From Sibylline Oracles, Translated from the Greek into English Blank Verse by Milton S. Terry; New York: Hunt & Eaton, Cincinatti: Cranston & Stowe’s, 1890; pp. 199-216.
BOOK IX. (XI.)
CONTENTS OF BOOK IX. (XI.)
O WORLD of widely scattered men, long walls,
Insatiate cities, and unnumbered nations,
Of the east, and west, and south, and also north,
Divided into various languages
5 And kingdoms, of you what is worst I speak.
For from the time when on the earlier men
The flood came, and a miserable race
Destroyed by many waters, he who rules
Over all things produced another race
10 Of tireless men, who stood up against heaven
And built a tower of height unspeakable.
From others then came tongues, and upon them
Came hurled along the wrath of God most high,
And the huge tower fell. But against each other
15 They stirred up bitter strife. Then the tenth race
Of mortal men lived when these things occurred,
And then the whole earth was distributed
Among strange men and various dialects,
Whose numbers I will mention and by name
The following four books are numbered xi-xiv in the manuscripts and in Alexandre’s edition. It has seemed to us better, in the absence of intervening books, to number them consecutively in order after the eighth book, ix-xii. To prevent misunderstanding, however, we print both numbers at the top of the page, placing the manuscript number in parentheses. On the discovery and first publication of these four books see the Introduction. This book ix (xi) is probably the work of an Egyptian Jew, who wrote in the earlier part of the second century, A. D.
Line 1. Widely scattered men. — Homeric phrase, Iliad, 2, 804; Od., 11, 365.
Lines 6-18. Comp. book iii, 114-126.
Celebrate in acrostics, and by means
Of the initial letter make them known.
First Egypt shall receive a royal power
And eminently just; but then in her
Shall many counsel-bearing men arise
25 And there shall reign a formidable man,
A very powerful warrior; he shall have
The letter of the acrostic for his name,
And against pious men will draw the sword.
And a great sign shall he have while he rules
30 In the Egyptian land, which, famed afar
For great things, shall with plenteous corn provide
Souls perishing with hunger, and the judge,
Himself in bonds, child of Assyrian men,
The eastern land shall nourish, and his name
35 Know as the measure of the number ten.
But when the ten plagues from bright heaven
On Egypt, then again to thee I’ll cry.
Woe, woe, thou Memphis, woe, thou mighty kingdom!
The Red Sea shall much people of thine slay.
40 But when the twelve-tribe people by command
Of the Immortal, leave the fertile plain
Line 20. Acrostics. — In the sense illustrated in the first portion of book v, where the Roman emperors are designated by the initial letters of their names.
Line 22. First Egypt. — Comp. book i, 229, note.
Line 27. Letter of the acrostic. — Meaning the letter which begins the next line of the Sibyl’s song φάσγανα, sword, and so designates the name Pharaoh.
Line 33. Assyrian. — The Sibyl thinks of the Hebrews as emigrants from Assyria, or the far East.
Line 35. Ten. — The Greek letter for ten is I, the initial of the Greek form of the name Joseph.
A wasted ruin, then unto mankind
Will God Himself, sole ruler, give a law.
Then for the Hebrews shall a mighty king
45 Of lofty spirit over Egypt reign,
Whose name resembles sand, but falsely called
As to his fatherland a Theban man.
But Memphis he, dread serpent, will admire,
And many things will he protect in wars.
50 And when twelve rolling decades of the kingdom
Shall have passed round, and in addition seven,
And also the tenth hundred in the East,
Of others all things being left behind,
Then shall the Persian domination come.
55 And then shall darkness be upon the Jews,
Nor shall they famine in that day escape,
Nor pestilence most unendurable.
But when the Persian shall rule, and the son
Of his son’s son shall lay the scepter by,
60 And years roll round until they reach five fours,
A hundred add to these, and so complete
Nine hundred, and all things thou shalt repay.
Line 46. Sand. — The name Psammiticus best answers this, but the reference may be to Psammenitus, who was defeated by Cambyses, the Persian. See Herodotus, iii, 10-15. But how either of these reigned over Egypt for the Hebrews does not appear. The periods of time denoted are equally uncertain.
