Page images
PDF
EPUB

Cicero observes upon this ocasion, that the keepers of the books should have been led to bring forth any thing from them rather than a king, which neither gods nor man would tolerate. It is worthy of remark, that the attempt of Cæsar to obtain this title afforded a subject of accusation against him, and ultimately became the cause of his assassination.

Lentulus attempted to derive some support from the same authority, applying to himself the prophecies, which were in circulation with respect to a sovereign, who should overcome every obstacle ; and other ambitious men early caught at traditions upon the subject, of which they availed themselves for the promotion of political views*.

At the birth of Augustus, flattery directed the expectations of men to him, as to the predicted king; and a similar adulation continued to apply the descriptions, which were derived from tradition, from the Scriptures, and from intercourse with the Jews, to his offspring, and to many emperors long after the birth of Christ t.

* Cicero in Catil, Orat. iii. $ 4.
t Suetonius Octav. August, cap. 94.

.

Tacitus and Suetonius mention prophecies, which existed upon the subject, and which they apply to Vespasian, in passages which will be separately considered, in examination of the testimonies in their respective works. Providence seems to have permitted the arrogant and blasphemous assumption of the character of the Messiah by vain and ambitious men, thereby to illustrate the general persuasion which prevailed that such a person would appear; and the futility of every other application of the prophecies, relating to him, except to the person of Christ. · The belief in the advent of a great deliverer, which men generally entertained, was often connected with the expectation of a return of the golden age, when Astræa was again to descend on earth, and virtue and peace were to flourish *.

The Sibyls in particular foretold the return of Astræa, called Mithras by the Persians, and Orus by the Egyptians.

* Seneca Ædip. act 2.

CHAP. XXVI.

On the Sibylline Verses and the Oracles.

TIere are few subjects more interesting in themselves, yet upon which it is more embarrassing to decide, than that of the authority of the Sibylline verses.

The question concerning them has been rendered of more difficult solution by the intermixture of some verses, which are com. paratively of late production, with those which have been handed down from high artiquity; the former having been, for the most pari, manifestly inserted after the promulgar ation of Christianity, and such intermixture was alledged at a very early period to have taken place. *.

There appears, however, to be some reason to believe that the original verses ascribed to the Sibyls, though not inspired with any pro

* Origen cont. Cels. lib. vii. page 369. Edit. Spenceri. 1677.

phetic intimations of futurity, were yet formed under apprehensions of the divine promises, which had been proclaimed to the patriarchs and Hebrew nation, and the knowledge of which was drawn from traditionary reports, or from the Scriptures.

Grotius is of opinion that the verses, preserved by the Quindecemviri at Rome, were Hebrew verses, and that the prophecy mentioned by Cicero to the Romans, “ that if they would be sate they must acknowledge him to be king, who was king," was drawn from them *.

The Sibylline verses, of which fragments are dispersed through the writings of the fathers, and particularly in the works of Lactantius and Theophylact, are of uncertain origin: and whatever. antiquity we may ascribe to the greater part of them, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine which are to be deemed original, and which are to be considered as spurious additions of later times, excepting, indeed, that those, which argue an acquaintance with particulars disclosed in the Gospel, must be deemed interpolations,

* Cicero in Catil. Orat. 3. et de Divina, lib. ii. c. 54. SalJust. de Bell. Catil.

The Sibyls were females, supposed to have becn endued with a fatidical spirit *.

It appears, from the account of Ælian and Lactantius, that there were ten Sibyls, whom on the authority of Varro he enumerates. The Persian or Chaldæan ; the Lybian ; the Delphic; the Cumæan of Italy; and another erroneously called the Cumaan of Æolia, and named by different writers Amalthea, Demophile, or Herophile; the Erythræan; the Samian ; the Hellespontine ; the Phrygian ; the Tiburtine, or Albunean reverenced on the banks of the Anio. Among these the Erythræan, the Delphic, and the Cumæan of Italy f, were the most distinguished. The Erythræan, which some suppose to have been the same as the Chaldæan or Persian, was pre-eminent, as having been, probably, the most ancient. She is reported to have been a native of Erythræa, a town of Ionia, near Chios. Apollodorus, who represents her as his fellow-citizen, states her to have prophesied to the Greeks when preparing for their expedition to Troy, assuring them that they should succeed in destroying the

* Sibylla bocéan, vid. Lactant, de falsâ Relig. lib. i. c. 6. Edit. Lug. Bat. et Annot.

+ Servius in Virgil's Æneid, lib. vi. 1.69.

of the

« PreviousContinue »