Tiburtine Sibyl

The Tiburtine Sibyl is a famous apocalyptic text but one which poses great problems. The basic form concerns the Sibyl’s interpretation of a dream about nine suns experienced by a hundred men in the Roman senate on the same night. The Sibyl explained that these represented generations and then proceeded to set out, prophetically, a version of history up until the end of the world. As Anke Holdenried as stressed, one of the most important features of this story is that we have a pagan character actively prophesying the coming of Christ, and this must have had some attraction to the Christians who wrote, circulated and developed the text. Yet another feature of the prophecy has attracted the most scholarly attention: series of kings, whose names are denoted only by initials. The transmission of the letters in manuscripts is not consistent and, in their sequencing, they seem to reveal different layers of composition over a couple of centuries before we get to the oldest surviving version from c. 1030. A run of three kings named ‘O’ suggests that one of these layers was produced during the reign of Otto III, who succeeded Otto II (his father) and Otto I (his grandfather). But this is all scene-setting for the big finale: towards the end the Emperor Constans would arise and, during a long reign, would unite the Christian world through conquest before resigning his kingdom just as Antichrist and Gog and Magog began their final persecutions before the Last Judgement.

The age and provenance of the text is difficult to pin with certainty. The ‘Constans Prophecy’ has been dated to fourth century and, more recently, to the seventh. The main Sibylline element is closely related to the Greek Oracle of Baalbek of the early sixth century but the version we have is a much expanded and developed version in Latin from the eleventh. What seems clear is that this was a prophetic resource which offered new things to new audiences as time went on.

Version I (Ottonian Sibyl)

No longer extant except edited within Version II.

– Version II (Sackur’s Text)

Edition: Ernst Sackur, Sibyllinische Texte und Forschungen: Pseudomethodius, Adso und tiburtinische Sibylle (Halle, 1898), pp. 177-187.

Translation: by Kenneth Baxter Wolf’s Latin class, 2012: https://sites.google.com/site/canilup/home/tiburtine-sibyl-1

Version III (Cumaean Sibyl)

Edition: C. Erdmann, ‘Endkaiserglaube und Kreuzzugsgedanke im 11. Jahrhundert’, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, 51 (1931), 384-414.

– Version IV (McGinn’s Newberry Text)

Edition: B. McGinn, ‘Oracular Transformations: The Sibylla Tiburtina in the Middle Ages’, Sibille e linguaggi oracolari (Pisa/ Rome, 1994), 636-44.

Version V (‘Bedan’ Version)

Edition: PL 90. 1181-1186.

Further Reading:

  • A. Holdenried, The Sibyl and her Scribes: Manuscripts and Interpretation of the Latin ‘Sibylla Tiburtina’ c. 1050-1500 (Aldershot, 2006).
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