Line 54. Persian. — The Persian domination at the time of Cambyses was a time of trouble to the Jews, who were just struggling to rally from their Babylonian exile. But we need not be surprised that a writer who calls Joseph an Assyrian (line 33) should also confound Persians and Assyrians, Parthians and Medes. The allusion to Persians and Medes in lines 63 and 64 favors the idea that the Assyrians are intended. Comp. 2 Kings xvii, 6.
Line 59. Son of his son’s son. — A doubtful reading. Friedlieb takes it as a proper name: son of an Ionian, as in line 70.
Line 62. Shalt repay. — Addressed to Jews or Israelites, who must make atonement for their misdeeds.
Then thou shalt to the Persians be a slave,
Given over to the Medes, by plagues destroyed
65 And also by the impetuous battle-fray.
Then to the Persians and the Assyrians
Shall evil come, and to the whole of Egypt,
And unto Libya and the Ethiopians,
And the Pamphylians and all other men.
70 And unto the Ionians shall be given
The royal power, and they again shall waste
The nations, plundering all the earth for spoil.
Sad dirges will the doleful Persians sing
Beside the Tigris; Egypt will shed tears
75 Sufficient many a land to irrigate.
And then to thee, O Media, many evils
Will one in India born, a rich man, do.
Until thou hast made recompense for all
Which thou hast done before with shameful soul.
80 Woe, woe to thee, O nation of the Medes,
Hereafter thou to Ethiopian men
Shalt be enslaved; beyond the meridian land
Shalt thou seven and a hundred years complete,
Wretched, and place thy neck beneath the yoke.
85 And then an Indian prince of sable skin,
Gray hair, and mighty soul, shall come to power,
Who shall lay many evils on the East
By reason of impetuous battle-frays.
And he shall injure thee and lay thee waste
90 Much more than all. But when he shall have reigned
Line 70. Ionians. — Here probably intended for the Macedonians, the Javanic kingdom of Dan. viii, 21.
Line 77. India born. — By India the Sibyl appears to mean Ethiopia, which names are used interchangeably. See lines 80-85, below. This India-born rich man seems to designate Shebek, or Sebacon.
Line 85. Indian prince. — The Ethiopian Tirhakah, mentioned in 2 Kings xix, 9, belonging to the same dynasty as Shebek.
Twenty and ten years, yet seven more and ten,
Then shall each nation be in furious rage
Against the king’s dominion, and make known
Their freedom, leaving for three single years
95 Their slavish blood. But he will come again
And put their necks beneath the servile yoke,
Each nation of strong men, even as before
Serving the king, and willingly they’ll yield.
And there shall be great peace through all the world.
100 And then to the Assyrians there shall be
A mighty man for king, and he shall rule
And persuade all to speak what he desires,
Whatever things God in the law enjoined.
And then will all the long-haired kings fear him,
105 Timid, and mute, and strong, of lovely mien.
Him by the counsel of the mighty God
Will they serve, for he will persuade all things
By reason, and all things will he subdue.
And he a temple of the mighty God
110 And lovely altar will himself erect
In his might, but will hurl the idols down.
But having gathered into one the tribes
And race of fathers, and the infant children,
He will include them as inhabitants.
115 His name shall have two hundred for its number,
And of the eighteenth letter show the sign.
But when at the tenth revolving period
He shall wield power, and at an end of time
Come to the two and five, then shall the kings
Line 100. Assyrians. — Here again put for Hebrews, or Israelites.
Line 115. Two hundred. — Represented by Σ, the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, and the initial of Solomon.
Line 119. The two and five. — The reference is to us unintelligible. Alexandre suggests twenty-five years after the completion of the temple, but that is incorrect.
Be numerous as the plants of mortal men,
Even numerous as the tribes, cities, and isles,
Lands of the blessed, and the fruitful fields.
But one of these shall be a mighty king,
Leader of men, and many great-souled kings
125 Shall under him have rule, and unto him
And to his sons and grandsons opulent
Will parts be given because of royal power.
Decades of decades, eight ones add to these,
Of years of rule, and to the last they come.
130 But when the strong beast with fierce war shall come,
Then, O ye noble kings, shall wrath spring forth.
