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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0002

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-02

Saturday October 2d. VII:30.

Missed Prayers this morning and did not arise until breakfast time. The class as usual were alarmed by an ambiguous expression of Mr. Hayward’s and only had their fears quieted when they found that he had only resorted to one of his usual tricks. At study bell we attended a lecture of Mr. Everett’s. He commenced with an account of the names included in his second period in which he includes the authors of the sacred songs of the temples, heroic hymns and songs of the bards. Of these there are two names, Phemius and Demodocus, rendered remarkable by being mentioned by Homer and the Sibylline { 351 } | view Oracles. The history of these he said would take far more space than he could possibly allow to the subject, he should not therefore go into [it] but refer us to an essay upon the subject in Mitford’s Greece which he said was worth reading. Origin of them probably was in the superior wisdom and sanctity of individuals who foreseeing events with more clearness took upon themselves the power of inspiration. They afterwards fell into the hands of the priesthood by the natural course of events. Learning being exclusively theirs. These oracles did not confine themselves by any means to Greece. They existed and had influence in Asia Minor, in the Islands and in Syria. The ancient authors mention many but those of the Sibyl were the most famous. The etymology of the name is doubtful, some derive it from Διος βουλη1 which it was supposed to express. There are at least twenty different derivations of the word, some say more. Ten sibyls were named by Varro, whose names are inserted in the synopsis Article 8.3. The first was supposed to be the daughter of Tiresias, the second existed previous to the Trojan war and foretold it, the third was consulted by Aeneas, the fourth belonged to the islands and flourished about the 10th Olympiad, the seventh is mentioned by Euripides, the eighth by Justin Martyr who says there were twenty four books of her sayings in the 120th Olympiad. All these were in circulation at Rome except the Cuman [Cumaean] which the Senate suppressed as it was the most holy; they only consulted it upon solemn and important occasions and acted by it’s decisions.
History of the Sibylline Oracles at Rome is singular. The story of their being offered to Tarquin the proud is well known, in nine books and an exorbitant price demanded, which offer being refused, she burnt three and offered the remaining six which being again refused, she burnt three more and demanded the same price for the remainder. This time she was successful and obtained her price. These books were preserved in the Capitol in the temple of Juno under the care of the duumviri appointed for that purpose, the number was afterwards increased to ten and then to fifteen. One author says that in a later age the number was seventy, which proves the office to have been held in great estimation. There is an abbreviation for their title which I do not recollect but the explanation is duumviri sacris faciendis. He said while on this subject, it was worthwhile to mention two or three of these, which we should often meet with in Latin History. The master of the mint for instance had his duty thus written—A.A.A.F.F.P. auro, argento, aere, flando, feriundo propositius. So also a common inscription upon the old Roman tombs, C.S.H.S.T.T.L. communi sumptu haere• { 352 } | view dum sit tibi terra levis. H.D.V. caro datu vivit. The oracles were destroyed at the burning of the Capitol under Sylla. They were replaced from all parts of the world as works were collected from all parts of the world, examined and some of them selected, and placed in gilded cases in the temple of Apollo from which they were saved at it’s conflagration. It was the part of ecclesiastical discernment to see the use such things might be put to, they have frequently in them the sign of a fish and this is also seen on the tombs of the early Christians. The origin of it is this, the initial letters of the words they used, in the Greek language formed the word Ιχθνς or Ιησου Χριστου Θεου υιος σταυρος.2 This proves the works fabricated which are called the sibylline Oracles.
A work now extant under the name is of this sort, it was written by the christians who were aware they would obtain much influence if the predictions of the Pagans were according to their wishes. He then entered into a short analysis of this work. The first book is a close imitation of the creation according to the book of Genesis and a prediction of our Saviour which proves his work to have been written since the Christian era. The second was a mere general prophecy of future events. The third was concerning Antichrist, but it has always been a matter of question among men to decide whether by this personage Nero was meant or Martin Luther. She also declares herself to be the daughter of Noah. The fourth treats of the destruction of kingdoms and the last Judgment. In the fifth, she calls herself the sister of Noah and gives a list of the Roman Emperors by their initial letters. In the sixth she gives the account of the baptism of our Saviour, the seventh gives an account of the happy state of the righteous and the eighth foretells the judgment of nations. Most of this was fabricated in the early part of the Christian history with some scraps collected of the old Sybilline books and woven into the work. There have been a large number of fabrications of a similar sort.
After Lecture, I returned home and wrote my Journal for the day before, which employed me all the remainder of the morning. In the afternoon, I wrote a letter to Tudor3 concerning his affairs here, in which I stated to him very simply the whole of the affair. I think it singular that he left town without paying a private debt to me, but such are young men. I dislike human nature more every day and am more disgusted with the young men than ever. I then committed a piece of poetry according to custom which passed off the afternoon with a visit at Morse’s to [buy] some furniture.
In the Evening, Fisher paid me a visit, the first for some time. { 353 } After he left, I corrected my theme and then went up to Otis’s where I found Fisher. I had intended to stay only ten minutes and stayed a very long while for, happening to fall into quite interesting conversation, and being over a very good fire, we sat and sat until the clock warned Fisher to go home and me to come down to my room, in which I had no inclination to sit with no fire, and at such an hour, so that after reading my Bible I retired at the hour of XII:10.
1. The will of God.
2. That is (transliterating the Greek), the word Ichthus or Icthys (fish) could be formed by using the initial letters of the expression Iesous CHristos THeou HYios Stauros (Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Cross). But either Everett or CFA mangled the expression in question, for the last word should not be Stauros but Soter (Saviour).
3. Missing.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/