On Divination (Latin: De Divinatione) is a philosophical work by the Roman orator, politician and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BCE – 43 BCE). It consists of two books in the form of a dialogue between Marcus and his brother Quintus. Book I contains an apology of divination by Quintus, a Stoic, and Book II contains a refutation by Marcus, argued from the perspective of Academic philosophy.
This treatise was intended by Cicero to supplement his earlier work De natura deorum, which was finished probably in August 45 BCE. The greater part of the first book of the De divinatione was written (in part at least) before the assassination of Caesar, but the work was not completed and published until after that event.
The dialogue is represented as taking place between Cicero and his only brother Quintus, at Cicero’s country home at Tusculum, about ten miles from Rome.
Quintus Cicero was born about 102 BCE; received instruction in the best schools at the Rome and in Greece; was aedile in 65; praetor in 62; governor of Asia from March 61 to April 58; and served as legatus under Pompey in Sardinia in 56, under Caesar in Gaul in 54 and 53, and under Marcus, his brother, in Cilicia, from July 51 to July 50. In the Civil War he first joined Pompey, but, after the latter’s defeat, offered his services to Caesar. Quintus was fond of reading and study and devoted much of his leisure to writing. During his stay in Gaul he wrote four tragedies, which are lost. The authorship of the Commentariolum Petitionis is generally conceded to him. He (like his brother) died in December 43, in the proscription of the Second Triumvirate.
In this treatise, as in his other philosophic works, Cicero draws his arguments chiefly from Greek sources, but develops them in his own inimitable way and illustrates them with examples from his varied experiences and from his vast stores of learning. As an adherent of the New Academy he was free to question the views of the other philosophic schools, to compare argument with argument, and to adopt that theory which seemed to him most consistent with reason. After a thorough and impartial study of all the extant literature on the subject, from the time of Xenophanes of Colophon, a philosopher of the Eleatic school of the sixth century BCE, to that of Cratippus of his own day, and including the teachings of the Pythagoreans, the Socratics, the Peripatetics, the Epicureans and the Stoics, he became convinced that the commonly accepted belief in divination was a superstition which
should be torn up by the roots. He was himself an augur, and in his book On the Republic had written in favor of maintenance of the rites of augury and of auspices. But these practices were engrafted on the Roman constitution and he advocated their observance because of his belief in obedience to law and because, as a member of the aristocratic party, he thought augury and auspices the best means of controlling the excesses of democracy.
In treating the subject he proceeded, not as a special pleader, but in a truly philosophic spirit. As the chief apologists for divination he selected the Stoics, who defended it with great force and plausibility, accepted it as a part of their philosophic system, and sought to bring the world into conformity with their views. They endeavored to unite religion with philosophy to prove that the nature of the gods is adapted to reveal the divine will through divine prophecy. The belief in a superintending care of the gods seemed to them to imply a means of communication between God and man, whereby the latter might know the divine will in advance and obey it. This means they called Divination, the vis divinandi of the Romans, the μαντική of the Greeks.
The arguments in the first book in favor of divination are based chiefly on the writings of Posidonius the Stoic. While many of the arguments in the second book go back to Carneades, the founder of the New Academy, the immediate source of the material is not Carneades himself (for he left no writings) but one of his disciples, probably Clitomachus, who was his successor in the New Academy and expounded his doctrines. The discussion of the Chaldean monstra in the second book, from sections 87 to 97, is derived from the Stoic Panaetius. The entire discussion is divided into two main parts. In the first Quintus, taking the affirmative side, sets out the reasons for his belief in divination, and in the second Marcus proceeds to overwhelm his adversary with merciless logic and, with a rare display of abounding humor and sarcasm, laughs him out of court.
Quintus defends divination as
the foreknowledge and foretelling of events that happen by chance. He divides it into two classes: the first, Artificial, which depends partly on conjecture and partly on long-continued observation, and includes astrology, auspices, augury, divining by portents, prodigies, thunder, lightning, and other natural phenomena; the second, Natural, embraces divination by means of dreams and prophecies, made by persons inspired, as seers and prophets like Calchas, Cassandra, and others, and by those in a state of ecstasy or rapture, like the Pythian priestess of Apollo, whose prophetic powers were induced by exhalations from the earth. In defense of these various kinds of divination he urged the fact of their acceptance from the earliest times by every nation, and by the greatest philosophers including Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato. He was not troubled by his inability to explain the causes of divination. Those who denied the existence of what they could not explain and were not convinced by results and by the evidence of their own senses, for the same reason should deny the power of the magnet to attract iron, or the efficacy of drugs to effect certain cures. Divination, he urges, was established by many infallible proofs: by augury, the city of Rome had been founded and the kingdom given to Romulus; by the flight of an eagle, King Deiotarus had been warned to discontinue a journey and thereby was saved from certain death; the entrails foretold Caesar’s approaching fate; in a dream the Rhodian sailor had a vision of Pompey’s defeat at Pharsalus. He also does not disdain the argumentum ad hominem, but quotes freely from his brother’s poetry to show that he, too, accepts divination.
Following the method of Posidonius, Quintus sought to bring divination into conformity with the principles of philosophy in three ways; by tracing its source to God, to nature, and to fate. The reasoning for its origin from God was borrowed from Cratippus. The human soul is an emanation from the Divine Soul which pervades and governs all things. Between the Divine Soul and the human soul, both of which are divine and eternal, there is a sympathy and a connection which permit of communication from one to the other. The human soul when divorced from bodily influences, as in sleep and in ecstasy, is most responsive to the divine will and most endowed with divine foresight.
In discussing the origin of divination from the second source, Quintus defines Fate or εἱμαρμένη as
the orderly succession of causes wherein cause is linked to cause and every cause has its effect. Therefore nothing has happened which was not bound to happen and nothing will happen which will not find its efficient cause in nature. He who knows the links that join cause to cause, knows all the results of causes and can foretell every coming event. While such omniscience is possible only to God, yet since every cause has its sign and there are men who can often read those signs, in the lapse of time a science has been evolved from the recording of signs and the noting of the connection between them and their results.
The argument from nature is based on the phenomena of dreams and ecstasy. The power of the soul is much enhanced when divorced from bodily sensation. Then it sees things which are invisible to it when shackled by the flesh. During frenzy or inspiration or ecstasy nature seems most to impel the human soul to prophecy.
To the objection that the forecasts of augurs, seers, soothsayers and other diviners are often erroneous, Quintus replies that the same point may be urged against experts in other arts and callings, as, for example, physicians, mariners, and statesmen.
In closing Quintus makes a qualification or partial retractation by stating that he does not countenance fortune-tellers, necromancers, snake-charmers, astrologers, or interpreters of dreams who are not true diviners.
Marcus, in reply, first directs his attack against divination in general and adopts the reasoning of Carneades.
Divination, he says,
has no application to things perceived by the senses, which are sufficient of themselves and require no aid from divination. Nor is there any place for it in matters within the domain of science and of art. Likewise divination has no place in resolving questions in philosophy, in dialectic or in politics. And since it is of no use in any of these cases there is no use for it anywhere. Next, he takes the Stoic definition of divination as
the foreknowledge and foretelling of things that happen by chance, and shows that since such things may or may not happen, or may happen in one way or another, they cannot be foreseen by any amount of reason or skill. But if it can be known in advance that an event is going to happen, then that event is certain and not subject to chance and, by the definition, is removed from the scope of divination.
Furthermore, even if it was possible to know the future the disadvantages would far outweigh the gain. Cicero then takes up separately the various modes of divination under their proper divisions of Artificial and Natural and shows how utterly unreasonable they are and heaps his ridicule upon them.
1. There is an ancient belief, handed down to us even from mythical times and firmly established by the general agreement of the Roman people and of all nations, that divination of some kind exists among men; this the Greeks call μαντική — that is, the foresight and knowledge of future events. A really splendid and helpful thing it is — if only such a faculty exists — since by its means men may approach very near to the power of gods. And, just as we Romans have done many other things better than the Greeks, so have we excelled them in giving to this most extraordinary gift a name, which we have derived from divi, a word meaning
gods, whereas, according to Plato’s interpretation, they have derived it from furor, a word meaning
2. Now I am aware of no people, however refined and learned or however savage and ignorant, which does not think that signs are given of future events, and that certain persons can recognize those signs and foretell events before they occur. First of all — to seek authority from the most distant sources — the Assyrians, on account of the vast plains inhabited by them, and because of the open and unobstructed view of the heavens presented to them on every side, took observations of the paths and movements of the stars, and, having made note of them, transmitted to posterity what significance they had for each person. And in that same nation the Chaldeans — a name which they derived not from their art but their race — have, it is thought, by means of long-continued observation of the constellations, perfected a science which enables them to foretell what any man’s lot will be and for what fate he was born.
The same art is believed to have been acquired also by the Egyptians through a remote past extending over almost countless ages. Moreover, the Cilicians, Pisidians, and their neighbors, the Pamphylians — nations which I once governed — think that the future is declared by the songs and flights of birds, which they regard as most infallible signs. 3. And, indeed, what colony did Greece ever send into Aeolia, Ionia, Asia, Sicily, or Italy without consulting the Pythian or Dodonian oracle, or that of Jupiter Hammon? Or what war did she ever undertake without first seeking the counsel of the gods?
Nor is it only one single mode of divination that has been employed in public and in private. For, to say nothing of other nations, how many our own people have embraced! In the first place, according to tradition, Romulus, the father of this City, not only founded it in obedience to the auspices, but was himself a most skilful augur. Next, the other Roman kings employed augurs; and, again, after the expulsion of the kings, no public business was ever transacted at home or abroad without first taking the auspices. Furthermore, since our forefathers believed that the soothsayers’ art had great efficacy in seeking for omens and advice, as well as in cases where prodigies were to be interpreted and their effects averted, they gradually introduced that art in its entirety from Etruria, lest it should appear that any kind of divination had been disregarded by them.
4. And since they thought that the human mind, when in an irrational and unconscious state, and moving by its own free and untrammelled impulse, was inspired in two ways, the one by frenzy and the other by dreams, and since they believed that the divination of frenzy was contained chiefly in the Sibylline verses, they decreed that ten men should be chosen from the State to interpret those verses. In this same category also were the frenzied prophecies of soothsayers and seers, which our ancestors frequently thought worthy of belief — like the prophecies of Cornelius Culleolus, during the Octavian War. Nor, indeed, were the more significant dreams, if they seemed to concern the administration of public affairs, disregarded by our Supreme Council. Why, even within my own memory, Lucius Julius, who was consul with Publius Rutilius, by a vote of the Senate rebuilt the temple of Juno, the Savior, in accordance with a dream of Caecilia, daughter of Balearicus.
5. Now my opinion is that, in sanctioning such usages, the ancients were influenced more by actual results than convinced by reason. However certain very subtle arguments to prove the trustworthiness of divination have been gathered by philosophers. Of these — to mention the most ancient — Xenophanes of Colophon, while asserting the existence of gods, was the only one who repudiated divination in its entirety; but all the others, with the exception of Epicurus, who babbled about the nature of the gods, approved of divination, though not in the same degree. For example, Socrates and all of the Socratic School, and Zeno and his followers, continued in the faith of the ancient philosophers and in agreement with the Old Academy and with the Peripatetics. Their predecessor, Pythagoras, who even wished to be considered an augur himself, gave the weight of his great name to the same practice; and that eminent author, Democritus, in many passages, strongly affirmed his belief in a presentiment of things to come. Moreover, Dicaearchus, the Peripatetic, though he accepted divination by dreams and frenzy, cast away all other kinds; and my intimate friend, Cratippus, whom I consider the peer of the greatest of the Peripatetics, also gave credence to the same kinds of divination but rejected the rest.
6. The Stoics, on the other hand (for Zeno in his writings had, as it were, scattered certain seed which Cleanthes had fertilized somewhat), defended nearly every sort of divination. Then came Chrysippus, a man of the keenest intellect, who exhaustively discussed the whole theory of divination in two books, and, besides, wrote one book on oracles and another on dreams. And following him, his pupil, Diogenes of Babylon, published one book, Antipater two, and my friend, Posidonius, five. But Panaetius, the teacher of Posidonius, a pupil, too, of Antipater, and, even a pillar of the Stoic school, wandered off from the Stoics, and, though he dared not say that there was no efficacy in divination, yet he did say that he was in doubt. Then, since the Stoics — much against their will I grant you — permitted this famous Stoic to doubt on one point will they not grant to us Academicians the right to do the same on all other points, especially since that about which Panaetius is not clear is clearer than the light of day to the other members of the Stoic school? 7. At any rate, this praiseworthy tendency of the Academy to doubt has been approved by the solemn judgment of a most eminent philosopher.
Accordingly, since I, too, am in doubt as to the proper judgment to be rendered in regard to divination because of the many pointed and exhaustive arguments urged by Carneades against the Stoic view, and since I am afraid of giving a too hasty assent to a proposition which may turn out either false or insufficiently established, I have determined carefully and persistently to compare argument with argument just as I did in my three books On the Nature of the Gods. For a hasty acceptance of an erroneous opinion is discreditable in any case, and especially so in an inquiry as to how much weight should be given to auspices, to sacred rites, and to religious observances; for we run the risk of committing a crime against the gods if we disregard them, or of becoming involved in old women’s superstition if we approve them.
8. This subject has been discussed by me frequently on other occasions, but with somewhat more than ordinary care when my brother Quintus and I were together recently at my Tusculan villa. For the sake of a stroll we had gone to the Lyceum which is the name of my upper gymnasium, when Quintus remarked:
I have just finished a careful reading of the third book of your treatise, On the Nature of the Gods, containing Cotta’s discussion, which, though it has shaken my views of religion, has not overthrown them entirely.
Very good, said I;
for Cotta’s argument is intended rather to refute the arguments of the Stoics than to destroy man’s faith in religion.
Quintus then replied:
Cotta says the very same thing, and says it repeatedly, in order, as I think, not to appear to violate the commonly accepted canons of belief; yet it seems to me that, in his zeal to confute the Stoics, he utterly demolishes the gods. 9. However, I am really at no loss for a reply to his reasoning; for in the second book Lucilius has made an adequate defense of religion and his argument, as you yourself state at the end of the third book, seemed to you nearer to the truth than Cotta’s. But there is a question which you passed over in those books because, no doubt, you thought it more expedient to inquire into it in a separate discussion: I refer to divination, which is the foreseeing and foretelling of events considered as happening by chance. Now let us see, if you will, what efficacy it has and what its nature is. My own opinion is that, if the kinds of divination which we have inherited from our forefathers and now practise are trustworthy, then there are gods and, conversely, if there are gods then there are men who have the power of divination.
Why, my dear Quintus, said I,
you are defending the very citadel of the Stoics in asserting the interdependence of these two propositions:
if there is divination there are gods, and,
if there are gods there is divination. But neither is granted as readily as you think. For it is possible that nature gives signs of future events without the intervention of a god, and it may be that there are gods without their having conferred any power of divination upon men.
To this he replied,
I, at any rate, find sufficient proof to satisfy me of the existence of the gods and of their concern in human affairs in my conviction that there are some kinds of divination which are clear and manifest. With your permission I will set forth my views on this subject, provided you are at leisure and have nothing else which you think should be preferred to such a discussion.
