Apocrypha: Pseudo-Sibylline Oracles 7

milton s. terry



Woes of Rhodes, Delos, Cyprus, and Sicily, 1-9. The deluge, 10-15. Ruin of Phrygia, Ethiopia, and Egypt, 16-28. Woe of Laodicea, 29-31. Signs and powers of Messiah, 32-49. The new shoot, 50-52. Persian wars, 53-67. Fall of Ilias, 68-72. Doom of Colophon, Thessaly, Corinth, and Tyre, 73-86. Cœle-Syria accursed, 87-102. Rules for sacrifice and alms giving, 103-130. Doom of Sardinia, Mygdonia, the Celtic land, Rome, Syria, and Thebes, 131-161. The devouring fire, 162-190. Long night followed by a better time, 101-205. Confession and doom of the Sibyl, 206-221.


O RHODES, thou art unhappy; for first thee,
Thee will I mourn; and thou shalt be the first
Of cities, and first shalt thou be destroyed,
Bereft of men, but of the means of life
5 Not wholly destitute. And thou shalt sail,
Delos, and be unstable on the water;
Cyprus, a billow of thy gleaming sea
Shall sometime thee destroy; thee, Sicily,
The fire that burns within thee shall consume.
. . . . . . .
10 Nor heed God’s terrible and foreign water.
. . . . . . .
Noah sole fugitive from all men came.
. . . . . . .
Earth shall float, hills float, and even sky shall float,
Everything shall be water and all things
Shall be destroyed by waters. And the winds
15 Shall stand still and a second age shall be.
O Phrygia, first shalt thou flame from the crest
Of the water; and first in impiety
Thou shalt deny God himself, courting favor
With false gods, which shall utterly destroy
20 Thee, wretched one, while many years roll round.

[1. This book is brief and fragmentary, and mainly of Christian origin. Its composition may be properly assigned to the close of the second or the early part of the third century.

10-15. Here we have the fragment of a passage referring to Noah and the flood, in which the language is appropriated from book i, 226-240.]


The hapless Ethiopians under pain,
Suffering things lamentable, shall by swords
Be smitten whilst they crouch upon the ground.
Rich Egypt ever caring for her corn,
25 Which Nilus by his seven swimming streams
Intoxicates, shall in intestine strife
Destroy; and thence men unexpectedly
Shall drive out Apis, not the god for men.
Alas, alas, Laodicea! thou
30 Not ever seeing God shalt lie, bold one;
And over thee shall dash a wave of Lycus.
. . . . . . .
He himself who is born the mighty God,
Who shall work many signs, shall through heaven hang
An axle in the midst, and place for men
35 A mighty terror to be seen on high,
Measuring a column with a mighty fire
Whose drops shall slay the races of mankind
That have dared evils. But a common Lord
There shall at some time be, and then shall men
40 Propitiate God, but shall not make an end
Of fruitless sorrows. And through David’s house
Shall all things come to pass. For God himself
Gave him the power and put it in his hand;
Under his feet shall sleep his messengers,
45 And some shall kindle fires, and some shall make
Rivers appear, and some shall rescue towns,

[28. Apis.–The sacred bull, worshiped by the Egyptians.

29. Laodicea.–Comp. book iii, 592-595.

34-36. Axle . . . column.–This idea of a column, axle, or pillar, to be reared on high in connection with the final judgment, is peculiar to the Sibyl. Comp. book ii, 297, 361, and 362.

38. A common Lord.–The Messiah, common in the same sense that Jude (epistle, verse 3) speaks of the “common salvation.”]


And some shall send forth winds. But furthermore
A grievous life shall come on many men,
Entering their souls and changing human hearts.
50 But when a new shoot shall out of a root
Put forth eyes, the creation, which to all
Once gave abundant food . . .
. . . . . . .
And it shall with the times be full. But when
Others shall rule, a tribe of warlike Persians,
55 Bride-chambers straightway shall be terrible
Because of lawless deeds. For her own son
Will mother have as husband; son will be
The ruin of his mother; and with sire
Shall daughter lie down and shall put to sleep
60 This foreign law. But to them afterwards
Shall Roman Ares flash from many a spear;
And they shall mix much land with human blood.
But then a chief of Italy shall flee
From the force of the spear. But they shall leave
65 Upon the land a lance inscribed with gold,
Which as the signal ensign of their rule
The foremost fighters carry constantly.
And it shall be, when evil and ill-starred
Ilias shall piteously complete for all
70 A tomb, not marriage, then shall brides weep sore,

[62. The Greek text is at this point so broken as to leave the entire passage obscure.