Woe to thee, Persian land! How many streams
Outpoured of human blood shalt thou receive,
When that strong-minded man shall come to thee!
135 Then to thee I again will cry these things.
But when the Italian land puts forth its growth,
Great wonder to men, shall a child-like moan
Be heard with unmixed stroke, in shadowy cave,
Offspring of the wild beast that feeds on sheep.
140 Who, grown to manhood, on seven mighty hills,
Shall hurl down many with a shameless soul;
Both of them have the number of one hundred,
And their names will of things which are to come
Show forth a great sign. On the seven hills
Line 123. Mighty king. — Probable reference to Cyrus.
Line 128. Decades of decades. — If we take this to mean twice ten decades, and eight more, we have two hundred and eight, a near approximation of the duration of the Persian monarchy.
Line 130. Strong beast. — Reference to Alexander the Great.
Lines 136-140. Comp. book v, 14, 15.
Line 142. One hundred. — Represented by the Greek letter P, initial of Romulus and Remus.
Line 144. Great sign. — Probably in the thought that the first letter of these names is also the initial of Rome, the eternal city, the symbol of power.
Will they build mighty walls, and around them
Will men wage heavy wars. And then again
Around thee will be rising up of men.
O thou great land that hast the beautiful corn,
Bold Egypt — but again I’ll cry these things.
150 Against thee in thy house a mighty stroke
Shalt thou receive, and yet again to thee
Shall be a rising up of thine own men.
Now over thee, O wretched Phrygia,
I weep in pity, for to thee shall come
155 Capture from Hellas, tamer of fleet steeds,
And fearful war through mighty battle fray.
Ilion, I pity thee, for on thy roofs
From Sparta shall the avenging Furies come,
Conjoined with evil star, and bring thee toils,
160 Distresses, groans and sobs, when well-trained men,
By far the noblest heroes of the Greeks,
And dear to Ares, shall begin the fight.
Of these one shall be king, a spearman famed,
And with his brother plan the basest deeds.
165 And they shall overthrow the famous walls
Of Phrygian Troy, and in ten rolling years
Complete the bloody work of the time of war.
But suddenly a wooden artifice
Shall cover men, and this upon thy knees
170 Thou wilt receive, not knowing it replete
With Grecian treachery and heavy woe.
Alas, alas, how many in one night
Will Hades gather in, and how much spoil
Of tearful old men will be led away!
175 But in the generations that shall come
Fresh and undying shall the glory be.
Lines 153-180. These lines rehearse the familiar story of the Trojan War. Comp. book iii, 488-494, notes.
And the great king, a hero sprung from Jove,
Of the first letter of the alphabet
Shall have a name; and homeward he will march,
180 And then fall by a treacherous woman’s hand.
But of Assaracus’s race and blood
A child will reign, a hero of renown,
A strong and valiant man; and from this [race]
Made desolate by mighty fire, shall come
185 A fugitive, by the dread toil of war
Without a fatherland; upon his shoulders
Bearing his aged sire, and in his hand
Holding his only son, a pious deed
Will he accomplish. Looking all around,
190 He put aside the onset of the fire
Of burning Troy, and hastening through the crowd
In terror, crosses fearful land and sea.
And he shall have a trisyllabic name;
And the first letter of the alphabet
195 Will not obscurely show this highest man.
Then the strong Latin city he will build,
And in the fifteenth year, by waters slain,
Come to his end in the depths of the sea.
But him, though dead, the nations of mankind
200 Shall not forget, for his race over all
Hereafter shall rule, far as the Euphrates,
And to the middle of the Tigris stream,
The Assyrian land, and where the Parthian dwells.
Line 178. First letter. — Initial of Agamemnon, who on his return from Troy was slain by his wife, Clytemnestra.
Line 181. Assaracus. — Comp. book v, 11.
Line 185. Fugitive. — Æneas. See lines 193, 194.
Line 187. Sire. — Anchises.
Line 188. Son. — Ascanius.
Line 197. By waters slain. — According to one tradition Æneas was drowned in the river Numicus.