Really, my dear Quintus, said I,
I always have time for philosophy. Moreover, since there is nothing else at this time that I can do with pleasure, I am all the more eager to hear what you think about divination.
There is, I assure you, said he, “nothing new or original in my views; for those which I adopt are not only very old, but they are endorsed by the consent of all peoples and nations. There are two kinds of divination: the first is dependent on art, the other on nature. 12. Now — to mention those almost entirely dependent on art — what nation or what state disregards the prophecies of soothsayers, or of interpreters of prodigies and lightnings, or of augurs, or of astrologers, or of oracles, or — to mention the two kinds which are classed as natural means of divination — the forewarnings of dreams, or of frenzy? Of these methods of divining it behoves us, I think, to examine the results rather than the causes. For there is a certain natural power, which now, through long-continued observation of signs and now, through some divine excitement and inspiration, makes prophetic announcement of the future.
“Therefore let Carneades cease to press the question, which Panaetius also used to urge, whether Jove had ordered the crow to croak on the left side and the raven on the right. Such signs as these have been observed for an unlimited time, and the results have been checked and recorded. Moreover, there is nothing which length of time cannot accomplish and attain when aided by memory to receive and records to preserve. 13. We may wonder at the variety of herbs that have been observed by physicians, of roots that are good for the bites of wild beasts, for eye affections, and for wounds, and though reason has never explained their force and nature, yet through their usefulness you have won approval for the medical art and for their discoverer.
“But come, let us consider instances, which although outside the category of divination, yet resemble it very closely:
The heaving sea oft warns of coming storms,
When suddenly its depths begin to swell;
And hoary rocks, o’erspread with snowy brine,
To the sea, in boding tones, attempt reply;
Or when from lofty mountain-peak upsprings
A shrilly whistling wind, which stronger grows
With each repulse by hedge of circling cliffs.
“Your book, Prognostics, is full of such warning signs, but who can fathom their causes? And yet I see that the Stoic Boëthus has attempted to do so and has succeeded to the extent of explaining the phenomena of sea and sky. 14. But who can give a satisfactory reason why the following things occur?
Blue-grey herons, in fleeing the raging abyss of the ocean,
Utter their warnings, discordant and wild, from tremulous gullets,
Shrilly proclaiming that storms are impending and laden with terrors.
Often at dawn, when Aurora releases the frost in the dew-drops,
Does the nightingale pour from its breast predictions of evil;
Then does it threaten and hurl from its throat its incessant complaining.
Often the dark-hued crow, while restlessly roaming the seashore,
Plunges its crest in the flood, as its neck encounters the billows.
15. “Hardly ever do we see such signs deceive us and yet we do not see why it is so.
Ye, too, distinguish the signs, ye dwellers in waters delightful,
When, with a clamour, you utter your cries that are empty of meaning,
Stirring the fountains and ponds with absurd and ridiculous croaking.
Who could suppose that frogs had this foresight? And yet they do have by nature some faculty of premonition, clear enough of itself, but too dark for human comprehension.
Slow, clumsy oxen, their glances upturned to the light of the heavens,
Sniff at the air with their nostrils and know it is freighted with moisture.
I do not ask why, since I know what happens.
Now ’tis a fact that the evergreen mastic, e’er burdened with leafage,
Thrice is expanding and budding and thrice producing its berries;
Triple its signs for the purpose of showing three seasons for ploughing.
16. Nor do I ever inquire why this tree alone blooms three times, or why it makes the appearance of its blossoms accord with the proper time for ploughing. I am content with my knowledge that it does, although I may not know why. Therefore, as regards all kinds of divination I will give the same answer that I gave in the cases just mentioned.
“I see the purgative effect of the scammony root and I see an antidote for snake-bite in the aristolochia plant — which, by the way, derives its name from its discoverer who learned of it in a dream — I see their power and that is enough; why they have it I do not know. Thus as to the cause of those premonitory signs of winds and rains already mentioned I am not quite clear, but their force and effect I recognize, understand, and vouch for. Likewise as to the cleft or thread in the entrails: I accept their meaning; I do not know their cause. And life is full of individuals in just the same situation that I am in, for nearly everybody employs entrails in divining. Again: is it possible for us to doubt the prophetic value of lightning? Have we not many instances of its marvels? and is not the following one especially remarkable? When the statue of Summanus which stood on the top of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus — his statue was then made of clay — was struck by a thunderbolt and its head could not be found anywhere, the soothsayers declared that it had been hurled into the Tiber; and it was discovered in the very spot which they had pointed out.
17. “But what authority or what witness can I better employ than yourself? I have even learned by heart and with great pleasure the following lines uttered by the Muse, Urania, in the second book of your poem entitled, My Consulship:
First of all, Jupiter, glowing with fire from regions celestial,
Turns, and the whole of creation is filled with the light of his glory;
And, though the vaults of aether eternal begird and confine him,
Yet he, with spirit divine, ever searching the earth and the heavens,
Sounds to their innermost depths the thoughts and the actions of mortals.
When one has learned the motions and variant paths of the planets,
Stars that abide in the seat of the signs, in the Zodiac’s girdle,
(Spoken of falsely as vagrants or rovers in Greek nomenclature,
Whereas in truth their distance is fixed and their speed is determined,)
Then will he know that all are controlled by an Infinite Wisdom.
18. You, being consul, at once did observe the swift constellations,
Noting the glare of luminous stars in direful conjunction:
Then you beheld the tremulous sheen of the Northern aurora,
When, on ascending the mountainous heights of snowy Albanus,
You offered joyful libations of milk at the Feast of the Latins;
Ominous surely the time wherein fell that Feast of the Latins;
Many a warning was given, it seemed, of slaughter nocturnal;
Then, of a sudden, the moon at her full was blotted from heaven —
Hidden her features resplendent, though night was bejewelled with planets;
Then did that dolorous herald of War, the torch of Apollo,
Mount all aflame to the dome of the sky, where the sun has its setting;
Then did a Roman depart from these radiant abodes of the living,
Stricken by terrible lightning from heavens serene and unclouded.
Then through the fruit-laden body of earth ran the shock of an earthquake;
Spectres at night were observed, appalling and changeful of figure,
Giving their warning that war was at hand, and internal commotion;
Over all lands there outpoured, from the frenzied bosoms of prophets,
Dreadful predictions, gloomy forecasts of impending disaster.
19. And the misfortunes which happened at last and were long in their passing —
These were foretold by the Father of Gods, in earth and in heaven,
Through unmistakable signs that he gave and often repeated.
Now, of those prophecies made when Torquatus and Cotta were consuls, —
Made by a Lydian diviner, by one of Etruscan extraction —
All, in the round of your crowded twelve months, were brought to fulfilment.
For high-thundering Jove, as he stood on starry Olympus,
Hurled forth his blows at the temples and monuments raised in his honor,
And on the Capitol’s site he unloosed the bolts of his lightning.
Then fell the brazen image of Natta, ancient and honored:
Vanished the tablets of laws long ago divinely enacted;
Wholly destroyed were the statues of gods by the heat of the lightning.
20. Here was the Martian beast, the nurse of Roman dominion,
Suckling with life-giving dew, that issued from udders distended,
Children divinely begotten, who sprang from the loins of the War God;
Stricken by lightning she toppled to earth, bearing with her the children;
Torn from her station, she left the prints of her feet in descending.
Then what diviner, in turning the records and tomes of the augurs,
Failed to relate the mournful forecasts the Etruscans had written?
Seers all advised to beware the monstrous destruction and slaughter,
Plotted by Romans who traced their descent from a noble ancestry;
Or they proclaimed the law’s overthrow with voices insistent,
Bidding rescue the city from flames, and the deities’ temples;
Fearful they bade us become of horrible chaos and carnage;
These, by a rigorous Fate, would be certainly fixed and determined,
Were not a sacred statue of Jove, one comely of figure,
High on a column erected beforehand, with eyes to the eastward;
Then would the people and venerable senate be able to fathom
Hidden designs, when that statue — its face to the sun at its rising —
Should behold from its station the seats of the people and Senate.
21. Long was the statue delayed and much was it hindered in making.
Finally, you being consul, it stood in its lofty position.
Just at the moment of time, which the gods had set and predicted,
When on column exalted the sceptre of Jove was illumined,
Did Allobrogian voices proclaim to Senate and people
What destruction by dagger and torch was prepared for our country.
Rightly, therefore, the ancients whose monuments you have in keeping,
Romans whose rule over peoples and cities was just and courageous,
Rightly your kindred, foremost in honor and pious devotion,
Far surpassing the rest of their fellows in shrewdness and wisdom,
Held it a duty supreme to honor the Infinite Godhead.
Such were the truths they beheld who painfully searching for wisdom
Gladly devoted their leisure to study of all that was noble,
22. Who, in Academy’s shade and Lyceum’s dazzling effulgence,
Uttered the brilliant reflections of minds abounding in culture.
Torn from these studies, in youth’s early dawn, your country recalled you,
Giving you place in the thick of the struggle for public preferment;
Yet, in seeking surcease from the worries and cares that oppress you,
Time, that the State leaves free, you devote to us and to learning.
“In view, therefore, of your acts, and in view too of your own verses which I have quoted and which were composed with the utmost care, could you be persuaded to controvert the position which I maintain in regard to divination?
23. “But what? You ask, Carneades, do you, why these things so happen, or by what rules they may be understood? I confess that I do not know, but that they do so fall out I assert that you yourself see. ‘Mere accidents,’ you say. Now, really, is that so? Can anything be an ‘accident’ which bears upon itself every mark of truth? Four dice are cast and a Venus throw results — that is chance; but do you think it would be chance, too, if in one hundred casts you made one hundred Venus throws? It is possible for paints flung at random on a canvasc to form the outlines of a face; but do you imagine that an accidental scattering of pigments could produce the beautiful portrait of Venus of Cos? Suppose that a hog should form the letter ‘A’ on the ground with its snout; is that a reason for believing that it would write out Ennius’s poem The Andromache?
“Carneades used to have a story that once in the Chian quarries when a stone was split open there appeared the head of the infant god Pan; I grant that the figure may have borne some resemblance to the god, but assuredly the resemblance was not such that you could ascribe the work to a Scopas. For it is undeniably true that no perfect imitation of a thing was ever made by chance.
24. “‘But,’ it is objected, ‘sometimes predictions are made which do not come true.’ And pray what art — and by art I mean the kind that is dependent on conjecture and deduction — what art, I say, does not have the same fault? Surely the practice of medicine is an art, yet how many mistakes it makes! And pilots — do they not make mistakes at times? For example, when the armies of the Greeks and the captains of their mighty fleet set sail from Troy, they, as Pacuvius says,
Glad at leaving Troy behind them, gazed upon the fish at play,
Nor could get their fill of gazing — thus they whiled the time away.
Meantime, as the sun was setting, high uprose the angry main:
Thick and thicker fell the shadows; night grew black with blinding rain.
Then, did the fact that so many illustrious captains and kings suffered shipwreck deprive navigation of its right to be called an art? And is military science of no effect because a general of the highest renown recently lost his army and took to flight? Again, is statecraft devoid of method or skill because political mistakes were made many times by Gnaeus Pompey, occasionally by Marcus Cato, and once or twice even by yourself? So it is with the responses of soothsayers, and, indeed, with every sort of divination whose deductions are merely probable; for divination of that kind depends on inference and beyond inference it cannot go. 25. It sometimes misleads perhaps, but none the less in most cases it guides us to the truth. For this same conjectural divination is the product of boundless eternity and within that period it has grown into an art through the repeated observation and record of almost countless instances in which the same results have been preceded by the same signs.
“Indeed how trustworthy were the auspices taken when you were augur! At the present time — pray pardon me for saying so — Roman augurs neglect auspices, although the Cilicians, Pamphylians, Pisidians, and Lycians hold them in high esteem. 26. I need not remind you of that most famous and worthy man, our guest-friend, King Deiotarus, who never undertook any enterprise without first taking the auspices. On one occasion after he had set out on a journey for which he had made careful plans beforehand, he returned home because of the warning given him by the flight of an eagle. The room in which he would have been staying, had he continued on his road, collapsed the very next night. 27. This is why, as he told me himself, he had time and again abandoned a journey even though he might have been traveling for many days. By the way, that was a very noble utterance of his which he made after Caesar had deprived him of his tetrarchy and kingdom, and had forced him to pay an indemnity too. ‘Notwithstanding what has happened,’ said he, ‘I do not regret that the auspices favored my joining Pompey. By so doing I enlisted my military power in defense of senatorial authority, Roman liberty, and the supremacy of the empire. The birds, at whose instance I followed the course of duty and of honor, counselled well, for I value my good name more than riches.’ His conception of augury, it seems to me, is the correct one.
“For with us magistrates make use of auspices, but they are ‘forced auspices,’ since the sacred chickens in eating the dough pellets thrown must let some fall from their beaks. 28. But, according to the writings of you augurs, a tripudium results if any of the food should fall to the ground, and what I spoke of as a ‘forced augur’ your fraternity calls as tripudium solistimum. And so through the indifference of the college, as Cato the Wise laments, many auguries and auspices have been entirely abandoned and lost.
“In ancient times scarcely any matter out of the ordinary was undertaken, even in private life, without first consulting the auspices, clear proof of which is given even at the present time by our custom of having ‘nuptial auspices,’ though they have lost their former religious significance and only preserve the name. For just as today on important occasions we make use of entrails in divining — though even they are employed to a less extent than formerly — so in the past resort was usually had to divination by means of birds. And thus it is that by failing to seek out the unpropitious signs we run into awful disasters. 29. For example, Publius Claudius, son of Appius Caecus, and his colleague Lucius Junius, lost very large fleets by going to sea when the auguries were adverse. The same fate befell Agamemnon; for, after the Greeks had begun to
Raise aloft their frequent clamors, showing scorn of augur’s art,
Noise prevailed and not the omen: he then bade the ships depart.
“But why cite such ancient instances? We see what happened to Marcus Crassus when he ignored the announcement of unfavorable omens. It was on the charge of having on this occasion falsified the auspices that Gaius Ateius, an honorable man and a distinguished citizen, was, on insufficient evidence, stigmatized by the then censor Appius, who was your associate in the augural college, and an able one too, as I have often heard you say. I grant you that in pursuing the course he did Appius was within his rights as a censor, if, in his judgment, Ateius had announced a fraudulent augury. But he showed no capacity whatever as an augur in holding Ateius responsible for that awful disaster which befell the Roman people. Had this been the cause then the fault would not have been in Ateius, who made the announcement that the augury was unfavorable, but in Crassus, who disobeyed it; for the issue proved that the announcement was true, as this same augur and censor admits. But even if the augury had been false it could not have been the cause of the disaster; for unfavorable auguries — and the same may be said of auspices, omens, and all other signs — are not the causes of what follows: they merely foretell what will occur unless precautions are taken. 30. Therefore Ateius, by his announcement, did not create the cause of the disaster; but having observed the sign he simply advised Crassus what the result would be if the warning was ignored. It follows, then, that the announcement by Ateius of the unfavorable augury had no effect; or if it did, as Appius thinks, then the sin is not in him who gave the warning, but in him who disregarded it.
