The Sobered Sibyl: Gender, Apocalypse, and Hair in Dio Chrysostom’s Discourse 1 and the Shepherd of Hermas
Among Ann Matter’s many contributions to medieval studies are her investigations of women political prophets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These women had a long prehistory in women seers of antiquity, particularly Virgil’s Sibyl of Cumae, whose role in legitimating the Roman order carried her personae into the early Christian imagination and on into the medieval thought world. Two texts of the early second century CE appropriated and modified the paradigmatic features of the Sibyl to create women prophets whose appearance signaled an end to one world and the dawn of another. Dio Chrysostom’s Discourse 1 and the Shepherd of Hermas, like Aeneid 6, display features central to Jewish and Christian apocalypses. Each includes a woman mediator whose garb and hair are significant indices of her prophetic status. While Virgil’s Sibyl’s loosened hair and tossing head are proofs of the mania which was understood to validate prophecy, the women prophets of Dio and Hermas warrant both predictions and instruction in virtue by their controlled hair and decorous demeanor.