sib·​yl ˈsi-bəl How to pronounce sibyl (audio)
often capitalized
: any of several prophetesses usually accepted as 10 in number and credited to widely separate parts of the ancient world (such as Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, and Italy)
sibylic adjective
or sibyllic
sibylline adjective

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Ancient writers refer to the existence of various women in such countries as Babylonia, Greece, Italy, and Egypt, through whom the gods regularly spoke. These sibyls were easy to confuse with the oracles, women who were likewise mouthpieces of the gods, at such sites as Apollo's temple at Delphi. The most famous sibyl was the Sibyl of Cumae in Italy, a withered crone who lived in a cave. Her prophecies were collected into twelve books, three of which survived to be consulted by the Romans in times of national emergencies. She is one of the five sibyls memorably depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Examples of sibyl in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In the left panel, van Eyck depicts separate moments in a narrative that leads our eyes in a snaking line from the foreground figures of Mary and John the Evangelist, past Mary Magdalene and a prophesying sibyl, then up to the soldiers and horsemen crowding around the cross. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, 14 Oct. 2020 It was deemed a line straight to God — staggering, the voice of an enchantress, a sibyl, a siren. Washington Post, 12 May 2021 There’s the Roman emperor Augustus and a sibyl in a 1435 painting by Konrad Witz. Brian T. Allen, National Review, 20 July 2019

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sibyl.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English sibile, sybylle, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French sibile, from Latin sibylla, from Greek

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of sibyl was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near sibyl

Cite this Entry

“Sibyl.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

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