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THE SIBILLINI MOUNTAIN RANGE AS SEEN FROM ABOVE: A FLIGHT OVER MOUNT VETTORE WITH THE HELICOPTER OF THE ITALIAN NATIONAL BROADCASTER RAI

The take-off from the landing area at Arquata del Tronto; the rise to Mount Vettore capped with snow; the fly-by over the mountain-top at an elevation of 8123 feet; the hovering over the gigantic glacial cirque; the astounding vista ranging from Mount Sibyl down to the Adriatic Sea; the vision of the mountain's amazing crests, the Peak of the Lake, the Peak of the Saviour, the Devil's Cliff; and then the breath-taking coming of the Great Plain, with its icy glittering under the sun; the landing on Mount Vettore; the RAI crew shooting on the mountain-top, under Massimiliano Ossini's lead, to record the footage required to make up the "Linea Bianca" TV show to be broadcasted on February 2nd 2019; and then back again to Arquata, the small town now razed to ground by a recent earthquake.

This is the footage shot on January 15th 2019 by Italian writer Michele Sanvico, who took part in the TV show as an expert of the sibilline legends.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-de3tOBSrkE
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THE TALE OF THE APENNINE SIBYL IS TOLD FROM THE SIBILLINI MOUNTAIN RANGE'S MOST ELEVATED PEAK WITH RAI, THE ITALIAN NATIONAL BROADCASTER

To have a role in the TV show "Linea Bianca" ("The White Line"), produced by the Italian national broadcaster RAI and presented by Massimiliano Ossini, is no different from being thrusted into a compelling action movie: people who scream "Go! Go! Go!", a frantic rush beneath the helicopter's rotating blades - one's head down - the engine which gains an ever increasing momentum, the runners that leave the surface of the small landing area at Arquata del Tronto, on the southern side of the Sibillini Mountain Range; and then up and up we go, by the precipitous side of Mount Vettore, with the helicopter leaving the shadowy gorge and raising upwards into the blue flooded by the white, stainless brilliance of the snow, never stopping its ascending motion, until it reaches the gradually-sloping plain on the mountain-top, a kingdom of pure icy snow, almost to the uppermost cross twisted by the might of the lightnings,and beneath a crystal-clear, cloudless sky down to the far-away Adriatic Sea, which shines with cyan hues in the blue radiance overwhelmed by the beams of the sun.

Up there, amid the glittering ice shaped by the freezing gusts of the wind, in a blinding solitude that plunges straight down on all sides, the action turns into a drawn, frantic activity, as the RAI professionals, led by Ossini, shoot the footage which is required to build up the TV episode, amid interviews, monologues, flights of drones, steadicams and mikes, to be accurately placed to shun the aggressive whistle of the wind.

And then, at the presence of the Apennine Sibyl, whose peak stands out not far from there across the vertiginous ravine and the valley encircled by the same Mount Vettore, we start talking of that wondrous, legendary tale, and also of the legend of the Lakes of Pilatus, guarded within the glacial cirque of that gigantic mount capped with snow.

And then again, away we go, as it is often seen in theatrical movies: the helicopter which comes, again, from the far horizon, the engine's humming noise turning into a deep roar; the landing on the mountain-top, amid sprays of snow scattered all around by the power of the great blades; we run, we get onboard, the rotating wings which never stop, for they cannot stop, they must not stop, lest balance and stability get disrupted; and so we leave, hovering over the incredibly elevated crests of Mount Vettore, and Beyond we gain a precious and unforgettable glimpse of Castelluccio and the Great Plain, an ocean which is of grass nomore, being now of dazzling, translucent ice, lit by the slant rays of the afternoon sun. And down we go at last, heading to our landing point, cruising through the dizzying emptiness that lays above the valley of the river Tronto. Just like in a movie, in a theater, in an adventure film.

Yet this is no movie at all. Because, down there, we see the ruins of Arquata, with the tragic, moving vision of the arches that once, up to the night of August 24th 2016, supported the small village's buildings; a vision from above, with an almost vertical fly-by, which breaks our hearts.

This is no movie, because Massimiliano Ossini and his highly-skilled crew came to Arquata, by the Sibillini Mountain Range, on purpose, to attest to the events that happened here: they intend to remind everybody that an earthquake took place, that these places and the people who live here must not be forgotten; and the promotion of the territory, on TV screens as well, is a way to contribute to a new birth, so that the spotlights may not be turned off on this dramatic events, and no one may ever forget.

And I was struck by Massimiliano Ossini's astounding energy, a man who is always smiling and truly close to his men, a leader who, in the turn of a few hours, has led a complex arrangement of men and materials towards the predefined targets, by selecting sequences, shots and lines, handling with ease a number of interviews on a mountain-top, flying on a helicopter at least four times, and skiing loosely on ice down to the Lakes of Pilatus, and then moving to a different mountain altogether, and from there, from a peak belonging to the nearby Mounts of the Laga, sliding towards the bottom of a valley with a paraglider, not to forget a ride on a friend's motorbike along those amazing mountain roads. All that he made while he was leading his men by showing a manifest proficiency in leadership, with a remarkable prestige yet without losing in kindness and elegance, not even in the most tense occurrences, always coming when a TV production is filmed outdoor and in the roughest environmental conditions.

A most charming experience it was, and a day of great significance for a territory that need people to talk and remember, not to be forgotten. With the aim to be allowed to head to their own renaissance, as soon as possible.
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BIRTH OF A SIBYL: THE MEDIEVAL CONNECTION /13. A BOND OF NECROMANCY ESTABLISHED BETWEEN MORGAN LE FAY AND THE SIBYLS

We are perusing Folium 40v of the Codex Vindobonensis Ser. Nova 2663, also called “Ambraser Heldenbuch”, a manuscript which contains the only integral version of Hartmann von Aue's twelfth-century poem “Erec”. The vellum page includes an excerpt on «Famurgan», or Morgan le Fay, in which King Arthur's half-sister is depicted and praised as a skilled healer and a most powerful wizard, proficient in magical arts.

But as we proceed further with the reading, the description takes an utterly different turn. And here is how Hartmann von Aue presents the new, sinister traits of Morgan le Fay (Fig. 1):

«She lived much against God: for under her command were the birds of the wild, of forests and fields, and what is most important to me, the evil spirits, which are called demons, were all under her control. She could work wonders, for even the dragons of the air and the fish of the sea brought tribute to her».

[In the original Old German text: «sÿ lebete vaſt wider got - wann es wartette jr gepot - das gefugl zu dem wilde - on walde vnd on geuilde - vnd daz mich daz maiſte - die vbeln geiſte - die da tiefln ſint genant - die waren alle vnnder jr handt - ſÿ mochte wunder machen - wann jr muſten die trachen - von den lufften bringen - ſtewre zu jrn dingen - die Viſche von dem wage»].

And there is more to that. Hartmann von Aue is now ready to stage Morgan le Fay's final transformation into a full demon, a being who partakes of the nature of Hell and commands by a single gesture the gloomiest subterranean powers (Fig. 2):

«She also had kin deep in Hell; the devil was her companion. He paid tribute to her, even from the flames, however much she wanted. And whatever she wanted from the earthly realm, that she took enough of without any bother. The earth would grow no plants, if her power were not manifested, as I move my hand».

[In the original Old German text: «auch het ſÿ mage - tieff in der helle - der teufl was jr gefelle - der ſant jr ſteure - auch aus dem feure - wieuil ſy des wolte - vnd was ſÿ haben ſolte - von erdtriche - des nam ſÿ im angſtliche - alles ſelb genug - die erde dhain wurtzen trug - Ir ware jr crafft erkannt - als mir mein ſelbs hanndt»].

The description of Morgan le Fay we have been reading up to now, written by German writer Hartmann von Aue at the end of the twelfth century, might perfectly fit the main character and traits of the Apennine Sibyl as she will appear before our eyes more than two centuries later in the works by Andrea da Barberino and Antoine de la Sale: a woman who is a sort of goddess, a fiendish being, in close contact with the Netherworld, who can cast spells to create illusions and induce transformations of men and animals (here we still miss the Sibyl's sensual aspects, but they are soon to come, too, in later literary potraits of Morgan, as we will see in subsequent articles).

However, in this excerpt we still lack a manifest, indisputable evidence of an actual link to Sibyls. Is there any?

Is Morgan le Fay, a chief character in the Arthurian cycle, closely and irrefutably connected to the lore of Sibyls, the prophesying oracles of the classical age?

Yes. This manifest, irrefutable evidence is provided by the same Hartmann von Aue, in the very lines that follow the ones we have already presented above.

