An old woman came before where Tarquin the Proud sat, and demanded that she be brought before him, the king. Now Tarquin had had a dream in which an old woman appeared, and when he heard that there was such a one near he let her be brought before him. So she came and she stood before where the king sat in his ivory chair, With his purple robe upon him, and with the men who bore the rods and the axes standing around him. She was very old; she held herself up with a staff; her face was a mass of wrinkles. Nevertheless, the grey hair that fell upon her shoulders was heavy and her eyes were
filled with light. She stood before the kin, this grey old woman, and she showed him what she held in her hands.
She had nine books. "These books I would sell to you, O king," she said, and her voice was startling to all who were around, either because she spoke like one unused to the utterance of words or because there was a tone in it clearer and stronger than they expected to hear. "These books I would sell to you, king of Rome," she said. "What is in your books?" the king asked her. "A foretelling of events that may befall," she said, "and a way of dealing with them that will help to the safety and the greatness of Rome." "How much do you ask for your nine books?" "Half of all that is in the king's treasury," she said.
"This is a crazy woman," said the king. Those who were around him said, "A crazy crone she is." The old woman asked them to bring near to her the brazier of burning coals that was in the hall where the king sat. They brought it near her. Then the old woman took three of her books and cast them into the fire and watched the flames burn them. When the leaves were in ashes she did not go from the hall. Once more, leaning on her staff, she looked at the king and she said, "I have books for sale; it is for you to buy them, O king." "How much do you ask for the six books that are left?" the king asked. "Half of all that is in the king's treasury," she said. "But this is what you asked before; you had nine books then and now you have six only." "I ask the same price for six as I did for nine." "She must be the craziest woman in Rome," said those who were about the king. "But she does not belong to Rome; she is a stranger; no one here has ever seen her before." "What does the king say?" said the woman. "I cannot pay that price for yours or for anyone else's books," said King Tarquin.
Then the old woman threw into the brazier three of her books and watched them burn to ashes. For a while she remained leaning on her staff and looking down into the brazier; the flames lighted up her face with all its wrinkles, and Tarquin the Proud looking upon her felt in awe of that stranger-woman. She looked at him from across the brazier. "Half of all that is in your treasury, O king," said she, "for the three books that are yet unburned."
Then those who were around the king laughed heartily; but the king did not laugh. He knew that if he did not buy the books she had
they would be thrown into the brazier and burned to ashes, and that the old woman would depart and never afterwards be seen in Rome. Long he pondered without answering her. Then he beckoned to her and she came and stood beside his chair. She left the three books with the king, and when she went from the hall she was allowed to go into the king's treasury and take half of all that was there.
The king put the three books that he bought from her in a shrine in the temple of Iuppiter. And there they remained for a thousand years. Fifteen priests guarded them; it was the duty of the fifteen to read them whenever the immortal Gods were to be consulted regarding the welfare of the Roman state. The books were called Sibylline Books, and she who brought them to Rome was known as a Sibyl. Long afterwards it was said that some one had seen the Sibyl: she was in a cage, and she lamented because she could not die.