The Sibylline Books

The Sibylline books were a collection of manuscripts which embodied the secrets of human destiny, the work of the prophetesses of the ancient world. According to Tacitus, these books were first preserved in the Capitol. The oldest collection of Sibylline books appears to have been made about the time of Solon and Cyrus at Gergis on Mount Ida in the Troad; it was attributed to the Hellespontine Sibyl and was preserved in the temple of Apollo at Gergis. From Gergis the collection passed to Erythrae, where it became famous as the oracles of the Erythraean Sibyl. It would appear to have been this very collection that found its way to Cumae and from Cumae to Rome.

Since they were written in hexameter verse and in Greek, the college of curators was always assisted by two Greek interpreters. The books were kept in the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, and, when the temple burned in 83 BC, they were lost.

When it was burnt down, the precious leaves of Fate were preserved, and removed to the temple of Apollo Palatinus. The Roman Senate sent envoys in 76 BC to replace them with a collection of similar oracular sayings, in particular collected from Ilium, Erythrae, Samos, Sicily, and Africa.

Erythraean Sibyl as a floor mosaic in the Cathedral of Siena

Their after - fate is enshrouded in mystery, but it would seem that the Cumean books existed until 339 A.D., when they were destroyed by Stilikon. Augustus sent three ambassadors - Paulus Gabinus, Marcus Otacillius, and into Asia, Attica, and Italy but especially to the Erythraean Sibyl, to collect whatever could be discovered of the Sibylline Oracles, to replace those which had been lost or burnt. The books are of two kinds; namely, the books of the elder Sibyls, that is, of the earlier Greek and Roman times; and the later, which were much falsified, and disfigured with numerous interpolations.

Of the latter, eight books in Greek and Latin are still said to be extant. Those which are preserved in Rome had been collected from various places, at various times, and contained predictions of future events couched in the most mysterious of symbolic languages. At first they were permitted only to be read by descendants of Apollo, but later by the priests, until their care was entrusted to certain officials, who only replied to inquiries at the command of the Senate, in cases of extraordinary emergency.

Encyclopedia of Ancient and Forbidden Secrets by Nye;

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