Apocrypha: Pseudo-Sibylline Oracles 11

milton s. terry



Introduction, 1-8. A time of wars and woes, 9-16. Persian insurrection and the Roman soldier king 17-28. The warrior out of Syria and his son, 29-47. Persian war and the grain-producing land of Nile, 48-65. Another song for Alexandrians announced, 66-71. Wrath on Assyrians and Ægeans, 72-78. Wretched Antioch, 79-84. Cities of Arabia admonished, 85-97. Wars and treachery, 98-106. Roman ruler from Dacia, 107-116. The Syrian robber, 117-135. The Gallic king and dreadful woes, 136-156. Wretched Syria, 157-165. Wretched Antioch, 165-171. Woes on many cities of Asia, 172-189. Murders and wars, 190-208. Allegory of the bull, dragon, stag, lion, and goat, 209-230. Prayer of the Sibyl, 231-232.


GREAT word divine he bids me sing again–
The immortal holy God imperishable,
Who gives to kings their power and takes away,
And who determined for them time both ways,
5 Both that of life and that of baneful death.
And these the heavenly God enjoins on me
Unwilling to bring tidings unto kings
Concerning royal power. . . .
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
And spear impetuous Ares; and by him
10 All perish, child and the old man who gives
To the assemblies laws; and many wars
And battles there shall be, and homicides,
Famines and pestilences, earthquake-shocks
And mighty thunderbolts, and many ways
15 Of the Assyrians over all the world,
And pillaging and robbery of temples.
And then an insurrection there shall be
Of the industrious Persians, and with them
Indians, Armenians, and Arabians;
20 And unto these again a Roman king

[1. The twelfth and thirteenth books are as closely connected as are the first and second, and like them are probably the work of one author. After the words “royal power,” in the eighth line, there is a noticeable defect in the text.

9. Impetuous Ares.–Reference probably to Maximinus.

18. Persians.–The Sassanidæ, as in book xi, 356.

20. Roman king.–Gordian III, who defeated the Persian army under {footnote p. 226} Sapor on the banks of the Chaboras, a branch of the Euphrates, and was soon afterward killed by Philippus (M. Julius Philippus), who succeeded to the empire.]


Insatiate in war and leading on
His spearmen against the Assyrians
Shall draw near, a young Ares, and as far
As the deep-flowing silvery Euphrates
25 Shall warlike Ares stretch his deadly spear
Because of . . .
For by his friend betrayed he shall fall down
In the ranks smitten by the gleaming iron.
And straightway coming out of Syria
30 There shall a purple-loving warrior rule,
Terror of Ares, and also his son,
A Cæsar, shall even all the earth oppress;
And the one name is unto both of them:
On first and twentieth there are to be placed
35 Five hundred. But when these in wars shall rule,
And laws shall be enacted, there shall be
A little rest from war, not for long time;
But when a wolf shall to a flock of sheep
Pledge solemn oaths against the white-toothed dogs,
40 Then, having misled, he will tear in pieces
The woolly sheep, and cast his oaths aside;

[26. Here the Greek text is somewhat corrupt and uncertain.

29. Out of Syria.–The reference is to M. Julius Philippus, who was called the Arabian because of his birth in Bostra, Syria, somewhere to the south of Damascus.

31. His son.–Philippus associated his son, of the same name, with him in the empire.

34, 35. The Greek letter for five hundred is {Greek F}, initial of Philippus. The “one and twenty” is to be understood as denoting the initials (A=1 and K=20) of Augustus, the title assumed by the father, and Cæsar (Kaisar), the name of his son.

38, 39. Comp. book xiv, 448, 449.]


And then shall there be an unlawful strife
Of haughty kings in wars, and Syrians
Shall perish terribly, and Indians
45 And the Armenians and Arabians,
The Persians and the Babylonians
Shall one another by hard fights destroy.
But when a Roman Ares shall destroy
A German Ares ruinous of life
50 Triumphing on the ocean, then is war
Of many years for haughty Persian men,
But for them there shall not be victory;
For as a fish swims not upon the point
Of a high many-ridged and windy rock
55 Precipitant, nor does a tortoise fly,
Nor does an eagle into water come,
So also are the Persians in that day
Far off from victory, while the fond nurse
Of the Italians, in the plain of Nile
60 Reposing by the sacred water’s side,
Sends forth the appointed lot to seven-hilled Rome.
Now these things are; and while the name of Rome
Shall hold in numbers of revolving time,
So many years shall the great noble city
65 Of Macedon’s lord, willing, deal out corn.
Another much-distressing pain I’ll sing
For Alexandrians who are destroyed
By reason of the strife of shameful men.
Strong men who were aforetime terrible

[48. Roman Ares.–Comp. book xii, 355, 356.

58, 59. Nurse of the Italians.–Alexandria, as representing Egypt and source of the grain supply of Italy and the Roman world.