Let's see how Hartmann von Aue proceeds with his description of Morgan le Fay (Fig. 3):

«Since the Sybil died, and Ericto perished, of which Lucanus tells us, and sorcery which they could command had died away ages ago, with her it all came back (about which I don't want to say much at this time, since it would take too long). Since then, the earthly realm probably has had no better mistress of the magic arts than Morgan le Fay, of whom I have already spoken. He couldn't be a wiser man, whoever wished to take away great suffering, that she could mix up a plaster for him. Yes, I ween that if a man looked everywhere he could not, however busily he searched out powers from books of magic, find such powerful arts that she practiced against Christ».

[In the original Old German text: «Seyt daz ſibilla erſtarb - vnd Ericto verdarb - von der vns Lucanuſ zalt - daz jr zauberlich gewalt - wem ſÿ wolte gepot - der dauor was lanng todt - daz er erſtund wol geſunt - von der ich euch hie zeſtund - nu nicht mer fagen wil - wann es wurde ze vil - sy gewan das erdtrich - das wiſſet warlich - von zauberlichen ſÿnne - nie beſſer maiſterÿnne - dann Famurgan - von der ich euch geſaget han - wann da were er nicht weÿſer man - wer im wolte daran - nemen gros laſter - auch ſeÿ ein phlaſter - fur jn gebruefen kunde - Ja wann man nÿndert funde - wie ſere man ſy wolte erſuchen - die crafft aus Artztpuchen - ſo krefftigkliche liſte - die ſy wider criſte»].

Here is the connection, the missing link between the Matter of Britain, featuring the healer and wizard Morgan le Fay, and the lore of classical Sibyls. It is right here that Hartmann von Aue, in the year 1185, establishes a specific connection between King Arthur's half-sister and the Sibyls belonging to an ancient Roman-Greek, mediterranean tradition.

And the link is based on magic power, and the acquaintance with the Devil and with the evil subterranean powers. And, in addition to that, on necromancy.

Because the Sibyls of the classical world, together with Morgan le Fay, are now included in a same party in which a main role is also played by Erictho, the impious Greek witch who used to perform necromantic rituals on human corpses. One of the most repugnant characters of antique literature, a ghastly sorcerer, depicted by first-century Latin author Marcus Annaeus Lucanus in his “Pharsalia” (Book VI): a mighty necromancer, with a horrifying semblance, who could raise the dead to a new abominable life and draw oracular responses right from their corrupted bodies.

Lucanus' Erictho, like Hartmann von Aue's Morgan le Fay, is a companion to the dark powers: according to Lucanus, she is «dear to the deities of the Netherworld» («grata deis Erebis»), she knows «the abodes of Hell and the mysteries of subterranean Pluto» («domos Stygias arcanaque Ditis»), and she «addresses no prayer to Heaven, invokes no divine aid with suppliant hymn» («nec superos orat nec cantu supplice numen auxiliare vocat»).

In this gloomy, necromantic framework, which Sibyl is Hartmann von Aue specifically referring to? He doesn't tell. But our mind immediately runs to one of the most renowned Sibyls: the Cumaean Sibyl, and her ancestor the Cimmerian Sibyl, both residing in the Italian town of Cumae.

It is the Cumaean Sibyl who is celebrated by Publius Vergilius Maro in Book VI of his “Aeneid” as a guide to Aeneas into the Otherworld. It is the Cumaean Sibyl who utters fateful prophecies, «terrific riddles she yells, as she sings in her cave, the truth enshrouded in darkness» («Cumaea Sibylla - horrendas canit ambages antroque remugit - obscuris vera involvens»). It is the Cumaean Sibyl who lives in her «ghastly, secret recesses, the huge cavern of the Sibyl» («horrendaque procul secreta Sibyllae antrum immane»). Again, it is the Cumaean Sibyl who commands Aeneas to make an offering to Hecate, the Greek goddess associated to witchcraft and necromancy, with the hero from Troy «appealing to Hecate by his voice, calling to the heaven and to vast Erebus» («voce vocans Hecaten caeloque Ereboque potentem»). Finally, it is the Cimmerian oracle, according to Strabo, the Greek geographer and historian, a Sibyl, according to Sextus Aurelius Victor, who presided over the temple «where the dead uttered prophecies as if they were alive».

Morgan le Fay. A Sibyl, possibly the Cumaean. And a Greek witch, Erictho.

In the twelfth century, in a German-speaking literary environment, the three of them are considered as the most poweful magicians in the whole world. And the three of them have to do with the Netherworld, and the evil entities that live in the gloomy darkness beneath. And they all have something to do with oracular responses, obtained through a most impious and forbidden craft: necromancy, the art of dealing with the dead to obtain prophecies for the living.

But what has it all got to do with our posterior, fifteenth-century Apennine Sibyl?

The way to the fifteenth century is still long. Here, we are still considering a minor chivalric poem, “Erec”, written by a minor German poet, Hartmann von Aue, more than two hundred years before the literary appearance of the Appennine Sibyl amid the lofty peaks of the Italian Apennines.

Yet, as we will see in the next articles, the road of myth will direct its own course in that precise direction.

Further clues, retrieved in the two subsequent centuries, will show that Morgan le Fay, a powerful witch, an antique oracle, living in an enchanted isolated place, in close contact with the gloomiest subterranean powers, will accentuate her kinship with the Sibyls, and with a specific kind of Sibyl.

By this process, a process we will retrace in the next articles, she will be getting nearer and nearer to her final destination: a Sibyl of the Apennines.
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BIRTH OF A SIBYL: THE MEDIEVAL CONNECTION /12. THE SIBYLS AND FAMURGAN, MASTER OF ARCANE ARTS

It is the year 1185 and, according to scholars, a knight and poet from Germany, Hartmann von Aue, writes a rhymed poem, whose title is “Erec”, an adaptation from the much more popular work “Erec et Enide” by Chrétien de Troyes.

Hartmann von Aue was not to become the most famous German writer of his age: twenty years later, Wolfram von Eschenbach, subsequently recognized as one of the most influential authors in medieval literature, would write his “Parzival”, probably the greatest German epic ever written; and Gottfried von Strassburg was about to write “Tristan”, another cornerstone in the wondrous scenario of the Matter of Britain. In France, Chrétien de Troyes was adding to the Arthurian Cycle with such masterpieces as “Yvain” and “Lancelot”.

However, Hartmann von Aue will be the one to provide today's scholars with a most amazing proof of the literary connection which links Morgan le Fay and the Sibyls, with specific reference to the traits which will be peculiar to the Apennine Sibyl.

A proof that has almost been ignored for centuries by everybody, an evidence which explains many subsequent literary facts, and which we are now going to present to the widest audience of scholars and researchers.

We must remember that, during the twelfth century, Morgan had been retaining her original traits as a wise savant, a remarkable feature which is also shared with the later Sibyl of the Apennines. In one of the earliest romances belonging to the Arthurian cycle, Chrétien de Troyes' “Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion” (“Yvain, the Knight of the Lion”), written in 1180, Morgan appears as «the Wise» («Morge la sage»), with reference to her healing skills: a title also enjoyed by the Apennine Sibyl, whom Andrea da Barberino calls «wise» and «most learned» («savia Sibilla» and «sapientissima Sibilla») in his “Guerrino the Wretch” (Fig 1 - “Yvain”'s Morgan from folium 216r of manuscript Français 1450, Département des Manuscrits, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and the Sibyl from the edition of “Guerrino the Wretch” printed in 1480).

But a change was about to take place. At the end of that same twelfth century, Hartmann von Aue writes “Erec”. And, in it, we find something truly amazing and unexpected. And thoroughly overlooked.

The single existing complete copy of “Erec” is preserved in Wien, at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, the Austrian National Library, in the Codex Vindobonensis Ser. Nova 2663: it is the most famous manuscript called “Ambraser Heldenbuch”, a sixteenth-century work containing a collection of twenty-five old-German epic narratives all dating to the twelfth and thirteenth century (Fig. 2 - the opening miniature from the “Ambraser Heldenbuch”).

The Folium 40v contains the twelfth-century clue which changes our perception of the evolution of the legendary tale concerning a Sibyl of the Apennines.

In this episode, Erec is wounded, and Queen Guinevere takes care of him at King Arthur's court. She has a magical ointment, a special medicament which heals all wounds and abates all pain. It was given to her by Morgan le Fay, whom we already know as a skilled healer according to the most antique tradition we mentioned in a preceding article (Fig. 3):

«If any man wonders, and would gladly know where this ointment came from, it was left long ago by Morgan le Fay, the King's sister, when she died».

[In the original Old German text: «wundert nu dhainen man - der es gerne vernéme - von wannen ditz phlaſter kime - das hette Famurgan - des kuniges ſchweſter da verlan - lanng daruor da ſÿ erſtarb»].

