It's finally Wednesday, which means it's also time for our weekly appointment with Boccaccio's De Mulieribus Claris! Our protagonist this time is the legendary Cumean Sibyl, sometimes known by the name of Almathea or Deiphebe.

According to the legend, the Cumaean Sibyl lived more than a thousand years, being alive at the time of the Trojan War (c. 1260-1180 BC) - and appearing in Virgil's Aeneid to show Aeneas the way to the underworld - and at least up until the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, the legendary fifth king of Rome (from 616 to 579 BC). At this time, the Sibyl came to Rome and offered the King a total of nine books of prophecies, allegedly narrating all of the future history of Rome itself. When the King refused to buy said books, the Sibyl burned three of them and asked him to buy the remaining six for the original price. The King declined once again, and three more books were destroyed. When the Sibyl repeated her offer for the last three books, the King finally gave in.

The three sibylline books were kept in the Temple of Jupiter in Rome until the building burned down in 83 BC; during this time, Romans would only consult the texts in grave emergencies, as they were kept under tight control by the Senate.

“Cumean Sibyl”, illumination from the manuscript “Des cleres et nobles femmes”, ms. Spencer Collection 033, c. 20v, ca. 1450, The New York Public Library.

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