62. Name of Rome.–Comp. book viii, 195, and the note on the numerical value of the letters of the name.]


70 Being then impotent shall pray for peace
By reason of the wickedness of chiefs.
And there shall come wrath of the mighty God
On the Assyrians and a mountain stream
Shall utterly destroy them, which shall come
75 To Cæsar’s city and harm Canaanites.
The Pyramus shall irrigate the city
Of Mopsus; then shall the Ægæans fall
Because of strife of very mighty men.
Thee, wretched Antioch, shall Ares strong
80 Leave not while round thee an Assyrian war
Is pressing, for a chief of men shall dwell
Within thy houses who shall fight with all
The arrow-hurling Persians, he himself
Having obtained of Romans royal power.
85 Now, cities of Arabians, deck yourselves
With temples and with places for the race,
And with broad markets and with splendid wealth,
With images, gold, silver, ivory;
And thou who art of all most fond of learning,
90 Bostra and Philippopolis, that thou may’st come
Into great sorrow; and the laughing spheres
Of the zodiacal vault, Aries,
Taurus, and Gemini, and as many stars
Ruling hours as with them in heaven appear

[15. Cæsar’s city.–Perhaps referring to Cæsarea Philippi.

76. Pyramus.–River of Cilicia.

77. Mopsus.–More commonly called Mopsuestia, a town situated on the Pyramus. Ægæans.–Inhabitants of the city of Ægæ, near the mouth of this same river.

79. Wretched Antioch.–Comp. line 165, and book iv, 181.

90. Bostra.–Situated some fifty miles to the south of Damascus.

91-95. These allusions to the constellations may imply notable devotion to astrology on the part of the people of Arabia.]


95 Shall benefit thee not; thou, wretched one,
Hast trusted many, when that very man
Shall afterwards bring near that which is thine.
And now for Alexandrians loving war
Will I sing wars most dreadful; and much people
100 Shall perish while their cities are destroyed
By citizens against each other matched
And fighting for the sake of hateful strife,
And round them horrid Ares, rushing on,
Shall cease from war. And then one of great soul
105 Along with his own mighty son shall fall
By treachery on the older king’s account.
And after him there shall rule powerfully
O’er fertile Rome another great-souled lord
Versed in war, coming from the Dacians
110 And numbering three hundred; he shall have
Also the letter of the number four,
And many shall be slay, and then the king
Shall all his brothers and his friends destroy
Even while the kings are cut off, and straightway
115 Shall there be fights and pillagings and murders
Suddenly on the older king’s account.
Then, when a wily man shall summoned come,

[104-106. The father and son here referred to are the same as those described in lines 29-33.

107-112. This seems to describe Trajan of Pannonia, who is better known as Decius. Sent by the emperor Philip against Mœsia, the troops proclaimed him emperor, and he exercised the imperial power for about two years. The names Trajan and Decius are represented by their initial letters, which are the Greek numerals respectively for three hundred and four.

116. Comp. line 106 above. The older king is here apparently intended for Philip.

117. Wily man.–Referring perhaps to Cyriades, one of the so-called “thirty tyrants” who arose in various parts of the empire about this time.]


A robber and a Roman not well known
From Syria appearing, he by guile
120 Into a race of Cappadocian men
Shall drive through and, besieging, shall press hard,
Insatiate of war. And then for thee,
Tyana and Mazaka, there shall be
A capture; thou shalt be enslaved and put
125 Upon thy neck again a fearful yoke.
Arid Syria shall mourn for men destroyed
And then Selenian goddess shall not guard
Her holy city. But when he by flight
From Syria shall before the Romans come,
130 And shall pass over the Euphrates’ streams,
No longer like the Romans, but like fierce
Dart-shooting Persians, then, fulfilling fate,
Down shall the ruler of the Italians fall
In the ranks smitten by the gleaming iron;
135 And close upon him shall his children perish.
But when another king of Rome shall reign,
Then also to the Romans there shall come
Unstable nations, on the walls of Rome
Destructive Ares with his bastard son;
140 Then also shall be famines, pestilence,
And mighty thunderbolts, and dreadful wars,

[123. Tyana and Mazaka.–Chief cities of Cappadocia.

127. Selenian goddess.–Goddess of the moon. Her holy city maybe understood as Seleucia on the Tigris, once noted for the worship of the moon.

133. Ruler of the Italians.–Decius Trajan, described in lines 107-112 above, who was smitten down under a shower of darts while fighting the Goths.

136. Another king.–Gallus Trebonianus, who was proclaimed emperor by the legions on the death of Decius.

139. Bastard son.–Reference to Volusianus, son of Gallus.

140. Comp. lines 11-14 above, and book xii, 149, 150, 202-204.]


And anarchy in cities suddenly;
And the Syrians shall perish fearfully;
For there shall come upon them the great wrath
145 Of the Most High and straightway an uprising
of the industrious Persians, and mixed up
With Persians shall the Syrians destroy
The Romans, but by the divine decree
They shall not make a conquest of their laws.
150 Alas, how many with their goods shall flee
Front the East unto men of other tongues
Alas, the dark blood of how many men
The land shall drink! For that shall be a time
In which the living uttering o’er the dead
155 A blessing shall by word of mouth pronounce
Death beautiful and death shall flee from them.
And now for thee, O wretched Syria,
I weep in sorrow; for to thee shall come
A dreadful blow from arrow-shooting men,
160 Which thou didst never think would come to thee.
Also the fugitive of Rome shall come
Bearing a great spear, Crossing on his way
Euphrates with his many myriads,
And he shall burn thee, and dispose all things
165 In a bad way. O wretched Antioch,
And thee a city they shall never call,
When by thy lack of prudence thou shalt fall
Under the spears; and stripping off all things
And making naked he shall leave thee thus
170 Coverless, houseless; and when anyone

[156. Comp. books ii, 376, and viii, 468.

