16 January 2009

Sibylline Prophecy Addendum

Just now, I am somewhat embarrassed. On 22 December 2008 (9 December, on the Church’s calendar), I wrote a post about a Sibylline poem and its history in the mediæval West, specifically, its use in a mediæval liturgical drama sometimes referred to as the Processio Prophetarum. I spent a great deal of time trying to find a text of this drama online, hoping that it would give me further insight into my topic. My searches, however, were fruitless.

Fast forward to Saturday, when I was doing research for the Holy Innocents post. One site I came across informed me that the ‘Coventry Carol’ was originally performed as part of a 16th-c. play from the Coventry Cycle. It occurred to me that I might find this in a book I acquired at an Oklahoma History Center booksale last summer called Chief Pre-Shakespearean Dramas, edited by Joseph Quincy Adams (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1924). Well, lo and behold, not only was the latter play in there, but so was the Processio! My own library held a copy of the play I had searched for so determinedly, and I had been so unfamiliar with the contents of my book as to remain blissfully unaware of the fact. I think it is an important illustration of the fact that the Internet has made most of us quite lazy. At any rate, it has determined me to exhaust as much as possible the print resources in my own home before I go looking for something online.

In my own defense, I think I was thrown off by the fact that the Processio was clearly, in origin, a continental play, whereas Chief Pre-Shakespearean Dramas was entirely made up of English works. I realised of course that the former might well have been performed in England, but it never occurred to me that it would be included in the latter book. But upon reading Joseph Quincy Adams’s Preface to Dramas (two days ago, that is), I discovered that he—

had to include a few liturgical plays from the Continent, since the corresponding English plays, though known to have existed, have not survived; here my procedure is justified by the fact that the early drama, as a part of the service of the Roman Church, was international in its development. (p. iii)

So, in this case I have the Latin text of a 13th-c. manuscript, as well as an English translation by Adams (under ‘Prophetæ’, Adams, p. 41-8). I will give the Sibyl’s prophecy in full, prefaced by the summoners’ exhortation to the Sibyl to prophesy (both in Adams’s translation). Keep in mind that the Sibyl is described as ‘in female dress, shorn of hair, crowned with ivy, very much like one insane [insanienti simillima]’ (Adams, p. 41). Here is the summoning and the prophecy (Adams, 46-7):

The two summoners:

Thou, O Sibyl,
That prophetess,
Tell of the coming of the Judge,
Tell of the sign of the Judgment.

The Sibyl:

The sign of the Judgment: The earth shall
become moist with sweat;
Down from heaven shall come the King,
who is to rule through the ages,
Verily present in the flesh, that he may
judge the world,
Whence the unbelieving and the faithful
shall see
God aloft with his saints, now at the very
end of time.


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Fun! Congratulations on the find. That sounds like a good book, too.

I've had that happen, too. In fact, even worse, I've even forgotten that I have some certain book that sounds very interesting, and I'm about to order it, until I see an image of the cover. For shame!

aaronandbrighid said...

So I guess one should never order a book without seeing an image of the cover!

Well, at least I'm not the only one who's done this.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Well, duh. How ever would you judge it good, otherwise?