Friday, 27 November 2009

The Libyan Sibyl

OK, now for an (art)history lesson. The Libyan sibyl's name was Phemonoe, she was the daughter of Zeus and Lamia (the half-woman half-snake who snacked on kids and was queen of Libya). Phemonoe was not only an oracle... she was the FIRST oracle. Plutarch tells the story of Alexander the Great marching to her oasis in the Libyan desert where she proclaimed him divine and rightful Pharaoh of Egypt (Libya, at the time was the name the Greeks used for ALL of Northern Africa, it wasn't just the country we think of now!). Serapion wrote in his poetry that even after she died, her prophecies were still being told by the crops that grew from her grave and her soul being visible on the moon.

Michelangelo painted her on the Sistine chapel, and although she's pretty white (which could sort of make sense as there were a lot of settlers from Europe in Libya), it is an amazing study. Michael Erhart carved an Oak bust altarpiece in Germany. The third famous depiction of her was by this guy:

William Wetmore Story. He started out studying law, became a (renowned) sculpture and (obscure) poet. His sculpture of the Libyan Sibyl is more than just an old nod to the old myths. Prior to the civil war, he created his masterpiece as a tribute to Sojourner Truth and her work toward abolition and women's rights. She was a preacher, a modern day oracle, and the violent amputation of the South was on the horizon.

The sculpture is really beautiful. If you have a chance, go to the Met and see it. It was in the Smithsonian, but now that the new American wing is finished, it is there. And I sketched it today.

Thanks for reading!

Bonus trivia round: Libya is the only flag in the world with just one color and no other insignia or design. It is solid green.

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