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[19arg] The story of king Tarquin the Proud and the Sibylline Books.

IN ancient annals we find this tradition about the Sibylline Books. An old woman, a perfect stranger, came to king Tarquin the Proud, bringing nine books; she declared that they were oracles of the gods and that she wished to sell them. Tarquin inquired the price; the woman demanded an [p. 91] immense and exorbitant sum: the king laughed her to scorn, believing her to be in her dotage. Then she placed a lighted brazier before him, burned three of the books to ashes, and asked whether he would buy the remaining six at the same price. But at this Tarquin laughed all the more and said that there was now no doubt that the old woman was crazy. Upon that the woman at once burned up three more books and again calmly made the same request, that he would buy the remaining three at the original figure. Tarquin now became serious and more thoughtful, and realising that such persistence and confidence were not to be treated lightly, he bought the three books that were left at as high a price as had been asked for all nine. Now it is a fact that after then leaving Tarquin, that woman was never seen again anywhere. The three books were deposited in a shrine 1 and called “Sibylline” ; 2 to them the Fifteen 3 resort whenever tile immortal gods are to be consulted as to the welfare of the State.

1 In the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol. Augustus transferred them to the temple of Apollo on the Palatine; see Suet. Aug. xxxi. 1.

2 Because the old woman was regarded as a Sibyl. Although the books came to Tarquin by way of Cumae, the origin of the Sibylline books was probably Asia Minor. There were several Sibyls (Varro enumerates ten), of whom the Erythraean, from whom the books apparently came, was the most important; see Marquardt, Stautsverew. 1112. 350 ff.

3 See note 4, page 61.

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