The Sibylline Books (Latin: Libri Sibyllini) were a collection of oracular utterances, set out in Greek hexameters, that according to tradition were purchased from a sibyl by the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, and were consulted at momentous crises through the history of the Republic and the Empire. Only fragments have survived, the rest being lost or deliberately destroyed.
The Sibylline Books should not be confused with the so-called Sibylline Oracles, twelve books of prophecies thought to be of Judaeo-Christian origin.
According to the Roman tradition, 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 (see the Cumaean Sibyl) and from Cumae to Rome.
The story of the acquisition of the Sibylline Books by Tarquinius is one of the famous legendary elements of Roman history. The Cumaean Sibyl offered to Tarquinius nine books of these prophecies; and as the king declined to purchase them, owing to the exorbitant price she demanded, she burned three and offered the remaining six to Tarquinius at the same stiff price, which he again refused, whereupon she burned three more and repeated her offer. Tarquinius then relented and purchased the last three at the full original price and had them preserved in a vault beneath the Capitoline temple of Jupiter. The story is alluded to in Varro's lost books quoted in Lactantius Institutiones Divinae (I: 6) and by Origen, and told by Aulus Gellius (Noctes Atticae 1, 19).
The Roman Senate kept tight control over the Sibylline Books; Sibylline Books were entrusted to the care of two patricians; after 367 BC ten custodians were appointed, five patricians and five plebeians, who were called the decemviri sacris faciundis; subsequently (probably in the time of Sulla) their number was increased to fifteen, the quindecimviri sacris faciundis. They were usually ex-consuls or ex-praetors. They held office for life, and were exempt from all other public duties. They had the responsibility of keeping the books in safety and secrecy. These officials, at the command of the Senate, consulted the Sibylline Books in order to discover not exact predictions of definite future events in the form of prophecy but the religious observances necessary to avert extraordinary calamities and to expiate ominous prodigies (comets and earthquakes, showers of stones, plague, and the like). It was only the rites of expiation prescribed by the Sibylline Books, according to the interpretation of the oracle that were communicated to the public, and not the oracles themselves, which left ample opportunity for abuses.
In particular, the keepers of the Sibylline Books had the superintendence of the worship of Apollo, of the "Great Mother" Cybele or Magna Mater, and of Ceres, which had been introduced upon recommendations as interpreted from the Sibylline Books. The Sibylline Books motivated the construction of eight temples in ancient Rome, aside from those cults that have been interpreted as mediated by the Sibylline Books simply by the Greek nature of the deity. Thus, one important effect of the Sibylline Books was their influence on applying Greek cult practice and Greek conceptions of deities to indigenous Roman religion, which was already indirectly influenced through Etruscan religion. As the Sibylline Books had been collected in Anatolia, in the neighborhood of Troy, they recognized the gods and goddesses and the rites observed there and helped introduce them into Roman state worship, a syncretic amalgamation of national deities with the corresponding deities of Greece, and a general modification of the Roman religion.
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. 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. This new Sibylline collection was deposited in the restored temple, together with similar sayings of native origin, e.g. those of the Sibyl at Tibur (the 'Tiburtine Sibyl') of the brothers Marcius, and others, which had been circulating in private hands but which were called in, to be delivered to the Urban Praetor, private ownership of such works being declared illicit, and to be evaluated by the Quindecimviri, who then sorted them, retaining only those that appeared true to them.
From the Capitol they were transferred by Augustus as pontifex maximus in 12 BC, to the temple of Apollo Patrous on the Palatine, after they had been examined and copied; there they remained until about AD 405. According to the poet Rutilius Claudius Namatianus, the general Flavius Stilicho (died AD 408) burned them, as they were being used to attack his government.
Some genuine Sibylline verses are preserved in the Book of Marvels or Memorabilia of Phlegon of Tralles (2nd century AD). These represent an oracle, or a combination of two oracles, of seventy hexameters in all. They report the birth of an androgyne, and prescribe a long list of rituals and offerings to the gods.
The Sibylline Oracles were quoted by the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus (late 1st century) as well as by numerous Christian writers of the second century, including Athenagoras of Athens who, in a letter addressed to Marcus Aurelius in ca. AD 176, quoted verbatim a section of the extant Oracles, in the midst of a lengthy series of other classical and pagan references such as Homer and Hesiod, stating several times that all these works should already be familiar to the Roman Emperor. Copies of the actual Sibylline Books (as reconstituted in 76 BC) were still in the Roman Temple at this time. The Oracles are nevertheless thought by modern scholars to be anonymous compilations that assumed their final form in the fifth century, after the Sibylline Books perished. They are a miscellaneous collection of Jewish and Christian portents of future disasters, that may illustrate the confusions about sibyls that were accumulating among Christians of Late Antiquity.