“And whence, pray, did you augurs derive that staff, which is the most conspicuous mark of your priestly office? It is the very one, indeed with which Romulus marked out the quarter for taking observations when he founded the city. Now this staffe is a crooked wand, slightly curved at the top, and, because of its resemblance to a trumpet, derives its name from the Latin word meaning ‘the trumpet with which the battle-charge is sounded.’ It was placed in the temple of the Salii on the Palatine hill and, though the temple was burned, the staff was found uninjured. 31. What ancient chronicler fails to mention the fact that in the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, long after the time of Romulus, a quartering of the heavens was made with this staff by Attus Navius? Because of poverty Attus was a swineherd in his youth. As the story goes, he, having lost one of his hogs, made a vow that if he recovered it he would make an offering to the god of the largest bunch of grapes in his vineyard. Accordingly, after he had found the hog, he took his stand, we are told, in the middle of the vineyard, with his face to the south and divided the vineyard into four parts. When the birds had shown three of these parts to be unfavorable, he subdivided the fourth and last part and then found, as we see it recorded, a bunch of grapes of marvelous size.
“This occurrence having been noised abroad, all his neighbors began to consult him about their own affairs and thus greatly enhanced his name and fame. 32. The consequence was that King Priscus summoned him to his presence. The king, wishing to make trial of his skill as an augur, said to him: ‘I am thinking of something; tell me whether it can be done or not.’ Attus, having taken the auspices, replied that it could be done. Thereupon Tarquinius said that what he had been thinking of was the possibility of cutting a whetstone in two with a razor, and ordered the trial to be made. So the stone was brought into the comitium, and, while the king and his people looked on, it was cut in two with a razor. The result was that Tarquin employed him as his augur, and the people consulted him about their private concerns. 33. Moreover, according to tradition, the whetstone and razor were buried in the comitium and a stone curbing placed over them.
“Let us declare this story wholly false; let us burn the chronicles that contain it; let us call it a myth and admit almost anything you please rather than the fact that the gods have any concern in human affairs. But look at this: does not the story about Tiberius Gracchus found in your own writings acknowledge that augury and soothsaying are arts? He, having placed his tabernaculum, unwittingly violated augural law by crossing the pomerium before completing the auspices; nevertheless he held the consular election. The fact is well known to you since you have recorded it. Besides, Tiberius Gracchus, who was himself an augur, confirmed the authority of auspices by confessing his error; and the soothsayers, too, greatly enhanced the reputation of their calling, when brought into the Senate immediately after the election, by declaring that the election supervisor had acted without authority.
34. “I agree, therefore, with those who have said that there are two kinds of divination: one, which is allied with art; the other, which is devoid of art. Those diviners employ art, who, having learned the known by observation, seek the unknown by deduction. On the other hand those do without art who, unaided by reason or deduction or by signs which have been observed and recorded, forecast the future while under the influence of mental excitement, or of some free and unrestrained emotion. This condition often occurs to men while dreaming and sometimes to persons who prophesy while in a frenzy — like Bacis of Boeotia, Epimenides of Crete and the Sibyl of Erythraea. In this latter class must be placed oracles — not oracles given by means of ‘equalized lots’ — but those uttered under the impulse of divine inspiration; although divination by lot is not in itself to be despised, if it has the sanction of antiquity, as in the case of those lots which, according to tradition, sprang out of the earth; for in spite of everything, I am inclined to think that they may, under the power of God, be so drawn as to give an appropriate response. Men capable of correctly interpreting all these signs of the future seem to approach very near to the divine spirit of the gods whose wills they interpret, just as scholars do when they interpret the poets.
35. “What sort of cleverness is it, then, that would attempt by sophistry to overthrow facts that antiquity has established? I fail — you tell me — to discover their cause. That, perhaps, is one of Nature’s hidden secrets. God has not willed me to know the cause, but only that I should use the means which he has given. Therefore, I will use them and I will not allow myself to be persuaded that the whole Etruscan nation has gone stark mad on the subject of entrails, or that these same people are in error about lightnings, or that they are false interpreters of portents; for many a time the rumblings and roarings and quakings of the earth have given to our republic and to other states certain forewarnings of subsequent disaster. 36. Why, then, when here recently a mule (which is an animal ordinarily sterile by nature) brought forth a foal, need anyone have scoffed because the soothsayers from that occurrence prophesied a progeny of countless evils to the state?
“What, pray, do you say of that well-known incident of Tiberius Gracchus, the son of Publius? He was censor and consul twice; beside that he was a most competent augur, a wise man and a pre-eminent citizen. Yet he, according to the account left us by his son Gaius, having caught two snakes in his home, called in the soothsayers to consult them. They advised him that if he let the male snake go his wife must die in a short time; and if he released the female snake his own death must soon occur. Thinking it more fitting that a speedy death should overtake him rather than his young wife, who was the daughter of Publius Africanus, he released the female snake and died within a few days.
Let us laugh at the soothsayers, brand them as frauds and impostors and scorn their calling, even though a very wise man, Tiberius Gracchus, and the results and circumstances of his death have given proof of its trustworthiness; let us scorn the Babylonians, too, and those astrologers who, from the top of Mount Caucasus, observe the celestial signs and with the aid of mathematics follow the courses of the stars; let us, I say, convict of folly, falsehood, and shamelessness the men whose records, as they themselves assert, cover a period of four hundred and seventy thousand years; and let us pronounce them liars, utterly indifferent to the opinion of succeeding generations. 37. Come, let us admit that the barbarians are all base deceivers, but are the Greek historians liars too?
“Speaking now of natural divination, everybody knows the oracular responses which the Pythian Apollo gave to Croesus, to the Athenians, Spartans, Tegeans, Argives, and Corinthians. Chrysippus has collected a vast number of these responses, attested in every instance by abundant proof. But I pass them by as you know them well. I will urge only this much, however, in defense: the oracle at Delphi never would have been so much frequented, so famous, and so crowded with offerings from peoples and kings of every land, if all ages had not tested the truth of its prophecies. For a long time now that has not been the case. 38. Therefore, as at present its glory has waned because it is no longer noted for the truth of its prophecies, so formerly it would not have enjoyed so exalted a reputation if it had not been trustworthy in the highest degree. Possibly, too, those subterraneous exhalations which used to kindle the soul of the Pythian priestess with divine inspiration have gradually vanished in the long lapse of time; just as within our own knowledge some rivers have dried up and disappeared, while others, by winding and twisting, have changed their course into other channels. But explain the decadence of the oracle as you wish, since it offers a wide field for discussion, provided you grant what cannot be denied without distorting the entire record of history, that the oracle at Delphi made true prophecies for many hundreds of years.
39. “But let us leave oracles and come to dreams. In his treatise on this subject Chrysippus, just as Antipater does, has assembled a mass of trivial dreams which he explains according to Antiphon’sf rules of interpretation. The work, I admit, displays the acumen of its author, but it would have been better if he had cited illustrations of a more serious type. Now, Philistus, who was a learned and painstaking man and a contemporary of the times of which he writes, gives us the following story of the mother of Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse: while she was with child and was carrying this same Dionysius in her womb, she dreamed that she had been delivered of an infant satyr. When she referred this dream to the interpreters of portents, who in Sicily were called ‘Galeotae,’ they replied, so Philistus relates, that she should bring forth a son who would be very eminent in Greece and would enjoy a long and prosperous career.
40. “May I not recall to your memory some stories to be found in the works of Roman and of Greek poets? For example, the following dream of the Vestal Virgin is from Ennius:
The vestal from her sleep in fright awoke
And to the startled maid, whose trembling hands
A lamp did bear, thus spoke in tearful tones:
‘O daughter of Eurydice, though whom
Our father loved, from my whole frame departs
The vital force. For in my dreams I saw
A man of beauteous form, who bore me off
Through willows sweet, along the fountain’s brink,
To places strange. And then, my sister dear,
Alone, with halting step and longing heart,
I seemed to wander, seeking thee in vain;
There was no path to make my footing sure.
41. And then I thought my father spoke these words:
Great sorrows, daughter, thou must first endure
Until thy fortune from the Tiber rise.
When this was said he suddenly withdrew;
Nor did his cherished vision come again,
Though oft I raised my hand to heaven’s dome
And called aloud in tearful, pleading voice.
Then sleep departing left me sick at heart.’
42. “This dream, I admit, is the fiction of a poet’s brain, yet it is not contrary to our experience with real dreams. It may well be that the following story of the dream which greatly disturbed Priam’s peace of mind is fiction too:
When mother Hecuba was great with child,
She dreamed that she brought forth a flaming torch.
Alarmed at this, with sighing cares possessed,
The king and father, Priam, to the gods
Did make a sacrifice of bleating lambs.
He, seeking peace and answer to the dream,
Implored Apollo’s aid to understand
What great events the vision did foretell,
Apollo’s oracle, with voice divine,
Then gave this explanation of the dream:
Thy next-born son forbear to rear, for he
Will be the death of Pergamos and Troy.
43. Grant, I repeat, that these dreams are myths and in the same category put Aeneas’s dream, related in the Greek annals of our countryman, Fabius Pictor. According to Pictor everything that Aeneas did or suffered turned out just as it had been predicted to him in a dream.
“But let us look at examples nearer our own times. Would you dare call that famous dream of Tarquin the Proud a myth? He describes it himself in the following lines from the Brutus of Accius:
44. At night’s approach I sought my quiet couch
To soothe my weary limbs with restful sleep.
Then in my dreams a shepherd near me drove
A fleecy herd whose beauty was extreme.
I chose two brother rams from out the flock
And sacrificed the comelier of the twain.
And then, with lowered horns, the other ram
Attacked and bore me headlong to the ground.
While there I lay outstretched and wounded sore,
The sky a wondrous miracle disclosed:
The blazing star of day reversed its course
And glided to the right by pathway new.
45. Now observe how the diviners interpreted this dream:
It is not strange, O king, that dreams reflect
The day’s desires and thoughts, its sights and deeds,
And everything we say or do awake.
But in so grave a dream as yours we see
A message clearly sent, and thus it warns:
Beware of him you deem bereft of wit
And rate no higher than a stupid ram,
Lest he, with wisdom armed, should rise to fame
And drive you from your throne. The sun’s changed course
Unto the state portends immediate change.
And may that prove benignant to the state;
For since the almighty orb from left to right
Revolved, it was the best of auguries
That Rome would be supreme o’er all the earth.
46. “But come now and let us return to foreign instances. Heraclides Ponticus, a man of learning, and both a pupil and a disciple of Plato’s, relates a dream of the mother of Phalaris. She fell asleep and dreamed that, while looking at the consecrated images of the gods set up in her house, she saw the statue of Mercury pouring blood from a bowl which it held in its right hand and that the blood, as it touched the ground, welled up and completely filled the house. The truth of the dream was subsequently established by the inhuman cruelty of her son.
“Why need I bring forth from Dinon’s Persian annals the dreams of that famous prince, Cyrus, and their interpretations by the magi? But take this instance: Once upon a time Cyrus dreamed that the sun was at his feet. Three times, so Dinon writes, he vainly tried to grasp it and each time it turned away, escaped him, and finally disappeared. He was told by the magi, who are classed as wise and learned men among the Persians, that his grasping for the sun three times portended that he would reign for thirty years. And thus it happened; for he lived to his seventieth year, having begun to reign at forty.
47. “It certainly must be true that even barbarians have some power of foreknowledge and of prophecy, if the following story of Callanus of India be true: As he was about to die and was ascending the funeral pyre, he said: ‘What a glorious death! The fate of Hercules is mine. For when this mortal frame is burned the soul will find the light.’ When Alexander directed him to speak if he wished to say anything to him, he answered: ‘Thank you, nothing, except that I shall see you very soon.’ So it turned out, for Alexander died in Babylon a few days later. I am getting slightly away from dreams, but I shall return to them in a moment. Everybody knows that on the same night in which Olympias was delivered of Alexander the temple of Diana at Ephesus was burned, and that the magi began to cry out as day was breaking: ‘Asia’s deadly curse was born last night.’ But enough of Indians and magi.
48. “Let us go back to dreams. Coelius writes that Hannibal wished to carry off a golden column from Juno’s temple at Lacinium, but since he was in doubt whether it was solid or plated, he bored into it. Finding it solid he decided to take it away. But at night Juno came to him in a vision and warned him not to do so, threatening that if he did she would cause the loss of his good eye. That clever man did not neglect the warning. Moreover out of the gold filings he ordered an image of a calf to be made and placed on top of the column. 49. Another story of Hannibal is found in the history written in Greek by Silenus, whom Coelius follows, and who, by the way, was a very painstaking student of Hannibal’s career. After his capture of Saguntum Hannibal dreamed that Jupiter summoned him to a council of the gods. When he arrived Jupiter ordered him to carry the war into Italy, and gave him one of the divine council as a guide whom he employed when he being the march with his army. This guide cautioned Hannibal not to look back. But, carried away by curiosity, he could refrain no longer and looked back. Then he saw a horrible beast of enormous size, enveloped with snakes, and wherever it went it overthrew every tree and shrub and every house. In his amazement Hannibal asked what the monster was. The god replied that it was the desolation of Italy and ordered him to press right on and not to worry about what happened behind him and in the rear.
50. “We read in a history by Agathocles that Hamilcar, the Carthaginian, during his siege of Syracuse heard a voice in his sleep telling him that he would dine the next day in Syracuse. At daybreak the following day a serious conflict broke out in his camp between the troops of the Carthaginians and their allies, the Siculi. When the Syracusans saw this they made a sudden assault on the camp and carried Hamilcar off alive. Thus the event verified the dream.
“History is full of such instances, and so is everyday life. 51. And yet let me cite another: the famous Publius Decius, son of Quintus, and the first of that family to become consul, was military tribune in the consulship of Marcus Valerius and Aulus Cornelius while our army was being hard pressed by the Samnites. When, because of his rushing too boldly into the dangers of battle, he was advised to be more cautious, he replied, according to the annals, ‘I dreamed that by dying in the midst of the enemy I should win immortal fame.’ And though he was unharmed at that time and extricated the army from its difficulties, yet three years later, when consul, he devoted himself to death and rushed full-armed against the battle-line of the Latins. By this act of his the Latins were overcome and destroyed; and so glorious was his death that his son sought the same fate. 52. But let us come now, if you please, to the dreams of philosophers.
“We read in Plato that Socrates, while in prison, said in a conversation with his friend Crito: ‘I am to die in three days; for in a dream I saw a woman of rare beauty, who called me by name and quoted this verse from Homer:
Gladly on Phthia’s shore the third day’s dawn shall behold thee.’
And history informs us that his death occurred as he had foretold. That disciple of Socrates, Xenophon — and what a man he was! — records the dreams he had during his campaign with Cyrus the Younger, and their remarkable fulfilment. Shall we say that Xenophon is either a liar or a madman?
