The sibyls were female prophets of Greek and Roman mythology. Their prophecies, which emerged as riddles to be interpreted by priests, were inspired by Apollo* or other gods. The number of sibyls varied from 1 to 12.
prophet one who claims to have received divine messages or insights
prophecy foretelling of what is to come; also something that is predicted
The most famous of these prophets was the Cumaean Sibyl. Apollo offered to grant her any wish if she would make love to him. Scooping up a handful of sand, the Sibyl asked to live one year for each grain of sand she held. Apollo granted her wish, but then the Sibyl refused him. As punishment, Apollo gave her long life but not eternal youth. As the Sibyl grew older, she shrank in size, finally becoming so small she lived in a bottle. When someone asked the Sibyl what she wanted, she would reply that she wished only to die.
One story tells how the Cumaean Sibyl led the Greek hero Aeneas* to the underworld to meet his dead father Anchises. Anchises then predicted that from Aeneas would come the greatest empire the world had ever seen. According to tradition, Aeneas's descendants founded Rome.
underworld land of the dead
In another well-known tale, the Sibyl offered to sell nine books to the Roman king Tarquin. He refused to buy them. The Sibyl burned three of the books and came back to offer the remaining six at the same price. Again he refused. She burned three more and returned again. This time Tarquin bought the books, which contained prophecies about the future of Rome. Tarquin kept the books in the temple of Jupiter*, where officials consulted them on special occasions to interpret the prophecies. The books were consumed in a fire in 83 B.C.