An incomplete list of consultations of the Sibylline Books recorded by historians:
Aurora Leigh (1856) is an epic novel/poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The poem is written in blank verse and encompasses nine books (the woman's number, the number of the Sibylline Books). It is a first person narration, from the point of view of Aurora; its other heroine, Marian Erle, is an abused self-taught child of itinerant parents. The poem is set in Florence, Malvern, London and Paris. The author uses her knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, while also playing off modern novels, such as Corinne ou l'Italie by Anne Louise Germaine de Staël and the novels by George Sand. As far as Book 5, Aurora narrates her past, from her childhood to the age of about 27; in Books 6–9, the narrative has caught up with her, and she reports events in diary form. Elizabeth Barrett Browning styled the poem "a novel in verse", and referred to it as "the most mature of my works, and the one into which my highest convictions upon Life and Art have entered." Scholar Deirdre David asserts that Barrett Browning's work in Aurora Leigh has made her into "a major figure in any consideration of the nineteenth-century woman writer and of Victorian poetry in general." John Ruskin called it the greatest long poem of the nineteenth century.Gaius Licinius Stolo
Gaius Licinius Calvus Stolo, along with Lucius Sextius, was one of the two tribunes of ancient Rome who opened the consulship to the plebeians.
A member of the plebeian Licinia gens, Stolo was tribune from 376 BC to 367 BC, during which he passed the lex Licinia Sextia restoring the consulship, requiring a plebeian consul seat, limiting the amount of public land that one person could hold, and regulating debts. He also passed a law stipulating that the Sibylline Books should be overseen by decemviri, of whom half would be plebeians in order to prevent any falsification in favor of the patricians. The patricians opposed these laws, though they finally were passed. Licinius was then elected consul for 361 BC (Fasti Capitolini).
He was later charged with violating his own laws concerning the ownership of land and was forced to pay a heavy fine.
Although Livy describes the activities of Gaius Licinius in great detail, it is likely that his description is not accurate; much of it is suspiciously similar to events in the age of the Gracchi two hundred years later, and it is quite possible that the annalist Licinius Macer invented episodes of his family's activities.
He was married to the youngest daughter of Marcus Fabius Ambustus. An anecdote frequently told said that Stolo's wife urged him to procure the consulship for plebeians through the Lex Licinia Sextia, as she was jealous of the honors of Servius Sulpicius Praetextatus, the patrician husband of her sister. As early as the turn of the 19th century, the German historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr pointed out the historical untrustworthiness and contradictions in this tale.Juventas
Juventas, also known as Iuventus or Juventus (Greek equivalent: Hebe), was the ancient Roman goddess whose sphere of tutelage was youth and rejuvenation. She was especially the goddess of young men "new to wearing the toga" (dea novorum togatorum)—that is, those who had just come of age.Several voluntary associations (collegia) were formed for Juventas in the Italian municipalities, as attested by inscriptions.Lectisternium
The lectisternium was an ancient Roman propitiatory ceremony, consisting of a meal offered to gods and goddesses. The word derives from lectum sternere, "to spread (or "drape") a couch." The deities were represented by their busts or statues, or by portable figures of wood, with heads of bronze, wax or marble, and covered with drapery. It has also been suggested that the divine images were bundles of sacred herbs tied together in the form of a head, covered by a waxen mask so as to resemble a kind of bust, rather like the straw figures called Argei. These figures were laid upon a couch (lectus), the left arm resting on a cushion (pulvinus, whence the couch itself was often called pulvinar) in the attitude of reclining. The couch was set out in the open street, and a meal placed before it on a table.Lex Licinia Sextia
The Lex Licinia Sextia, also known as the Licinian Rogations, was a series of laws proposed by the tribunes of the plebs, Lucius Sextius Lateranus and Gaius Licinius Stolo. These laws provided for a limit on the interest rate of loans and a restriction on private ownership of land. A third law, which provided for one of the two consuls to be a plebeian, was rejected. Two of these laws were passed in 368 BC, after the two proponents had been elected and re-elected tribunes for nine consecutive years and had successfully prevented the election of patrician magistrates for five years (375-370 BC). In 367 BC, during their tenth tribunate, this law was passed. In the same year they also proposed a fourth law regarding the priests who were the custodians of the sacred Sibylline Books.
