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Helen Van Noorden


Current position: Girton College & Faulty of Classics, University of Cambridge, UK

During her AIAS-COFUND Fellowship, Helen Van Noorden has worked on the project 'Reframing the Sibylline Oracles'

AIAS Project

This research project addresses questions of authority and cultural blending in revelatory discourse through a focus on the Sibylline Oracles. These Greek oracles about the history and fate of humankind were composed, compiled and re-edited by Jews and then Christians under Roman rule. Attributed to a famous prophetess, they reinterpret both Classical and Judaeo-Christian canonical material in epic meter and styles ranging from hymn to diatribe and catalogue.
Given surges in scholarship on Greek epic receptions and pseudepigraphy, the textures of this corpus deserve new analysis alongside other ancient traditions invoking divine knowledge. I will situate parts of the Sibylline Oracles within Hellenistic and Imperial receptions of Homeric and Hesiodic poetry, discuss interactions with Greek philosophy, and compare authorizing moves in pseudepigraphic literature from across the Mediterranean.

Appending a translation of the foundational sections of these oracles, my aim is to encourage critical interest in the contours of both ancient and modern apocalyptic discourses. For the Sibylline corpus, with its remarkable author-figure predicting ecological disasters and making international moral exhortations, encourages us to address head-on questions about modes of persuasion amid wider anxieties about the status of nations in the eyes of the world, and about climate change. 

Short bio

Helen Van Noorden is a Classicist working on ancient receptions of archaic Greek epic, particularly in didactic, philosophical and satiric literary traditions in both Greek and Latin. She is the author of Playing Hesiod: the 'Myth of the Races' in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and co-editor of Eschatology in Antiquity (Routledge). Her work on apocalyptic discourse invites collaboration between the disciplines of Classics and Theology.

Project title:

Reframing the Sibylline Oracles

Area of research:

Ancient Literature and Theology

Fellowship period:

1 October 2020 - 30 September 2022