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(in the sing., Lat. Sibylla; Gr. Σίβυλλα, from Doric σιο-βόλλα=θεοῦ βουλή, “the will of God”). The name given in antiquity to inspired prophetesses of some deity, in particular Apollo. They were usually regarded as 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 (Phaedr. 294 B) knew of only one, others mention two, three, four (the Erythraean, 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) Erythraean, the Samian, the Cumaean, 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, Herophilé, 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 Albunea near Tibur (Lactant. i. 6, 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 Cumae, 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 prophecies; and as the king declined to purchase them, owing to the exorbitant price she demanded, she burned 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 Iupiter (Varro, ap. Lactant. Inst. Div. i. 6; Dionys. iv. 62; Orig. viii. 815). When they were destroyed in the burning of the Capitol in B.C. 83, the Senate sent envoys to make a collection of similar oracular sayings distributed over various places, in particular Ilium, Erythrae, 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 B.C. 12, to the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, after they had been examined and copied; here they remained until about A.D. 405. They are said to have been burned 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 recognized 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 intrusted the care of the books to a special collegium of two men of patrician rank. After B.C. 367 their number was increased to ten, half patrician and half plebeian; and in the first 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 had 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. See Marquardt, iii. 358 foll.; and Bouché-Leclercq, Hist. de la Divination, ii. pp. 133 foll.

These Sibylline Books have no connection 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 second century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. They were composed partly by Alexandrian Jews, partly by Christians, in the interests of their respective religions; and in part they refer to events of the later Empire. They are edited by Alexandre (Paris, 1841-56); Friedlieb (Leipzig, 1852); Rzach (Vienna, 1891); and Diels (Berlin, 1891). See Dechent in the Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte (1878); and an article in the Edinburgh Review for July, 1877.

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