These laws and the long struggle to pass them were part of the two hundred year conflict of the orders between the patrician aristocracy and the plebeians, who made up most of the Roman populace. This conflict was one of the major influences on the internal politics of Rome during the first two centuries of the Roman Republic.Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (consul 158 BC)
Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was a Roman consul for year 158 BC, together with Gaius Popillius Laenas. He was a praetor in 161 or earlier, and was possibly the presiding praetor when the Senate was holding discussions on the dispute between Magnesia and Priene. He is mentioned in a context that suggests he was one of the Decemviri sacris faciundis, a priestly college (collegium) who oversaw the Sibylline Books in 143.Marcus Nonius Arrius Mucianus
Marcus Nonius Arrius Mucianus was an imperial Roman politician and Senator at the beginning of the 3rd century CE. Mucianus grew up in Verona. He may have been the son of Marcus Nonius Arrius Mucianus Manlius Carbo, Suffect Consul, likely under emperor Commodus, and the grandson of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, Suffect Consul in 154 CE. His wife was Sextia Asinia Polla. Mucianus became an ordinary consul in 201 CE and, from 204 CE onwards, he became a quindecimviri sacris faciundis, a sacred priest in charge of the Sibylline Books. In Verona, he became a curator and patron.Mens
In Roman mythology, Mens, also known as Bona Mens or Mens Bona (Latin for "Good Mind"), was the personification of thought, consciousness and the mind, and also of "right-thinking". Her festival was celebrated on June 8. A temple on the Capitoline Hill in Rome was vowed to Mens in 217 BC on advice from the Sibylline Books, and was dedicated in 215 BC.
The Latin word mens expresses the idea of "mind" and is the origin of English words like mental and dementia. The gifted-only organization Mensa International was originally to be named mens in the sense of "mind", but took instead the name Mensa (Latin: "table") to avoid ambiguity with "men's" in English and "mens" in other languages.Mount Ida (Turkey)
Mount Ida (Turkish: Kazdağı, pronounced [kazdaɯ], meaning "Goose Mountain", Kaz Dağları, or Karataş Tepesi) is a mountain in northwestern Turkey, some 20 miles southeast of the ruins of Troy, along the north coast of the Gulf of Edremit. The name Mount Ida is the ancient one. It is between Balıkesir Province and Çanakkale Province.Quindecimviri sacris faciundis
In ancient Rome, the quindecimviri sacris faciundis were the fifteen (quindecim) members of a college (collegium) with priestly duties. Most notably they guarded the Sibylline Books, scriptures which they consulted and interpreted at the request of the Senate. This collegium also oversaw the worship of any foreign gods which were introduced to Rome.
Originally these duties had been performed by duumviri (or duoviri), two men of patrician status. Their number was increased to ten by a Licinio-Sextian law in 367 BC, which also required for half of the priests to be plebs. During the Middle Republic, members of the college were admitted through co-option.
At some point in the third century BC, several priesthoods, probably including the quindecimviri, began to be elected through the voting tribes.Quintus Marcius Rex (praetor 144 BC)
Quintus Marcius Rex (fl. 2nd century BC) was a Roman politician of the Marcii Reges, a patrician family of gens Marcia, who claimed royal descent from the Roman King Ancus Marcius.
He was appointed praetor peregrinus in 144 BC under the consulship of Servius Sulpicius Galba and Lucius Aurelius Cotta. The two major Roman aqueducts, Aqua Appia and Aqua Anio Vetus, were greatly damaged and many fraudulent misappropriations of their water reduced the flow.The Senate commissioned Marcius to repair the channels of two aqueducts and stop the diversion. Additionally, he was given the task to build a bigger aqueduct. He was granted 8,400,000 sestertii for construction, and since his praetorship term expired before the aqueduct's completion, it was extended for a year.
The canals, named Aqua Marcia to honor Marcius, reached to the hill Capitolinus on arches, while secondary branches brought water to the hills Caelius and Aventinus.In 143 BC, under the consulship of Appius Claudius Pulcher and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, the Decemvirs consulted the Sibylline Books and found that it was the Aqua Anio Vetus's water that led to the Capitolinus. They reported their conclusions to the Senate. Three years later, in 140 BC, under the consulship of Quintus Servilius Caepio and Gaius Laelius Sapiens, this matter was again brought before the Senate. The decemvirs' opinion prevailed, and the aqueduct's water was rerouted to Capitolinus.Regardless whether the initial change in the aqueduct was the result of ignorance, intention, or chance, the aqueduct was kept in Rome, because it was needed to support the city in its wars against the Italics.Rhapsodomancy
Rhapsodomancy is an ancient form of divination performed by choosing through some method a specific passage or poem from which to ascertain information.
