TRANSLATED FROM THE GREEK
INTO ENGLISH BLANK VERSE
BY MILTON S. TERRY
As the translator notes, this collection should more properly titled 'the Pseudo-Sibylline Oracles'. The original Sibylline Books were closely-guarded oracular scrolls written by prophetic priestesses (the Sibylls) in the Etruscan and early Roman Era as far back as the 6th Century B.C.E. These books were destroyed, partially in a fire in 83 B.C.E., and finally burned by order of the Roman General Flavius Stilicho (365-408 C.E.).
There is very little knowledge of the actual contents of the original Sibylline Books. The texts which are presented here are forgeries, probably composed between the second to sixth century C.E. They purport to predict events which were already history or mythological history at the time of composition, as well as vague all-purpose predictions, especially woe for various cities and countries such as Rome and Assyria. They are an odd pastiche of Hellenistic and Roman Pagan mythology, including Homer and Hesiod; Jewish legends such as the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Tower of Babel; thinly veiled references to historical figures such as Alexander the Great and Cleopatra, as well as a long list of Roman Emperors; and last but not least, Gnostic and early Christian homilies and eschatological writings, all in no particular order. There may be actual residue of the original Sibylline books wedged in here and there, but this is dubious.
As prophecy, the Pseudo-Sibyllines never rise to the level of Nostradamus. However they are a gold mine for students of Classical mythology and early first millenium Jewish, Gnostic and Christian beliefs. Notable are apocalyptic passages scattered throughout which at times seem like a first draft of the Biblical Book of Revelation. The Pseudo-Sibyllines were referenced by the early Church fathers and in one instance have a Christian code-phrase in successive first letters on each line (an 'acrostic'). These books, in spite of their Pagan content, have been described as part of the Apocrypha, although they do not appear on any of the canonical lists.