Monday, March 24, 2003

Oracula Sibyllina: Aspects of Their History and Political Exploitation

By Brian Muraresku, Brown University

"In their present form, the Sibylline Oracles represent a vast accumulation of prophecies dating from both their archaic origins during Romes formative years and later in the first centuries A.D. when Jewish and Christian interpolations were made. Since the books themselves are directly quoted only once by our extant ancient sources, it is difficult to discern the exact form and content of the ancient Roman version and, moreover, the level of divergence from our existing collection. After a fire in the temple Jupiter Optimus Maximus consumed the Libri Sibyllini in 83 B.C., an interesting series of events transpired that elucidates the true Roman conception of the books author(s) and format, as opposed to the more mythical accounts that are rendered in Virgils Aeneid VI. The treatment of the oracles after 76 B.C. (when they were replaced) down through the principate of Augustus also demonstrates their susceptibility to political exploitation at the hands of a patrician senate, in an attempt to assert its waning authority amidst civil wars.

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