In Hartmann von Aue's work, initially Morgan le Fay, «Famurgan», is presented as the same benign healer we already know from the antique tradition reported by Geoffrey of Monmouth, ultimately to be ascribed to Latin author Pomponius Mela. And Morgan's magical traits too, as described by von Aue, are similar to those we found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's “Vita Merlini”, with the addition that now Morgan is turned into a fully divine being (Fig. 4):

«What great power and arcane arts perished with her! She was a goddess. Her wonders cannot be told, we must be silent about them, those wonders that that same woman performed. But as far as I can, I will tell you more. When she manifested her magic arts, she could travel with great speed around the world and quickly come back. I don't know who taught this to her. Before you could turn your hand or wink, she could leave and reappear just as quickly. She lived just as she wished; in the air or on earth - if she wanted she could sleep on the waves or live underwater. It wasn't difficult for her, she could just as easily live in fire or dew; the lady knew how to do that. And if she wanted, she could turn someone into a bird or animal. After that she could quickly give him his usual shape. She knew all sorts of magic arts».

[In the original Old German text: «was ſtarcher liſte an jr verdarb - von frembden ſÿnnen - sÿ was ein gottinen - Man mag die wunder nit geſagen - von Ir man mus jr mer verdagen - der die ſelb fraw phlag - doch ſo ich maiſte mag - ſo ſag ich was ſÿ kunde - wenn ſy begunde - augen jr zauberliſt - ſo het ſy in kurtzer friſt - die welt vmbfarn da - vnd kam wider ſa - ich waÿſs nit wer ſy es lerte - ee ich die vmbkerte - oder zugeſchluege die pra - ſo fuer ſÿ hin vnd ſchin doch fa - sÿ lebete ir vil werde - im luffte als auf der erde - mochte ſy zu rue ſchweben - auf dem wage vnd darundter leben - auch was jr das vnteure - ſÿ wonnet in dem fewre - alſo ſanfft als auf dem tawe - ditz kunde die fraue - vnd ſo ſy des began - ſo mochte ſy den man - Ze vogel oder ze tiere - darnach gab ſy im ſchiere - wider ſein geſchafft - ſÿ kunde doch zaubers die kraft»].

So Morgan le Fay is portrayed as a mighty, experienced wizard, who knew well the craft of magical arts («ſÿ kunde doch zaubers die kraft»)

But now the time of «Famurgan» as a mere benign healer is over. And, for the first time, evil sorcery and necromancy make their dark appearance.

Gloomy traits that Hartmann von Aue, at the end of the twelfth century, openly associates with specific characters belonging to a most ancient tradition, lost in classical antiquity.

He states a forthright, unambiguous association between Morgan le Fay and the Sibyls. As we will see in the next article.
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BIRTH OF A SIBYL: THE MEDIEVAL CONNECTION /11. AN ORACLE AND MAGICIAN WHOSE NAME IS MORGAN LE FAY

In our previous articles, we have seen that a medieval literary poem, “Floriant et Florète”, dating to the thirteenth century, stages a magical lady, bestowed with wizardly powers, living in a magical palace set within a very special mountain, situated in Italy.

However, this lady is not the Apennine Sibyl, and the mountain is not a peak of the Apennines. As a matter of fact, the Apennine Sibyl will come on to the scene at the beginning of the fifteenth century only, preceded by a similar necromantic queen depicted in the French poem “Huon d'Auvergne” and in Andrea da Barberino's romance “Ugone d'Avernia”.

Who is the lady who seems to partake of a number of significant features which belong, as we were accustomed to considering, to the Sibyl of the Apennines?

The poem “Floriant et Florète” points to a specific, unexpected direction: that lady is Morgan le Fay, and it seems that she too was used to live in hidden or underground places, such as Mount Etna, the great Italian volcano.

And there is also another poem, written in the thirteenth century as well, “Claris et Laris”, which stages an enchanted realm, featuring many traits in common with the Apennine Sibyl's magical abode, but ruled by a different queen, yet one we know already: again, Morgan, King Arthur's half-sister.

But who is Morgan le Fay?

In this paper, we dare not confront with this towering figure fully belonging to the Arthurian cycle: throughout the centuries, she has been the subject of extensive, ceaseless research in the domains of literature, mythography, history, and psychology, and it falls outside the scope of the present work to discuss in detail the origin, traits and meaning of this mighty fairy character, a leading protagonist of the Matter of Britain's legendary tradition and lore.

The most renowned description of the character of Morgan le Fay is contained in the world-famous book “Le Morte d'Arthur” by Thomas Malory, first published in London in 1485: according to Malory, she is the evil half-sister to King Arthur, a sorceress who is determined to pursue the ruin of his relative out of a relentless resentment. A wicked figure, a villain, and an experienced necromancer.

Nonetheless, this is only the final outcome of a long process through which Morgan's character has undergone a significant transformation, starting from a most remarkable beginning.

Because the earliest known written mention concerning Morgan is reported by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his “Vita Merlini” (“The Life of Merlin”), written around 1150 and available today in its entirety in one manuscript only (Cotton MS Vespasian E IV, folia 112v–138v), preserved at the British Library in London. In his work, Geoffrey narrates of a special, enchanted island (Fig. 1):

«The Island of Fruits, which men call 'The Blessed Isle'
gets its name from the fact that it produces all things of itself;
the fields there have no need of the ploughs of the farmers
and all cultivation is lacking except what nature provides:
of its own accord it produces grain and grapes,
and fruit trees grow in its woods from the close-clipped grass.
The ground of its own accord produces everything instead of merely grass,
and people live there a hundred years or more».

[In the original Latin text: «Insula Pomorum qua Fortunata vocatur,
Ex re nomen habet, quia per se singula profert:
Non opus est illi sulcantibus arva colonis;
Omnis abest cultus nisi quem natura ministrat:
Ultro foecundas segetes producit et uvas,
Nataque poma suis pretonso germine silvis;
Omnia gignit humus vice graminis ultro redundans.
Annis centenis aut ultra vivitur illic»].

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, in this heavenly island nine fairy sisters live, whose the handsomest is Morgen, endowed with wisdom, healing knowledge and magical powers:

«There nine sisters rule by a pleasing set of laws
those who come to them from our country.
She who is first of them is more skilled in the healing art,
and excels her sisters in the beauty of her person,
Morgen is her name, and she has learned what useful properties
all the herbs contain, so that she can cure sick bodies.
She also knows an art by which to change her shape,
and to cleave the air on new wings like Daedalus;
when she wishes she is at Brest, Chartres, or Pavia,
and when she will she slips down from the air onto our shores.
And men say that she has taught mathematics to her sisters».

[In the original Latin text:
«Ilic jura novem geniali lege sorores
Dant his qui veniunt nostris ex partibus ad se:
Quarum que prior est fit doctior arte medendi;
Exceditque suas forma prestante sorores;
Morgen ei nomen, didicitque quid utilitatis
Gramina cuncta ferant, ut languida corpora curet;
Ars quoque nota sibi qua scit mutare figuram,
Et resecare novis quasi Dedalus aera pennis;
Cum vult est Bristi, Carnoti, sive Papie,
Cum vult in nostris ex aere labitur horis.
Hancque mathematicam dicunt didicisse sorores»].

Thus, according to this most antique description, Morgen lives in an enchanted island teeming with all kinds of fruits. The most beautiful amid nine women, she is a healer and a fay, owing to her ability to change her own shape and fly.

In the magical island, continues Geoffrey of Monmouth, Morgen received the wounded King Arthur in a rich palace, and asked him to stay with her for an endless time to have his wounds healed:

«[...] With the prince we came there,
and Morgen received us with fitting honour,
and in her chambers she placed the king on a golden bed
[...] at length she said that health could be restored
to him if he stayed with her for a long time
and made use of her healing art».

[In the original Latin text:
«[...] cum principe venimus illuc,
Et nos quo decuit Morgen suscepit honore,
Inque suis talamis posuit super aurea regem
[...] tandemque redire salutem
Posse sibi dixit, si secum tempore longo
Esset, et ipsius vellet medicamine fungi»].

An isolated, enchanted abode, inhabited by a fairy lady, a place where to take rest forever. And the island, as Geoffrey of Monmouth himself says in another work, the “Historia Regum Britanniae” ("The History of the Kings of Britain", Book XI, Chapter II, following the text taken from folium 53v of manuscript Latin 6040 preserved at the Département des Manuscrits of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, dating to the end of the twelfth century - Fig. 2), is the mythical isle of Avalon:

«[...] Even the renowned King Arthur himself was wounded deadly, and was borne thence unto the island of Avalon for the healing of his wounds».

[In the original Latin text: «Sed et inclytus ille Arturus rex letaliter vulneratus est, qui illinc ad sananda vulnera sua in insulam Avallonis evectus»].

