaped inner sanctum (photo left, immediately above). They were written on leaves, scattered from the cave to be puzzle-pieced together by seekers. According to Virgil, Aeneus himself consulted with her to learn that his Trojan colony would evolve into the Roman Empire. The Cumaean Sibyl would provide the last of the seven Etruscan Kings of Rome three books of prohecies, but only after burning the first 6 of 9. [Westwood, The Atlas of Mysterious Places, 1987, pp.48-51.] Also depicted here is Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Cieling portrait of the Sibyl of Cumae (immediately above, right), digitally framed by Web Creator.

On site, a plaque in Latin:

The cliff's huge flank is honeycombed, cut out
In a cavern perforated a hundred times,
Having a hundred mouths, with rushing voices
Carrying the responses of the Sibyl.
Virgil, The Aeneid VI 66-69

The set of 4 pictures above were taken at the site of the Cumaean Cave. The top two show the view of the Tyrrhenian Sea from the Temple of Apollo (left) and from the cave (right). The site aslo encompasses the enchanting and tranquil Grotto of Peace (bottom left). The Grotto is along the path to Lake Avernus (bottom right). This is the way that the Sibyl led Aeneus to the lake's entrance to the underworld.


Cumaean Silver Nomos


Cumae, Campania; Silver Nomos, 420-380 BCE. Obverse: Female head.

[Nymph Kyme or The Sibyl of Cumae?]

Reverse: KYMAON, large mussel shell; barley grain above. [SNG ANS 243]




Q: What was the nature of the curse that Apollo placed upon the Sibyl of Cumae?

A: The answer is best expressed by a quote from The Satyricon of Petronius : "...I actually saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae dangling in a bottle, and when the children asked her in Greek: 'What do you want, Sibyl?' she used to answer: 'I want to die.' "

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