Sibylline Books

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Sibylline Books

The manuscripts that embodied the secrets of human destiny, the work of the sibyls or prophetesses of the ancient world. According to the historian Tacitus (ca. 55-120 C.E.), these books were first preserved in the Roman Capitol. When it burned down, the previous leaves were preserved and removed to the temple of Apollo Palatinus. Their subsequent fate is enshrouded in mystery, but it would seem that the Cumean books existed until 339 C.E. , when they were destroyed by the consul Stilikon.

Augustus sent three ambassadorsPaulus Gabinus, Marcus Otacillius, and Lucius Valeriusinto Asia, Africa, and Italy to collect whatever could be discovered of the Sibylline Oracles in order to replace those that had been lost or burned.

The books are of two kinds: the books of the elder Sibyls, (that is, of the earlier Greek and Roman times) and those of the later Sibyls, which are falsified and disfigured with numerous interpolations. Of the latter, eight books in Greek and Latin are still said to exist.

Those 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 to be read only by descendants of Apollo, then later by priests, until their care was entrusted to certain officials.