The Eye of the Sibyl

Story Background
“The Eye of the Sibyl” was written in 1975 but was not published in Dick’s lifetime. It eventually found its way into The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 297–305.

Plot Summary
Philos Diktos of Tyana—a priest—narrates about the Sibylline Books, which predicted the assassination of Julius Caesar. The Cumean Sibyl can look thousands of years in advance and have recorded events in these books. Philos Diktos was quarrelling with his wife, Xantippe, over the assassination of Julius Caesar. She says that is the Sibyl are really capable of reading the future, they would have predicted Caesar’s murder. She accuses the priests of making things up. Diktos replies that he has seen the books. Unable to answer fully, he goes to see the Sibyl. At the temple, Diktos sees the Sibyl accompanied by two Immortals, gods. The Immortals speak of the successful reign of Augustus and the arrival of a new cult around a “Light Creature.” They also predict the end of the Sibyls and the intellectual chaos that will come in future centuries. The Immortals vanish and the Sibyl pulls out an eye. This was the eye that the Sibyl used to see the fate of humanity. The Sibyl shows Diktos an image of a massive city, with giant ships, high buildings, and crowded streets.

Phil Dick remembers playing with a puppy in the yard before being called inside by his grandmother. He then recalls reading the comic pages in the Berkeley Daily and other childhood events. These culminate in a decision to become a science fiction writer. In high school, Dick writes some Latin words on the board after dreaming of Roman chariots, but denies knowing the language. Later he dreamed of the assassination of President Kennedy, two days before it happened. He asks a psychologist about the dreams and she explains that they are part of the collective unconscious, stretching back thousands of years. While preparing to write an article, Dick seemed to know the term caduceus, despite never consciously learning it. He asks the woman he is living with what year it is, and learning that it is 1974, Dick realizes that the “tyranny is in power.” Suddenly two globe beings appeared around this woman. They explain that without the Sibyl they are inspiring people through dreams.

Philos Diktos recorded these events that take place two thousand years in the future, when humanity is blind and the world descended into the tyranny of winter. The Immortals will once again wake people up. Evil will fall on the United States but eventually the Iron Prison will fall into ruin, as in one of Virgil’s poems.

“The Eye of the Sibyl” was written after Dick started to become more influenced by the ideas that knowledge could come from the outside. This realization emerged from his spiritual experiences in 1974 and heavily influenced his later writings and his gnostic turn. The story suggests the existence of the Sibyl, which can provide foreknowledge of future events. At the beginning, the story is set in ancient Rome where the Sibyl predicts the rise of Augustus Caesar and the emergence of Christianity. The second half of the story revisits the theme of “Waterspider,” that science fiction writers are precogniatives, although in this case the writer (again Philip K. Dick) is presented as more of an oracle. “There is no Dubyl now to help, to give advice to the Republic. In dreams we are inspiring people here and there to wake up; they are beginning to understand that the Price of Release is being paid by us to free them from the Liar, who rules them.” (304) Once again, Dick is calling for a rebellion against the futures that he laid out in his work.

Still, this story suggests much of what is dangerous about Dick’s later, theologically-inspired writings. Predicting that the Iron Prison will fall seems to take the burden of challenging the Iron Prison from our hands. Prophecy may make for good fantasy and even good science fiction, but it is horrible for building political movements of resistance. This has been the problem of so much of 20th century Marxism. It has been waiting around for a revolution to come, rather than really making it come true. The best of Marx was the promethean side to his writing. The unfortunate idea that the worker’s revolution is inevitable may be the reason the worker’s revolution did not happen. I am also troubled by Dick’s betrayal of creativity in this story. As with “Waterspider” we are given the idea that creative writing is essentially not creative at all. There is nothing a writer produces that did not come from the outside, either through experience or prophecy. I am not sure I want to accept that artistic fatalism.

Wikipedia page for “The Eye of the Sibyl”

Philip K. Dick Fan Site.

Learn a little about the Roman sibyl.




About tashqueedagg

Searching for the radical themes in American literature. American literature for the age of Occupy
This entry was posted in Alien Life, Humanism, Knowledge, Philip K. Dick, Philosophy, Supernatural Abilities, Time Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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