54. Warlike Persians.–Ewald understands this term as a symbolical name for the incestuous Romans; but it is more probably a designation of the Parthians who in their wars with Crassus and Antony captured many of the Roman standards.

69. Ilias.–Here apparently put for all the region round about ancient Ilium, or Troy, or perhaps for Perganum in the neighboring province.]


Because they knew not God, but always gave
By kettle-drums and cymbals boisterous sound.
Consult the oracle, O Colophon;
For a great fearful fire hangs over thee.
75 Ill-wedded Thessaly, the earth no more
Shall see thee, nor thy ashes, and alone
Escaping from the mainland thou shalt swim;
Thus, O thou wretched one, shalt thou of war
Be melancholy refuse, having fallen
80 By swiftly flowing rivers and by swords.
And thou, O wretched Corinth, shalt receive
Around thyself stern Ares, hapless one,
And ye shall perish one upon another.
Tyre, thou, unhappy, shalt be left alone;
85 For, made a widow by the feebleness
Of pious men, thou shalt be brought to naught.
Ah, Cœle-Syria, of Phœnician men
The last hold, upon whom the briny sea
Of Berytus disgorging is poured forth,
90 O wretched one, thou didst not know thy God,
Who once in the mouth of Jordan washed himself,
–And the Spirit spread his wings in flight towards him–
Who before both the earth and starry heaven
Was, actual Word, begotten by his Father,
95 And by the Holy Spirit donning flesh

[73. Colophon.–Situated a little to the north of Ephesus, and the seat of an ancient oracle of Apollo (Strabo xiv, i, 27).

75. Ill-wedded.–Unfortunate in the marriages of the inhabitants. Comp. line 67.

87. Cœle-Syria.–That part of Syria which lies between the Libanus and Antilibanus mountain ranges.

89. Berytus.–On the Phœnician sea-coast north of Zidon, the modern Beyrout. The sea of Berytus is the Mediterranean along this coast.]


He quickly flew unto his Father’s house.
And for him three towers did the mighty heaven
Establish, in which dwell God’s noble guides,
Hope, piety, and reverence much-desired,
100 Not having in gold or in silver joy,
But in the reverential acts of men–
Both sacrifices and most righteous thoughts.
And thou shalt sacrifice to the immortal
And mighty God august, not melting grains
105 Of frankincense in fire, nor with the sword
Slaying the shaggy-haired lamb, but with all
Who bear thy blood take wild fowls, offer prayer,
And fixing eyes on heaven send them away;
And thou shalt sprinkle water on pure fire
110 Having cried: “As the Father did beget
Thee, the Word, Father, I sent forth a bird,
Swift messenger of words, with holy waters
Besprinkling thy baptism, O Word, through which
Thou didst make thyself manifest in fire.”
115 Thou shalt not shut thy door, when there shall come
A stranger unto thee in need to curb
His hunger which comes from his poverty,
But taking hold of that man sprinkle him
With water and pray thrice; and to thy God
120 Do thou thus cry: “I do not long for wealth;

[97. Three towers.–Corresponding with the three virtues named in line 99. Comp. Hermas’s vision of the one tower which was explained to him as a revelation of the Church. Hermæ Pastor, book 1, vision iii [G., 2, 899-909].

103-130. This passage contains a series of precepts which are strictly neither Jewish nor Christian. Some of the precepts suggest certain doctrines of the Essenes (comp. Josephus, Ant., xviii, i, 5); others bear a manifest Christian character, and lines 110-114 contain allusions to the baptism of Jesus, as lines 91 and 92 above.]


A suppliant I once publicly received
A suppliant; Father, thou provider, hear.”
When thou hast prayed thou shalt give unto him;
And the man went away thereafter. . . .
. . . . . . .
125 Do not afflict me, holy fear of God
And righteous, as to birth pure, unenslaved,
Attested. . . .
Do thou, O Father, make my wretched heart
Stand still; to thee have I looked, unto thee,
130 The undefiled, whom hands did not produce.
Sardinia, weighty now, thou shalt be changed
To ashes. Thou shalt be no more an isle,
When the tenth time shall come. Amid the waves
Shall sailors seek thee when thou art no more,
135 And o’er thee shall kingfishers wail sad dirge.
Rugged Mygdonia, beacon of the sea
Hard to get out of, ages shalt thou boast
And unto ages shalt be all destroyed
With a hot wind, and rave with many woes.
140 O Celtic land, on mountain range so great,
Beyond impassable Alp, thee deep sand
Shall altogether bury; thou shalt give
Tribute no more, nor corn, nor pasturage;
And thou from peoples ever far away
145 Shalt be all-desolate, and becoming thick
With chill ice thou shalt for an outrage pay,
Which thou didst not perceive, unholy one.
Stout-hearted Rome, thou to Olympus shalt
Flash lightning after Macedonian spears;

[124-130. These lines are too fragmentary to yield sense.

