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SIBYLLAE 100.00%
The name given in antiquity to inspired prophetesses of some deity, in particular Apollo. They were usually regarded as young maidens dwelling in lonely caves or by inspiring springs, who were possessed with a spirit of divination, and gave forth prophetic utterances while under the influence of enthusiastic frenzy. They were described sometimes as priestesses of Apollo, sometimes as his favourite wives or daughters. We have no certain information as to their number, names, country, or date. Though Plato [Phoedrus, 294 B] knew of only one, others mention two, three, four [the Erythroean, the Samian, the Egyptian, and the Sardian], and even ten or twelve: [the Babylonian, the Libyan, the (elder and younger) Delphian, the Cimmerian, the (elder and younger) Erythroean, the Samian, the Cumoean, the Hellespontine, the Phrygian, and the Tiburtine]. In the earliest times they are mentioned as dwelling in the neighbourhood of the Trojan Ida in Asia Minor, later at Erythrae in Ionia, in Samos, at Delphi, and at Cumae in Italy. The most famous was the Erythraean Sibyl, Herophile, who is usually considered identical with the Cumaean, as she is represented as journeying by manifold wanderings from her home to Cumae. Here she is said to have lived for many generations in the crypts beneath the temple of Apollo, where she had even prophesied to Aeneas. In later times the designation of Sibyl was also given to the prophetic Nymph Albanca near Tibur [Lactantius, i 6 Section § 12]. The Sibylline books, so often met with in Roman history, had their origin in a collection of oracular utterances in Greek hexameters, composed in the time of Solon and Cyrus at Gergis on Mount Ida, and ascribed to the Hellespontic Sibyl, buried in the temple of Apollo at Gergis. This collection was brought by way of Erythrae to Cumaean, and finally, in the time of the last king, to Rome. According to the legend, the Cumaean Sibyl offered to Tarquinius Superbus nine books of prophecy; and as the king declined to purchase them owing to the exorbitant ice she demanded, burnt all but three of them, which the king purchased for the original price, and had them preserved in a vault beneath the Capitoline temple of Jupiter. When they were destroyed in the burning of the Capitol in 83 B.C., the Senate sent envoys to make a collection of similar oracular sayings distributed over various places, in particular Ilium, Erythae, and Samos. This new collection was deposited in the restored temple, together with similar sayings of native origin; e.g. those of the Sibyl at Tibur, of the brothers Marcius, and others. From the Capitol they were transferred by Augustus as pontifex, in 12 B.C., to the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, after they had been examined and copied; here they remained until about 405 A.D. They are said to have been burnt by Stilicho. The use of these oracles was from the outset reserved for the State, and they were not consulted for the foretelling of future events, but on the occasion of remarkable calamities, such as pestilence, earthquake, and as a means of expiating portents. It was only the rites of expiation prescribed by the Sibylline books that were communicated to the public, and not the oracles themselves. As these books recognised the gods worshipped, and the rites observed, in the neighbourhood of Troy, they were the principal cause of the introduction of a series of foreign deities and religious rites into the Roman State worship, of the amalgamation of national deities with the corresponding deities of Greece, and a general modification of the Roman religion after the Greek type. Tarquinius is said to have entrusted the care of the books to a special college of two men of patrician ramk. After 367 B.C. their number was increased to ten, half patrician and half plebeians; and in the 1st century B.C., probably in the time of Sulla, five more were added. These officials were entitled respectively duumviri, decemviri, and 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 bad the responsibility of keeping the books in safety and secrecy, of consulting them at the order of the Senate, of interpreting the utterances they found therein, and of causing the measures thus enjoined to be carried out; in particular, they had the superintendence of the worship of Apollo, the Magna Mater, and Ceres, which had been introduced by the Sibylline books. These Sibylline books have no connexion with a collection of Sibylline Oracles in twelve books, written in Greek hexameters, which have come down to us. The latter contain a medley of pretended prophecies by various authors and of very various dates, from the middle of the 2nd century B.C. to the 6th Century A.D. They were composed partly by Alexandrine Jews, partly by Christians, in the interests of their respective religions; and in part they refer to events of the later Empire.
The Erythraean Sibyl. (See SIBYLLAe.)
The Roman term for an official body consisting of fifteen men, especially that appointed for the inspection of the Sibylline books. (See SIBYLLAe.)
The Roman fast days, or days of humiliation, celebrated originally in times of great distress, after the Sibylline books had been duly consulted. The whole population, both of the towns and surrounding country, free-born and emancipated men, women, and children, took part in the solemnity. The whole ceremony had a Greek rather than a Roman colour. From the temple of Apollo, priests and laymen, crowned with wreaths of bay, marched in procession to the sound of singing and the notes of the lyre, visiting all the holy places, especially those where lectisternia (q.v.) were held. According to the rite introduced from the oriental Greeks of Asia Minor, the Romans touched with their faces the threshold of the sanctuaries, prostrated themselves before the statues of the gods, clasping their knees and kissing their hands and feet. While the prayers were being said, incense and wine were offered, the prayers being rehearsed by the members of the collegium entrusted with the care of the Sibylline books (see SIBYLLAe), and the performance of the holy rites prescribed by them. On such days the temples ordinarily closed to the public, or only accessible under certain restrictions, were (so far as practicable) thrown open to all. The thanksgivings decreed by the Senate after great victories were celebrated in a similar manner. These originally lasted only one day, but in the course of time were lengthened, until, at the end of the Republic, they sometimes extended over forty or fifty days, and were often united with a public feasting of the people.
Type: Standard
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