53. “And Aristotle, who was endowed with a matchless and almost godlike intellect, — is he in error, or is he trying to lead others into error in the following account of his friend, Eudemus the Cyprian? Eudemus, while on his way to Macedonia, reached Pherae, then a very famous city of Thessaly, but groaning under the cruel sway of the tyrant, Alexander. There he became so violently ill that the physicians despaired of his recovery. While sick he had a dream in which a youth of striking beauty told him that he would speedily get well; that the despot Alexander would die in a few days, and that he himself would return home five years later. And so, indeed, the first two prophecies, as Aristotle writes, were immediately fulfilled by the recovery of Eudemus and by the death of the tyrant at the hands of his wife’s brothers. But at the end of five years, when, in reliance upon the dream, he hoped to return to Cyprus from Sicily, he was killed in battle before Syracuse. Accordingly the dream was interpreted to mean that when his soul left the body it then had returned home.
54. “To the testimony of philosophers let us add that of a most learned man and truly divine poet, Sophocles. A heavy gold dish having been stolen from the temple of Hercules, the god himself appeared to Sophocles in a dream and told who had committed the theft. But Sophocles ignored the dream a first and second time. When it came again and again, he went up to the Areopagus and laid the matter before the judges who ordered the man named by Sophocles to be arrested. The defendant after examination confessed his crime and brought back the dish. This is the reason why that temple is called ‘the temple of Hercules the Informer.’
55. “But why am I dwelling on illustrations from Greek sources when — though I can’t explain it — those from our own history please me more? Now here is a dream which is mentioned by all our historians, by the Fabii and the Gellii and, most recently, by Coelius: During the Latin War when the Great Votive Games were being celebrated for the first time the city was suddenly called to arms and the games were interrupted. Later it was determined to repeat them, but before they began, and while the people were taking their seats, a slave bearing a yoke was led about the circus and beaten with rods. After that a Roman rustic had a dream in which someone appeared to him and said that he disapproved of the leader of the games and ordered this statement to be reported to the Senate. But the rustic dared not do as he was bid. The order was repeated by the spectre with a warning not to put his power to the test. Not even then did the rustic dare obey. After that his son died and the same vision was repeated the third time. Thereupon he became ill and told his friends of his dream. On their advice he was carried to the Senate-house on a litter and, having related his dream to the Senate, his health was restored and he walked home unaided. And so, the tradition is, the Senate gave credence to the dream and had the games repeated.
56. “According to this same Coelius, Gaius Gracchus told many persons that his brother Tiberius came to him in a dream when he was a candidate for the quaestorship and said: ‘However much you may try to defer your fate, nevertheless you must die the same death that I did.’ This happened before Gaius was tribune of the people, and Coelius writes that he himself heard it from Gaius who had repeated it to many others. Can you find anything better authenticated than this dream?
“And who, pray, can make light of the two following dreams which are so often recounted by Stoic writers? The first one is about Simonides, who once saw the dead body of some unknown man lying exposed and buried it. Later, when he had it in mind to go on board a ship he was warned in a vision by the person to whom he had given burial not to do so and that if he did he would perish in a shipwreck. Therefore he turned back and all the others who sailed were lost.
57. “The second dream is very well known and is to this effect: Two friends from Arcadia who were taking a journey together came to Megara, and one traveler put up at an inn and the second went to the home of a friend. After they had eaten supper and retired, the second traveler, in the dead of the night, dreamed that his companion was imploring him to come to his aid, as the innkeeper was planning to kill him. Greatly frightened at first by the dream he arose, and later, regaining his composure, decided that there was nothing to worry about and went back to bed. When he had gone to sleep the same person appeared to him and said: ‘Since you would not help me when I was alive, I beg that you will not allow my dead body to remain unburied. I have been killed by the innkeeper, who has thrown my body into a cart and covered it with dung. I pray you to be at the city gate in the morning before the cart leaves the town,’ Thoroughly convinced by the second dream he met the cart-driver at the gate in the morning, and, when he asked what he had in the cart, the driver fled in terror. The Arcadian then removed his friend’s dead body from the cart, made complaint of the crime to the authorities, and the innkeeper was punished.
What stronger proof of a divinely inspired dream than this can be given?
58. “But why go on seeking illustrations from ancient history? I had a dream which I have often related to you, and you one which you have often told to me. When I was governor of Asia I dreamed that I saw you on horseback riding toward the bank of some large river, when you suddenly plunged forward, fell into the stream, and wholly disappeared from sight. I was greatly alarmed and trembled with fear. But in a moment you reappeared mounted on the same horse, and with a cheerful countenance ascended the opposite bank where we met and embraced each other. The meaning of the dream was readily explained to me by experts in Asia who from it predicted those events which subsequent occurred.
59. “I come now to your dream. I heard it, of course, from you, but more frequently from our Sallustius. In the course of your banishment, which was glorious for us but disastrous to the State, you stopped for the night at a certain country-house in the plain of Atina. After lying awake most of the night, finally, about daybreak, you fell into a very profound sleep. And though your journey was pressing, yet Sallustius gave instructions to maintain quiet and would not permit you to be disturbed. But you awoke about the second hour and related your dream to him. In it you seemed to be wandering sadly about in solitary places when Gaius Marius, with his fasces wreathed in laurel, asked you why you were sad, and you replied that you had been driven from your country by violence. He then bade you be of good cheer, took you by the right hand, and delivered you to the nearest lictor to be conducted to his memorial temple, saying that there you should find safety. Sallustius thereupon, as he relates, cried out, ‘a speedy and a glorious return awaits you.’ He further states that you too seemed delighted at the dream. Immediately thereafter it was reported to me that as soon as you heard that it was in Marius’ temple that the glorious decree of the Senate for your recall had been enacted on motion of the consul, a most worthy and most eminent man, and that the decree had been greeted by unprecedented shouts of approval in a densely crowded theatre, you said that no stronger proof could be given of a divinely inspired dream than this.
60. “‘Ah,’ it is objected, ‘but many dreams are untrustworthy.’ Rather, perhaps, their meaning is hidden from us. But grant that some are untrustworthy, why do we declaim against those that trustworthy? The fact is the latter would be much more frequent if we went to our rest in proper condition. But when we are burdened with food and drink our dreams are troubled and confused. Observe what Socrates says in Plato’s Republic:
“‘When a man goes to sleep, having the thinking and reasoning portion of his soul languid and inert, but having that other portion, which has in it a certain brutishness and wild savagery, immoderately gorged with drink and food, then does that latter portion leap up and hurl itself about in sleep without check. In such a case every vision presented to the mind is so devoid of thought and reason that the sleeper dreams that he is committing incest with his mother, or that he is having unlawful commerce indiscriminately with gods and men, and frequently too, with beasts; or even that he is killing someone and staining his hands with impious bloodshed; and that he is doing many vile and hideous things recklessly and without shame. 61. But, on the other hand, when the man, whose habits of living and of eating are wholesome and temperate, surrenders himself to sleep, having the thinking and reasoning portion of his soul eager and erect, and satisfied by a feast of noble thoughts, and having that portion which feeds on carnal pleasures neither utterly exhausted by abstinence nor cloyed by over-indulgence — for, as a rule, the edge of thought is dulled whether nature is starved or overfed — and, when such a man, in addition, has that third portion of the soul, in which the fire of anger burns, quieted and subdued — thus having the two irrational portions under complete control — then will the thinking and reasoning portion of his soul shine forth and show itself keen and strong for dreaming and then will his dreams be peaceful and worthy of trust.’ I have reproduced Plato’s very words.
62. “Then shall we listen to Epicurus rather than to Plato? As for Carneades, in his ardor for controversy he asserts this and now that. ‘But,’ you retort, ‘Epicurus says what he thinks.’ But he thinks nothing that is ever well reasoned, or worthy of a philosopher. Will you, then, put this man before Plato or Socrates, who though they gave no reason, would yet prevail over these petty philosophers by the mere weight of their name? Now Plato’s advice to us is to set out for the land of dreams with bodies so prepared that no error or confusion may assail the soul. For this reason, it is thought, the Pythagoreans were forbidden to indulge in beans; for that food produces great flatulence and induces a condition at war with a soul in search for truth. 63. When, therefore, the soul has been withdrawn by sleep from contact with sensual ties, then does it recall the past, comprehend the present, and foresee the future. For though the sleeping body then lies as if it were dead, yet the soul is alive and strong, and will be much more so after death when it is wholly free of the body. Hence its power to divine is much enhanced by the approach of death. For example, those in the grasp of a serious and fatal sickness realize the fact that death impends; and so, visions of dead men generally appear to them and then their desire for fame is strongest; while those who have lived otherwise than as they should, feel, at such a time, the keenest sorrow for their sins.
64. “Moreover, proof of the power of dying men to prophesy is also given by Posidonius in his well-known account of a certain Rhodian, who, when on his death-bed, named six men of equal age and foretold which of them would die first, which second, and so on. Now Posidonius holds the view that there are three ways in which men dream as the result of divine impulse: first, the soul is clairvoyant of itself because of its kinship with the gods; second, the air is full of immortal souls, already clearly stamped, as it were, with the marks of truth; and third, the gods in person converse with men when they are asleep. And, as I said just now, it is when death is at hand that men most readily discern signs of the future. 65. This is illustrated by the story which I related about Callanus and by Homer’s account of Hector, who, as he was dying, prophesied the early death of Achilles.
“It is clear that, in our ordinary speech, we should not have made such frequent use of the word praesagire, meaning ‘to sense in advance, or to presage,’ if the power of presaging had been wholly non-existent. An illustration of its use is seen in the following well-known line from Plautus:
My soul presaged as I left home that my leaving was in vain.
Now sagire means ‘to have a keen perception.’ Accordingly certain old women are called sagae, because they are assumed to know a great deal, and dogs are said to be ‘sagacious.’ And so one who has knowledge of a thing before it happens is said to ‘presage,’ that is, to perceive the future in advance.
66. “Therefore the human soul has an inherent power of presaging or of foreknowing infused into it from without, and made a part of it by the will of God. If that power is abnormally developed, it is called ‘frenzy’ or ‘inspiration,’ which occurs when the soul withdraws itself from the body and is violently stimulated by a divine impulse, as in the following instance, where Hecuba says to Cassandra:
But why those flaming eyes, that sudden rage?
And whither fled that sober modesty,
Till now so maidenly and yet so wise?’
and Cassandra answers:
O mother, noblest of thy noble sex!
I have been sent to utter prophecies:
Against my will Apollo drives me mad
To revelation make of future ills.
O virgins! comrades of my youthful hours,
My mission shames my father, best of men.
O mother dear! great loathing for myself
And grief for thee I feel. For thou hast borne
To Priam goodly issue — saving me,
’Tis sad that unto thee the rest bring weal,
I woe; that they obey, but I oppose.
What a tender and pathetic poem, and how suitable to her character! though it is not altogether relevant, I admit. 67. However, the point which I wish to press, that true prophecies are made during frenzy, has found expression in the following lines:
It comes! it comes! that bloody torch, in fire
Enwrapped, though hid from sight these many years!
Bring aid, my countrymen, and quench its flames!
It is not Cassandra who next speaks, but a god in human form:
Already, on the mighty deep is built
A navy swift that hastes with swarms of woe,
Its ships are drawing nigh with swelling sails,
And bands of savage men will fill our shores.
68. “I seem to be relying for illustrations on myths drawn from tragic poets. But you yourself are my authority for an instance of the same nature, and yet it is not fiction but a real occurrence. Gaius Coponius, a man of unusual capacity and learning, came to you at Dyrrachium while he, as praetor, was in command of the Rhodian fleet, and told you of a prediction made by a certain oarsman from one of the Rhodian quinqueremes. The prediction was that in less than thirty days Greece would be bathed in blood; Dyrrachium would be pillaged; its defenders would flee to their ships and, as they fled, would see behind them the unhappy spectacle of a great conflagration; but the Rhodian fleet would have a quick passage home. This story gave you some concern, and it caused very great alarm to those cultured men, Marcus Varro and Marcus Cato, who were at Dyrrachium at the time. In fact, a few days later Labienus reached Dyrrachium in flight from Pharsalus, with the news of the loss of the army. The rest of the prophecy was soon fulfilled. 69. For the granaries were pillaged and their contents scattered and strewn all about the streets and alleys. You and your companions, in great alarm, suddenly embarked, and as you looked back at night towards town you saw the flames of the merchant ships, which the soldiers (not wishing to follow) had set on fire. Finally, when your party had been deserted by the Rhodian fleet you realized that the prophecy had been fulfilled.
70. “As briefly as I could, I have discussed divination by means of dreams and frenzy, which, as I said, are devoid of art. Both depend on the same reasoning, which is that habitually employed by our friend Cratippus: ’The human soul is in some degree derived and drawn from a source exterior to itself. Hence we understand that outside the human soul there is a divine soul from which the human soul is sprung. Moreover, that portion of the human soul which is endowed with sensation, motion, and carnal desire is inseparable from bodily influence; while that portion which thinks and reasons is most vigorous when it is most distant from the body. 71. And so, after giving examples of true prophecies through frenzy and dreams, Cratippus usually concludes his argument in this way:
“‘Though without eyes it is impossible to perform the act and function of sight, and though the eyes sometimes cannot perform their appointed function, yet when a person has even once so employed his eyes as to see things as they are, he has a realization of what correct vision is. Likewise, therefore, although without the power of divination it is impossible for the act and function of divining to exist, and though one with that power may sometimes be mistaken and may make erroneous prophecies, yet it is enough to establish the existence of divination that a single event has been so clearly foretold as to exclude the hypothesis of chance. But there are many such instances; therefore, the existence of divination must be conceded.’
72. “But those methods of divination which are dependent on conjecture, or on deductions from events previously observed and recorded, are, as I have said before, not natural, but artificial, and include the inspection of entrails, augury, and the interpretation of dreams. These are disapproved of by the Peripatetics and defended by the Stoics. Some are based upon records and usage, as is evident from the Etruscan books on divination by means of inspection of entrails and by means of thunder and lightning, and as is also evident from the books of your augural college; while others are dependent on conjecture made suddenly and on the spur of the moment. An instance of the latter kind is that of Calchas in Homer, prophesying the number of years of the Trojan War from the number of sparrows. We find another illustration of conjectural divination in the history of Sulla in an occurrence which you witnessed. While he was offering sacrifices in front of his head-quarters in the Nolan district a snake suddenly came out from beneath the altar. The soothsayer, Gaius Postumius, begged Sulla to proceed with his march at once. Sulla did so and captured the strongly fortified camp of the Samnites which lay in front of the town of Nola.
73. “Still another instance of conjectural divination occurred in the case of Dionysius, a little while before he began to reign. He was traveling through the Leontine district, and led his horse down into a river. The horse was engulfed in a whirlpool and disappeared. Dionysius did his utmost to extricate him but in vain and, so Philistus writes, went away greatly troubled. When he had gone on a short distance he heard a whinny, looked back and, to his joy, saw his horse eagerly following and with a swarm of bees in its mane. The sequel of this portent was that Dionysius began to reign within a few days.
