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sibyl(sĭb`ĭl), in classical mythology and religion, prophetess. There were said to be as many as 10 sibyls, variously located and represented. The most famous was the Cumaean sibyl, described by Vergil in the Aeneid. When she offered Tarquin her prophetic writings, the so-called sibylline books, he refused to pay her high price. She kept burning the books until finally he bought the remaining three at the original price. Although the historical origins of the books are uncertain, they were actually kept at Rome in the Capitol and were consulted by the state in times of emergency. The books were destroyed in the burning of the Capitol in 83 B.C., but a new collection was made. This was burned in A.D. 405. The sibyls achieved a stature in Christian literature and art similar to that of the Old Testament prophets.
any of several legendary prophetesses mentioned in works by classical writers.
The most famous sibyl was from the city of Cumae in Italy; according to legend, her predictions were gathered into collections of prophecies, the Sibylline Books. During the reigns of the legendary Roman kings Tarquinius Superbus and Tarqui-nius Priscus (seventh-sixth centuries B.C.), these collections were brought to Rome and kept in a stone vault under the Temple of the Capitoline Jupiter; in 83 B.C.. they were destroyed during a fire. The books were compiled again and stored in the temple of Apollo on the Palatine; in AD. 405 these were burned by edict of Stilicho, ruler of the Western Roman Empire. The 12 surviving Sibylline Books, dating from the second century B.C.. to the second century AD., are a source for the history of the Judaic and Christian religions. Sibyls appear in paintings by Michelangelo, Tintoretto, Rembrandt and other artists.