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“ Among other interesting events which Hareach is supposed to have witnessed is the ceremony of the opening of the Sibylline Books, during that disastrous epoch of the fortunes of Rome, when, it is said, no less than thirty pretenders to the imperial dignity started in different provinces, at the head of as many armies. Revolt and invasion resounded on all sides, and frightful portents and calamities seemed to indicate that universal nature sympathised with the political convulsions which shook the Roman world. The sun was overcast with blackness, and a preternatural night continued for the space of several days, attended with peals of thunder, not in the air, but in the bowels of the earth, which opened in many places, and swallowed up towns and villages, with all their inhabitants. The sea swelled above its boundaries, and drowned whole cities, and a pestilence raged in Egypt, Greece, and Italy. These tremendous visitations of Divine wrath had an awful effect on the populace of Rome; and the description which Hareach gives of the opening of the Sibylline books, may be extracted as the final act of national adoration paid in Italy to the genius of the classic mythology."
THE SIBYLLINE BOOKS. “ It is now the third day, and the sun has not appeared. The clouds hang so low, that they seem to rest like masses of black marble on the roofs of the city. It is not darkness, but an obscurity much more terrible, that fills the whole air, for still all things are visible,-as distinctly so as in the brightest sunshine; but they are covered with an ashy-coloured wanness, that is the more appalling, as no light can be seen from whence it proceeds.
“ The Christians expect the day of judgment, and are at prayers openly; and the magistrates tremble and forbear to enforce the edicts against them. The senate has assembled, and, unable to apply any authority to repress the menaces of God and Nature, decrees that the books of the sibyls shall be consulted.
“ The preparatory sacrifices are slain, and the offerings to Jupiter laid upon the altar. A prodigious multitude of all ranks and ages has assembled round the capitol, and in the streets leading to the temple of Apollo, where the books were deposited by Augustus.
“ It is announced that the sacrifice is consumed. The portals of the capitol are thrown open ; and the senators in their robes, in the great chamber, are standing to receive the books. All is profound silence ;-the priests and vestal virgins approach ;-the crowd fall on their knees as the procession passes; and the senators, with their hands crossed on their bosoms, bend forward with reverence, as in the presence of a coming God.
"On a golden salver, borne on the head of a child, and covered with a veil that conceals the face of the bearer, is the sacred casket which contains the prophetic volumes. The chief of the college, with whom they are deposited, and who alone can read the venerable language in which they are written, walks reverentially behind.
“ The priests and vestals form a lane, from the porch of the capitol and down the stairs beyond the bottom of the hill, and the child and the interpreter ascending to the hall of the senators, the ranks close, and follow them up the steps.
“ The procession has filled the area of the hall ;-the veil is raised by Faustinius ;-the casket is opened ; and the volumes are unfolded.
“ The countenance of the consul is pale with anxiety and dread. The pontiff, who explores the books, searches them in vain. The last of the three volumes is in his
hand, and every eye is fixed on him as he turns over the leaves; but he returns it also into the casket with a sorrowful look, and Faustinius covers it with the veil.-In the same moment, a dreadful clap of thunder was followed by a sudden shuddering of the earth, and the doors of the capitol were closed with tremendous violence by a blast of cold and furious wind. The multitude, horror-struck by the thunder and the earthquake, fled in all directions; and the senators, priests, augurs, and vestal virgins, no less terrified, came rushing from the doors and windows, and precipitated themselves down the steps as if driven out of the building by some avenging demon. It was soon known, that, although this was but the effect of fear, inspired by the convulsions of Nature, the prophetic wisdom of the Sibylline books offered no consolation to the public despair. The report indeed is, that they are all blank, the writing having entirely vanished from the pages, and this the Christians suppose indicates, that the end of the world is come; while the idolators consider it as the evidence of the Gods having abandoned the protection of Rome.”
“ You see,” said Egeria, “ that it is a very curious book, and may aspire to be ranked with those works of which the authors display at least some research and reading."
“ The description of the last day of the Roman sovereignty is sketched as for a painting. I should not be surprised were Balshazzar Martin to take it up."
THE LAST DAY OF THE ROMANS. “ Odoacer has acted with more moderation than was expected from the fierceness of his character. He has spared the life of Augustulus, the young emperor ; but has confined him for the present to the castle of Lucul
kanum, after, however, stripping him of all the imperial insignia.
“ He entered the city last night, and has taken possession of the palace. A vague rumour is abroad this morning, that he intends to assume the imperial dignity himself, and will re-assemble the senate. But some doubt the truth of this opinion; alleging, how can he wear the purple but as commander of the Roman armies?
“ Many of the senators have been to the palace, and were received by him with respectful civility ; but his conversation related to indifferent topics, and he did not recognise them as possessing any other rank than the common herd of the nobility. This has damped their expectation exceedingly; and they begin to fear that he entertains some undivulged project, fatal to their ancient dignity.
“ A great sensation has been excited throughout the city. The heralds of Odoacer, in their garbs of ceremony, attended by a sumptuous retinue of his guards, have gone towards the Capitol. The whole population of Rome is rushing in that direction. It is a fearful crowd; the high-born and the ignoble, the freeman and the slave, all who have part or interest in the fate of the eternal city,--are animated by one sentiment, and press forward to hear the proclamation of Odoacer.
“ I obtained by accident a favourable place, on the pedestal of a broken statue, for hearing the heralds. The soldiers lined the stairs ascending to the portico, and they made a gay and glittering appearance; the skies were overcast with masses of black clouds, but a splendid burst of sunshine fell on them, and they shone as it were in glorious contrast to the Romans, who were obscured with the shadows of the clouds. The assembled crowd was prodigious. The whole space around the foot of the hill, and as far as the eye could reach along the streets in every direction, was a mosaic of human faces.
It was an appalling sight to look on such a multitude. It was, as when the waters are out, and the landmarks are flooded, and a wide deluge overspreads the wonted bounds of the river. The slightest simultaneous action of so many thousands seemed, by its own physical mass, capable of treading into dust the conqueror and all his armies; but nothing could more effectually demonstrate the entire extinction of the Roman spirit, than the mercurial fluidity of this enormous multitude.
“ Some little time passed before the chief herald was in readiness to read the proclamation. He at first ascended to the portico of the building, seemingly with the intention of reading it there; but, on some observations from the officer who commanded the guard, he returned between the ranks of the soldiers, about half way down the steps. At this moment a loud rushing sound rose from the crowd ; and, when he had taken his station, the trumpets sounded a solemn flourish. My eye involuntarily turned towards the capitol, where, for so many ages, the oracle of the Roman people had proclaimed slavery and degradation to the kingdoms of the earth. It was in ruins. The roof, which had not been repaired since it was stripped of its golden covering by Genseric, had fallen in in several places.
“ The trumpets ceased ; there was a profound silence; and the herald, with a loud voice, proclaimed Odoacer king of Italy, without even mentioning the Roman name. An awful response rose from the multitude. It was not a sigh, nor a murmur, nor a sound like any thing I had ever before heard ; but a deep and dreadful sob, as if some mighty life had in that ultimate crisis expired. It subdued the soldiers of Odoacer; and I saw them look at one another and grow pale, as if chilled with supernatural fear. The very flesh crawled on my own bones; and it was with difficulty that my faltering knees sustained me where I stood.