Herophile - the Sibyl

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Sep 26, 2020.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    For all who are interested: This topic belongs to the ambit of Apollo Smintheus and the Trojan War.

    The coin:
    Troas, Gergis, 400-241 BC
    AE 9, 0.98g, 9.48mm, 225°
    Obv.: Bust of the sibyl Herophile, looking facing, laureate, decorated wit two longish ear-pendants and a pearl-necklace
    Rev.: Female spinx, winged, std. r.
    in r. field ΓEP
    Ref.: SNG von Aulock 1513; BMC 2-4
    rare, F+/about VF
    There are two versions to explain the name Herophile:
    (1) It means "priestress of the tribe"
    (2) It means 'friendly to Hera'
    I tend to the first version, but I don't know wether it is actually correct.

    Herophile was the daughter of Apollo, or of Zeus and Lamia, or of Ketophagos and an Idaic nymph. According to Kerenyi she was the oldest of all sibyls, sometimes also called Sibyl per se. In any case she was one of the most famous. She lived at the time when Troy was destroyed and she was the priestress of the Smintheum, the sanctuary of Apollo Smintheus. There she had predicted the destruction of Troy. And that happened this way:

    A short time before the birth of Paris his mother Hekabe (Lat. Hecuba), the wife of Priamos, king of Troy, had a dream where she bore a log from which crawled numerous snakes. Priamos asked his son Aisakos, the seer, for the meaning of this dream, and Aisakos prophesied, that this child would be the doom of the whole country, and he begged Priamos to kill this child.

    With a heavy heart Priamos announced that the child together with its mother should be killed. And he commanded to kill his sister Kilia and her son Munippos and buried them in the holy precinct of Tros. She has given birth to a son at the the same time. But Hekabe too gave birth to her son and although Herophile, priestress of Apollo, insisted in killing at least the child, Priamos spared both lifes. Finally - due to her entreatingly begs - Priamos charged the herdsman Agelaos with this order. Agelaos took the child, but having pity on him he marooned him at the Ida mountain. There he was found by a she-bear, which nursed him. When Agelaos after five days found him alive he was astonished about this miracle and took the child with him in a basket (hence his name Paris, Greek = "bag", later on he was named Alexandros) and brought him up with his wife. To Priamos he showed the tongue of a dog as proof of the murder. The rest of the story is well-known.

    Herophile lived at Samos, Klaros, Delos and Delphi, and finally died in Troas. Therefore her tomb could be seen in the grove of Apllo Smintheus. Her cult seems to come from Hellenistic times. The people of Erythraia adopted Herophile as compatriot, passed her off as daughter of the herdsman Theodoros and the nymph from above and showed a cave on the Korykos mountain where she should be born (Pausanias Phok. c.12.p.630). The inhabitants of Delphi showed a rock, on whose summit standing she should have sung her sayings.
    Testus, Wikipedia

    Excursion: The sibyls
    The word sibyl comes from the ancient Greek, meaning prophetess. The earlier oracular seeresses known as the sibyls of antiquity prophesied at certain holy sites, probably all of pre-Indo-European origin, under the divine influence of a , originally one of the chthonic earth-goddesses. Later in antiquity, sibyls wandered from place to place. Homer seems to have been unaware of a Sibyl. The first Greek writer, so far as we know, who mentions a sibyl is Heraclit, in the 5th century BC. Sibyls are not identified by a personal name, but by names that refer to the location of their temenos, or shrine. In Pausanias the first sibyl mentioned was the Sibyl of Delphi. The second Sibyl, referred to by Pausanias, was named "Herophile", and seems to have been based ultimately in Samos Island, but visited other shrines too, but Delphi had its own sibyl. We see that here is still much ambiguity. The reason is that the sibyls at first were not stationary. So their names and their stories were often mixed.

    Even the number of sibyls is not clear. Frazier writes, that historical there were only two of them at the beginning, the Sibyl of Erythraea and the Sibyl of Samos who lived some time later. The first ancient writer to distinguish several Sibyls was Heraclides Ponticus, 4th century BC, who named at least three Sibyls, the Phrygian Sibyl, the Erythraean Sibyl and the Hellespontine Sibyl, where the last one should be our Herophile. Later on their number increased to nine and even ten, when the Romans finally added a Etruscan Sibyl. According to Lacantius who cited Varro these were the ten Sibyls:

    (1) The Persian Sibyl was said to preside over the Apollo Oracle; though her location remained vague enough so that she might be called the "Babylonian Sibyl". She is said to have foretold the exploits of Alexander the Great.

    (2) The so-called Libyan Sibyl was identified with prophetic priestess presiding over the ancient Zeus Amun Oracle at the Siwa Oasia. This oracle is well-known by the visit of Alexander after his conquest of Egypt. She is called Lamia too.

    (3) The Sibyl at Delphi is commonly known as the Pytha, though her name was also Herophile. She was the Pythian priestess of Python, an archaic chthonic serpent. Later, Sibyl or Pythia became a title given to whichever priestess manned the oracle at the time. The Sibyl sat on a tripod over a cleft in the Sibylline Rock, gaining her often puzzling predictions from it. She sang her predictions, which she received from Gaia, in an ecstatic swoon; her utterings were interpreted by attendant priests during classical times, and re-ndered into of notoriously difficult interpretation. Modern scholars dismiss the archaic propensity for visions and sometimes attempt to account for the Pythia's swoon with toxic methane or ethylene hydrocarbon vapors (Scientific American, October 2003).

    (4) The Cimmerian Sibyl. Gnaeus Naevius names the Cimmerian Sibyl in his books of the Punic War and Piso in his annals. The Sibyl's son Evander founded in Rome the shrine of Pan.