But, according to scholars, Geoffrey of Monmouth's description comes from a much older excerpt, coming straight from the first century and the Roman age. The nine sisters depicted by the medieval writer seem to be drawn straight from “De Situ Orbis”, a work written by Latin author Pomponius Mela, an ancient Roman geographer.

In this ancient work, Pomponius Mela portrays a special island (which scholars identify as today's Île de Sein, an island off the coast of Brittany, France), as shown in the text drawn from a precious edition printed in Paris in 1507 (Fig. 3):

«In the Britannic Sea, opposite the coast of the Ossismi, the isle of Sena [Sein] belongs to a Gallic divinity and is famous for its oracle, whose priestesses, sanctified by their perpetual virginity, are reportedly nine in number. They call the priestesses Gallizenae and think that because they have been endowed with unique powers, they stir up the seas and the winds by their magic charms, that they turn into whatever animals they want, that they cure what is incurable among other peoples, that they know and predict the future, but that it is not revealed except to sea-voyagers and then only to those traveling to consult them».

[In the original Latin text: «Sena in Britannico mari Ossismicis adversa litoribus, Gallici numinis oraculo insignis est, cuius antistites perpetua virginitate sanctae numero novem esse traduntur: Gallizenas vocant, putantque ingeniis singularibus praeditas maria ac ventos concitare carminibus, seque in quae velint animalia vertere, sanare quae apud alios insanabilia sunt, scire ventura et praedicare, sed nonnisi deditas navigantibus, et in id tantum ut se consulerent profectis»].

So Morgan le Fay - who in medieval times we have found as a resident fay in enchanted towns and Italian volcanoes - at the very origin of her myth was connected to an enchanted or specially blessed place, and presented the characters of a prophetess with oracular powers, a priestess, a healer, and a magician, who could fly, transform herself, and command the seas and the winds by her spells. She lived in a magical abode, in which a mighty knight and king was asked to stay forever.

All such features were mixed and intertwined in the most antique semblance of this northern-European fairy. Features that are not alien indeed to the later prophetess whose origin we are currently investigating, the Apennine Sibyl.

It is manifest that some kind of tenuous link seems to exist between Morgan le Fay and the Sibyl of the Apennines: a few basic traits they share in common, some overlapping in ther roles as rulers of enchanted abodes, and a hint that very special mountains might be of relevance to both.

Yet, this is only the beginning. The more we proceed into our search, the more the connection between the two will appear to grow larger and steadier.

Because there is one astounding turning point.

A turning point that has been overlooked for centuries and centuries. An element which connects strongly and indelibly Morgan le Fay to the world of the Sibyls. A relationship which is established between them in a minor chivalric poem, written by a secondary poet, in a country which is neither Britain, nor France, the two homelands of the Matter of Britain.

This relationship has never been highlighted adequately before the issue of the present paper. Thus what we are about to present is an absolute cornerstone in the study of the Apennine Sibyl's legend and lore: the point of passage between Morgan le Fay and the Sibyls, with a specific significance for what was due to become the still-to-be Sibyl of the Apennines.

Let's see together what we are talking about.
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BIRTH OF A SIBYL: THE MEDIEVAL CONNECTION /10. A FAY FROM BRITAIN TO THE LAND OF ITALY

We are now about to meet fairy queens and subterranean realms, in the land of Italy: however, the realm we are going to meet is not the Apennine Sibyl's.

Could this peculiar element, connected to magical abodes situated in very special mountains, be a further foreign narrative layer concealing the true nature of the legend which concerns a Sibyl of the Apennines? Is this a further, crucial step we are about to make in the delicate process of taking out the concentric narrative leaves which hide the pulsating nucleus of the myth that lives in the Sibillini Mountain Range, in the Italian Apennines?

Let's see and find out.

One of the most antique examples, and almost unknown, of a narrative scheme concerning a magical realm set in Italy is present in a substantially neglected manuscript originally preserved at Newbattle Abbey, a benedictine monastery not far from Edinburgh, Scotland. The manuscript contains “Floriant et Florète” (Fig. 1), a minor chivalric romance written in Old French and dating to the second half of the thirteenth century. The manuscript, including sixty-nine leaves, was discovered in the abbey's library in the second half of the nineteenth century and published in 1873, and is currently preserved at the New York Public Library (manuscript De Ricci, no. 122). Further fifteenth-century manuscripted versions of this romance exist at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Département des Manuscrits, Français 1492 and 1493), with the title "Le Roment de Floriant et de Flourete", but the Scottish manuscript is more antique and it is the only text presenting the form of a metrical poem.

The tale narrated in “Floriant et Florète” establishes a direct link between the Arthurian legends, part of the Matter of Britain, and the Mediterranean and Italian world. The story unfolds in Sicily, the island situated in southern Italy: soon after his birth, the son of the Sicilian king Elyadus is brought away by three fairies whose lady is a powerful magician. The child is raised in an enchanted palace, set in a very special place (that we will name below), and given the name of Floriant. Subsequently, Floriant is sent by the fairy queen from Sicily to the court of King Arthur in Britain. He becomes a valiant knight. When Floriant comes to know his kingly lineage, King Arthur and all the knights of the Round Table pledge to help him: they promise to win Sicily back for him against the usurper Maragoz. Arthur sets sails to Sicily, he and his knights fight the usurper and his ally, the Emperor of Constantinople, at Monreale and Palermo, two Sicilian towns, and then Floriant is restored to power.

Scholars (Megan Moore, 2014) have seen in this antique poem an effort to establish a bridge between the Matter of Britain and the Mediterranean region, with the author staging a war being waged by King Arthur against the rulers of Byzantium, and portraying in the poem Sicilian merchants from Palermo who come to and fro Britain to exchange all sorts of goods («marcheant sunt arrivez - Qui de Palerne furet né. - Droit de Bretaigne revenoient - Dras et marchandise aportoient», Folium 24r).

Amid all that, there is one specific element we want to stress: incredibly enough, this romance stages an Italian mountain, a fairy queen, and a realm in which no one can ever die.

Is that queen the Apennine Sibyl? No: she is «Morgain», or Morgan le Fay, the most famous half-sister to King Arthur; and the Italian mount is Mongibel, the ancient name for Mount Etna, the volcano sitting in the vicinity of the town of Catania, Sicily.

«Three fairies coming from the see - Their master is called - Morgan, King Arthur's sister [...] - Morgan, with no further delay, - seized the child [Floriant], and then took their way back, - towards Mongibel they headed - where their castle lay [...] - They had the child well nourished and tended».

[In the original Old French text: «Trois fées de la mer salée - La mestresse d'aux ert nommée - Morgain, la suer le roi Artu [...] - Morgain, sans plus de demorée, - L'a pris. Aitant s'en tornernet, - Vers Mongibel s'acheminerent - Quar c'estoit lor mestre chastel [...] - Bien le font norrir et garder», Folium 5v].

At the Mongibel, or Mount Etna, Floriant undergoes «training in all arts» («Morgan [...] par nuit m'embla, - Droit à Mongibel m'emporta, - Bien me fist norrir et garder - Et de tous les ars doctrinner», Folium 30v). When he grows up, Floriant asks Morgan about his true lineage:

«One day Floriant came to Morgan - and so he spoke to her: - “Dame, he said, listen to my words. - I know well you are my mother, - yet I do not know the name of my father.” - When Morgan heard his words, [... she said] “And do you know which direction you will head now? - You are to go to King Arthur, and you will tell him - That Morgan, his sister, salutes him».

[In the original Old French text: «Un jor est à Morgain venu - Florians, si li demanda: - "Dame, fet-il, entendez çà. - Bien croi que vous estes ma mere, - Mais je ne connois pas mon pere." - Quant Morgain l'ot ansi parler, [... fet-ele] "Et savez quel part vous irois? - Au roi Arti, si li dirois - Que Morgain, sa soeur, le salue», Folia 7r and 7v].

Mongibel, the magical castle of the mountain, is a place where no one can ever pass away. Here is how Morgan describes it to Floriant, who at the end of the romance is nearing death (Folium 69v - Fig. 2):

«My friend, you are about to die
And leave this life,
Nothing can help you,
No medicine can save you:
That is why I wanted to have you here.
Know then, by your own eyes and with no lies
That this castle of Mongibel is enchanted;
Know that the truth is as follows:
No one can ever die here.
King Arthur, when he will be on the verge of death,
Will be brought here by my brothers;
When he will be about to die,
You must know that I will bring him here».

[In the original Old French text:
«Amis, vous deviez mourir
Et de cest siecle departir,
Nus ne vous i péust aidier,
Mecine n'i éust mestier:
Por itant vous fis ci venir.
Sachiès de voir et sanza mentir
Que cist chastuaus [Mongibel] si est feez;
Sachiéz que ço est veritez:
Nus hons ne puet caienz mori.
Li rois Artus, au defenir,
Mes freres, i ert amenez;
Quant il sera à mort navrez,
Sachiez que je l'i amenrai».