74. “Again: what a warning was given to the Spartans just before the disastrous battle of Leuctra, when the armour clanked in the temple of Hercules and his statue dripped with sweat! But at the same time, according to Callisthenes, the folding doors of Hercules’ temple at Thebes, though closed with bars, suddenly opened of their own accord, and the armour which had been fastened on the temple walls, was found on the floor. And, at the same time, at Lebadia, in Boeotia, while divine honors were being paid to Trophonius, the cocks in the neighborhood began to crow vigorously and did not leave off. Thereupon the Boeotian augurs declared that the victory belonged to the Thebans, because it was the habit of cocks to keep silence when conquered and to crow when victorious.
75. “The Spartans received many warnings given at that time of their impending defeat at Leuctra. For example, a crown of wild, prickly herbs suddenly appeared on the head of the statue erected at Delphi in honor of Lysander, the most eminent of the Spartans. Furthermore, the Spartans had set up some golden stars in the temple of Castor and Pollux at Delphi to commemorate the glorious victory of Lysander over the Athenians, because, it was said, those gods were seen accompanying the Spartan fleet in that battle. Now, just before the battle of Leuctra these divine symbols — that is, the golden stars at Delphi, already referred to — fell down and were never seen again. 76. But the most significant warning received by the Spartans was this: they sent to consult the oracle of Jupiter at Dodona as to the chances of victory. After their messengers had duly set up the vessel in which were the lots, an ape, kept by the king of Molossia for his amusement, disarranged the lots and everything else used in consulting the oracle, and scattered them in all directions. Then, so we are told, the priestess who had charge of the oracle said that the Spartans must think of safety and not of victory.
77. “Again, did not Gaius Flaminius by his neglect of premonitory signs in his second consulship in the Second Punic War cause great disaster to the State? For, after a review of the army, he had moved his camp and was marching towards Arretium to meet Hannibal, when his horse, for no apparent reason, suddenly fell with him just in front of the statue of Jupiter Stator. Although the soothsayers considered this a divine warning not to join battle, he did not so regard it. Again, after the auspices by means of the tripudium had been taken, the keeper of the sacred chickens advised the postponement of battle. Flaminius then asked, ‘Suppose the chickens should never eat, what would you advise in that case?’ ‘You should remain in camp,’ was the reply. ‘Fine auspices indeed!’ said Flaminius, ‘for they counsel action when chickens’ crops are empty and inaction when chickens’ crops are filled.’ So he ordered the standards to be plucked up and the army to follow him. Then, when the standard-bearer of the first company could not loosen his standard, several soldiers came to his assistance, but to no purpose. This fact was reported to Flaminius, and he, with his accustomed obstinacy, ignored it. The consequence was that within three hours his army was cut to pieces and he himself was slain. 78. Coelius has added the further notable fact that, at the very time this disastrous battle was going on, earthquakes of such violence occurred in Liguria, in Gaul, on several islands, and in every part of Italy, that a large number of towns were destroyed, landslips took place in many regions, the earth sank, rivers flowed upstream, and the sea invaded their channels.
“Trustworthy conjectures in divining are made by experts. For instance, when Midas, the famous king of Phrygia, was a child, ants filled his mouth with grains of wheat as he slept. It was predicted that he would be a very wealthy man; and so it turned out. Again, while Plato was an infant, asleep in his cradle, bees settled on his lips and this was interpreted to mean that he would have a rare sweetness of speech. Hence in his infancy his future eloquence was foreseen. 79. And what about your beloved and charming friend Roscius? Did he lie or did the whole of Lanuvium lie for him in telling the following incident: In his cradle days, while he was being reared in Solonium, a plain in the Lanuvian district, his nurse suddenly awoke during the night and by the light of a lamp observed the child asleep with a snake coiled about him. She was greatly frightened at the sight and gave an alarm. His father referred the occurrence to the soothsayers, who replied that the boy would attain unrivalled eminence and glory. Indeed, Pasiteles has engraved the scene in silver and our friend Archias has described it in verse.
“Then what do we expect? Do we wait for the immortal gods to converse with us in the forum, on the street, and in our homes? While they do not, of course, present themselves in person, they do diffuse their power far and wide — sometimes enclosing it in caverns of the earth and sometimes imparting it to human beings. The Pythian priestess at Delphi was inspired by the power of the earth and the Sibyl by that of nature. Why need you marvel at this? Do we not see how the soils of the earth vary in kind? Some are deadly, like that about Lake Ampsanctus in the country of the Hirpini and that of Plutonia in Asia, both of which I have seen. Even in the same neighborhood, some parts are salubrious and some are not; some produce men of keen wit, others produce fools. These diverse effects are all the result of differences in climate and differences in the earth’s exhalations. 80. It often happens, too, that the soul is violently stirred by the sight of some object, or by the deep tone of a voice, or by singing. Frequently anxiety or fear will have that effect, as it did in the case of Hesione, who
Did rave like one by Bacchic rites made mad
And mid the tombs her Teucer called aloud.
“And poetic inspiration also proves that there is a divine power within the human soul. Democritus says that no one can be a great poet without being in a state of frenzy, and Plato says the same thing. Let Plato call it ‘frenzy’ if he will, provided he praises it as it was praised in his Phaedrus. And what about your own speeches in law suits. Can the delivery of you lawyers be impassioned, weighty, and fluent unless your soul is deeply stirred? Upon my word, many a time have I seen in you such passion of look and gesture that I thought some power was rendering you unconscious of what you did; and, if I may cite a less striking example, I have seen the same in your friend Aesopus.
81. “Frequently, too, apparitions present themselves and, though they have no real substance, they seem to have. This is illustrated by what is said to have happened to Brennus and to his Gallic troops after he had made an impious attack on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. The story is that the Pythian priestess, in speaking from the oracle, said to Brennus:
To this the virgins white and I will see.
The result was that the virgins were seen fighting against the Gauls, and their army was overwhelmed with snow.
“Aristotle thought that even the people who rave from the effects of sickness and are called ‘hypochondriacs’ have within their souls some power of foresight and of prophecy. But, for my part, I am inclined to think that such a power is not to be distributed either to a diseased stomach or to a disordered brain. On the contrary, it is the healthy soul and not the sickly body that has the power of divination. 82. The Stoics, for example, establish the existence of divination by the following process of reasoning:
“‘If there are gods and they do not make clear to man in advance what the future will be, then they do not love man; or, they themselves do not know what the future will be; or, they think that it is of no advantage to man to know what it will be; or, they think it inconsistent with their dignity to give man forewarnings of the future; or, finally, they, though gods, cannot give intelligible signs of coming events. But it is not true that the gods do not love us, for they are the friends and benefactors of the human race; nor is it true that they do not know their own decrees and their own plans; nor is it true that it is of no advantage to us to know what is going to happen, since we should be more prudent if we knew; nor is it true that the gods think it inconsistent with their dignity to give forecasts, since there is no more excellent quality than kindness; nor is it true that they have not the power to know the future; 83. therefore it is not true that there are gods and yet that they do not give us signs of the future; but there are gods, therefore they give us such signs; and if they give us such signs, it is not true that they give us no means to understand those signs — otherwise their signs would be useless; and if they give us the means, it is not true that there is no divination; therefore there is divination.’
84. “Chrysippus, Diogenes, and Antipater employ the same reasoning. Then what ground is there to doubt the absolute truth of my position? For I have on my side reason, facts, peoples, and races, both Greek and barbarian, our own ancestors, the unvarying belief of all ages, the greatest philosophers, the poets, the wisest men, the builders of cities, and the founders of republics. Are we not satisfied with the unanimous judgment of men, and do we wait for beasts to give their testimony too? 85. The truth is that no other argument of any sort is advanced to show the futility of the various kinds of divination which I have mentioned except the fact that it is difficult to give the cause or reason of every kind of divination. You ask, ‘Why is it that the soothsayer, when he finds a cleft in the lung of the victim, even though the other vitals are sound, stops the execution of an undertaking and defers it to another day?’ ‘Why does an augur think it a favorable omen when a raven flies to the right, or a crow to the left?’ ‘Why does an astrologer consider that the moon’s conjunction with the planets Jupiter and Venus at the birth of children is a favorable omen, and its conjunction with Saturn or Mars unfavorable?’ Again, ‘Why does God warn us when we are asleep and fail to do so when we are awake?’ Finally, ‘Why is it that mad Cassandra foresees coming events and wise Priam cannot do the same?’
86. “You ask why everything happens. You have a perfect right to ask, but that is not the point at issue now. The question is, Does it happen, or does it not? For example, if I were to say that the magnet attracted iron and drew it to itself, and I could not tell you why, then I suppose you would utterly deny that the magnet had any such power. At least that is the course you pursue in regard to the existence of the power of divination, although it is established by our reading and by the traditions of our forefathers. Why, even before the dawn of philosophy, which is a recent discovery, the average man had no doubt about divination, and, since its development, no philosopher of any sort of reputation has had any different view. 87. I have already cited Pythagoras, Democritus, and Socrates and, of the ancients, I have excluded no one except Xenophanes. To them I have added the Old Academy, the Peripatetics, and the Stoics. The only dissenter is Epicurus. But why wonder at that? for is his opinion of divination any more discreditable than his view that there is no such thing as a disinterested virtue?
“But is there a man anywhere who is uninfluenced by clear and unimpeachable records signed and sealed by the hand of Time? For example, Homer writes that Calchas was by far the best augur among the Greeks and that he commanded the Greek fleet before Troy. His command of the fleet I suppose was due to his skill as an augur and not to his skill in seamanship. 88. Amphilochus and Mopsus were kings of Argos, but they were augurs too, and they founded Greek cities on the coasts of Cilicia. And even before them were Amphiaraus and Tiresias. They were no lowly and unknown men, nor were they like the person described by Ennius,
Who, for their own gain, uphold opinions that are false,
but they were eminent men of the noblest type and foretold the future by means of augural signs. In speaking of Tiresias, even when in the infernal regions, Homer says that he alone was wise, that the rest were mere wandering shadows. As for Amphiaraus, his reputation in Greece was such that he was honored as a god, and oracular responses were sought in the place where he was buried.
89. “Furthermore, did not Priam, the Asiatic king, have a son, Helenus, and a daughter, Cassandra, who prophesied, the first by means of auguries and the other when under a heaven-inspired excitement and exaltation of soul? In the same class, as we read in the records of our forefathers, were those famous Marcian brothers, men of noble birth. And does not Homer relate that Polyidus of Corinth not only made many predictions to others, but that he also foretold the death of his own son, who was setting out for Troy? As a general rule among the ancients the men who ruled the state had control likewise of augury, for they considered divining, as well as wisdom, becoming to a king. Proof of this is afforded by our State wherein the kings were augurs; and, later, private citizens endowed with the same priestly office ruled the republic by the authority of religion.
90. “Nor is the practice of divination disregarded even among uncivilized tribes, if indeed there are Druids in Gaul — and there are, for I knew one of them myself, Divitiacus, the Aeduan, your guest and eulogist. He claimed to have that knowledge of nature which the Greeks call ‘physiologia,’ and he used to make predictions, sometimes by means of augury and sometimes by means of conjecture. Among the Persians the augurs and diviners are the magi, who assemble regularly in a sacred place for practice and consultation, just as formerly you augurs used to do on the Nones. 91. Indeed, no one can become king of the Persians until he has learned the theory and the practice of the magi. Moreover, you may see whole families and tribes devoted to this art. For example, Telmessus in Caria is a city noted for its cultivation of the soothsayer’s art, and there is also Elis in Peloponnesus, which has permanently set aside two families as soothsayers, the Iamidae and the Clutidae, who are distinguished for superior skill in their art. In Syria the Chaldeans are pre-eminent for their knowledge of astronomy and for their quickness of mind.
92. “Again, the Etruscans are very skilful in observing thunderbolts, in interpreting their meaning and that of every sign and portent. That is why, in the days of our forefathers, it was wisely decreed by the Senate, when its power was in full vigor, that, of the sons of the chief men, six should be handed over to each of the Etruscan tribes for the study of divination, in order that so important a profession should not, on account of the poverty of its members, be withdrawn from the influence of religion, and converted into a means of mercenary gain. On the other hand the Phrygians, Pisidians, Cilicians, and Arabians rely chiefly on the signs conveyed by the flights of birds, and the Umbrians, according to tradition, used to do the same.
93. “Now, for my part, I believe that the character of the country determined the kind of divination which its inhabitants adopted. For example, the Egeans and Babylonians, who live on the level surface of open plains, with no hills to obstruct a view of the sky, have devoted their attention wholly to astrology. But the Etruscans, being in their nature of a very ardent religious temperament and accustomed to the frequent sacrifice of victims, have given their chief attention to the study of entrails. And as on account of the density of the atmosphere signs from heaven were common among them, and furthermore since that atmospheric condition caused many phenomena both of earth and sky and also certain prodigies that occur in the conception and birth of men and cattle — for these reasons the Etruscans have become very proficient in the interpretation of portents. Indeed, the inherent force of these means of divination, as you like to observe, is clearly shown by the very words so aptly chosen by our ancestors to describe them. Because they ‘make manifest’ (ostendunt), ‘portend’ (portendunt), ‘intimate’ (monstrant), ‘predict’ (praedicunt), they are called ‘manifestations,’ ‘portents,’ ‘intimations, and ‘prodigies.’ 94. But the Arabians, Phrygians, and Cilicians, being chiefly engaged in the rearing of cattle, are constantly wandering over the plains and mountains in winter and summer and, on that account, have found it quite easy to study the songs and flight of birds. The same is true of the Pisidians and of our fellow-countrymen, the Umbrians. While the Carians, and especially the Telmessians, already mentioned, because they live in a country with a very rich and prolific soil, whose fertility produces many abnormal growths, have turned their attention to the study of prodigies.
95. “But who fails to observe that auspices and all other kinds of divination flourish best in the best regulated states? And what king or people has there ever been who did not employ divination? I do not mean in time of peace only, but much more even in time of war, when the strife and struggle for safety is hardest. Passing by our own countrymen, who do nothing in war without examining entrails and nothing in peace without taking the auspices, let us look at the practice of foreign nations. The Athenians, for instance, in every public assembly always had present certain priestly diviners, whom they call manteis. The Spartans assigned an augur to their kings as a judicial adviser, and they also enacted that an augur should be present in their Council of Elders, which is the name of their Senate. In matters of grave concern they always consulted the oracle at Delphi, or that of Jupiter Hammon or that of Dodona. 96. Lycurgus himself, who once governed the Spartan state, established his laws by authority of Apollo’s Delphic oracle, and Lysander, who wished to repeal them, was prevented from doing so by the religious scruples of the people. Moreover, the Spartan rulers, not content with their deliberations when awake used to sleep in a shrine of Pasiphaë which is situated in a field near the city, in order to dream there, because they believed that oracles received in repose were true.
97. “I now return to instances at home. How many times the Senate has ordered the decemvirs to consult the Sibylline books! How often in matters of grave concern it has obeyed the responses of the soothsayers! Take the following examples: When at one time, two suns and, at another, three moons, were seen; when meteors appeared; when the sun shone at night; when rumblings were heard in the heavens; when the sky seemed to divide, showing balls of fire enclosed within; again, on the occasion of the landslip in Privernum, report of which was made to the Senate; and when Apulia was shaken by a most violent earthquake and the land sank to an incredible depth — in all these cases of portents which warned the Roman people of mighty wars and deadly revolutions, the responses of the soothsayers were in agreement with the Sibylline verses.
