Sybil was the 1976 television movie based on the life of Sybil Dorsett, the first person to be diagnosed with a "multiple personality disorder". The movie covered her life as an extensively abused child (by her psychotic mother) who suffered moments of blackouts and amnesia as an adult. In these moments, those around her witnessed 16 other separate personalities, including two male, which developed from the time she was a child. Sally Field played Sybil Dorsett and Joanne Woodward played Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, the psychiatrist who attemted to merge and other personalities into one.

Sybil is actually rumored to have been Shirley Mason, an art teacher in Kentucky. She died in 1998, at the age of 75. She had been close friends with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, who was also the doctor of "Sybil". Shirley's paintings were sold for $30,000.

Flora Rheta Schreiber's original book tells the extended story of Sybil Isabel Dorsett, her multiple personalities, her childhood, and her eventual integration. Sybil was not the first diagnosed case of MPD - the book mentions previous cases - but she was the first to be psychoanalyzed rather than simply treated. Schreiber was a friend of Sybil and Dr. Wilbur, and published the book in 1973.

Note: Sybil is also spelled sibyl. All of the links I used in my research described "sybil", so I opt for sybil--an unresolvable issue of transliteration. A quality node at Sibyl deals with TS Eliot's treatment of the legend.

  • Sybil was a Phrygian godess often associated with the Roman Demeter or Rhea. She was the godess of fertility and healing, almost always appearing in a crown, and attended by lions. She is associated with the wild, with fecundity and nature.
  • A "sybil" is a word for any of a number of prophetess-seers, at the oracle of Delphi and elsewhere. Sybils were said to be able to predict the future and/or relay messages from the gods. It was a sybil in Virgil's Aeneid that led Aeneas into the cave and down to Hades and the river Styx. A somewhat more modern reference to a sybil is made in Eliot's The Wasteland. These sybils often spoke in riddles, and there is even said to have been one at Cumae who would write her prophesies on leaves and then "scatter them in the wind".
  • Sybils also appear in Norse mythology, most notably in creation lore. "The Song of the Sybil" is one of the earliest documents written on Norse mythology; the narrator is a sybil, and she declares the existence of the 9 worlds, and she recounts a colorful yet solemn history of giants and dwarves and war. The final three stanzas:

  • Fairer than sunlight,
    I see a hall
    A hall thatched with gold
    in Gimle:
    Kind Lords
    shall live there
    in delight
    for ever.

    Now rides the Strong One
    to Rainbow Door,
    Powerful from heaven,
    the All-Ruler.

    From the depths below
    a drake comes flying
    The dark dragon
    from Darkfell,
    Bears on his pinions
    the bodies of men,
    Nidhogg is near.
    Soars overhead I sink now.

  • Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was known as the "Sybil of the Rhine". She was a reknowned theologian and "visionary" writer, and she was an esteemed composer; she also served in an advisory capacity to many high-ranking church officials, and both the pope and king--it was this aspect of her seer-like intellect that qualified her as a "sybil".

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