Michelangelo painted the Cumaen sibyl with muscular arms. He couldn’t imagine the favorite oracle of ancient Rome as anything but strong.
The sibyl had offered nine books of prophesies to King Tarquin of Rome at a price that he found too high. In response she burned three books and offered the remaining six to the king at the same price, which he again refused. So she burned three more and offered the last three to the king at the same price. He finally accepted.
Michelangelo added a pout on her face, imagining her angry that the Romans tried to take a hard line on the price of a wisdom that could only be priceless.
As Michelangelo was working he received another letter from home. This one made him weep. His older brother Lionardo was dead.
He wanted to drop everything and go home. It would ease his own pain, and, he thought, might make his father feel better. Michelangelo couldn’t imagine the torment his father must have been feeling. Lodovico had also been in ill health, and Michelangelo worried that the pain of losing his oldest son might be too much.
But Michelangelo couldn’t just leave. He hadn’t been paid, and he was relying on those funds. His whole family was relying on those funds. There was no question that before he could leave, he had to finish the first half of the ceiling.
He had one prophet left to paint, and the ancestors on the eight lunettes. It would be just a matter of weeks until he was finished.
Despite all of the aches and pains in his back and neck, he worked harder now. He paid little attention to matters going on around him, hardly listening to all the talk of a war with France. All he knew was right in front of him: the work he had to finish. When he got paid he would go home while the scaffolding was moved to the other half of the ceiling.
It never occurred to him that Julius might be in any kind of danger. Unfortunately, the reality of the pope’s world was about to catch up to Michelangelo.