I spent the second day studying just the Antro della Sibilla, the Cave of the Sibyl. Here’s some background information on the cave. The passage, called a dromos, was cut sometime around the 6th or 5th centuries BCE (just for fun, most scholars like to give conflicting accounts), and its trapezoidal shape is reminiscent of Mycenae, but also of Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri.

The dromos, eroded down to its current opening.

The dromos, eroded down to its current opening.

Compare/contrast: a trapezoidal door to an Etruscan tumulus at the Cerveteri necropolis.

Compare/contrast: a trapezoidal door to an Etruscan tumulus at the Cerveteri necropolis.

In the 5th c. BCE, the Greeks at Cumae (the city was colonized by Pithekoussai [Ischia] in the 8th c.), with some help from Hieron of Syracuse, defeated Etruscan invaders in 474. Some scholars believe that the dromos was cut in the period following the conflict, since the stonecutters could have been Etruscan slaves, hence the trapezoidal style. The cave would then date to roughly a half century after a Greek restoration of the temples on the acropolis. Others think that the Oscan-Samnites, who conquered Cumae in 421, had the dromos cut. At this point, the scholarship diverges even more. Some archaeologists want the dromos to have been cut for a religious function; as a seat for the Sibyl there, who would have been controlled by Hera Catachthonia (an underworld version of Hera). I like that theory because it would make everything so simple, but I cannot fully believe it without more evidence. The suggestion that seems more likely to me is that the dromos was cut as part of a defensive system for the acropolis. The defensive works could have been undertaken by Cumae after they defeated the Etruscans, or else by the Oscan-Samnites, who would have been preparing for the Roman invasion. Whatever the case, the Romans conquered Cumae, and in 334 its inhabitants received citizenship without voting rights. Fast forward a few hundred years, and Octavian is fighting a war with Sextus Pompey. Cumae becomes his base city. Generals Agrippa and Cocceius fortify the acropolis, and the Antro della Sibilla becomes a storage facility. The three lustral basins in the east wall are converted into cisterns, fed by pipes built into the walls. Roughly perpendicular to the entrance of the Antro della Sibilla, the generals dug a tunnel to Lake Avernus, now called the Crypta Romana.

The Cumae entrance to the Cryta Romana.

The Cumae entrance to the Crypta Romana.

Lake Avernus was then linked to Lake Lucrinus by another tunnel, giving the Romans access to the Porta Julia. After his victory, Augustus monumentalized the acropolis. He renovated the so-called Temple of Jupiter and the Temple of Apollo, as I discussed in the previous post. He also restored the so-called Antro della Sibilla, apparently even reinstating a Sibyl there (I have no idea how he pulled that one off). The move is similar to his recreation of the Sibylline Books (they burned in a fire in the earlier 1st c. BCE), which he placed in the Temple of Palatine Apollo.

Now for my findings. The entrance to the Antro della Sibilla has been eroded significantly, but in its original position, it would have stood just a few meters from the Crypta Romana. As I mentioned above, the Crypta Romana leads to Lake Avernus, which happens to be the fabled location of the underworld, so the path to a place associated with war is also the path to the land of the dead. In this land, Aeneas discovers the greatness of his future race. It seems possible that Vergil used the coincidences of topography and strategic building to comment on a somewhat cyclic relationship between war, death, and power. After all, one of the first things the Sibyl prophesies is war. Therefore, it is also appropriate that her cave played a role in a war, just as the greatness of Roman destiny overshadows all else.

In my previous post I mentioned the lunar calendars on/in the cave, but I neglected to mention that, to the south of the Temple of Apollo, there are remains of a much smaller structure thought to be a temple of Artemis/Diana.

The remnants of the suggested Temple of Artemis/Diana

The remnants of the suggested Temple of Artemis/Diana

The Sibyl in Vergil belongs to both Apollo and Diana Trivia, but Apollo’s role is the only really significant one in the Aeneid. The Apollo-Diana tension that seems to appear here (it does elsewhere in the Aeneid) might end up being relevant to my paper, since it could be related to one aspect of her character, namely her chastity and Apollo’s revenge for it.

