Epigraph

"Nam Sybillam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi
in ampulla pendere, et cum pueri illi dicerent: Στβμλλ
τί Θέλεις; respondebat illa: άπσΘνειν Θελω."

For Ezra Pound
il miglior fabbro

Translation:

"With my own eyes I saw the Sybil of Cumae hanging
in a bottle; and when the boys said to her: Sybil,
what do you want?" she replied: "I want to die."

For Ezra Pound
the better craftsman

Ray's Google Adventure:

"The better craftsman (literally forge or smith)" is praise given by Dante to Arnaut Danièl for being a better wordsmith than he (Dante) was. In using these words for Pound, Eliot acknowledges the other author's exceptional skill and manages to sneak another Dante allusion into the poem.

Pound and Eliot were good friends. He helped Eliot edit the drafts of The Waste Land, and is at least partially responsible for its current formatting.

The Sybil of Cumae lived 1000 years, but Apollo would not bless her with youth because she refused to sleep with him. Eventually, only her prophetic voice remained. She appears in both Ovid and Virgil. In the Aeneid, her role is to lead Aeneas through the underworld — much like Virgil (the Poet) later does for Dante, another key source text for Eliot.

The Satyricon, from which Eliot directly quotes, was written around the 1st Century C.E. The portion Eliot uses stars Trimalchio, an ostentatious Roman freeman who is entertaining his guests with a gluttonous dinner and garish house. Agamemnon, the person to whom he is speaking, strongly dislikes him.

From Ovid:

"Apollo is enamoured of the Sibyl, and, to engage her affection, offers her as many years as she can grasp grains of sand. She forgets to ask that she may always continue in the bloom of youth, and consequently becomes gray and decrepit."

CHAPTER 48 of The Satyricon by Petronius Arbiter

Trimalchio's threatening face relaxed and he turned to us, "If the wine don't please you," he said, "I'll change it; you ought to do justice to it by drinking it. I don't have to buy it, thanks to the gods. Everything here that makes your mouths water, was produced on one of my country places which I've never yet seen, but they tell me it's down Terracina and Tarentum way. I've got a notion to add Sicily to my other little holdings, so in case I want to go to Africa, I'll be able to sail along my own coasts. But tell me the subject of your speech today, Agamemnon, for, though I don't plead cases myself, I studied literature for home use, and for fear you should think I don't care about learning, let me inform you that I have three libraries, one Greek and the others Latin. Give me the outline of your speech if you like me."

"A poor man and a rich man were enemies," Agamemmon began, when: "What's a poor man?" Trimalchio broke in. "Well put," Agamemnon conceded and went into details upon some problem or other, what it was I do not know. Trimalchio instantly rendered the following verdict, "If that's the case, there's nothing to dispute about; if it's not the case, it don't amount to anything anyhow." These flashes of wit, and others equally scintillating, we loudly applauded, and he went on: "Tell me, my dearest Agamemnon, do you remember the twelve labors of Hercules or the story of Ulysses, how the Cyclops threw his thumb out of joint with a pig-headed crowbar? When I was a boy, I used to read those stories in Homer. And then, there's the Sibyl: with my own eyes I saw her, at Cumae, hanging up in a jar; and whenever the boys would say to her 'Sibyl, Sibyl, what would you?' she would answer, 'I would die.'"

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