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.
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.
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 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: