Hekate in Magna Graecia: Cumae



The Cumaean Sybil is a well-known figure in Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as one of the most well known oracles in Magna Graecia. Cumae was a Greek colony located near coastal Naples in southern Italy, belonging to Magna Graecia. The Latin word “sybil” comes from the Greek word “sibylla”, which means “prophetess”.  The Cumaean Sybil quickly became famous across southern Italy, and gained favor with Rome, with people coming from afar to hear her prophecies, much like the Delphic Oracle in Greece.

The Sybil was said to reside in a cave, and called on Hekate to enlist Her aid in necromantic rites, as written in Virgil’s Aeneid, where Aeneas was attempting to reach the underworld:

“[The Sibyl performs the rites of necromancy at the oracle of the dead at Cumae] : The Sibyl first lined up four black-skinned bullocks, poured a libation wine upon their foreheads, and then, plucking the topmost hairs from between their brows, she placed these on the altar fires as an initial offering, calling aloud upon Hecate, powerful in heaven and hell.”…..” But listen!–at the very first crack of dawn, the ground underfoot began to mutter, the woody ridges to quake, and a baying of hounds was heard through the half-light : the goddess was coming, Hecate. [A path was then opened for the Sibyl and Aeneas to journey on through the underworld.]”

The rites that the Cumaean Sybil performed to Hekate always took place within the cave in Cumae where the Sybil resided.


Entrance to the cave of the Cumaean Sybil – from Wikimedia

I hope you enjoyed this essay on Hekate in  Magna Graecia: Cumae.

© Melissa McNair / The Torch and Key


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