For the first time ever a conjectural model on the origin of the legendary tales which inhabit the Sibillini Mountain Range in Italy is proposed on a scientific basis through the establishment of a close connection with the peculiar seismic character of the area.
For centuries the legends of a Sibyl's Cave and a Lake of Pilate, in central Italy, have challenged scholars and researchers with the mysterious enigma concerning their origin and the reason for their establishment in the impervious territory where the Sibillini Mountain Range raises its precipitous peaks. In the fifteenth century, the two legends were known throughout Europe, and visitors coming from various countries flocked to the Cave and Lake in search of a sensual, subterranean realm and to perform necromantic rituals, as described in Andrea da Barberino's romance “Guerrino the Wretch” and Antoine de la Sale's account “The Paradise of Queen Sibyl.”
Following the release of a number of research papers on the whole legendary framework, in which the literary links of the Sibyl of the Apennines to the Matter of Britain are fully highlighted, together with the clear northern-European origin of the legend of Pontius Pilate, Michele Sanvico has now published a new landmark paper, “Sibillini Mountain Range, the chthonian legend,” which provides at last a comprehensive, unprecedented conjectural model on the potential origin of the sibilline legends. And the chosen keyword is earthquakes.
"Since time immemorial, most devastating earthquakes have been occurring in the area on a recurrent basis," said Michele Sanvico, an Italian writer of literary fiction and creative nonfiction. "The very face of the mountain range is affected by the largest events. Smaller earthquakes ceaselessly hit the territory, many of them just above the threshold of human sensitivity. Vibrations and rumbles may often be heard. Contemporary residents know that a catastrophic earthquake might happen anytime, announced by sequences of smaller tremors, or even totally unheralded. They all know that sudden death may ensue, and that within the space of a few seconds their own life and the life of their family members may be subject to a dramatic change, as it actually happened in the year 2016. Before the Roman conquest in the third century B.C.," added Michele Sanvico, "we assume that the ancient local populations of Sabines and Picenes may have developed some sort of legendary narrative, and a possible cult, with relation to the nature and potential worship of earthquakes, considered as a kind of fiendish demons or gods."
After a full review of the seismic character of the Sibillini Mountain Range, a fact that has become apparent to all in the wake of the destructive earthquake which occurred in the area in 2016, it is reasonable to assume that in antiquity earthquakes were feared and worshipped: "In the almost constant presence of earthquakes, due to the presence of an active fault system situated beneath the Sibillini Mountain Range," continued Sanvico, "the local tradition, across the centuries of the Iron Age, may have established highland shrines at the Lake and Cave, where necromantic rituals may have been performed to obtain the cessation of the seismic sequences, and ask for mercy and salvation."
In the research paper just released, a comprehensive conjectural model is built on this potential scenario, with a full analysis of the reasons that may steer research in this direction. A most interesting link is also established with the tradition associated with the Sibyl's Cave and the Lake of Pilate as to the legendary, devastating tempests which would arise from the two sites, a clear reference, though totally disregarded by scholars up to now, to the antique beliefs on the origin of earthquakes as stated by Aristotle, Lucretius, Seneca and Pliny the Elder.
In Sanvico's conjecture, the powerful mythical pull exerted by this antique belief would have attracted, in late antiquity and during the Middle Ages, further legendary layers, including tales on a sensual Sibyl and a cursed Roman prefect, with additional narrative resonances with otherwordly accounts like the classical tales on an entryway to Hades in Cumae and the medieval Purgatory of St. Patrick.
"With this landmark paper," said Michele Sanvico, "we fully uncover the real essence of the myth of the Sibyl's Cave and the Lake of Pilate: the inner, concealed core of these ancient legends. We cast an illuminating light on the mythical nucleus of the legends that inhabit the place which we call today as Sibillini Mountain Range. A result that no other scholar or researcher has ever achieved: because they did not possess the right key, the very peculiar one that unlocked the door to the inner core of the mystery. And the name of this key is earthquakes."