Most of my findings are in photo form, documenting the Roman fortification of the cave, the lunar calendars, the proximity of the Crypta Romana, and the position of the Temple of Apollo right above the cave. The pictures also show the various parts of the cave. Here’s a sample that should illustrate the points I have already discussed:

The oikos, the room at the end of the cave. The adyton is on the left, but it isn't really visible in this picture.

The oikos, the room at the end of the cave. The adyton is on the left, but it isn't really visible in this picture.

The adyton, from which the Sibyl supposedly delivered her prophecies.

The adyton, from which the Sibyl supposedly delivered her prophecies.

One of the three cisterns in the eastern gallery.

One of the three cisterns in the eastern gallery.

A water-channel installed during Octavian's campaign against Sextus Pompey.

A water-channel installed during Octavian's campaign against Sextus Pompey

Comments

3 Responses to “Research in Cumae: Day 2 (48 hours remain)”

  1. Henry von Blumenthal on July 5th, 2009 11:13 pm

    Hello,

    I have never been to the Crypta Romana. Can you tell me if there are mediaeval graffiti there? I want to confirm the following note in my family papers, written in the 18th Century: “In 1567 Jakob von Blumenthal came to Italy to the place where the bath and chamber of the White Sybil are hewn where, not without danger, he lowered himself down, and in the very place where he found the names of Alexander von der Schulenburg and Dr. H. Goldbein’s names in the walls, there he carved his own beside them.” Since the actual Sybil’s cave was only discovered in the 1930s, this must refer to the Crypta Romana, which at that time was assumed to be the Sybil’s cave.

    Kind regards

    Henry von Blumenthal

  2. andromeda on July 6th, 2009 8:24 pm

    Unfortunately, I was not able to go inside either tunnel of the Crypta Romana; both are closed. The expanse formerly and incorrectly identified as the Cave of the Sibyl is the tunnel connecting Lake Avernus and Lake Lucrinus, and it is locked off. My pictures were taken through a gap in the bars. Nevertheless, I would not be surprised if there is medieval graffiti inside – through the 19th-C., the tunnel was used as a thoroughfare. In addition, I’ve heard that there are bath-like depressions and side-chambers in the tunnel, so it seems entirely plausible that travelers would have stopped to explore and leave their mark, but…
    Your Sibyl’s cave belongs to the WHITE Sibyl (Albunea), who is not the Sibyl of Cumae, but the Tiburtine Sibyl! Unlike the Sibyl of Cumae, the Tiburtine Sibyl likely never existed as a historical figure, but she was quite a part of the Roman sibylline tradition. A grotto near Tivoli was held to have been her dwelling. I assume that the grotto associated with her in medieval times is still known, but unfortunately I have never seen it, nor do I know much about it. If you’re ever in Rome, it’ll just be a short drive away, though!
    I wish I could be of more assistance! Good luck with your family history, and I hope you get to confirm the detail with your own eyes someday – I am sure that would be amazing.

  3. Peter Knight on July 18th, 2010 12:24 pm

    Way back in the 1970′s when I lived in Torregaveta I was a frequent visitor to Cuma and at that time it was possible to enter the Crypta Romana and I spent many hours in there over a period of a few years. I never saw any Graffiti in there, nor did any of my companions for I am sure they would have mentioned it, but that is not to say there wasn’t any! The grotto of the Sibyl at Avernus is often open (even today) but times are at the whim of the custodian. I would recommend to you Robert temples book ‘Netherworld’ and, if you can find a copy, ‘In the Footsteps of Orpheus’ by Robert Paget. (I have seen a copy in the British Library in London).
    If I can help you any more please don’t hesitate to contact me. You have hit on one of my favourite subjects

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