158-160. Comp. book iii, 387-389.

161. The fugitive.–Nero. Comp. book v, 118-180.

165-168. Comp. book iv, 181-183.]


Sees he shall of a sudden weep for thee.
And thou shalt be, O Hierapolis,
A triumph, also thou, Berœa; weep
At Chalcis over lately wounded sons.
175 Alas, how many by the steep high mount
Of Casius shall dwell and by Amanus
How many, and how many Lycus laves,
And Marsyas as many and Pyramus
The silver-eddying; for even to the bounds
180 Of Asia they shall treasure up their spoils,
Make cities naked, and bear idols off
And cast down temples on much-nourishing earth.
And sometime to Gauls and Pannonians,
To Mysians and Bithynians there shall be
185 Great sorrow when a warrior shall have come.
O Lycians, Lycians, there shall come a wolf
To lick thy blood, when Sannians shall come
With city-wasting Ares and the Carpians
Shall draw near with Ausonians to fight.
190 And then by his own shameless recklessness
The bastard son shall put the king to death,
And he himself for his impiety
Shall straightway perish. And again shall rule
After him yet another whose name shows

[172-174. Hierapolis . . . Berœa . . . Chalcis.–Cities of Syria, eastward from Antioch.

176. Casius.–Rising to the south of Antioch. Amanus.–A mountain range north of Antioch and overlooking the valley of Pyramus.

177. Lycus.–River of Pontus.

178. Marsyas.–A river of Syria, a branch of the Orontes.

183-189. The mention of these widely separated provinces depicts the broad range of the desolating wars of this period.

191. Bastard son.–The same as in line 139.]


195 First letter; but he too shall quickly fall
By mighty Ares, struck by gleaming iron.
And yet again the world shall be confused,
Men perishing by pestilence and war.
And the Persians maddened by the Ausonians
200 Shall in the toil of Ares yet again
Force their way. And then there shall be a flight
Of Romans; and thereafter there shall come
The priest heard of all round, sent by the sun,
From Syria appearing and by guile
205 Shall he accomplish all things. And then too
The city of the sun shall offer prayer;
And round about her shall the Persians dare
The fearful threatenings of the Phœnicians.
But when two chiefs, men swift in war, shall rule
210 The very mighty Romans, one of whom
Shall have the number seventy, and the other
The number three, even then the stately bull,
That digs the earth with his hoofs and stirs up
The dust with his two horns, shall many ills
215 Upon a dark-skinned reptile perpetrate–
Which draws a trail with his scales; and besides,

[195. First letter.–Evidently denoting Æmilianus, who was himself in turn cut off before he had reigned four months.

199. Persians . . . again.–Under Sapor, who captured Valerian, put the Romans to flight, and spread destruction over Syria and Cappadocia.

203. Priest.–Odenatus.

206. City of the sun.–Here referring to Palmyra.

211. Seventy . . . three.–The first is represented by {Greek O}, initial of the Greek form of the name Valerian [{Greek Ou?alh~rianos}], and the second by {Greek G}, initial of Gallienus.

212. Bull.–Here representing Valerian, who dealt out many ills to the Persians, but was himself destroyed.

215. Dark-skinned reptile.–Sapor, King of the Persians.]


Himself shall perish. And yet after him
Again shall come another fair-horned stag,
Hungry upon the mountains, striving hard
220 To feed upon the venom-shedding beasts
Then shall a dread and fearful lion come,
Sent from the sun, and breathing forth much flame.
And then too by his shameless recklessness
Shall he destroy the well-horned rapid stag,
225 And the most mighty venom-shedding beast
So dread, that sends forth many piping sounds,
And the he-goat that sideways moves along,
And after him fame follows; he himself
Sound, unhurt, unapproachable, shall rule
230 The Romans, and the Persians shall be weak.
But, Lord, King of the world, O God, restrain
The song of our words, and give charming song.

[218. Stag.–Macrianus, the Roman general.

221. Lion.–Odenatus.

225. Most mighty . . . beast.–The Persians.

227. He-goat.–Reference doubtful. Alexandre suggests Balista, one of the so-called “thirty tyrants,” who made pretension to the throne in the reign of Gallienus. Comp. Dan. viii, 5, for the same figure.

228. He himself.–Odenatus.

231, 232. Comp. conclusion of books xi and xii.]


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