136. Rugged Mygdonia.–Region of Macedonia north of the Thermaic gulf and connecting with the peninsula of Chalcidice.]


150 But God shall make thee utterly unknown,
When thou wouldst to the eye seem to remain
Much more firm. Then to thee such things I’ll cry.
Perishing thou shalt then cry out and boil
In pain; a second time to thee, O Rome,
15 Again a second time I am to speak.
And now for thee, O wretched Syria,
Do I wail bitterly in pitying grief.
O Thebans ill-advised, an evil sound
Is over you while flutes speak out their tones;
160 For you shall trumpet sound an evil sound
And ye shall see the entire land destroyed
Alas, alas for thee, thou wretched one;
Alas, alas thou evil-minded sea!
Thou shalt be wholly eaten up of fire
165 And people with thy brine shalt thou destroy.
For there shall be such raging fire on earth
As flows like water, and it shall destroy
The whole land. It shall set the hills on fire,
Shall burn the rivers, and exhaust the springs.
170 The world shall be disordered whilst mankind
Are perishing. And then the wretched ones,
Burned badly, shall look unto heaven inwrought
Not with stars, but with fire. Not speedily
Shall they be made to perish, but dissolved
175 From under flesh, and burning in the spirit
For age-long years, they shall know that God’s law
Is always hard to put to test and not
To be deceived; and then earth, seized by force,
Daring whatever god she did admit
180 Unto her altars, cheated, turned to smoke
Through the changed air; and they shall undergo

[170. Cited by Lactantius, Div. Inst., vii, 16 [L., 6, 792].]


Much suffering who for gain shall prophesy
Shameful things, nourishing the evil time.
And the Hebrews who put on the shaggy skins
185 Of sheep shall prove false, in which race
Obtained no portion by inheritance,
But talking mere words over sorrows they
Are misers, who shall change their course of life
And not mislead the just, who through the heart
190 All-faithfully propitiate their God.
But in the third lot of revolving years,
Eighth the first, shall another world appear.
Night shall be all . . . long and without light.
And then shall pass around the dreadful stench
195 Of brimstone, messenger of homicides,
When they shall be by night and hunger slain.
Then a pure mind shall God beget in men,
And shall the race establish, as it was
Aforetime; longer shall not any one
200 Deep furrow cut with round plow, nor two oxen
Straight guiding dip the iron down; nor vines
Shall be nor ears of corn; but all shall eat
Together dewy manna with white teeth.
And then among them God shall also be,
205 And he shall teach them as he has taught me,
The sad one. For how many evil things
I did with knowledge once, and many things
Heedless I also wickedly performed.
Countless my couches, but no marriage-bond

[192. Eighth the first.–That is, the eighth being the first of “the third lot.” The Sibyl reckons all the years as divided into ten periods or times (line 133 above); of these ten times the eighth is supposed to be the first of the third portion; namely, the eighth, ninth, and tenth, during which shall take place what is written in lines 193-205, immediately following.]


210 Was cared for; and I, all-unfaithful, brought
To all a savage oath. I turned away
Those in need and among the foremost went
Into like glen and minded not God’s word.
Therefore did fire consume me and shall gnaw;
215 For I shall not live always, but a time
Of evil shall destroy me, when for me
Men shall beside the margin of the sea
Construct a tomb, and shall slay me with stones;
For lying with my father a dear son
220 Did I present him. Smite me, smite me all;
For thus shall I live and fix eyes on heaven.

[216. Destroy me.–Had Arnobius this passage in mind when he wrote: “If the Sibyl, when she was uttering her prophecies and oracular responses, and was filled with Apollo’s power, bad been cut down and slain by impious robbers, would Apollo have been slain in her?” Adv. Gentes, book i, 62 [L., 5, 802]. Comp. the conclusion of book ii.]


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