There were various methods for practicing rhapsodomancy. Sometimes, individuals would write several verses or sentences from a poet on multiple pieces of wood, paper, or similar material, shake them together in an urn, and pick one at random. Sometimes, they cast dice on a table that was covered with verses; the one on which the die landed was said to contain the prediction.
In ancient Rome, the method of sortes involved opening a book and choosing some verse at first sight. This method was particularly called the sortes Praenestinae; and afterwards, according to the poet who was used, sortes Homerica, sortes Virgilianae, etc.Sextus Nonius Quinctilianus (consul 38)
Sextus Nonius Quinctilianus was a Roman senator who was active in the first century. He was appointed suffect consul in 38 as the colleague of Servius Asinius Celer.Quinctilianus was the son of the homonymous consul of the year 8, and Sosia, a daughter of Gaius Sosius, consul in 32 BC. He known to have at least one brother, Lucius Nonius Quinctilianus.
At some point prior to holding the republican magistracy of plebeian tribune, Quinctilianus had been admitted to the Quindecimviri sacris faciundis, a prestigious priesthood charged with guarding the Sibylline Books. In the year 32, while plebeian tribune, he proposed adding a new volume from Lucius Caninius Gallus to the collection of canonical Sibylline Books; however, the emperor Tiberius gently rebuked Quinctilianus for the proposal, reminding him that this proposed supplement had not passed through the expected procedure and directed that the volume be referred back to the full priesthood for their review and judgment.Sibyl
The sibyls were oracles in Ancient Greece. The earliest sibyls, according to legend, prophesied at holy sites. Their prophecies were influenced by divine inspiration from a deity; originally at Delphi and Pessinos, the deities were chthonic deities. In Late Antiquity, various writers attested to the existence of sibyls in Greece, Italy, the Levant, and Asia Minor.
The English word sibyl ( or /ˈsɪbɪl/) comes — via the Old French sibile and the Latin sibylla — from the ancient Greek Σίβυλλα (Sibulla). Varro derived the name from theobule ("divine counsel"), but modern philologists mostly propose an Old Italic or alternatively a Semitic etymology.Sibylline Oracles
The Sibylline Oracles (Latin: Oracula Sibyllina; sometimes called the pseudo-Sibylline Oracles) are a collection of oracular utterances written in Greek hexameters ascribed to the Sibyls, prophetesses who uttered divine revelations in a frenzied state. Fourteen books and eight fragments of Sibylline Oracles survive, in an edition of the 6th or 7th century AD. They are not to be confused with the original Sibylline Books of the ancient Etruscans and Romans which were burned by order of Roman general Flavius Stilicho in the 4th century AD. Instead, the text is an "odd pastiche" of Hellenistic and Roman mythology interspersed with Jewish, Gnostic and early Christian legend.The Sibylline Oracles are a valuable source for information about classical mythology and early first millennium Gnostic, Hellenistic Jewish and Christian beliefs. Some apocalyptic passages scattered throughout seem to foreshadow themes of the Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature. The oracles have undergone extensive editing, re-writing, and redaction as they came to be exploited in wider circles.
One passage has an acrostic, spelling out a Christian code-phrase with the first letters of successive lines.Sortes (ancient Rome)
Sortes (Latin singular: sors) were a frequent method of divination among the ancient Romans. The method involved the drawing of lots (sortes) to obtain knowledge of future events: in many of the ancient Italian temples the will of the gods was consulted in this way, as at Praeneste and Caere.These sortes or lots were usually little tablets or counters, made of wood or other materials, and were commonly thrown into a sitella or urn, filled with water. The lots were sometimes thrown like dice. The name of "sortes" was in fact given to anything used to determine chances, and was also applied to any verbal response of an oracle.Various things were written upon the lots according to circumstances, as for instance the names of the persons using them. It seems to have been a favorite practice in later times to write the verses of illustrious poets upon little tablets, and to draw them out of the urn like other lots, the verses which a person thus obtained being supposed to be applicable to him (see Sortes Homerica and Sortes Virgilianae, lots created from verses of Homer and Virgil).In the Biblical account of the prophet Jonah, he is thrown into the sea and swallowed by the fish after the sailors on the ship cast lots to determine the guilty one who had brought about the storm. It was also the practice to consult the poets in the same way as Muslims do the Koran and Hafiz, and many Christians the Bible, namely, by opening the book at random and applying the first passage that struck the eye to a person's own immediate circumstances. This practice was very common among the early Christians, who substituted the Bible and the Psalter for Homer and Virgil. Many church councils repeatedly condemned these Sortes Sanctorum (sacred lots), as they were called.The Sibylline books were probably also consulted in this way. Those who foretold future events by lots were called Sortilegi.The sortes convivales were sealed tablets, which were sold at entertainments, and upon being opened or unsealed entitled the purchaser to things of very unequal value. They were therefore a kind of lottery.Sulpicia (wife of Quintus Fulvius Flaccus)
Sulpicia (fl. 113 BC) was the wife of Quintus Fulvius Flaccus, and earned everlasting fame when she was determined to be the most chaste of all the Roman matrons.
