What are some important quotes from the novel The Sibyl?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Sibyllan (The Sibyl) is a 1956 novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Pär Lagerkvist.

Because it is styled as a modern fable, The Sibyl contains a great deal of flowery language and allegory. The novel opens:

In a little house on the mountain slopes above Delphi lived an old woman with her witless son. The house consisted of a single room... high above the buildings of the city and above the sacred precincts of the temple.

The old woman is revealed to be The Sibyl, an oracle who violated her oath and gave birth to the son of the Delphic God. Her house, "high above... the temple" acts as an allegory for the high temples, accessible only by the worthy. She is visited by a man, who tells her a story of his own curse, that of wandering the Earth, immortal:

Eternity ... It has nothing to do with life, I thought; it is the contrary to all life. It is something limitless, endless, a realm of death which the living must look into with horror... This god takes from me all the joy of living.

He was cursed for chasing a crucified criminal away from his rest; his journey, culminating in a question which no other person has been able to answer, led him to the Sibyl's house, a place above the temple where he sought answers.

Her own story contains biting condemnation of the priests at Delphi:

I understood, too, that they lived not for god but for his temple -- that it was the temple they loved and not him -- and for its prestige and renown... they were very proud of their city and regarded it as holy, because everyone in it loved on god.

In her eyes, the priests have attained an elite status not because of their holiness but because of their arrogance; they are above the common man because they are priests, not because they are actually more pious, and everyone in the city feels a false sense of piety because they live in the shadow of "holy" men. She further describes her initiation as Oracle:

...with every breath I had to inhale the drugging smoke... poisonous and nauseous. It was horrible... I felt myself sinking, sinking ... But where was god, where was god!
(All Quotes: Lagerkvist,The Sibyl, Google Books)

Her experience was not one of transcendence, but horror, as she was too aware of the hallucinogenic drugs instead of spiritual rapture.


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