98. “And what of those other instances? As when, for example, the statue of Apollo at Cumae and that of Victory at Capua dripped with sweat; when that unlucky prodigy, the hermaphrodite, was born; when the river Atratus ran with blood; when there were showers frequently of stone, sometimes of blood, occasionally of earth and even of milk; and finally, when lightning struck the statue of the Centaur on the Capitoline hill, the gates and some people on the Aventine and the temples of Castor and Pollux at Tusculum and of Piety at Rome — in each of these cases did not the soothsayers give prophetic responses which were afterwards fulfilled? And were not these same prophecies found in the Sibylline books?
99. “In recent times, during the Marsian war, the temple of Juno Sospita was restored because of a dream of Caecilia, the daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus. This is the same dream that Sisenna discussed as marvelous, in that its prophecies were fulfilled to the letter, and yet later — influenced no doubt by some petty Epicurean — he goes on inconsistently to maintain that dreams are not worthy of belief. This writer, however, has nothing to say against prodigies; in fact he relates that, at the outbreak of the Marsian War, the statues of the gods dripped with sweat, rivers ran with blood, the heavens opened, voices from unknown sources were heard predicting dangerous wars, and finally — the sign considered by the soothsayers the most ominous of all — the shields at Lanuvium were gnawed by mice.
100. “And what do you say of the following story which we find in our annals? During the Veientian War, when Lake Albanus had overflowed its banks, a certain nobleman of Veii deserted to us and said that, according to the prophecies of the Veientian books, their city could not be taken while the lake was at flood, and that if its waters were permitted to overflow and take their own course to the sea the result would be disastrous to the Roman people; on the other hand, if the waters were drained off in such a way that they did not reach the sea the result would be to our advantage. In consequence of this announcement our forefathers dug that marvelous canal to drain off the waters from the Alban lake. Later when the Veientians had grown weary of war and had sent ambassadors to the Senate to treat for peace, one of them is reported to have said that the deserter had not dared to tell the whole of the prophecy contained in the Veientian books, for those books, he said, also foretold the early capture of Rome by the Gauls. And this, as we know, did occur six years after the fall of Veii.
101. “Again, we are told that fauns have often been heard in battle and that during turbulent times truly prophetic messages have been sent from mysterious places. Out of many instances of this class I shall give only two, but they are very striking. Not long before the capture of the city by the Gauls, a voice, issuing from Vesta’s sacred grove, which slopes from the foot of the Palatine Hill to New Road, was heard to say, ‘the walls and gates must be repaired; unless this is done the city will be taken.’ Neglect of this warning, while it was possible to heed it, was atoned for after the supreme disaster had occurred; for, adjoining the grove, an altar, which is now to be seen enclosed with a hedge, was dedicated to Aius the Speaker. The other illustration has been reported by many writers. At the time of the earthquake a voice came from Juno’s temple on the citadel commanding that an expiatory sacrifice be made of a pregnant sow. From this fact the goddess was called Juno the Adviser. Are we, then, lightly to regard these warnings which the gods have sent and our forefathers adjudged to be trustworthy?
102. “Nor is it only to the voices of the gods that the Pythagoreans have paid regard but also to the utterances of men which they term ‘omens.’ Our ancestors, too, considered such ‘omens’ worthy of respect, and for that reason, before entering upon any business enterprise, used to say, ‘May the issue be prosperous, propitious, lucky, and successful.’ At public celebrations of religious rites they gave the command, ‘Guard your tongues’; and in issuing the order for the Latin festival the customary injunction was, ‘Let the people refrain from strife and quarreling.’ So too, when the sacred ceremony of purification was held by one starting on an expedition to found a colony, or when the commander-in-chief was reviewing his army, or the censor was taking his census, it was the rule to choose men with names of good omen to led the victims. Furthermore, the consuls in making a levy of troops take pains to see that the first soldier enlisted is one with a lucky name. 103. You, of course, are aware that you, both as consul at home and later as commander in the field, employed the same precaution with the most scrupulous care. In the case, too, of the prerogative tribe or century, our forefathers determined that it should be the ‘omen’ of a proper election.
“Now let me give some well-known examples of omens: When Lucius Paulus was consul the second time, and had been chosen to wage war against King Perses, upon returning home on the evening of the day on which he had been appointed, he noticed, as he kissed his little daughter Tertia (at that time a very small child), that she was rather sad. ‘What is the matter, Tertia, my dear? Why are you sad?’ ‘Oh! father, Persa is dead.’ Paulus clasped the child in a closer embrace and said, ‘Daughter, I accept that as an omen.’ Now ‘Persa’ was the name of a little dog that had died. 104. I heard Lucius Flaccus, the high priest of Mars, relate the following story: Metellus’ daughter, Caecilia, who was desirous of arranging a marriage for her sister’s daughter, went, according to the ancient custom, to a small chapel to receive an omen. A long time passed while the maiden stood and Caecilia was seated on a chair without any word being spoken. Finally, the former grew weary and said to her aunt: ‘Let me sit awhile on your chair.’ ‘Certainly, my child,’ said Caecilia, ‘you may have my place.’ And this was an omen of what came to pass, for in a short time Caecilia died and the girl married her aunt’s husband. I realize perfectly well that the foregoing omens may be lightly regarded and even be laughed at, but to make light of signs sent by the gods is nothing less than to disbelieve in the existence of the gods.
105. “Why need I speak of augurs? That is your rôle; the duty to defend auspices, I maintain, is yours. For it was to you, while you were consul, that the augur Appius Claudius declared that because the augury of safety was unpropitious a grievous and violent civil war was at hand. That war began few months later, but you brought it to an end in still fewer days. Appius is one augur of whom I heartily approve, for not content merely with the sing-song ritual of augury, he, alone, according to the record of many years, has maintained a real system of divination. I know that your colleagues used to laugh at him and call him the one time ‘a Pisidian’ and at another ‘a Soran.’ They did not concede to augury any power of prevision or real knowledge of the future, and used to say that it was a superstitious practice shrewdly invented to gull the ignorant. But the truth is far otherwise, for neither those herdsmen whom Romulus governed, nor Romulus himself, could have had cunning enough to invent miracles with which to mislead the people. It is the trouble and hard work involved in mastering the art that has induced this eloquent contempt; for men prefer to say glibly that there is nothing in auspices rather than to learn what auspices are.
106. “Now — to employ you as often as I can as my authority — what could be more clearly of divine origin than the auspice which is thus described in your Marius?
Behold, from out the tree, on rapid wing,
The eagle that attends high-thundering Jove
A serpent bore, whose fangs had wounded her;
And as she flew her cruel talons pierced
Quite through its flesh. The snake, tho’ nearly dead,
Kept darting here and there its spotted head;
And, as it writhed, she tore with bloody beak
Its twisted folds. At last, with sated wrath
And grievous wounds avenged, she dropped her prey,
Which, dead and mangled, fell into the sea;
And from the West she sought the shining East.
When Marius, reader of divine decrees,
Observed the bird’s auspicious, gliding course,
He recognized the goodly sign foretold
That he in glory would return to Rome;
Then, on the left, Jove’s thunder pealed aloud
And thus declared the eagle’s omen true.
107. “As for that augural art of Romulus of which I spoke, it was pastoral and not city-bred, nor was it ‘invented to gull the ignorant,’ but received by trustworthy men, who handed it on to their descendants. And so we read in Ennius the following story of Romulus, who was an augur, and of his brother Remus, who also was an augur:
When each would rule they both at once appealed
Their claims, with anxious hearts, to augury.
Then Remus took the auspices alone
And waited for the lucky bird; while on
The lofty Aventine fair Romulus
His quest did keep to wait the soaring tribe:
Their contest would decide the city’s name
As Rome or Remora. The multitude
Expectant looked to learn who would be king.
As, when the consul is about to give
The sign to start the race, the people sit
With eyes intent on barrier doors from whose
108. Embellished jaws the chariots soon will come;
So now the people, fearful, looked for signs
To know whose prize the mighty realm would be.
Meantime the fading sun into the shades
Of night withdrew and then the shining dawn
Shot forth its rays. ’Twas then an augury,
The best of all, appeared on high — a bird
That on the left did fly. And, as the sun
Its golden orb upraised, twelve sacred birds
Flew down from heaven and betook themselves
To stations set apart for goodly signs.
Then Romulus perceived that he had gained
A throne whose source and proper was augury.
109. “But let us bring the discussion back to the point from which it wandered. Assume that I can give no reason for any of the instances of divination which I have mentioned and that I can do no more than show that they did occur, is that not a sufficient answer to Epicurus and to Carneades? And what does it matter if, as between artificial and natural divination, the explanation of the former is easy and of the latter is somewhat hard? For the results of those artificial means of divination, by means of entrails, lightnings, portents, and astrology, have been the subject of observation for a long period of time. But in every field of inquiry great length of time employed in continued observation begets an extraordinary fund of knowledge, which may be acquired even without the intervention or inspiration of the gods, since repeated observation makes it clear what effect follows any given cause, and what sign precedes any given event.
110. “The second division of divination, as I said before, is the natural; and it, according to exact teaching of physics, must be ascribed to divine Nature, from which, as the wisest philosophers maintain, our souls have been drawn and poured forth. And since the universe is wholly filled with the Eternal Intelligence and the Divine Mind, it must be that human souls are influenced by their contact with divine souls. But when men are awake their souls, as a rule, are subject to the demands of everyday life and are withdrawn from divine association because they are hampered by the chains of the flesh.
111. “However, there is a certain class of men, though small in number, who withdraw themselves from carnal influences and are wholly possessed by an ardent concern for the contemplation of things divine. Some of these men make predictions, not as the result of direct heavenly inspiration, but by the use of their own reason. For example, by means of natural law, they foretell certain events, such as a flood, or the future destruction of heaven and earth by fire. Others, who are engaged in public life, like Solon of Athens, as history describes him, discover the rise of tyranny long in advance. Such men we may call ‘foresighted’ — that is, ‘able to foresee the future’; but we can no more apply the term ‘divine’ to them than we can apply it to Thales of Miletus, who, as the story goes, in order to confound his critics and thereby show that even a philosopher, if he sees fit, can make money, bought up the entire olive crop in the district of Miletus before it had begun to bloom. 112. Perhaps he had observed, from some personal knowledge he had on the subject, that the crop would be abundant. And, by the way, he is said to have been the first man to predict the solar eclipse which took place in the reign of Astyages.
“There are many things foreseen by physicians, pilots, and also by farmers, but I do not call the predictions of any of them divination. I do not even call that a case of divination when Anaximander, the natural philosopher, warned the Spartans to leave the city and their homes and to sleep in the fields under arms, because an earthquake was at hand. Then the whole city fell down in ruins and the extremity of Mount Taygetus was torn away like the stern of a ship in a storm. Not even Pherecydes, the famous teacher of Pythagoras, will be considered a prophet because he predicted an earthquake from the appearance of some water drawn from an unfailing well.
113. “In fact, the human soul never divines naturally, except when it is so unrestrained and free that it has absolutely no association with the body, as happens in the case of frenzy and of dreams. Hence both these kinds of divination have been sanctioned by Dicaearchus and also, as I said, by our friend Cratippus. Let us grant that these two methods (because they originate in nature) take the highest rank in divination; but we will not concede that they are the only kind. But if, on the other hand, Dicaearchus and Cratippus believe that there is nothing in observation, they hold a doctrine destructive of the foundation on which many things in everyday life depend. However, since these men make us some concession — and that not a small one — in granting us divination by frenzy and dreams, I see no cause for any great war with them, especially in view of the fact that there are some philosophers who do not accept any sort of divination whatever.
114. “Those then, whose souls, spurning their bodies, take wings and fly abroad — inflamed and aroused by a sort of passion — these men, I say, certainly see the things which they foretell in their prophecies. Such souls do not cling to the body and are kindled by many different influences. For example, some are aroused by certain vocal tones, as by Phrygian songs, many by groves and forests, and many others by rivers and seas. I believe, too, that there were certain subterranean vapors which had the effect of inspiring persons to utter oracles. In all these cases the frenzied soul sees the future long in advance, as Cassandra did in the following instance:
Alas! behold! some mortal will decide
A famous case between three goddesses:
Because of that decision there will come
A Spartan woman, but a Fury too.
It is in this state of exaltation that many predictions have been made, not only in prose but also
In verse which once the fauns and bards did sing.
115. Likewise Marcius and Publicius, according to tradition, made their prophecies in verse, and the cryptic utterances of Apollo were expressed in the same form.
“Such is the rationale of prophecy by means of frenzy, and that of dreams is not much unlike it. For the revelations made to seers when awake are made to us in sleep. While we sleep and the body lies as if dead, the soul is at its best, because it is then freed from the influence of the physical senses and from the worldly cares that weigh it down. And since the soul has lived from all eternity and has had converse with numberless other souls, it sees everything that exists in nature, provided that moderation and restraint have been used in eating and in drinking, so that the soul is in a condition to watch while the body sleeps. Such is the explanation of divination by dreams.
116. “At this point it is pertinent to mention Antiphon’s well-known theory of the interpretation of dreams. His view is that the interpreters of dreams depending upon technical skill and not upon inspiration. He has the same view as to the interpretation of oracles and of frenzied utterances; for they all have their interpreters, just as poets have their commentators. Now it is clear that divine nature would have done a vain thing if she had merely created iron, copper, silver, and gold and had not shown us how to reach the veins in which those metals lie; the gift of field crops and orchard fruits would have been useless to the human race without a knowledge of how to cultivate them and prepare them for food; and building material would be of no service without the carpenter’s art to convert it into lumber. So it is with everything that the gods have given for the advantage of mankind, there has been joined some art whereby that advantage may be turned to account. The same is true of dreams, prophecies, and oracles: since many of them were obscure and doubtful, resort was had to the skill of professional interpreters.
117. “Now there is a great problem as to how prophets and dreamers can see things, which, at the time, have no actual existence anywhere. But that question would be solved quite readily if we were to investigate certain other questions which demand consideration first. For the theory in regard to the nature of the gods, so clearly developed in the second book of your work on that subject, includes this whole question. If we maintain that theory we shall establish the very point which I am trying to make: namely, ‘that there are gods; that they rule the universe by their foresight; and that they direct the affairs of men — not merely of men in the mass, but of each individual.’ If we succeed in holding that position — and for my part I think it impregnable — then surely it must follow that the gods give to men signs of coming events.
118. “But it seems necessary to settle the principle on which these signs depend. For, according to the Stoic doctrine, the gods are not directly responsible for every fissure in the liver or for every song of a bird; since, manifestly, that would not be seemly or proper in a god and furthermore is impossible. But, in the beginning, the universe was so created that certain results would be preceded by certain signs, which are given sometimes by entrails and by birds, sometimes by lightnings, by portents, and by stars, sometimes by dreams, and sometimes by utterances of persons in a frenzy. And these signs do not often deceive the persons who observe them properly. If prophecies, based on erroneous deductions and interpretations, turn out to be false, the fault is not chargeable to the signs but to the lack of skill in the interpreters.