This in the generations yet to come
205 Shall be, when all these things shall come to pass.
But there shall be a certain wise old man,
A minstrel, whom all mortals call most wise,
By whose great understanding all the world
Shall be instructed; for with power and thought
210 Will he his chapters write, and clearly write
At times with beauty inexpressible,
Seizing my words, my measures, and my verse,
For he himself will first my books unfold,
And after these things hide them, and to men
215 Show them no more till life and death shall end.
But when these things which I spoke are fulfilled,
The Greeks again will fight with one another;
Assyrians, Arabs, quiver-bearing Medes,
Persians, Sicilians, and the Lydians
220 Will then revolt; Thrace and Bithynia,
And those that dwell along the streams of Nile,
Land of the beautiful corn — at once on all
Will God, the Eternal, set the din of war.
But terribly will an Assyrian man,
225 A base-born Ethiopian, quickly come,
Having a wild beast’s soul, and every isthmus
Will he cleave, prying timidly around,
Going to all and sailing through the sea.
And then, O faithless Greece, shall many things
230 Befall thee. Woe, woe to thee, wretched Greece;
How many things must thou aloud bewail!
For during seven and eighty rolling years
Thou shalt the miserable refuse be
Of fearful battle among all the tribes.
Line 206. Old man. — Homer. See book iii, 495-511, and notes there.
Line 224. Assyrian man.— The reference seems to be to Xerxes, but the epithets Assyrian and Ethiopian seem designed to puzzle.
And then again a Macedonian woe
Shall come on Greece and lay all Thracia waste,
And bring the toil of war upon the isles
And mainlands; with war-loving champions
Will he be foremost, and the name he bears
240 Is by the sign of ten times fifty shown.
He shall be short-lived in his government,
But leave a mighty monarchy behind,
And a boundless land. But he himself shall fall
By an ill-minded spearman, while he lives
245 In plenty as no other leader lived.
But after him a great-souled son of his
Shall reign, whose name begins the alphabet;
But he shall be the outgo of his race.
Not truly shall all call him son of Jove,
250 Or Ammon, nor yet Kronos’ bastard son,
As they would feign. And he will plunder cities
Of many mortal men, and there will rise
In Europe sore distress; and he himself
With pestilence will ravage Babylon,
255 And every land the sun looks down upon;
And he alone will sail the eastern world.
Alas, alas, for thee, O Babylon,
Being captive led in triumph, thou shalt serve —
Thou who of Asia wast the mistress called
260 And Mars shall come, shall surely come and slay
Thy many children. Then shalt thou send forth
Line 240. Ten times fifty. — Represented by Φ (== 500), the Greek initial of Philip, the famous Macedonian king, and father of Alexander the Great.
Line 244. Spearman. — Pausianas, one of the royal guards, who assassinated Philip on his way to the theater.
Line 246. Great-souled son. — Alexander the Great.
Line 248. Outgo of his race. — Comp. Dan. xi, 4.
Line 250. Ammon . . . Kronos. — Comp. book v, 5-9.
Thy royal man, with name of the number four,
Wielding the spear and fearful with the bow;
Along with powerful warriors he will go.
265 And then Cilicia’s and Assyria’s midst
Famine and war shall hold. But great-souled kings
Will arm for bitter strife a dreadful band.
But do thou flee and leave the former king;
Desire not thou to stay nor be a slave.
270 For a dread lion shall upon thee come,
Flesh-eating beast, ferocious, strange to law,
With mantle cast upon his shoulders round.
Flee thou that man of thunder; there shall come
On Asia a base yoke, and all the land
275 Shall drink a shower of murder. But when Mars
Of Pella shall a great, rich city found
In Egypt, bearing his name, he shall meet,
Betrayed by treacherous comrades, fate and death.
For, leaving India, and to Babylon
280 Returning, there around the festal board
Shall barbarous murder bring him to his fall.
Thereafter a few years shall other kings,
Cruel and insolent and faithless, rule
According to each tribe. And then shall rise
285 A great souled, valiant hero, who shall glean
Line 262. Four. — This number is denoted by the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet Δ, the initial of Darius, the last Persian monarch. He was defeated at Issus and Arbela by Alexander.
Lines 270-273. Dread lion . . . man of thunder. — Descriptive of Alexander.
Line 276. Pella. — Comp. book v, 5. City. — Alexandria in Egypt.
