« PreviousContinue »
the LXX. and the New Testament, and are a remarkable specimen of astonishing impudence and miserable poetry.
It was a pleasant conceit of Possevin, in his Apparatus sacer, that a choice ought to be made of passages from these oracles, with proper notes, which might be used in schools. It would greatly perplex any man of learning to make a choice where all is so bad; he would be like Buridan's ass betwen two bundles of musiy hay.
Is. Vossius, the patron of Sibylline oracles, forged, as he pretended, by divinely inspired Jews, would yet have given them up as bad compositions, and void of all elegance. Siquis,' says he, Græcos qui supersunt Judæorum consulat versus, prorsus illos similes fuisse inveniet, ac fuere veterum Christianorum carmina, quæ, si unum et alterum excipias, istiusmodi sunt, ut Scaliger sibi in sterquilinio versari videretur, quotiescunque ad ea legenda se conferret.' De Sibyl. c. 9. This is true enough. Nor does he attempt to defend the present collection. Quæ olim a Patribus Christianis lecta fuere, et etiamnum supersunt et leguntur oracula, longe a me abest ut omnia ea ejusdeni generis et auctoritatis esse existimem, ac fuere ea de quibus hactenus sumus locuti. In his quippe quae Christi nativitatem præcessere Sibyllinis, ea solum continebantur, quæ ex Prophetarum scriptis dea promta essent vaticinia. At vero in illis, quæ vulgo leguntur, ea quoque occurrunt, quæ non ab aliis, quain ab iis, potuerunt conscribi, qui centum et viginti demum annis Christo fuere posteriores.' And he concludes that the old oracles were enlarged and interpolated by Christians. c. 8.
Mention is made by various writers of a Sibyl, who prophesied before the Trojan war, and froin whom Homer took many lines, and particularly this prophecy, Il. T. 307.
Νυν δε δή Αινείαο βίη Τρώεσσιν ανάξει,
Και παίδες παίδων, τοι κεν μετόπισθε γένωνται. Which Virgil thus imitates, and accommodates to his own plan:
Hic domus Eneæ cunctis dominabitur oris,
Et nati natorum, et qui nascentur ab illis.' Others have said that Homer himself was endued with a prophetic spirit when he wrote those lines. Others have
observed a great affinity of style betwen Homer and the Sibylline verses, and thence have concluded that the poet was a plagiary?: Strange! that men of letters could talk at this idle rate. Of all the antient poets, Homer, who has a great simplicity, is perhaps the most easy to be imitated in point of bare diction and versification ; and many persons capable of closely copying him, or some other poet, as to style and numbers, who have no bright genius or invention, and are incapable of composing an elegant poem: but after all, the Sibylline oracles are just as like Homer as the Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum are like Cicero's Epistles to Atticus.
Homer's prophecy is indeed remarkable, and might afford some observations not quite so childish as those above mentioned. We may conjecture,
1. That the poet went to Troy, i. e. to the region so called, and carefully surveyed the place, and the country about it; and indeed in his Ilias he paints and describes a as one who knew every spot of ground :
2. That the residue of the Trojans, after the departure of the Greeks, assembled together, and settled in their own country under Æneas :
3. That when Homer came to Troy, a prince reigned there who was descended from Æneas, and might be his grandson :
4. That this prince treated Homer kindly, and some memoirs and informations concerning the Trojan chiefs, and particularly concerning his own ancestor :
5. That therefore Homer frequently celebrates Æneas as the son of a goddess, a warrior of great bravery, and of an amiable character, and one much favoured and beloved by the gods; he also mentions some particularities concerning him, as that Priamusb did not love and honour him according to his deserts :
2 Clemens Alexandrinus charges Homer with taking verses from Orpheus and Musæus, instead of suspecting that these were later writers, under false names, who pillaged Homer. Strom. vi. p. 738. 751.
• "Έστι δε τις προπάροιθε πόλεως αιπεία κολώνη.-ΙΙ. Β. 811. b-αίει γαρ Πριάμω επεμήνιε δίω, , Ούνεκ' άρ' εσθλόν εόντα μετ' ανδράσιν, ούτι τιεσκεν.-Ι. Ν. 460.
6. That Homer lived at least ninety years after the Trojan war.
The most antient writer who speaks of the Sibyl is Heraclitus, about five hundred years before Christ, after which she and her predictions are mentioned by Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle, and who not.
The sum of the judgment which Fabricius, after a diligent examination, formed upon this subject is as follows:
• I. Nothing is more uncertain than what is related of the number of the Sibyls, whether there was one or more.
* II. Concerning the Sibyls, some think that they were inspired of God; others that they were possessed by evil spirits ; others that they were assisted by a strong imagination and enthusiasm, and a kind of natural divination ; to which must be added a fourth opinion, that these oracles were all fraud and human imposture, and that, if any of them were ever fulfilled, it was by hazard.