The daughter of Servius Sulpicius Paterculus, Sulpicia was one of one hundred Roman matrons who were candidates to dedicate the statue of Venus Verticordia (the changer of hearts), who was believed "to turn the minds of women from vice to virtue." Using a method outlined in the Sibylline Books, ten were drawn by lot, and these examined to determine which was the purest and most virtuous. Judged the most chaste, it fell to Sulpicia to dedicate the statue. The story was so well known in ancient authors that famed Renaissance author Giovanni Boccaccio included it in his book On Famous Women, fifteen hundred years later.The statue itself predates the temple in which it stood by over a hundred years, and so must originally have been originally dedicated someplace else—perhaps at the Temple of Venus Erycina on the Capitoline or the Temple of Venus Obsequens.Temples of Cybele in Rome
A number of temples to Cybele in Rome have been identified. Originally an Anatolian mother goddess, the cult of Cybele was formally brought to Rome during the Second Punic War (218 to 201 BCE) after a consultation with the Sibylline Books.Venus Verticordia
Venus Verticordia ("the changer of hearts") was an epithet of the Roman goddess Venus, alluding to the goddess' ability to change hearts from lust to chastity.
In the year 114 BC, three Vestal Virgins were condemned to death for transgressing with Roman knights the rigid law against sexual intercourse. To atone for their misdeeds, a shrine was dedicated to Venus Verticordia in the hope that she would turn the hearts of women and girls against licentiousness and towards chastity. Hence her name Verticordia, which means 'turner of hearts'. Under this title she was especially worshipped by married women, and on 1 April the Veneralia festival was celebrated in her honor.According to Valerius Maximus, a Roman woman named Sulpicia was chosen by the vote of ten, drawn by lot from a pool of one hundred who had been chosen by the women of Rome as a body to dedicate a statue of Venus Verticordia. Sulpicia was deemed the chastest woman in Rome, and the method of selection was prescribed by the Sibylline Books.Two foundation legends provided a frame of references for the perception of the Cult of Venus Verticordia in ancient times. Sometime in the late third century bce, a statue was dedicated to Venus Verticordia by the chastest matron in Rome, in this case sulpicia, daughter of Servius Sulpicius and wife of Fulvius Flaccus. The Sibylline books had prescribed the dedication as a cure for the prevailing licentiousness of women.
The hope was that matrons and unmarried girls would more readily turn from licentiousness to chastity. The second legend was connected with the dedication of a temple to Venus Verticordia in 114 bce. A Roman knight and his virgin Daughter were returning to Apulia from the roman games when the girl was struck by lightning and killed. Her tunic was pulled up to her waist, her tongue protruded and the trappings of her horse were scattered around her.
The meaning of this dreadful prodigy turned out to be that of the three Vestal Virgins had been guilty of unchaste conduct in which many members of the equestrian class were implicated. All the offenders, both male and female, were duly punished and a temple was then built to Venus Verticordia. According to both Ovid and Valerius Maximus, the temple and statue that respectively figured in each story were offered to the goddess in the hope that the maiden would correct the wanton ways of women and make them chaste. This, said Ovid, was the explanation of the cult title itself: "Verticordia, Changer of Hearts."
Each legend dealt with a separate aspect of the cult, the dedication of the statue and the dedication of the temple; each also dealt with the areas of controlling female sexual morality which had different implications for the collective welfare of the Roman State. There was much more at stake in the virginity of a Vestal Virgin that in the pudicitia of a matrona. But the two stories are, none the less complementary rather than competing perceptions of the cult. They are both characterized by an extraordinary level of exaggeration: hyperbole is a common feature of both stories. Consider for example the concept of the chastest matron. One is either chaste or unchaset. The Vestals ruled and accounted for all the monies of Rome and thus these women had to undergo the tightest of control of all women in Rome.
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