Line 281. Murder. — This does not accord with the current tradition, which is that he died of a drunken debauch; Plutarch, however, mentions suspicions that he had been taken off by poison.
Line 285. Hero. — Referring most probably to Antigonus, the most famous of Alexander’s immediate successors, who certainly gleaned all western Asia, if not Europe.
All Europe naked, and each land shall drink
The blood of every tribe. But having filled
Of life his portion, he shall disappear.
And other kings, twice four men, there shall be
290 Of this race, and the same name to them all.
And Egypt then shall be a regal bride,
And the great city of the Macedonian king,
Rare Alexandria, famous nourisher
Of cities, and in beauty radiant,
295 Shall be the sole metropolis.
And then let Memphis blame those in command.
And peace profound shall be through all the world,
And more fruit will the black-soil land then have.
And then shall be disaster to the Jews,
300 Nor shall they famine in that day escape,
Nor grievous pestilence; but wandering men
And many will the black-soil land receive,
Ambrosial land, of fine corn, the new world.
But eight kings of the Egyptian marshy soil
305 Shall fill two hundred three and thirty years.
Yet of them all, the race shall perish not,
But there shall issue forth a female root,
Line 289. Twice four men. — The eight famous Ptolemies of Egypt, who were of Macedonian origin.
Line 296. Let Memphis blame. — Because overshadowed and superseded by the Ptolemies, who made Alexandria the sole metropolis.
Line 299. Disaster. — Reference to the capture of Jerusalem by Ptolemy I. and the transportation of a great number of Jews to Egypt. See Josephus, Ant., xii, 1.
Line 301. Wandering men. — Scattered by famine and seeking a new and better country. Alexandre reads ruined men.
Line 305. The period of the eight Ptolemies is commonly reckoned from Ptolemy I. (Soter), B. C. 323, to Ptolemy VIII. (Soter II.), B. C. 81, or about 242 years.
Line 307. Female root. — The famous Cleopatra would seem most obviously intended, but associated events (lines 309-315) appear to be those of the disorders and crimes of the times following the reign of the eighth Ptolemy. Hence, perhaps, this "betrayer of her kingdom" may best refer to the mother of the eighth Ptolemy (Soter II.), who expelled him from Egypt and placed the crown on the head of her favorite son, Alexander.
A bane of men, betrayer of her kingdom.
But then they wickedness and evil deeds
310 Shall perpetrate, and one destroy another.
The son that wears the purple robe will smite
His warlike sire, and he by his son falls,
And ere he shall beget another child
He shall cease. But again the root shall sprout
315 Spontaneous; of it is a neighboring race.
For of the land beside the streams of Nile
Which travel on by seven mouths to the sea
She shall be queen, and her beloved name
The number twenty tells. And she shall ask
320 Ten thousand things, and gather up all goods
Of gold and silver; but from her own men
Shall treachery befall her. Then on thee,
O fair and happy land, again shall come
Battles and fights and slaughter of mankind.
325 But after many shall o’er fertile Rome
Have borne rule, not indeed of happiness
Precursors, but despotic lords and chiefs
Of thousands and of countless myriads,
Then, overseers of the lawful assemblies,
330 Shall the most mighty Cæsars bear the rule,
And every day keep making their demands.
The last of these shall rule the number ten,
The highest Cæsar, who upon the earth
Line 319. Twenty. — The letter K, initial of the Greek form of the name Cleopatra. Here, without doubt, the last queen of Egypt, the famous daughter of Ptolemy Auletes, is intended.
Lines 332, 333. Last . . . highest. — In the sense of loftiest, noblest. Ten — Greek initial of Julius. Comp. book v, 17, note.
Shall stretch his limbs, cast down through fearful Mars
335 By a hostile man; whom, bearing in their hands,
The sons of Rome shall bury piously,
And round about him heap a monument
For love of him, in memory of his grace.
But when there comes an end of passing time,
340 And thou hast filled out twice two hundred years.
And also twice ten, from the time when ruled
Thy founder, child of the wild beast, no more
Shall there be a dictator of short rule,
But there shall be a king, a godlike man.
345 And when the king is going into Egypt,
Against him horrid Mars shall surely come
With glittering helm, and then shall conquest dire
Come to thee; for around the walls of the land
Shall be foul works of dire and violent wars.