The manuscript ends a few lines after the listed words. However, we know the closing of “Floriant et Florète” by virtue of the fifteenth-century manuscripts available at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France: both Floriant and Florète enter the Mongibel to live an eternal life, and «after that, nobody was who ever heard of them anymore» («Et oncques puis ne fut nul qui ouist parler d'eulx»).

Unbelievable as it might seem, we must remember that “Floriant et Florète” is not the only antique text which establishes a peculiar connection between King Arthur and Mount Etna as his final resting place (Fig. 3). According to a most ancient tradition, Arthur is still living an eternal life in the enchanted island of Avalon in Britain, but a few medieval authors reports a truly different location: Mongibel in Sicily was mentioned by Gervase of Tilbury in his “Otia Imperialia”, written at the beginning of the thirteenth century; the same did Caesarius of Heisterbach with his “Dialogus Miraculorum” dating to near 1220; and a mention is also found in Stephen of Bourbon's “Tractatus de diversis materiis predicabilibus”, written in the first half of the thirteenth century. All of them set the immortal King Arthur beneath Mount Etna, a conspicuous evidence of the migration of tales belonging to the Matter of Britain from northern Europe to Italy and back again, mainly owing to the ceaseless wandering of oral performers and storytellers who used to tread all the roads of the continent. But the listed authors do not provide further details on the magical abode hidden within the Sicilian volcano.

As to “Floriant et Florète”, the striking fact is that, some one hundred fifty years before “Guerrino the Wretch” and “The Paradise of Queen Sibyl” were written, a chivalric poem was already narrating of a fairy lady, who lived in a very special mountain - a volcano - set in Italy and whose abode was an enchanted place, bestowed of the gift of immortality. Furthemore, like in the legend of “Tannhäuser”, dating to the same period as “Guerrino” and “The Paradise”, a main character of the story vanishes forever within the fairy realm and is to be seen no more in our world.

And the fairy lady is not the Apennine Sibyl at all: instead, she is Morgan le Fay, a prominent figure belonging to the Arthurian cycle.

The Apennine Sibyl and Morgan le Fay: what sort of relationship does exist between the two, if any?

In the next paper, we will see that a connection does actually exist. And that link is so strong that we might even suspect that the two ladies have much in common.

Much more than we can ever expect.
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BIRTH OF A SIBYL: THE MEDIEVAL CONNECTION /9. A QUEEN WHO PRESIDES OVER AN ENCHANTED REALM (BUT SHE IS NOT THE APENNINE SIBYL)

As we have shown in the preceding articles, we know that the Apennine Sibyl's cavern is not the one and only literary instance of a secure, concealed place, often located on a mountain, adorned with beautiful gardens and magnificent palaces, and inhabited by a malign entity, often a sort of dark lady.

We saw that a similar necromantic queen lives in a magical castle in the French poem “Huon d'Auvergne”:

«You must be aware that our master
is a dame from the mountain [...]
and no other woman was so wise in Britain;
She is proficient in black arts [...]
she knows the language of necromancy
if you know how to ask and tell her [...]
you will be able to know how to go to Mount Hell»

[in the original French-Italian text:
«Tu dé saver ch'el nostro capetaine
È una dame de çà da la montagne [...]
Nian si savia fui in Bertagne;
De negromencia ella è sovraine [...]
de negromançia sa tuto lo latin
Se tu te saveré domandar e contar a lei ben vexin [...]
E può saver da lie tuto lo train
Como tu anderé al munte inferin»].

And the same we find in Andrea da Barberino's “Ugone d'Avernia”:

«Know then that our master is a lady, beyond that mountain; that she is handsome and wise, more than anybody else; and she is the best necromancer in the world; and know that if you come to her, she will show you and teach you the way to meet your goal [... here is] a town, more valuable than any other one in the world, and here all pleasures that can be enjoyed by mortal men [...] you will not be able to leave».

[In the original Italian text: «Sappi, che nostro signore è una dama, passata quella montagna; ch'è bella e saggia, più che niun'altra che sia; ed è la migliore negromanta del mondo; e sappi, che se tu vieni a lei, ed ella ti potrà mostrare, e insegnare il modo che tu fornirai la tua bisogna [... qui è] una città, che tutte l'altre del mondo non vagliano, quanto questa sola, et qui tutti i diletti che per uomo mortale si può avere [sono] [...], tu non te ne saprai partire».]

An additional instance is found in the castle described by “The High History of the Holy Grail” (“Li Hauz Livres du Graal”), a thirteenth-century romance:

«There was an evil spirit within that gave answers concerning any matter they wanted to hear of» (in the old French text: «avoit malvais esperiez dedens qui lor donoit respons de canque il voloient oir»).

Another example is found in “Huon of Bordeaux”, the thirteenth-century epic poem. Within the castle protected by magically striking metal scourges we already saw that a lady is found whose name - strange enough - is Sibyl:

«The son of Sewin [Huon] from the town of Bordeaux, stroke three great blows on the golden basin [which stood beside the bronze guards]. A maiden in the castle listened to the resounding noise, her name was Sebile, a most handsome lady; as soon as the golden basin resounded, she went by a window and saw Huon who was trying to get in». [in the original French text: «Li fieus Sewins, de Bordiax la cité, Sour le bacin qui fu f'or esmeré a fru trois cos par moult grande fierté. Une pucele ou u palais listé, Sebile ot nom, moult par ot de biauté; Si tost comme ot le bacin d'or sonner, A le fenestre s'en est venue ester, et voit Huon qui veut laiens entrer»].

No one of such ladies or enchanters, in the literary works they are drawn from, is the Sibyl of the Apennines. No one of them lives under an Italian Mount Sibyl. No one of them has nothing to do with Guerrino the Wretch or is mentioned in the travel account by Antoine de la Sale. They live their literary, fictional lives elsewhere.

What does it all mean? What kind of dark lady, featuring some strange connection to the name 'Sibyl/Sebile', is hidden behind all those references and mentions?

As a matter of fact, throughout the Middle Ages the idea of a hidden, enchanted realm, inhabited by some kind of being and containing all sort of magical wonders, is not an exclusive feature of the Apennine Sibyl's legend.

But the utterly astounding thing is the fact that, as we are about to ascertain, in this same ruling role other remarkable names sometime appear. And they appear centuries before the works by Andrea da Barberino and Antoine de la Sale were written.

Let's open the pages of “Claris et Laris”, a chivalric poem which is dated by scholars to the second half of the thirteenth century, handed down to us by manuscript Français 1447 preserved at the Département des Manuscrits of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

And in it we find the following amazing piece of information.

The two main characters, the valiant knights Claris and Laris, arrive to an enchanted place, which features a number of aspects we already know well from the legendary tales concerning the magical abode of the Apennine Sibyl:

«Through a gate they went; - In the most charming town they entered, - such they had never seen before the like; [...] - I believe this is a Devil's artifact, - Witchcraft or enchantment».

[In the original Old French text: «Atant une porte passerent, - En la plus bele vile entrerent, - Qu'onques mes eussent veue; [...] - Je croi, que ce soit deablie, - Feerie ou enchantement»].

The two knights enter into a magical realm, a product of wizardry, in which the streets were adorned «with rich silken draperies - And precious kingly fabrics; - With so much gold and silver» («De riches pailes de cendax - Et d'osterins emperiax; - Tant i avoit or et argent»). And they are welcomed by handsome damsels, and they attend a luscious banquet, and take rest in a magnificent chamber.

But the lavish lures just conceal a deadly trap, which is ensnaring Claris and Laris (Fig. 1):

«And now that you have come here,
You will be held in great honor;
In this place you will be with us
All the days of your life.
We are all at your service,
If you do not complain of that,
For in accord with your wishes,
You will get everything you may ask for
And think of for your own pleasure,
So much so that you will never be able to leave
This abode».

[In the original Old French text:
«Et puis que ci estez venuz,
A grant hennor serez tenuz;
Ceanz nos ferez compaignie
Tretouz les jours de vostre vie.
Toutes sommes a vo voloir,
Si ne vous en doit pas doloir,
Car a vostre vouloir avrez
Tout ce, que demander savrez
Et pourpenser a grant loisir,
Fors tant, que ne porrez issir
Ja mes de ceste enfermerie»].

Who is the ruler of such a perilous, enchanted place? Who presides over such a magical kingdom, which attracts knights and noblemen by presenting them with beautiful fairies and glittering riches and appealing food? Who is the queen of a place that, once you are allowed in, you are never permitted to leave for the rest of your life, imprisoned in a neverending revelry?

Is she a Sibyl of the Apennines? The answer is no.

