Inside the Sibyl’s Cave

Cuma Archaeological Park (Pozzuoli, NA)

One place with deep local ties that I’d recommend is the Cave of the Cumaean Sibyl. According to Virgil, this is where the legendary prophetess lived: this is one of the most important places of worship in the ancient world, along with Delphi and Erythra.

I’ve always imagined this place – a bare tunnel, uninhabited for centuries – and its cult, somewhere between the creases of a Neapolitan, heterodox and pluralist Christianity – as the subterranean path to Neapolitan history and culture, its aura of mysticism, power, its sacred and profane, its majesty and decadence.

Sibyl’s Cave, Cuma Archaeological Park (Pozzuoli, NA)

This place evokes that indelible brand of fatalism of a people resigned to the unstoppable onslaught of events, that alleged atavistic limit of a geographical portion and its inhabitants. Instead, I’ve always understood this as a mechanism of social functioning, of passive defense, cleverly recycled to absorb the blow of the counter-reformation, colonialism and globalization. The Sibyl’s cave is a fragmentary myth; a cultural assemblage devoted to justifying the city and its culture; its capacity to absorb the blow of colonialism and give it back in its own way in spades.

What always strikes me is how eager the artists are to visit the oracle’s cave, the way their words are charged with energy during their visits to this place. I like to put these experiences down to the cult’s vitality. Even today, it still has the power to validate its city’s culture, history and art.

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