Exploring The Waste Land: auxilary text

The Sibyl of Cumae

This page contains small portions of a few texts dealing with the Sibyl of Cumae (Sibyl is derived from Kybele, cave dweller).

The epigraph to The Waste Land comes from The Satyricon written in Latin by Petronius Arbiter. One of the translations at this site was done by Alfred R. Allinson who wrote in the introduction to his book:

"The longest and most important section [of The Satyricon] is generally known as the Supper of Trimalchio, presenting us with a detailed and very amusing account of a fantastic banquet, such as the most luxurious and extravagant gourmands of the empire were wont to exhibit on their tables."

I also present a section of Chapter XXXII of Bulfinch's Mythology written by Thomas Bulfinch and published in 1855. In this section he is describing a portion of the Aenid by Virgil.

The Satyricon
Cena Trimalchionis(The Supper of Trimalchio)
by Petronius


And the cook, thus cogently admonished, then withdrew with his charge into the kitchen.

But Trimalchio, relaxing his stern aspect, now turned to us and said "If you don't like the wine, I'll have it changed; otherwise please prove its quality by your drinking. Thanks to the gods' goodness, I never buy it; but now I have everything that smacks good growing on a suburban estate of mine. I've not seen it yet, but they tell me it's down Terracina and Tarentum way. I am thinking at the moment of making Sicily one of my little properties, that when I've a mind to visit Africa, I may sail along my own boundaries to get there.

"But tell me, Agamemnon, what question formed the subject of your declamation today? Though I don't plead myself, I've studied letters for domestic use. Don't imagine I have despised scholarship; why! I have two Libraries, one Greek, the other Latin. If you love me, then, let me know what your discourse was."

Agamemnon had just begun, "A poor man and a rich were at feud . . ." when Trimalchio struck in with the question, "What is a poor man!"

"Oh, capital!" cried Agamemnon; and went on to develop some dialectical problem or another.

Trimalchio summed up without an instant's hesitation as follows, "If this is so, there's no question about it; if it's not so, why! there's an end of the matter."

Whilst we were still acclaiming these and similar remarks with fulsome praise, he resumed, "Pray, my dearest Agamemnon, do you recollect by any chance the twelve labors of Hercules, or the story of Ulysses, how the Cyclops twisted his thumb out of joint, after he was turned into a pig. I used to read these tales in Homer when I was a lad. Then the Sibyl! I saw her at Cumae with my own eyes hanging in a jar; and when the boys cried to her, 'Sibyl, what would you?' she'd answer, 'I would die,'-- both of 'em speaking Greek."

[End of chapter]

by Thomas Bulfinch




As AEneas and the Sibyl pursued their way back to earth, he said to her, "Whether thou be a goddess or a mortal beloved of the gods, by me thou shalt always be held in reverence. When I reach the upper air I will cause a temple to be built to thy honour, and will myself bring offerings." "I am no goddess," said the Sibyl; "I have no claim to sacrifice or offering. I am mortal; yet if I could have accepted the love of Apollo I might have been immortal. He promised me the fulfilment of my wish, if I would consent to be his. I took a handful of sand, and holding it forth, said, 'Grant me to see as many birthdays as there are sand grains in my hand.' Unluckily I forgot to ask for enduring youth. This also he would have granted, could I have accepted his love, but offended at my refusal, he allowed me to grow old. My youth and youthful strength fled long ago. I have lived seven hundred years, and to equal the number of the sand-grains I have still to see three hundred springs and three hundred harvests. My body shrinks up as years increase, and in time, I shall be lost to sight, but my voice will remain, and future ages will respect my sayings."

These concluding words of the Sibyl alluded to her prophetic power. In her cave she was accustomed to inscribe on leaves gathered from the trees the names and fates of individuals. The leaves thus inscribed were arranged in order within the cave, and might be consulted by her votaries. But if perchance at the opening of the door the wind rushed in and dispersed the leaves the Sibyl gave no aid in restoring them again, and the oracle was irreparably lost.

The following legend of the Sibyl is fixed at a later date. In the reign of one of the Tarquins there appeared before the king a woman who offered him nine books for sale, The king refused to purchase them, whereupon the woman went away and burned three of the books, and returning offered the remaining books for the same price she had asked for the nine. The king again rejected them; but when the woman, after burning three books more, returned and asked for the three remaining the same price which she had before asked for the nine, his curiosity was excited, and he purchased the books. They were found to contain the destinies of the Roman state. They were kept in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, preserved in a stone chest, and allowed to be inspected only by special officers appointed for that duty, who, on great occasions, consulted them and interpreted their oracles to the people.

There were various Sibyls; but the Cumaean Sibyl, of whom Ovid and Virgil write, is the most celebrated of them. Ovid's story of her life protracted to one thousand years may be intended to represent the various Sibyls as being only reappearances of one and the same individual.

Young, in the "Night Thoughts," alludes to the Sibyl. Speaking of Worldly Wisdom, he says:


The Above-average Typist presents...
"The Satyricon by Petronius translated by Alfred R. Allinson."

URL: www.gis.net/~kcollins/petron/satyr/complete.html
Last modified: 16-Sep-98
Retrieved: 12-Nov-98
Page size: 409 KB !

Bulfinch's Mythology: The Age of Fable or Stories of Gods and Heroes
URL: http://www.desy.de/gna/interpedia/greek_myth/bullfinch
Retrieved: 11-Nov-98
Page size: 722 KB !

Another site with Bulfinch's Mythology broken into multiple pages with many/many/many useful links is the site entitled
Bulfinch's Mythology
URL: http://www.bulfinch.org/

Exploring The Waste Land - [Home] [E-mail] Url: http://world.std.com/~raparker/exploring/thewasteland/xqsibyl.html File date: Sunday, September 29, 2002