Let's see in the following lines who she is (Fig. 2):

«She replied to him [Laris] that her name was Morgan,
sister to King Arthur, and she was a fay».

[In the original Old French text:
«Li dist, que Morgans iert nonmee,
La suer Artus, et estoit fee»].

So, in the thirteenth century, long before “Guerrino the Wretch” and “The Paradise of Queen Sibyl” were written, a fairy queen is already ruling an enchanted realm, marked by specific traits we will later find attached to a magical place hidden within a Mount Sibyl's cave, a later abode presided over by an Apennine Sibyl.

The interesting thing is that the fairy queen is not the Apennine Sibyl, but Morgan le Fay. A legendary character which fully belongs to the Matter of Britain and the Arthurian literary cycle.

Just a mere chance? Just an insignificant coincidence which links two utterly different legendary tales, the Apennine Sibyl's and King Arthur's, both ultimately rooted in a same kind of well-known, widespread chivalric literary genre and simply making use of the same trivial narrative schemes?

Perhaps. Yet perhaps not.

Because if we deepen our search, we stumble upon another astounding coincidence, even more remarkable than that retrieved in “Claris et Laris”.

We are now about to visit a mountain. In Italy. And make acquaintance with another enchanted realm. Once again, our host will not be a Sibyl either.

Incredibly enough, it will be, once more, Morgan le Fay.
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BIRTH OF A SIBYL: THE MEDIEVAL CONNECTION /8. A NEW PERSPECTIVE IN RESEARCH

In our exploration of the legend of the Apennine Sibyl, we are stumbling upon layers and layers of additional material: literary elements pertaining to different legendary traditions and tales which seem to have been superimposed to a basic mythical core connected to the presence of a sinister cave and lake in the area of the Sibillini Mountain Range, a remote, craggy territory set in the Italian central Apennines.

We discovered that a magical bridge and a bewitched door described by Antoine de la Sale as part of the sibilline legend are drawn from earlier narratives of visits to the Otherworld.

We found out that an episode concerning a visit of a knight to a sensual necromantic lady living by a mountain and concealing her true nature as an evil demon is contained in an earlier poem, "Huon d'Auvergne". We also noted that a certain number of situations described by Andrea da Barberino in his "Guerrino the Wretch", including an encounter with three damsels, an invocation to Jesus, and a journey to Rome to see the Pope, are also present in other medieval works.

And when we took in our hands different works written by the same Andrea da Barberino, we stumbled upon other similar episodes, such as the encounter with the hermits, the search for information in the Italian province of Calabria, and the whole episode concerning the visit to a nasty queen in “Ugone d'Avernia”.

All of that, in addition to the fact that no reference to an Apennine Sibyl can be found in both Roman and medieval literary traditions before the beginning of the fifteenth century, seems to suggest that we should now take a perilous, treacherous turn in our most fascinating, yet formidable enquiry.

We are going to investigate the literary traces of the presence of necromantic ladies and evil queens and prophesying Sibyls in the medieval tradition and literature.

Why are we doing so? Because our search might ultimately lead to an apparently unpleasant, almost unwanted conclusion: the Apennine Sibyl is not an original feature of our mythical tale, as most probably she was just superimposed to the true, fundamental core of the legend concerning the Sibillini Mountain Range.

We are envisaging, with faltering, uneasy steps, a legend of the Apennine Sibyl with no Sibyl in it.

A final, definitive loss? The cancellation of a most illustrious legend and dream? The ultimate, sad outcome of a rigorous, unyielding investigation based on the analysis of literary sources and original manuscripts?

Not at all. We will see that the tale's original core, the mythical might of the legend was already there before a Sibyl came. And still is.

Before discussing the meaning and reach of such apparently preposterous statements, let's venture into this long, winding, slippery trail.
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BIRTH OF A SIBYL: THE MEDIEVAL CONNECTION /7. MORE CHIVALRIC ADDITIONS TO THE SIBYL'S LEGEND

We are probing into the enigma of the origin of the legend of the Apennine Sibyl, the mysterious oracle and prophetess who, since the fifteenth century, seems to inhabit a remote peak raising in the Apennine mountains, at the very center of the Italian peninsula (Fig. 1). And the more we proceed in our investigation, the more we retrieve narrative episodes which seems to have been taken from earlier medieval romances: a sort of shelter which veils the true core of the legend, an envelope made up by a succession of leaves that are not truly pertinent to the fundamental essence of the Sibyl of the Apennines.

Let's consider another astounding correspondence contained in Chapter LXVI of “Ugone d'Avernia”, which - once again - resounds in our ears as something we already know (Fig. 2):

«How it happened that Huon, after a long walk, stumbled upon three hermits [...] and after having walked a full day, he saw a hollowed cave, a cavern, in which three men lived [...] those from the inside [...] all took a cross in their hands, and appealed to Huon with the following words: we beg you, in the name of Jesus Christ, not to do any harm to us [...] and welcomed him with great expressions of joy [...] This mountain has a name, said the eldest among them, on this mountain was stranded the Noah's Ark after the Flood» [in the original Italian text: «Come Ugo, caminato alquanto, trovò tre romiti [...] e quando fu ito una giornata, vide in una grotta forata una caverna, dove dimoravano tre uomini [...] quegli di drento [...] presono tutti una croce in mano, e iscongiurarono Ugo, così dicendo: io ti scongiuro, per lo nome di Iesù Cristo, che a noi non possa nuocere [...] e ricolsonlo con grandissima festa [...] Questa montagna s'appella, disse il maggiore di loro; in su questa montagna rimase l'arca di Noè per diluvio»].

Three hermits, a cross in their hands. And here is a similar passage, retrieved in the initial part of the sibilline episode described by Andrea da Barberino in “Guerrino the Wretch”:

«when they came to this hermitage they were tired [...] and one of the hermits answered to them, and said Jesus of Nazareth help us [...] and they were three hermits and each one of them had a small cross in his hand. And one of them pleaded them and said: go back [...] They were allowed in the hermitage together with their horses» [in the original Italian text: «Quando zonzeno a questo remitorio erano stanchi [...] et uno de li Remiti respose: e disse ihesus nazarenus tu ci aiuti [...] et erano tre remiti ogni homo avea una crosetta in mano. E sconzurone uno de loro e disse: tornate indrieto [...] Li misseno dentro loro e soi cauali»].

And we find a comparable episode in “I Reali di Francia” (“The Royal House of France”), a fifteenth-century romance by the same author, Andrea da Barberino. Amid the innumerable events narrated in this lengthy romance, here is a hermit again (Fig. 3):

«In the middle of the thick woods of Corneto [between Latium and Tuscany] he got lost and went about for three nights and two days, getting farther and farther through those forests, the third day he arrived to a Hermitage; he knocked at the door, and a hermit came out and shouted at him, evil Thief, you are to meet your own death. Fiovo bowed, and said. Oh Blessed man, I am no Thief, for I descend from a noble lineage [...] When the Hermit listened to his words [...] he said. Friend, I have nothing to eat, if God does not send any food to us, so let's take your horse to a place in which the wild beasts shall not devour it [...] and then they entered the Hermitage, and the Hermit signed himself with the Cross and blessed Fiovo»].

[in the original Italian text: «per le folte selve di Corneto si smarrì, et andò tre notti, e due giorni avviluppandosi per quelle selve, il terzo giorno arrivò la sera ad un Romitorio, et picchiato all'uscio, venne fuora un Romito, e gridò malvaggio Ladrone, alla morte sei venuto. Fiovo s'inchinò, e disse. O Santo huomo, io non son Ladrone, ma sono di gentil lignaggio [...] Quando il Romito l'intese [...] disse. Amico, io non ho da mangiare, se Dio non ce ne manda, ma mettiamo il cavallo in luogo, che le fiere non lo divorano [...] e dipoi entrarono nel Romitorio, e'l Romito fatto il segno della Croce, benedisse Fiovo»].

This is a further demonstration of the fact that the hermits we find in the sibilline episode contained in “Guerrino the Wretch” are just a commonplace theme typical of chivalric literature, so much so that Andrea da Barberino liked to use hermits at least thrice in three different romances, and in situations that are remarkably similar.

Again, just a mere chance? It is manifest that specific literary themes have made their journey from “Ugone d'Avernia” to “Guerrino the Wretch”, and possibly also the other way round. There are many elements that are most likely been copied by Andrea da Barberino from one work to the other, and, for the sake of our search, it does not matter which one is the original source.

If we look for other instances, we may note that in Chapter XIII of Andrea da Barberino's “Ugone d'Avernia” the main character makes his way to Rome, while engaged in a quest to find the entryway to Hell, to meet the Pope (Fig. 4): exactly the same situation we find in Andrea da Barberino's “Guerrino the Wretch” (Chapter CLVII), in which it's the Pope himself who tells Guerrino to go the Purgatory of St. Patrick («lo purgatorio de santo Patritio» in Italian), the legendary Irish access point to Hell. Also remember that we found a similar occurrence in Antoine de la Sale's “The Paradise of Queen Sibyl” and in the thirteenth-century epic poem “Huon of Bordeaux”.