“Assuming the proposition to be conceded that there is a divine power which pervades the lives of men, it is not hard to understand the principle directing those premonitory signs which we see come to pass. For it may be that the choice of a sacrificial victim is guided by an intelligent force, which is diffused throughout the universe; or, it may be that at the moment when the sacrifice is offered, a change in the vitals occurs and something is added or taken away; for many things are added to, changed, or diminished in an instant of time. 119. Conclusive proof of this fact, sufficient to put it beyond the possibility of doubt, is afforded by incidents which happened just before Caesar’s death. While he was offering sacrifices on the day when he sat for the first time on a golden throne and first appeared in public in a purple robe, no heart was found in the vitals of the votive ox. Now do you think it possible for any animal that has blood to exist without a heart? Caesar was unmoved by this occurrence, even though Spurinna warned him to beware lest thought and life should fail him — both of which, he said, proceeded from the heart. On the following day there was no head to the liver of the sacrifice. These portents were sent by the immortal gods to Caesar that he might foresee his death, not that he might prevent it. Therefore, when those organs, without which the victim could not have lived, are found wanting in the vitals, we should understand that the absent organs disappeared at the very moment of immolation.
120. “The Divine Will accomplishes like results in the case of birds, and causes those known as alites, which give omens by their flight, to fly hither and thither and disappear now here and now there, and causes those known as oscines, which give omens by their cries, to sing now on the left and now on the right. For if every animal moves its body forward, sideways, or backward at will, it bends, twists, extends, and contracts its members as it pleases, and performs these various motions almost mechanically; how much easier it is for such results to be accomplished by a god, whose divine will all things obey! 121. The same power sends us signs, of which history has preserved numerous examples. We find the following omens recorded: when just before sunrise the moon was eclipsed in the sign of Leo, this indicated that Darius and the Persians would be overcome in battle by the Macedonians under Alexander, and that Darius would die.g Again, when a girl was born with two heads, this foretold sedition among the people and seduction and adultery in the home. When a woman dreamed that she had been delivered of a lion, this signified that the country in which she had the dream would be conquered by foreign nations.
“Another instance of a similar kind is related by Herodotus: Croesus’s son, when an infant, spoke, and this prodigy foretold the utter overthrow of his father’s family and kingdom. What history has failed to record the fact that while Servius Tullius slept his head burst into flame? Therefore, just as a man has clear and trustworthy dreams, provided he goes to sleep, not only with his mind prepared by noble thoughts, but also with every precaution taken to induce repose; so, too, he, when awake, is better prepared to interpret truly the messages of entrails, stars, birds, and all other signs, provided his soul is pure and undefiled.
122. “It is the purity of soul, no doubt, that explains that famous utterance which history attributes to Socrates and which his disciples in their books often represent him as repeating: ‘There is some divine influence’ — δαιμόνιον, he called it — ‘which I always obey, though it never urges me on, but often holds me back.’ And it was the same Socrates — and what better authority can we quote? — who was consulted by Xenophon as to whether he should join Cyrus. Socrates, after stating what seemed to him the best thing to do, remarked: ‘But my opinion is only that of a man. In matters of doubt and perplexity I advise that Apollo’s oracle be consulted.’ This oracle was always consulted by the Athenians in regard to the more serious public questions.
123. “It is also related of Socrates that one day he saw his friend Crito with a bandage on his eye. ‘What’s the matter, Crito?’ he inquired. ‘As I was walking in the country the branch of a tree, which had been bent, was released and struck me in the eye.’ ‘Of course,’ said Socrates, ‘for, after I had had divine warning, as usual, and tried to call you back, you did not heed.’ It is also related of him that after the unfortunate battle was fought at Delium under command of Laches, he was fleeing in company with his commander, when they came to a place where three roads met. Upon his refusal to take the road that the others had chosen he was asked the reason and replied: ‘The god prevents me.’ Those who fled by the other road fell in with the enemy’s cavalry. Antipater has gathered a mass of remarkable premonitions received by Socrates, but I shall pass them by, for you know them and it is useless for me to recount them. 124. However, the following utterance of that philosopher, made after he had been wickedly condemned to death, is a noble one — I might almost call it ‘divine’: ‘I am very content to die,’ he said; ‘for neither when I left my home nor when I mounted the platform to plead my cause, did the god give any sign, and this he always does when some evil threatens me.’
“And so my opinion is that the power of divination exists, notwithstanding the fact that those who prophesy by means of art and conjecture are oftentimes mistaken. I believe that, just as men may make mistakes in other callings, so they may in this. It may happen that a sign of doubtful meaning is assumed to be certain or, possibly, either a sign was itself unobserved or one that annulled an observed sign may have gone unnoticed. But, in order to establish the proposition for which I contend it is enough for me to find, not many, but even a few instances of divinely inspired prevision and prophecy. 125. Nay, if even one such instance is found and the agreement between the prediction and the thing predicted is so close as to exclude every semblance of chance or of accident, I should not hesitate to say in such a case, that divination undoubtedly exists and that everybody should admit its existence.
“Wherefore, it seems to me that we must do as Posidonius does and trace the vital principle of divination in its entirety to three sources: first, to God, whose connection with the subject has been sufficiently discussed; secondly to Fate; and lastly, to Nature. Reason compels us to admit that all things happen by Fate. Now by Fate I mean the same that the Greeks call είμαρμένη, that is, an orderly succession of causes wherein cause is linked to cause and each cause of itself produces an effect. That is an immortal truth having its source in all eternity. Therefore nothing has happened which was not bound to happen, and, likewise, nothing is going to happen which will not find in nature every efficient cause of its happening. 126. Consequently, we know that Fate is that which is called, not ignorantly, but scientifically, ‘the eternal cause of things, the wherefore of things past, of things present, and of things to come.’ Hence it is that it may be known by observation what effect will in most instances follow any cause, even if it is not known in all; for it would be too much to say that it is known in every case. And it is probable that these causes of coming events are perceived by those who see them during frenzy or in sleep.
127. “Moreover, since, as will be shown elsewhere, all things happen by Fate, if there were a man whose soul could discern the links that join each cause with every other cause, then surely he would never be mistaken in any prediction he might make. For he who knows the causes of future events necessarily knows what every future event will be. But since such knowledge is possible only to a god, it is left to man to presage the future by means of certain signs which indicate what will follow them. Things which are to be do not suddenly spring into existence, but the evolution of time is like the unwinding of a cable: it creates nothing new and only unfolds each event in its order. This connection between cause and effect is obvious to two classes of diviners: those who are endowed with natural divination and those who know the course of events by the observation of signs. They may not discern the causes themselves, yet they do discern the signs and tokens of those causes. The careful study and recollection of those signs, aided by the records of former times, has evolved that sort of divination, known as artificial, which is divination by means of entrails, lightnings, portents, and celestial phenomena.
128. “Therefore it is not strange that diviners have a presentiment of things that exist nowhere in the material world: for all things ‘are,’ though, from the standpoint of ‘time,’ they are not present. As in seeds there inheres the germ of those things which the seeds produce, so in causes are stored the future events whose coming is foreseen by reason or conjecture, or is discerned by the soul when inspired by frenzy, or when it is set free by sleep. Persons familiar with the rising, setting, and revolutions of the sun, moon, and other celestial bodies, can tell long in advance where any one of these bodies will be at a given time. And the same thing may be said of men who, for a long period of time, have studied and noted the course of facts and the connection of events, for they always know what the future will be; or, if that is putting it too strongly, they know in a majority of cases; or, if that will not be conceded either, then, surely, they sometimes know what the future will be. These and a few other arguments of the same kind for the existence of divination are derived from Fate.
129. “Moreover, divination finds another and a positive support in nature, which teaches us how great is the power of the soul when it is divorced from the bodily senses, as it is especially in sleep, and in times of frenzy or inspiration. For, as the souls of the gods, without the intervention of eyes or ears or tongue, understand each other and what each one thinks (hence men, even when they offer silent prayers and vows, have no doubt that the gods understand them), so the souls of men, when released by sleep from bodily chains, or when stirred by inspiration and delivered up to their own impulses, see things that they cannot see when they are mingled with the body. 130. And while it is difficult, perhaps, to apply this principle of nature to explain that kind of divination which we call artificial, yet Posidonius, who digs into the question as deep as one can, thinks that nature gives certain signs of future events. Thus Heraclides of Pontus records that it is the custom of the people of Ceos, once each year, to make a careful observation of the rising of the Dog-star and from such observation to conjecture whether the ensuing year will be healthy or pestilential. For if the star rises dim and, as it were enveloped in a fog, this indicates a thick and heavy atmosphere, which will give off very unwholesome vapors; but if the star appears clear and brilliant, this is a sign that the atmosphere is light and pure and, as a consequence, will be conducive to good health.
131. “Again, Democritus expresses the opinion that the ancients acted wisely in providing for the inspection of the entrails of sacrifices; because, as he thinks, the colorr and general condition of the entrails are prophetic sometimes of health and sometimes of sickness and sometimes also of whether the fields will be barren or productive. Now, if it is known by observation and experience that these means of divination have their source in nature, it must be that the observations made and records kept for a long period of time have added much to our knowledge of this subject. Hence, that natural philosopher introduced by Pacuvius into his play of Chryses, seems to show very scanty apprehension of the laws of nature when he speaks as follows:
The men who know the speech of birds and more
Do learn from other livers than their own —
’Twere best to hear, I think, and not to heed.
I do not know why this poet makes such a statement when only a few lines further on he says clearly enough:
Whate’er the power may be, it animates,
Creates, gives form, increase, and nourishment
To everything: of everything the sire,
It takes all things unto itself and hides
Within its breast; and as from it all things
Arise, likewise to it all things return.
Since all things have one and the same and that a common home, and since the human soul has always been and will always be, why, then, should it not be able to understand what effect will follow any cause, and what sign will precede any event?
This, said Quintus,
is all that I had to say on divination.
132. “I will assert, however, in conclusion, that I do not recognize fortune-tellers, or those who prophesy for money, or necromancers, or mediums, whom your friend Appius makes it a practice to consult.
In fine, I say, I do not care a fig
For Marsian augurs, village mountebanks,
Astrologers who haunt the circus grounds,
Or Isis-seers, or dream interpreters:
— for they are not diviners either by knowledge or skill, —
But superstitious bards, soothsaying quacks,
Averse to work, or mad, or ruled by want,
Directing others how to go, and yet
What road to take they do not know themselves;
From those to whom they promise wealth they beg
A coin. From what they promised let them take
Their coin as toll and pass the balance on.
Such are the words of Ennius who only a few lines further back expresses the view that there are gods and yet says that the gods do not care what human beings do. But for my part, believing as I do that the gods do care for man, and that they advise and often forewarn him, I approve of divination which is not trivial and is free from falsehood and trickery.”
When Quintus had finished I remarked,
My dear Quintus, you have come admirably well prepared.
1. After serious and long continued reflection as to how I might do good to as many people as possible and thereby prevent any interruption of my service to the State, no better plan occurred to me than to conduct my fellow-citizens in the ways of the noblest learning — and this, I believe, I have already accomplished through my numerous books. For example, in my work entitled Hortensius, I appealed as earnestly as I could for the study of philosophy. And in my Academics, in four volumes, I set forth the philosophic system which I thought least arrogant, and at the same time most consistent and refined. 2. And, since the foundation of philosophy rests on the distinction between good and evil, I exhaustively treated that subject in five volumes and in such a way that the conflicting views of the different philosophers might be known. Next, and in the same number of volumes, came the Tusculan Disputations, which made plain the means most essential to a happy life. For the first volume treats of indifference to death, the second of enduring pain, the third of the alleviation of sorrow, the fourth of other spiritual disturbances; and the fifth embraces a topic which sheds the brightest light on the entire field of philosophy since it teaches that virtue is sufficient of itself for the attainment of happiness.
3. After publishing the works mentioned I finished three volumes On the Nature of the Gods, which contain a discussion of every question under that head. With a view of simplifying and extending the latter treatise I started to write the present volume On Divination, to which I plan to add a work on Fate; when that is done every phase of this particular branch of philosophy will be sufficiently discussed. To this list of works must be added the six volumes which I wrote while holding the helm of state, entitled On the Republic — a weighty subject, appropriate for philosophic discussion, and one which has been most elaborately treated by Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, and the entire peripatetic school. What need is there to say anything of my treatise On Consolation? For it is the source of very great comfort to me and will, I think, be of much help to others. I have also recently thrown in that book On Old Age, which I sent my friend Atticus; and, since it is by philosophy that a man is made virtuous and strong, my Cato is especially worthy of a place among the foregoing books. 4. Inasmuch as Aristotle and Theophrastus, too, both of whom were celebrated for their keenness of intellect and particularly for their copiousness of speech, have joined rhetoric with philosophy, it seems proper also to put my rhetorical books in the same category; hence we shall include the three volumes On Oratory, the fourth entitled Brutus, and the fifth called The Orator.
I have named the philosophic works so far written: to the completion of the remaining books of this series I was hastening with so much ardor that if some most grievous cause had not intervened there would not now be any phase of philosophy which I had failed to elucidate and make easily accessible in the Latin tongue. For what greater or better service can I render to the commonwealth than to instruct and train the youth — especially in view of the fact that our young men have gone so far astray because of the present moral laxity that the utmost effort will be needed to hold them in check and direct them in the right way? 5. Of course, I have no assurance — it could not even be expected — that they will all turn to these studies. Would that a few may! Though few, their activity may yet have a wide influence in the state. In fact, I am receiving some reward for my labor even from men advanced in years; for they are finding comfort in my books, and by their ardor in reading are raising my eagerness for writing to a higher pitch every day. Their number, too, I learn, is far greater than I had expected. Furthermore, it would redound to the fame and glory of the Roman people to be made independent of Greek writers in the study of philosophy, 6. and this result I shall certainly bring about if my present plans are accomplished.
The cause of my becoming an expounder of philosophy sprang from the grave condition of the State during the period of the Civil War, when, being unable to protect the Republic, as had been my custom, and finding it impossible to remain inactive, I could find nothing else that I preferred to do that was worthy of me. Therefore my countrymen will pardon me — rather they will thank me — because, when the State was in the power of one man, I refused to hide myself, to quit my place, or to be cast down; I did not bear myself like one enraged at the man or at the times; and, further, I neither so fawned upon nor admired another’s fortune as to repent me of my own.
For one thing in particular I had learned from Plato and from philosophy, that certain revolutions in government are to be expected; so that states are now under a monarchy, now under a democracy, and now under a tyranny. 7. When the last-named fate had befallen my country, and I had been debarred from my former activities, I began to cultivate anew these present studies that by their means, rather than by any other, I might relieve my mind of its worries and at the same time serve my fellow-countrymen as best I could under the circumstances. Accordingly, it was in my books that I made my senatorial speeches and my forensic harangues; for I thought that I had permanently exchanged politics for philosophy. Now, however, since I have begun to be consulted again about public affairs, my time must be devoted to the State, or, rather, my undivided thought and care must be fixed upon it; and only so much time can be given to philosophy as will not be needed in the discharge of my duty to the commonwealth. But more of this at another time; now let us return to the discussion with which we started.
