The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies
Page: 34The Æneid concludes with the death of Turnus, but we have some further particulars handed down by tradition. Æneas built a city, called from his bride, Lavinium. Here he governed his Trojan and Italian subjects, who became one people under the common name of Latins. The new kingdom was attacked by several of the neighboring princes, led by Mezentius, king of Etruria. Æneas defeated the allies, but was killed in the moment of victory. The family of Julii, made illustrious by Julius Cæsar, claimed descent from Iulus, grandson of Æneas.
Ques. Who were the Sibyls?
Ans. The Sibyllæ, or Sibyls, were certain females, supposed to be inspired by Heaven, who flourished at different times and in different parts of the world. According to the historian Varro, they were ten in number. The most celebrated was the Cumæan Sibyl, of whom the poets give the following account. Apollo sought the love of the young prophetess, and promised to give her whatever she should demand. The sibyl desired that she might live as many years as she had grains of sand in her hand; but as she forgot to ask for health and youthful bloom, this long life proved rather a burden than a benefit. She had rejected the suit of Apollo, and the god refused, therefore, to withdraw his gift or mitigate the severity of her lot. This sibyl had already lived seven hundred years when Æne´as came to Italy, and six centuries still remained of the time granted by Apollo. She accompanied Æne´as on his visit to the lower world. According to a [Pg 177] well-known Roman legend, one of the sibyls came to the palace of the second Tarquin with nine volumes, which she offered to sell at a very high price. The king declined the offer; the sibyl immediately disappeared and burned three of the volumes. Returning soon after, she asked the same price for the remaining six books; and when Tarquin again refused to buy them, she burned three more, and still persisted in demanding the same sum of money for those that were left. This extraordinary conduct astonished the monarch, and with the advice of the Augurs he bought the books, upon which the sibyl disappeared and was never seen after. These books were preserved with great care, and were called the Sibylline Verses. A college of priests was appointed to take charge of them, and they were consulted with the greatest solemnity, whenever the state seemed to be in danger. When the Capitol was burned in the troubles raised by Sylla, the Sibylline Verses are said by some to have perished in the conflagration. It is believed, however, on good authority, that they were in existence as late as the fourth century, when they were destroyed by command of the Emperor Honorius. Various collections were afterwards made, which are generally admitted to be forgeries.
Different opinions have prevailed with regard to the prophecies of the sibyls, some of which, it is said, pointed clearly to the advent of a Redeemer, the time of his coming, and the submission [Pg 178] of Rome to the new dispensation. It has been thought that these passages were invented by later Christian writers, but Bishop Horsley, a learned English divine, thinks it more reasonable to suppose that the sibylline books contained the records of prophecies which were granted in primitive times, to nations outside of the patriarchal and Jewish races. He cites in favor of this opinion, the fact that St. Justin, in his apology addressed to the Emperor Marcus Antoninus, appeals confidently to the sibylline prophecies, and at that time, about the middle of the second century, it was not possible that the Christians should have added anything to them. There are also passages in the fourth Eclogue of Virgil which prove that the expectation of a Saviour, and the belief that the time of his advent was approaching, existed even among the pagans.
Divination by Omens—The Augurs.
Ques. Who were the Augurs?
Ans. They were priests whose office it was to observe and interpret omens. This science was derived from the ancient Etrurians. There were five principal classes of omens from which the Augurs were supposed to foretell future events, the good or ill success of an undertaking, etc. The first were drawn from the phenomena of nature, such as thunder, lightning, comets, etc. The second kind of omen was obtained by observing [Pg 179] the cries and the flight of birds. In the third class we may place the appetite of the sacred chickens; when they did not eat, the omen was so bad that it was considered unlucky to give battle, or undertake anything of importance. It happened once that a Roman commander, (Claudius Pulcher,) when about to engage the fleet of the enemy, was warned by the Augurs that the sacred chickens would not eat. He replied, with very natural contempt, that if they would not eat, they might drink, and had them thrown into the sea. It is believed that the terrible defeat the Romans suffered on that day was owing, in great part, to the discouragement of the sailors, who supposed that their commander had forfeited the favor of the gods by this act of sacrilege.