350 But suffering pitiable things in war
Over the freshly wounded she will flee
In wretched plight; and then unto the couch
Of that dread man will she come; and the end
Is but the nuptials and the marriage-bed.
355 Woe, woe to thee, ill-wedded woman, thou
Shalt give the Roman king thy royal power;
Line 340. Twice two hundred. — Comp. book x, 15. Alexandre emends by reading twice three hundred; but this differs from the common chronology by more than one hundred years.
Line 343. Dictator of short rule. — The Roman dictators were appointed only for extreme emergencies, and clothed with unlimited power, but only for a term of six months at most.
Line 345. The king. — Octavius (Augustus) seems here referred to, who carried the war to Egypt and effected the utter overthrow of that kingdom.
Line 348. Thee. — Egypt is addressed.
Line 351. She will flee. — Here Cleopatra’s flight to Julius Cæsar seems to have been in the mind of the writer; and throughout this passage the Sibylline poet appears to confound events of different periods, part of which occurred with Antony, part with Julius Cæsar, to whom Cleopatra bore a son.
And thou shalt make atonement for all things
Whatever thou hast done to men in wars.
. . . For all the land . . . unto a mighty man,
360 As far as Libya and the dark-skinned men.
And thou no longer shalt a widow be,
But with a lion shalt thou live as wife,
A terrible devourer of mankind,
A furious warrior. Then shalt thou become,
365 O hapless one, among all men at once
Invisible, for thou shalt disappear,
Having a shameless soul; and in its house
Shall the encircling tomb receive thy form
So stately, having once had life within,
370 Cunnningly wrought and fit for many chiefs.
And many people will lament for thee
And over thee the king will sorely grieve.
And then shall an Egyptian servant toil,
Who many years against the Indians bore
375 Her trophies; she shall serve disgracefully,
And mingle with the river Nile her tears,
For she acquired wealth, and of all good things
A great store. Nourisher of cities, she
Shall feed a race of sheep-devouring men.
380 Alas, unto how many beasts shalt thou,
O happy Egypt, be a slave and prey!
Line 359. Lacuna in Greek text here.
Line 362. A lion. — Reference apparently to Antony; but the writer has embellished this whole portraiture of Cleopatra without much regard for historical accuracy.
Line 368. Tomb. — Octavius gave Cleopatra a magnificent burial. The latter part of this passage (lines 368-371) has a corrupt text.
Line 373. Egyptian servant. — Egypt herself here conceived as the female slave of oppressing nations.
Line 379. Sheep-devouring men. — The Romans, in allusion to the wolf that nourished Romulus and Rumus — as if all the Romans were wolves.
But having given to the peoples laws,
Thou, who didst once exult o’er mighty kings,
Shalt to the peoples be a wretched slave,
385 On account of that people, whom of old,
A pious race, thou didst lead to much woe
Of toils and sorrows, and upon their neck
Didst place a plow, and irrigate the fields
With human tears. Therefore shall God himself,
390 The king imperishable in the heaven,
Destroy thee utterly, and hurl thee down
Into deep grief; and thou shalt pay the price
Of what thou didst of old unjustly do,
And know at last that God’s wrath came to thee.
395 But I to Python and to Panopeus
Of goodly towers will go; and then will all
Declare that I am a true prophetess,
And a diviner, but insane in soul.
A messenger. . . . When to the books thou comest
400 Be not afraid, and all things yet to be
And things that were ye shall know from my words.
Then will none longer call a prophetess
Inspired of God an augurer of woe.
But thou, O King, now end my much-loved strain,
405 Driving off frenzy, and the voice divine,
And passion fierce, and give a charming song.
Line 386. Pious race. — The Hebrews.
Line 395. Python . . . Panopeus. — Shrines of Apollo in Phocis, Greece; Python being put for Delphi, and Panopeus near by.
Lines 396-403. Comp. book iii, 971-979.
Line 399. Messenger. — Lacuna in Greek text after this word.
Line 404. King. — God, as in book ii, 412, and xi, 216.
Line 406. And give a charming song. — From Hesiod, Theog. 104. Comp. also close of book xi.