    (5) The Erythraean Sibyl was sited at Erythrae, a town in Ionia opposite Chios. Apollodoros of Erythrae affirms the Erythraean Sibyl to have been his own countrywoman and to have predicted the Trojan War and prophesised to the Greeks who were moving against Troy both that Troy would be destroyed and that Homer would write falsehoods. The word acrostic was first applied to the prophecies of the Erythraean Sibyl, which were written on leaves and arranged so that the initial letters of the leaves always formed a word.

    (6) The Samian Sibyl's site was at the Isle of Samos.

    (7) The Cumaean Sibyl. She was most concerned by the Romans.Her site was a cave near Cumae in the neighborhood of Naples. She was consulted by Aeneas before his descent to the lower world. It was she who sold to Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome, the original Sibylline Books, which then were hold by the viri quindecim. The Sibylline Books are not the same as the Sibylline Oracles. The Roman Sibylline Books were quite different in character from the preserved Sibylline Oracles, which typically predict disasters rather than prescribe solutions. The books contained lists of rites and procedures to avoid calamities. Christians were especially impressed with the Cumaean Sibyl too, for in Virgil's Fourth Eclogue she foretells the coming of a savior, a flattering reference to the poet's patron, Augustus, whom Christians nevertheless identified as Jesus.
    Sibylle von Cumae Michelangelo.jpg
    The pic shows the famous Sibyl of Cumae of Michelangelo. She is found in the Sistine Chapel (AD 1508-1512) in Rome. Here Michelangelo has immortalized altogether five of the sibyls.

    (8) The Hellespontine, or Trojan Sibyl presided over the Apollo Oracle at Dardania in Asia Minor. She was born in the village of Marpessos near the small town of Gergis, during the lifetimes of Solon and Kyros the Great. Marpessus was formerly within the boundaries of the Troas. The Sibylline Book at Gergis was attributed to the Hellespontine Sibyl and was preserved in the temple of Apollo at Gergis. Thence it passed to Erythrae, where it became famous. The coins of Gergis depict her portrait.

    (9) The Phrygian Sibyl appears to be a doublet of the Hellespontine Sibyl.

    (10) The Tiburtine Sibyl was added to the classical sibyls by the Romans. Her site was Tibur (today Tivoli), an ancient Etruscan city. The myth tells that Augustus has consulted the sibyl and has asked her whether he should be worshiped as a god. Whether the sibyl in question was the Etruscan Sibyl of Tibur or the Cumaean Sibyl is not always clear. An apocalyptic pseudo-prophecy exists, attributed to the Tiburtine Sibyl, written in ca AD 380, but with revisions and interpolations added at later dates. It purports to prophesy the arrival of the Christian emperor, Constantine, and then will arise a king of the Greeks whose name is Constans. He will be king of the Romans and the Greeks. But this is only a vaticinium ex eventu, spoken after the fact, the best way to ensure that the prediction is fulfilled

    (1) Pausanias, Voyages
    (2) Vergil, Bucolic
    (3) Der kleine Pauly
    (4) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon
    (5) Robert von Ranke-Graves, Griechische Mythologie
    (6) Karl Kerenyi, Griechische Sagen
    (7) Scientific American
    (8) http://dark-legion.org/en/Sibyl
    (9) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sibylle_(Prophetin)
    (10) http://www.weblexikon.de/Sibylle_(Prophetin).html

    Best regards
    Edessa, Carl Wilmont, zumbly and 18 others like this.
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  3. justus

    justus New Member

    Perfect as always. Thanks!

  4. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    @Jochen1 - I always enjoy your write-ups and learn something new from them. A few notes:

    According to Roman tradition, the Sybilline books came from the Sibyl of Cumae who got them from Erythrae, and they came there from Gergis.

    "The old town of Gergis was believed by some to have been the birthplace of the Sibyl, whence coins found there have the image of the prophetess impressed upon them."
    - William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography

    Pausanias tells of the Sibyl named Herophile who lived in Samos and known to the inhabitants of Marpessus, a village near Gergis. This "Trojan Sibyl" is the source of the books that eventually made their way to Rome.
    Gergis sphinx.jpg
    Troas, Gergis, circa 350-300 BC, Æ (12mm, 1.72g, 6h)
    Obv: Head of Sibyl Herophile facing slightly right, wearing laurel wreath and pendant necklace
    Rev: Sphinx seated right, ΓEP downwards to right
    Ref: Corpus Num 24374; Traite des Monnaies Plate CLXVI.14
    Notes: more in this blog entry
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2020
    Edessa, Carl Wilmont, zumbly and 7 others like this.
  5. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    @Sulla80: Thank you for your addition.

    Sulla80 likes this.
  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Jochen1 likes this.
  7. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    Thank you for the interesting write-up!

    To bump the thread, I have these two, admittedly unspectacular coins showing the Sybil Herophile:

    Magna Graecia – Troas, Gergis, Sybille und Sphinx r..png
    Troas, Gergis, AE9, c. 400–241 BC. Obv: Sybil Herophile, laureate, wearing necklace, facing slightly l. Rev: sphinx seated r., ΓEP in field r. 12mm, 1.28g. Ref: SNG Copenhagen 337; SNG von Aulock 1513; BMC 2–3.

    Magna Graecia – Troas, Gergis, Sybille und Sphinx l..png
    Troas, Gergis, AE9, c. 400–241 BC. Obv: Sybil Herophile, laureate, facing slightly l. Rev: sphinx seated l., Γ in field r. 9mm, 0.84g. Ref: BMC 4.
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