In the Judeo-Christian tradition there are people of Divine Insight who do evil, such as the Diviner Balaam.

I'm wondering if there are Greco-Roman examples like this, especially regarding the Sibyls?

  • What exactly do you mean by evil? Prophets that intentionally twist people and lead them the wrong way for personal gain? Seers that use their powers to steal without ever being seen? Sibyls that would charge a price for prophecies and take away from amount when told no and still charge the same price? Or just those that can see the future and are enemies (or cursed/disliked) by the gods? Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 22:49
  • @AndrewJohnson All of the above. Are there that many?
    – Johan88
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 2:36
  • The first two I mentioned, no, not that I remember. (I just got out of Basic Combat Training, so my Greek mythology needs a major brush up.) But the other two I have come across. But, I wouldn't really call them evil. Apollo would give the gift of prophecy to women he liked, and if they didn't return his love, he would curse them. Only one comes to mind at this time, that being Cassandra of Troy. Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 3:15
  • One women who already had the gift of prophecy caught the eye of Apollo. He came down and said, "I love you. I will grant you a wish and you will be mine." Or something like that. This woman was known as the Virgin of Cumaean, a priestess. She picked up sand and asked for as many years as grains she held. The wish was granted, but she did not lay with him. Apollo could not take back his gift, nor did he curse her because she was already cursed. She lived the years, but did not retain her beauty. Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 3:28
  • The Virgin of Cumaean was the sibyl that offered a king books/scrolls of prophecy at a high price. He refused, she burned three. She offered again at the same price. He refused, she burned three. With three remaining, she offered once more at the same price. He accepted. (Though, now I have to ask a question on this because the Cumaean Sybil wrote prophecies on oak leaves.) Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 3:32

1 Answer 1



The most famous one is the necromancer Erictho, who originated in Lucan's epic Pharsalia (about the civil war between Caesar and Pompey).

In book five, Appius Claudius goes to the oracle at Delphi hoping to find out how the war will end; Apollo possesses the oracle's body and gives a prediction through her. In book six, on the other hand, Pompey's son Sextus wants something different—he seeks out Erictho, the infamous necromancer, and asks her to give him a better prophecy. Instead of praying and deferring to the gods, she threatens them, and gets results: she pulls a ghost back into the world and forces it into a recently-vacated corpse, making it use the corpse's mouth to describe what it saw in the Underworld (where time isn't linear).

About half the book is devoted to describing how monstrous Erictho is, in too much detail to copy here—but she definitely fits the "evil necromancer" trope, and is clearly meant as a foil to the Oracle at Delphi earlier in the epic.

  • Amazing ! Thanks !!! Any others u could name that I can look into myself ?
    – Johan88
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 2:18
  • 1
    @Johan88 I'm afraid Erictho is the main one who comes to mind, but I'll search around a bit and see what I can find. (She's one of the more famous mortal characters from Roman myth: according to Lucan, she was waiting for the end of the war, intending to raise all the dead from both sides and make a zombie army to take over Rome. Sadly, Lucan didn't finish his epic, so we don't find out if she succeeded or not. Since no historical documents from the time mention the zombie army, I'm guessing she didn't. But she also appears in Ovid, Dante, and Goethe, among others.)
    – Draconis
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 2:21
  • Omg. Amazing ! Thanks ! Didn't know the Ancients had the whole zombie takeover theme. Thought it was just Hollywood.
    – Johan88
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 2:23
  • 1
    @Johan88 I was surprised too, but it seems it wasn't a prevalent theme, just something Lucan made up. I suppose corpses rising up is sort of a universal fear.
    – Draconis
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 2:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.