THE BOOKS OF THE SIBYL
 ONE day, when Tarquin the Proud was at the height of his
power, a woman came to the city and demanded to see the
king. She was a stranger, and carried in her arms nine
When she was brought before the king she asked him to
buy the books, telling him that they were the sacred
prophecies of the inspired Sibyl of Cumæ. Cumæ
was in the Campania, and was the most ancient of the
Greek towns in Italy. The prophecies were written on
loose leaves, and in them, said the strange woman, the
king would read the destiny of Rome, and how to fulfil
She carried in her arms nine books.
But the stranger asked so large a sum of money for the
nine books that the king laughed and refused to buy.
Quietly, before the king's eyes the woman burned three
of the nine books. Then, turning to him again, she
offered the six books for the same price as she had
before demanded for the nine.
Tarquin laughed still more scornfully, and refused to
buy the six as he had already refused to buy the nine
Quietly as before the woman burned three more books
before the eyes of the king. Then turning to him she
offered the three books that were left for the same
Then the king laughed no more. He began to wonder if
perhaps the gods had sent the books to Rome. So he
consulted the augurs, and by their advice he now bought
the three books for the sum which would have bought the
 The strange woman, having done her work, disappeared
and was seen no more, while the books were put in a
chest and kept in the Capitol, which was now complete.
Two Greeks were appointed to guard the Sibylline books,
for they were written in the Greek language. And ever
when death, pestilence, or war threatened the city, the
books were consulted by the augurs, if perchance Rome
might be saved from destruction.
Many years after the reign of Tarquin the Capitol was
burned, and the sacred books were destroyed in the
To the Romans the loss of the books was a greater blow
than even the destruction of the Capitol.
The Senate sent ambassadors to Greece and to Asia Minor
to beseech the sibyls there to find fresh oracles, that
calamity might still be averted from Rome.
And the ambassadors were successful, for when they
returned they brought with them new scrolls, which,
when a new Capitol was built, were placed within its
During the reign of Augustus, the oracles were removed
to the temple of Apollo, which stood on Mount Palatine.
But long after the time of Augustus, in
A.D. 400, they were burned in public
by a famous Roman, for he was a Christian, and cared
little for the ancient oracles, believing them to be
but a useless relic of the old pagan days.