And now another significant example. In the “Ugone d'Avernia”, Ugo moves to the Italian province of Calabria in search of information on where to find an access to Hell (Fig. 5):

«As he travelled through Calabria, and as he went about asking, the way I already told you, he found a few good men, who told him that he would find people able to help him in Athens; and many others corroborated the said assertions, by saying that there he would find many highly experienced men, mainly in the necromantic arts» [in the original Italian text: «et passando per la Calavria, et domandando, com'io v'ho detto, trovò alcuni uomini da bene, i quali gli dissono, che in Attene potrebbe trovare chi l'aiuterebbe di tal fatto; et per molti fu raffermo, perché v'erano valenti uomini esperti, e spezialmente in atto di negromanzia»].

Oddly enough, a same scene is present in “Guerrino the Wretch”:

«And he travelled to the kingdom of Calabria [...] He stayed in Reggio di Calabria for five days asking of that Sibyl. [...] While he was in the town of Reggio he happened to ask certain people about the location of the mountain of the Sibyl; and he was with an elderly man who [...] said [...] that the mountains where the Sibyl is are in the middle of Italy» [in the original Italian text: «e vene al regno di Calauria [...] Stete a rezio [Reggio di Calabria] v giorni domandando de questa Sibilla. [...] Essendo Meschino in la cità de rezio domandò certe persone dove era il monte de la Sibilla; et trovose con un homo uechio el quale [...] disse [...] che le montagne dove è la Sibila è in mezo de Italia»].

Another accidental occurrence? Yet now we start to have in our hands too many of them.

We can even find another one.

Let's consider a specific passage in “Guerrino the Wretch”, Andrea da Barberino's fifteenth-century romance which played a decisive role in spreading the Apennine Sibyl's legend throughout Europe. In Chapter CLIV, Guerrino, the valiant knight who met the Sibyl in her own enchanted den set beneath the hollow Italian mountain, despairs of having any chance to ever leave the evil abode of the prophetess, owing to the labyrinthine structure («uno grande lambarinto» in the original Italian text) of the oracle's dark cave.

How can Guerrino succeed in his search for a way out? Incredibly enough, help will come to him from an utterly unexpected way. One of the Sibyl's fairy damsels will show him the position of the door leading to the external air and sun (Fig. 6):

«A damsel came to him and said: O knight, you forgot that we are forced by God's Providence to show to you the time and place in which you are required to leave, so forget not and come with me, so I shall show you the gate and the way out of this abode».

[In the original Italian text: «Vene alui una damizella e disse o caualiero perche te desmentegi forza e a noi per la divina prouidencia demonstrarte lhora el ponto che tu dei usire e pero non te desmentigare e vieni apresso a mi che io te mostraro la porta e lusita de questa habitatione»].

This excerpt might simply appear as a meaningless instance of an awkward decision in storytelling, with the romance's author just introducing an unrealistic trick to drive his knight out of trouble.

However, there is more to it.

Let's browse the vellum leaves of manuscript Français 1447 preserved at the Département des Manuscrits of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Fig. 7). It contains “Claris et Laris”, a chivalric poem dating to the second half of the thirteenth century. In it, we find an episode involving the two main characters, the brave knights Claris and Laris. They both are held as prisoners in a magical castle, as we will see in more detail in a next article. How do they find their way out?

Needless to say, a helping hand comes from the inside, this time out of love:

«Madoine the fay woke up - And to the garden she went - [...] She took Laris by his right hand, - and brought him with her, - She showed a stone to him, - [...] Sir, she said, this stone - seals from here the way out; - By enchantment it was open - [...] So they went out across the countryside».

[In the original Italian text: «Madoine la fee iert levee - Et dedenz le jardin entree - [...] prist Laris par la main destre, - D'une part l'amaine en un estre, - Une pierre li a moustree, - [...] Sire, fet ele, cele pierre - Clot de ceanz la voie entiere; - Par nigromance fu ouvree - [...] Einsi s'en vont par la champaigne»].

In this passage, a fay shows an emprisoned knight the way out from a bewitched place of confinement: the very same situation we already saw in “Guerrino the Wretch”, a romance written nearly a hundred fifty years after “Claris et Laris”.

And we also have another example, with a different knight and a different fay.

If we consider “Le Livre de Lancelot del Lac”, a French romance contained in manuscript Add. 10293 preserved at the British Library in London and dating to the early fourteenth century, we see the most famous knight Lancelot, a main character of the Arthurian cycle, held captive in a castle ruled by three magical ladies we will soon get to know better. And here is how the brave hero escapes the nasty grip of the enchantresses (Fig. 8):

«So the damsel who took care of him came in - And when she saw him suffer so much she was very sorry - [...] I will lead you out of this prison at night - and I will provide you with good horse and weapons - [...] and then she said - Sir, come with me - And he rose and followed her - [...] Then he mounted his horse, the one the damsel had readied for him and then she bade him farewell - [...] So he left - and went out through the garden and then across a grassland».

[In the original French text: «Atant vient auant la damoisele qui de lui se prenoit garde - Et quant elle li voit tel doel demener si en fu trop dolante - [...] ie vous geteroie anuit hors de ceste prison - et vous donroie bon cheval et bones armes - [...] et li dist - Sire uenes apres moi - Et il se lieue et le sieut - [...] Los monte sou son cheval que la pucele liot fet apareillier et puis le commande a dieu - [...] Si sen part atant - et sen issi par i uergier et puis entre en vne praerie»].

Guerrino the Wretch, Claris and Laris, Lancelot: all of them are held in magical prisons; all of them are eventually freed by damsel belonging to the retinue of one or more dark ladies, who had confined those knights. The same narrative scheme is manifestly applied to very different casts and characters. And Guerrino the Wretch is just the last in time.

What should we think of all that?

The most important result of our investigation is that a number of single episodes contained in the sibilline portion of “Guerrino the Wretch” are taken from, or have contributed to, different romances, including “Ugone d'Avernia”: this means that the elements used in such romances are of literary, chivalric origin. All of them can be used in an interchangeable way, and can be transposed by the author or the oral performer into one work or the other, and just re-used with major or minor modifications, with the aim to stun, amuse and entertain an audience looking for knightly deeds and fairy adventures.

The final conclusion is straightforward: all such chivalric elements do not seem to pertain to the true core of the legendary tale of the Apennine Sibyl. In the narrative contained in “Guerrino the Wretch” concerning a Sibyl of the Apennines, there are elements we need to remove, if we want to get to the very essence of the sibilline legend.

The path we are now treading is very slippery. However, we are fully determined to clean the legend of all concentric layers that suffocate the real mythical nucleus.

And the next, painful step might be the removal, or some sort of a radical transformation, of the Sibyl herself.

Let's go and see why we should finally make up our minds and venture into this perilous, hazardous trail.
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BIRTH OF A SIBYL: THE MEDIEVAL CONNECTION /6. CHIVALRIC ADDITIONS TO THE SIBIL'S LEGEND

The more we proceed into a deeper analysis of the Apennine Sibyl's currently known legendary narration, the more we find additional literary layers that enshroud the inner core of the legend and disguise the true semblance of our Sibyl.

We have started to walk with hesitant steps amid chivalric romances and poems, and what we are stumbling upon is quite upsetting: we begin to retrieve sparse references to episodes we already know within the framework of such works as “Guerrino the Wretch” and “The Paradise of Queen Sibyl”, yet they refer to different literary situations and circumstances, featuring different heroes, different settings and different villains.

This means that many of the episodes which are part of the Apennine Sibyl's legend and lore originate from other sources, and are rooted in an antique chivalric literary lineage. Such episodes have been used by authors like Andrea da Barberino and Antoine de la Sale, and by a plethora of unknown storytellers, oral performers and jongleurs before their noble and popular audiences, but have actually nothing to do with the original myth concerning the cave and lake existing on the Sibillini Mountain Range in Italy.

Let's make some further steps along this perilous, vertiginous research trail. We are now going to consider Andrea da Barberino's version of the ancient French-Italian narration of “Huon d'Auvergne”.

