THE CUMÆAN SIBYL

A part of the monotonous coast-line of Palestine extends into the Mediterranean considerably beyond the rest at Carmel. In this bluff promontory the Holy Land reaches out, as it were, towards the Western World; and like a tie-stone that projects from the gable of the first of a row of houses, indicating that other buildings are to be added, it shows that the inheritance of Israel was not meant to be always exclusive, but was destined to comprehend all the countries which its faith should annex. The remarkable geographical position of this long projecting ridge by the sea—itself a symbol and prophecy—and its peculiar physical features, differing from those of the rest of Palestine, and approximating to a European type of scenery, early marked it out as a religious spot. It was held sacred from time immemorial; an altar existed there long before Elijah's discomfiture of the priests of Baal; the people were accustomed to resort to the sanctuary of its "high place" during new moons and Sabbaths; and to its haunted strand came pilgrims from distant regions, to which the fame of its sanctity had spread. One of the great schools of the prophets of Israel, superintended by Elisha, was planted on one of its mountain prominences. The solitary Elijah found a refuge in its bosom, and came and went from it to the haunts of men like one of its own sudden storms; and in its rocky dells and dense thickets of oaks and evergreens were uttered prophecies of a larger history and a grander salvation, which transcended the narrow circle of Jewish ideas as much as the excellency of Carmel transcended the other landscapes of Palestine.

To this instance of striking correspondence between the peculiar nature of a spot and its peculiar religious history in Asia, a parallel may be found in Europe. A part of the long uniform western coast-line of Italy stretches out into the Mediterranean at Cumæ, near the city of Naples. Early colonists from Greece, in search of a new home, found in its bays, islands, and promontories a touching resemblance to the intricate coast scenery of their own country. On a solitary rock overlooking the sea they built their citadel and established their worship. In this rock was the traditional cave of the Cumæan Sibyl, where she gave utterance to the inspirations of pagan prophecy a thousand years before St. John received the visions of the Apocalypse on the lone heights of the Ægean isle. The promontory of Cumæ, like that of Carmel, typified the onward course of history and religion—a great advance in men's ideas upon those of the past. The western sea-board is the historic side of Italy. All its great cities and renowned sites are on the western side of the Apennines; the other side, looking eastward, with the exception of Venice and Ravenna, containing hardly any place that stands out prominently in the history of the world. And at Cumæ this western tendency of Italy was most pronounced. On this westmost promontory of the beautiful land—the farthest point reached by the oldest civilisation of Egypt and Greece—the Sibyl stood on her watch-tower, and gazed with prophetic eye upon the distant horizon, seeing beyond the light of the setting sun and "the baths of all the western stars" the dawn of a more wonderful future, and dreamt of a—

"Vast brotherhood of hearts and hands,
Choir of a world in perfect tune."

Cumæ is only five miles distant from Puteoli, and about thirteen west of Naples. But it lies so much out of the way that it is difficult to combine it with the other famous localities in this classic neighbourhood in one day's excursion, and hence it is very often omitted. It amply, however, repays a special visit, not so much by what it reveals as by what it suggests. There are two ways by which it can be approached, either by the Via Cumana, which gradually ascends from Puteoli along the ridge of the low volcanic hills on the western side of Lake Avernus, and passes under the Arco Felice, a huge brick arch, evidently a fragment of an ancient Roman aqueduct, spanning a ravine at a great height; or directly from the western shore of Lake Avernus, by an ancient road paved with blocks of lava, and leading through an enormous tunnel, called the Grotta de Pietro Pace, about three-quarters of a mile long, lighted at intervals by shafts from above, said to have been excavated by Agrippa. Both ways are deeply interesting; but the latter is perhaps preferable because of the saving of time and trouble which it effects.