* III. It seems an assertion too confident to ascribe all the prophecies of the Sibyl and of other Pagans to knavery or chance; and it is more reasonable to suppose that sometimes there might be something præternatural in the case.
IV. In the time of Cicero there were some Sibylline oracles which were acrostichs, and which, as Cicero observes, were the labour of a plodding impostor, and not the prophecy of an inspired person.
V. The Romans had Sibylline oracles in the time of their kings, which were kept with great care in the Capitol, and consulted afterwards upon important occasions. They were burnt with the Capitol A. U. C. 670. and the Roa mans got a new collection from various places.
* VI. This second collection was burnt by Stilicho in the time of Honorius.
• VII. Besides these collections, there were other Sibylline oracles made and handed about from time to time. : VIII. In Virgil's fourth Eclogue ;
• Ultima Cumæi venit jam carminis ætas : Carmen Cumæum probably means Hesiod's poem, as Probus thinks; and ultima ætas is the same as prima, and means the Saturnian times, and the golden age : or, ultima ætas means the last, the iron age, and then venit is fuit, pra, Vol. I.
teriit, is passed and gone. Virgil took nothing here from the Sibylline oracles.
IX. Our present collection contains not the books which were offered to Tarquin ;
• X. Nor the second set of oracles which were brought to Rome;
• XI. Nor those oracles which were received by the Pagans.
XII. Nothing contained in it ought to be admitted as made before the birth of Christ, unless we can find as antient vouchers for it.
XIII. There are in this collection some lines which the author took from old Pagan oracles, from Homer, Orpheus, and other poets :
XIV. But much is taken from the Old and New Testament.
‘XV. It contains not all the Sibylline oracles of which the fathers made use, but it has the greater part of them.
• XVI. These oracles were forged in the first, second, and third centuries, not by Pagans, or Jews, but by heretics or orthodox Christians; not by the fathers, but by some unknown persons.
XVII. There was no law which made it a capital crime to read these Sibylline oracles.'
Such is the sentiment of Fabricius, who would have granted that there is not extant one Sibylline oracle upon which we can depend as upon a prophecy fairly uttered before the event, and plainly accomplished. I see 'not why we should have a more favourable opinion of those which are lost.
The great difference of words and verses which appears even in the same passages of the Sibylline oracles, as they are cited by different fathers, shows that the collections of these poems varied much, and that every librarian thrust in what he thought proper, and what he had picked up here and there from any dunghill.
Amongst the defenders of the Sibylline oracles was Isaac Vossius, who wrote a book on that subject, a learned book, for he could write no other ; but as to judgment, you must not seek it there.
• Credimus,' says he, omnes istos libros (Apocryphos) a Judæis fuisse compositos, DEO
IMPELLENTE IPSORUM MENTES ad significandum gentibus Christi adventum. Infinita itaque illi edidere volumina partim sub patriarcharum et prophetarum suorum nomi. nibus, quales fuere libri qui olim lecti fuere sub nominibus
Adami, Enochi, Abrahami, Moysis, Eliæ, Esaiæ, et Jere· miæ, partim vero sub nominibus illorum quorum magna
apud gentiles esset existimatio, veluti Hystaspis, Mercurii Trismegisti, Zoroastris, Sibyllarum, Orphei, Phocylidæ, et complurium aliorum.' De Sibyl. Or. c. 7. It must be owned to have been a generous proceeding in Vossius to take the weaker side" on several occasions, and to be an advocate for those who stood most in need of assistance, in which charitable behaviour he has been, and will be imitated; for this sort of charity also never faileth : but for inventing and maintaining paradoxes, he never had an equal, except father Harduin.
Virgil's fourth Eclogue was written, as Bishop Chandler and Mr. Masson have observed, when Pollio was consul; and the design of it was to compliment Augustus, or Cæsar Octavianus, as he was then called, and to foretell the birth of a son whom his wife Scribonia should bear, who was then with-child : but it proved a daughter, and the infamous Julia. See Chandler's Def. of Christ. and Vindicat, and at the end, a Dissertation of Masson.
* Ultima Cumæi venit jam carminis ætas.' Ultima means here postrema, and prima, the fifth and last in order, and the first, that is, the returning golden age.
Æn. vii. 48. Venit means is come: it is contrary to the genius of the Latin tongue to interpret it abiit. Collins follows Fabricius in giving this latter sense to the verb: it is pity he did not follow him in many other points, where he would have found him a good guide. Věnit in the present tense is, it is coming ; venit in the præterperfect, it is come, unless when it stands for an aorist, for abs, and means, it came. Fuit, indeed, often denotes what was, and is not. “Fui.