"NAM Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse
oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum
illi pueri dicerunt:
Sebulla pe theleis;
respondebat illa:
apothanein thelo."

This quotation occurs at the very beginning of The Wasteland. T.S. Eliot placed Sybil's original response in Greek letters, translated here as: "And as for the Sibyl, I saw her with my own eyes at Cumae, suspended in a jar, and when boys asked her, `Sibyl, what is your wish?', she would reply, 'I want to die.'

The Sybil of Cumae, a gatekeeper of the underworld, asked the gods for as many years of life as grains of sand in her hand, but forgot to ask for physical youth along with them, so eventually grew so old and shrivelled-up that she had to be kept in a jar.

She was an oracle who divulged her knowledge by flinging handfuls of leaves from her cave, which the seeker of knowledge had to catch and try to put in order.

http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/wastland.html#epigraph

Sib"yl (?), n. [L. sibylla, Gr. .]

1. Class. Antiq.

A woman supposed to be endowed with a spirit of prophecy.

⇒ The number of the sibyls is variously stated by different authors; but the opinion of Varro, that there were ten, is generally adopted. They dwelt in various parts of Persia, Greece, and Italy.

2.

A female fortune teller; a pythoness; a prophetess.

"An old highland sibyl."

Sir W. Scott.

 

© Webster 1913.

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