Andrea da Barberino, the author of “Guerrino the Wretch”, was also the author of a number of additional chivalric romances: “Huon d'Auvergne”, “The History of Ajolfus of Barbicon and Other Valiant Knights”, “The Royal House of France”, “Narbonnais Chronicles”, “The Aspromonte”: tales of valiant knights, epic deeds, virginal damsels, far-away countries, evil beasts, ghastly monsters, and magical visions, not so dissimilar from our best-known romance “Guerrino the Wretch”. Drawing on an illustrious tradition of chivalric literature written in French, Andrea da Barberino took many of such romances and translated them into Italian. Not a mere translator's work was his literary production, as his prose was intended for long sessions of reading before a captivated audience: a huge amount of additional narrative elements was always included in his revised, widely enlarged romances, featuring hundreds and hundreds of pages and made up by an almost ceaseless sequence of chivalric episodes, the vast majority of which depicting a fight between the main character and hero, and any kind of opponent - be it a knight, a king, a loathsome snake, a wild lion, or a demon.

In this immense ocean of material, we retrieve a few literary images we have already come into: images we have read in “Guerrino the Wretch”.

Let's take “Ugone d'Avernia”, whose manuscript is preserved at the Florence National Central Library as the Magliabechian Codex Cl. VI.81.P.III, no. 59, edited by Zambrini / Bacchi Della Lega in 1882: a work in excess of six hundred pages, full to the brim of the many deeds accomplished by Huon, the hero who is depicted in the earlier French-Italian romance “Huon d'Auvergne”, transformed by Andrea da Barberino into the main character of a much longer and intricated narrative (Fig. 1).

What do we find in Andrea da Barberino's “Ugone”?

Perhaps the reader remembers that in Padua's manuscripted version of “Huon d'Auvergne”, we found an episode set by the banks of the river Tigris and concerning three damsels, who introduced Huon to a realm ruled by a «dame from the mountain», proficient in necromancy: a dame who appeared to show a remarkable resemblance to Guerrino's Apennine Sibyl, as depicted by Andrea da Barberino, even though the scene from "Huon" was not set in a cavern.

Did Andrea da Barberino copied his wicked Sibyl from the necromantic dame which appears in “Huon d'Auvergne”? Maybe. Yet, he might as well have copied straight from himself. Because the very same episode is also contained in his “Ugone d'Avernia”, and this time it is set by the course of river Nile, with Huon in search of a way to reach the entrance to Hell (Chapter XXXVIII):

«How it happened that Huon met three damsels, who danced and singed, and who were evil spirits - Huon journeyed for ten days up the river [...] he saw a beach with three damsels, who in the woods, under the shadowy trees, were singing a French song [... Huon] steered the ship to the river's bank and said to himself: I do want to see what sort of adventure this may turn out to be! [...] And then the third damsel said: now I'll tell you about who we are. Know then that our master is a lady, beyond that mountain; that she is handsome and wise, more than anybody else; and she is the best necromancer in the world; and know that if you come to her, she will show you and teach you the way to meet your goal [... here is] a town, more valuable than any other one in the world, and here all pleasures that can be enjoyed by a mortal men, they can be obtained, and flavoured food, and gardens, and other scented fruit. [...] So I tell you, if you come and see the beautiful dame, and the pleasant waters, you will not be able to leave» (Fig. 2).

[In the original Italian text: «Come Ugo arrivò a tre dame, che ballavano e sonavano, ch'erano spiriti maligni - Andò Ugone, dipoi dieci giorni, su pel fiume [...] vidde in una spiaggia tre damigelle, che nel bosco, all'ombra degli alberi, cantavano una canzonetta franciosa [... Ugone] menò la nave alla riva, dicendo: io voglio vedere che aventura è questa! [...] e dipoi disse la terza: ora ti vorrò [dire] di nostro affare. Sappi, che nostro signore è una dama, passata quella montagna; ch'è bella e saggia, più che niun'altra che sia; ed è la migliore negromanta del mondo; e sappi, che se tu vieni a lei, ed ella ti potrà mostrare, e insegnare il modo che tu fornirai la tua bisogna [... qui è] una città, che tutte l'altre del mondo non vagliano, quanto questa sola, et qui tutti i diletti che per uomo mortale si può avere [sono], e spezierie, e giardini, ed altri odoriferi frutti. [...] e ciò ti dico, se tu vieni a vedere la bella dama, e le belle acque, tu non te ne saprai partire».]

Again, in a romance different from “Guerrino the Wretch”, we find a situation which strongly reminds us of the Sibyl's adventure and cave, described by the same author, Andrea da Barberino. We have a necromantic lady, to whom the main hero is introduced by three charming damsels, and the lures they present to him include a superb town and gardens and food, not dissimilar by the magical visions described by Andrea da Barberino as on show within the subterranean realm of the Sibyl. Visions which unleash on the unwary visitor the very same effects: the weakening of any willingness to leave that enchanted place and go back home.

And the available delights, too, seem to be quite the same: «the Sibyl came with all that pleasures and entertainements that are achievable by a human body», says Andrea da Barberino in “Guerrino the Wretch” [in the original Italian text: «la Sibila vene con tuti quelli piaceri e ziochi che fosse possibile che a uno corpo humano se potesse fare»].

The title of Chapter XXXIX in the “Ugone d'Avernia” leaves us with only minor doubts: «How it happened that Huon went to the ladies of the fake town, who were but demons who wanted to ensnare him» [in the original Italian text: «Come Ugone andò dalle dame della città contraffatta alla reina, che erano tanti diavoli che lo volevano ingannare»]. The episode seems to take on the very same colours and patterns of Guerrino's visit to the sibilline cave in “Guerrino the Wretch”, when our hero «saw many castles and mansions and palaces and many gardens, and he imagined all that be witchcraft: for in such a small place within the mountain it was unfeasible that so many buildings were there» [in the original Italian text: «vide molte castelle e molte ville molti palacii e molti ziardini et imaginò questi tutti essere incantamenti: per che in poco loco de la montagna non era possibile che tante cose vi fosseno»].

Because Huon is brought to a town with «all the walls made of marble, carved with sculpted figures [... and] all the charming gardens» [in the original Italian text: «tutte le mura di marmo, storiate di rilevate figure [... e] tutti i bei giardini»], a description which is really close to that presented in “Guerrino the Wretch”, when Guerrino first get into the Sibyl's realm: «they came to a large garden and a most charming loggia completely carved» [in the original Italian text: «zionzeno a uno grando ziardino a una bellissima lozia tuta istoriata»]. Note that Andrea da Barberino makes use of the same Italian word «istoriato» («carved, adorned with carvings») to depict the richness and attractiveness of the place.

The moment when Huon meets his wise dame, and Guerrino his Sibyl, are very, very similar to each other (Fig. 3):

«Huon saw the queen and her damsels sitting in a chair of astounding craft; they were so beatiful that no comparison could never be possible, if they had truly been human beings. Huon saluted her with kindness; and she greeted him in turn, and stood up, and took Huon by his hand, and said: welcome to this man, a good and gentle knight!» [in the original Italian text: «e' trovò la reina e le donne sedere in una sedia di maravigliosa adornezza; tanto bella, che non ci è comparazione, s'elle fossono state corpo umano. Ugo la salutò gentilmente; ed ella gli rendé suo saluto, e levossi da sedere, e prese Ugo per la mano, dicendo: ben sia venuto questo uomo, da bene e gentile cavaliere!»].

«Amid them there was a most charming woman, the most beautiful Guerrino's eyes had ever beheld; and one of the three damsels said that is dame Sibyl and they went to her and she was coming towards them; and when Guerrino was before her he kneeled: and she kneeled too and took him by his hand and said welcome to Sir Guerrino» [in the original Italian text: «in mezo de quele era una bella donna più che lo ochii soi mai havesse veduto; et una de queste tre li disse quella è madonna la Sibilla et in verso lei andono et lei veniva in verso loro: et zionto apreso lei se inzinochiò Guerino: e lei se inchinò e presolo per la mano et disse ben vegna mesere Guerino»].

The episode of the necromantic lady in “Ugone d'Avernia” in much shorter than the corresponding episode of the Sibyl in “Guerrino the Wretch”. However, in both romances the hero is lured into sin by the queen of the place, and in both works the main character calls for the divine protection to save his immortal soul (Fig. 4):

«Huon, almost lost, cried out: come to my aid, to the aid of your servant, Jesus of Nazareth!» [in the original Italian text: «Ugone quasi smarrito, gridò: soccorrimi, servo tuo, Nazareno Iesù!»].

«[Guerrino] was about to fall; yet he came back to God and said thrice Jesus Christ of Nazareth set me free from those whichcrafts» [in the original Italian text: «saria caduto; ma tornato a dio disse tre volte Iesu christo nazareno libera me da questi incantamenti»].

Even though the episodes found in “Ugone d'Avernia” and “Guerrino the Wretch” are not identical, it is apparent that some strict relationship exists between the two: a connection which is not limited to a mere, casual resemblance to be ultimately ascribed to a common chivalric kinship.

And the supposedly 'casual' resemblances are not over. There is more to it. Let's see the additional, astounding similarities in the next article.
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