8. After my brother Quintus had delivered his views on divination, as set out in the preceding volume, and we had walked as much as we wished, we took our seats in the library in my
Lyceum, and I remarked:
“Really, my dear Quintus, you have defended the Stoic doctrine with accuracy and like a Stoic. But the thing that delights me most is the fact that you illustrated your argument with many incidents taken from Roman sources — incidents, too, of a distinguished and noble type. I must now reply to what you said, but I must do so with great diffidence and with many misgivings, and in such a way as to affirm nothing and question everything. For if I should assume anything that I said to be certain I should myself be playing the diviner while saying that no such thing as divination exists!
9. “I am impressed with the force of the questions with which Carneades used to begin his discussions: ‘What are the things within the scope of divination? Are they things that are perceived by the senses? But those are things that we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Is there, then, in such objects some quality that we can better perceive with the aid of prophecy and inspiration than we can with the aid of the senses alone? And is there any diviner, anywhere, who, if blind, like Tiresias, could tell the difference between white and black? Or, who, if deaf, could distinguish between different voices and different tones? Now you must admit that divination is not applicable in any case where knowledge is gained through the senses.
“Nor is there any need of divination even in matters within the domain of science and of art. For, when people are sick, we, as a general rule, do not summon a prophet or a seer, but we call in a physician. Again, persons who want to learn to play on the harp or on the flute take lessons, not from a soothsayer, but from a musician. 10. The same rule applies in literature and in other departments of learning. And do you really believe that those who are credited with powers of divining, can, for that reason, tell whether the sun is larger than the earth, and whether it is as big as it seems to be? Or whether the moon shines by its own light or by that of the sun? Or do you think that they understand the motions of the sun and moon and of the five stars, which are called ‘planets’? Your reputed diviners do not claim that they can answer any of these questions; nor will they profess to tell whether geometrical figures are correctly drawn or not, for that is the business of mathematicians, not of seers.
“Now let us consider matters within the purview of philosophy: When the question is as to what is morally right, or morally wrong, or as to what is neither the one nor the other, do we usually have our doubts resolved by diviners? In fact, do we often consult them in such a case? 11. Certainly not, for problems of this kind belong to philosophers. Again, where the question is one of duty: who ever consults a soothsayer as to how he should demean himself towards his parents, his brothers, or his friends? or as to how he should use his wealth, his office, or his power? Such matters are usually referred to sages, not to diviners.
“Furthermore, can any of the questions of dialectic or of physics be solved by divination? For example, is there one world, or are there many worlds? What are the primary elements from which all things are derived? Such problems belong to the science of physics. Again, suppose one should wish to know how to resolve the ‘liar’ fallacy, which the Greeks call ‘ψευδόμενον’; or how to meet the ‘heap’ fallacy, known in Greek as sorites (which, if a Latin equivalent were needed, could be represented by the word acervalis, but none is needed; for, just as the word ‘philosophy’ and many other words are of Greek origin and are in general use as Latin words, so it is with sorites), — in both these cases the logician, and not the diviner, would speak.
“Assume, next, that the inquiry is as to the best form of government, or as to what laws or what customs are beneficial and what are harmful, will you call soothsayers out of Etruria to settle the question, or will you accept the decision of men of eminence chosen for their knowledge of statecraft? 12. But if there is no place for divination in things perceived by the senses, or in those included among the arts, or in those discussed by philosophers, or in those which have to do with government, I see absolutely no need for it anywhere. For either it ought to be of use in every case, or, at least, some department in which it may be employed should be found. But divination is not of use in every case, as my reasoning has shown; nor can any field or subject matter be found over which it may exercise control.
Therefore I am inclined to think that there is no such thing as divination. There is a much-quoted Greek verse to this effect:
The best diviner I maintain to be
The man who guesses or conjectures best.
Mow do you think that a prophet will ‘conjecture’ better whether a storm is at hand than a pilot? or that he will by ‘conjecture’ make a more accurate diagnosis than a physician, or conduct a war with more skill than a general?
13. “But I observed, Quintus, that you prudently withdrew divination from conjectures based upon skill and experience in public affairs, from those drawn from the use of the senses and from those made by persons in their own callings. I observed, also, that you defined divination to be ‘the foreknowledge and foretelling of things which happen by chance.’ In the first place, that is a contradiction of what you have admitted. For the foreknowledge possessed by a physician, a pilot, and a general is of ‘things which happen by chance.’ Then can any soothsayer, augur, prophet, or dreamer conjecture better than a physician, a pilot, or a general that an invalid will come safely out of his sickness, or that a ship will escape from danger, or that an army will avoid an ambuscade?
14. “And you went on to say that even the foreknowledge of impending storms and rains by means of certain signs was not divination, and, in that connection, you quoted a number of verses from my translation of Aratus. Yet such coincidences ‘happen by chance,’ for though they happen frequently they do not happen always. What, then, is this thing you call divination — this ‘foreknowledge of things that happen by chance’ — and where is it employed? You think that ‘whatever can be foreknown by means of science, reason, experience, or conjecture is to be referred, not to diviners, but to experts.’ It follows, therefore, that divination of ‘things that happen by chance’ is possible only of things which cannot be foreseen by means of skill or wisdom. Hence, if someone had declared many years in advance that the famous Marcus Marcellus, who was consul three times, would perish in a shipwreck, this, by your definition, undoubtedly would have been a case of divination, since that calamity could not have been foreseen by means of any other skill or by wisdom. That is why you say that divination is the foreknowledge of such things as depend upon chance.
15. “Can there, then, be any foreknowledge of things for whose happening no reason exists? For we do not apply the words ‘chance,’ ‘luck,’ ‘accident,’ or ‘casualty’ except to an event which has so occurred or happened that it either might not have occurred at all, or might have occurred in any other way. How, then, is it possible to foresee and to predict an event that happens at random, as the result of blind accident, or of unstable chance? 16. By the use of reason the physician foresees the progress of a disease, the general anticipates the enemy’s plans and the pilot forecasts the approach of bad weather. And yet even those who base their conclusions on accurate reasoning are often mistaken: for example, when the farmer sees his olive-tree in bloom he expects also, and not unreasonably, to see it bear fruit, but occasionally he is disappointed. If then mistakes are made by those who make no forecasts not based upon some reasonable and probable conjecture, what must we think of the conjectures of men who foretell the future by means of entrails, birds, portents, oracles, or dreams? I am not ready yet to take up one by one the various kinds of divination and show that the cleft in the liver, the croak of a raven, the flight of an eagle, the fall of a star, the utterances of persons in a frenzy, lots, and dreams have no prophetic value whatever; I shall discuss each of them in its turn — now I am discussing the subject as a whole.
17. “How can anything be foreseen that has no cause and no distinguishing mark of its coming? Eclipses of the sun and also of the moon are predicted for many years in advance by men who employ mathematics in studying the courses and movements of the heavenly bodies; and the unvarying laws of nature will bring their predictions to pass. Because of the perfectly regular movements of the moon the astronomers calculate when it will be opposite the sun and in the earth’s shadow — which is ‘the cone of night’ — and when, necessarily, it will become invisible. For the same reason they know when the moon will be directly between the earth and the sun and thus will hide the light of the sun from our eyes. They know in what sign each planet will be at any given time and at what time each day any constellation will rise and set. You see the course of reasoning followed in arriving at these predictions.
18. “But what course of reasoning is followed by men who predict the finding of a treasure or the inheritance of an estate? On what law of nature do such prophecies depend? But, on the other hand, if the prophecies just mentioned and others of the same class are controlled by some natural and immutable law such as regulates the movements of the stars, pray, can we conceive of anything happening by accident, or chance? Surely nothing is so at variance with reason and stability as chance? Hence it seems to me that it is not in the power even of God himself to know what event is going to happen accidentally and by chance. For if He knows, then the event is certain to happen; but if it is certain to happen, chance does not exist. And yet chance does exist, therefore there is no foreknowledge of things that happen by chance.
19. “But if you deny the existence of chance and assert that the course of everything present or future has been inevitably determined from all eternity, then you must change your definition of divination, which you said was ‘the foreknowledge of things that happen by chance.’ For if nothing can happen, nothing befall, nothing come to pass, except what has been determined from all eternity as bound to happen at a fixed time, how can there be such a thing as chance? And if there is no such thing as chance, what room is there for that divination, which you termed ‘a foreknowledge of things that happen by chance’? And you were inconsistent enough, too, to say that everything that is or will be is controlled by Fate! Why, the very word ‘Fate’ is full of superstition and old women’s credulity, and yet the Stoics have much to say of this Fate of yours. A discussion on Fate is reserved for another occasion; at present I shall speak of it only in so far as it is necessary.
20. “Of what advantage to me is divination if everything is ruled by Fate? On that hypothesis what the diviner predicts is bound to happen. Hence I do not know what to make of the fact that an eagle recalled our intimate friend Deiotarus from his journey; for if he had not turned back he must have been sleeping in the room when it was destroyed the following night, and, therefore, have been crushed in the ruins. And yet, if Fate had willed it, he would not have escaped that calamity; and vice versa. Hence, I repeat, what is the good of divination? Or what is it that lots, entrails, or any other means of prophecy warn me to avoid? For, if it was the will of Fate that the Roman fleets in the First Punic War should perish — the one by shipwreck and the other at the hands of the Carthaginians — they would have perished just the same even if the sacred chickens had made a tripudium solistimum in the consulship of Lucius Junius and Publius Claudius! On the other hand, if obedience to the auspices would have prevented the destruction of the fleets, then they did not perish in accordance with Fate. But you insist that all things happen by Fate; therefore there is no such thing as divination.
21. Again, if it was the will of Fate that the Roman army should perish at Lake Trasimenus in the Second Punic War, could that result have been avoided if the consul Flaminius had obeyed the signs and the auspices which forbade his joining battle? Assuredly not. Therefore, either the army did not perish by the will of Fate, or, if it did (and you are certainly bound as a Stoic to say that it did), the same result would have happened even if the auspices had been obeyed; for the decrees of Fate are unchangeable. Then what becomes of that vaunted divination of you Stoics? For if all things happen by Fate, it does us no good to be warned to be on our guard, since that which is to happen, will happen regardless of what we do. But if that which is to be can be turned aside, there is no such thing as Fate; so, too, there is no such thing as divination — since divination deals with things that are going to happen. But nothing is ‘certain to happen’ which there is some means of dealing with so as to prevent its happening.
22. “And further, for my part, I think that a knowledge of the future would be a disadvantage. Consider, for example, what Priam’s life would have been if he had known from youth what dire events his old age held in store for him! But let us leave the era of myths and come to events nearer home. In my work On Consolation I have collected instances of very grievous deaths that befell some of the most illustrious men of our commonwealth. Passing by men of earlier day, let us take Marcus Crassus. What advantage, pray, do you think it would have been to him, when he was at the very summit of power and wealth, to know that he was destined to perish beyond the Euphrates in shame and dishonor, after his son had been killed and his own army had been destroyed? Or do you think that Gnaeus Pompey would have found joy in his three consulships, in his three triumphs, and in the fame of his transcendent deeds, if he had known that he would be slain in an Egyptian desert, after he had lost his army, and that following his death those grave events would occur of which I cannot speak without tears?
23. “Or what do we think of Caesar? Had he foreseen that in the Senate, chosen in most part by himself, in Pompey’s hall, aye, before Pompey’s very statue, and in the presence of many of his own centurions, he would be put to death by most noble citizens, some of whom owed all that they had to him, and that he would fall to so low an estate that no friend — no, not even a slave — would approach his dead body, in what agony of soul would he have spent his life!
“Of a surety, then, ignorance of future ills is more profitable than the knowledge of them. 24. For, assuming that men knew the future it cannot in any wise be said — certainly not by the Stoics — that Pompey would not have taken up arms, that Crassus would not have crossed the Euphrates, or that Caesar would not have embarked upon the civil war. If so, then, the deaths that befell these men were not determined by Fate. But you will have it that everything happens by Fate; consequently, knowledge of the future would have done these men no good. In reality it would have entirely deprived the earlier portion of their lives of enjoyment; for how could they have been happy in reflecting what their ends would be? And so, however the Stoics turn and twist, all their shrewdness must come to naught. For, if a thing that is going to happen, may happen in one way or another, indifferently, chance is predominant; but things that happen by chance cannot be certain. But if it is certain what is going to befall me in reference to any matter and on every occasion, how do the soothsayers help me by saying that the greatest misfortunes await me?
25. “To the last point the Stoics make the rejoinder that ‘every evil which is going to befall us is made lighter by means of religious rites.’ But if nothing happens except in accordance with Fate, no evil can be made lighter by means of religious rites. Homer shows his appreciation of this fact when he represents Jupiter as complaining because he could not snatch his son Sarpedon from death when Fate forbade. The same thought is expressed in the following verses translated from a Greek poet:
That which has been decreed by Fate to be
Almighty Jove himself cannot prevent.
The whole idea of Fate in every detail is justly, as I think, the subject of derision even in Atellan farces, but in a discussion as serious as ours joking is out of place. So then let us sum up our argument: If it is impossible to foresee things that happen by chance because they are uncertain, there is no such thing as divination; if, on the contrary, they can be foreseen because they are preordained by Fate, still there is no such thing as divination, which, by your definition, deals with ‘things that happen by chance.’ 26. But this introductory part of my discussion has been mere skirmishing with light infantry; now let me come to close quarters and see if I cannot drive in both wings of your argument.
“You divided divination into two kinds, one artificial and the other natural. ‘The artificial, you said, ‘consists in part of conjecture and in part of long-continued observation; while the natural is that which the soul has seized, or, rather, has obtained, from a source outside itself — that is, from God, whence all human souls have been drawn off, received, or poured out.’ Under the head of artificial divination you placed predictions made from the inspection of entrails, those made from lightnings and portents, those made by augurs, and by persons who depend entirely upon premonitory signs. Under the same head you included practically every method of prophecy in which conjecture was employed. 27. Natural divination, on the other hand, according to your view, is the result — ‘the effusion,’ as it were — of mental excitement, or it is the prophetic power which the soul has during sleep while free from bodily sensation and worldly cares. Moreover, you derived every form of divination from three sources — God, Fate, and Nature. And although you could not give a reason for any kind of divination, still you carried on the war by marshalling an astonishing array of examples from fiction. Of such a course I wish to say emphatically that it is not becoming in a philosopher to introduce testimony which may be either true by accident, or false and fabricated through malice. You ought to have employed arguments and reason to show that all your propositions were true and you ought not to have resorted to so-called occurrences — certainly not to such occurrences as are unworthy of belief.
28. “In discussing separately the various methods of divination, I shall begin with soothsaying, which, according to my deliberate judgment, should be cultivated from reasons of political expediency and in order that we may have a state religion. But we are alone and for that reason we may, without causing ill-will, make an earnest inquiry into the truth of soothsaying — certainly I can do so, since in most things my philosophy is that of doubt. In the first place, then, if you please, let us make ‘an inspection’ of entrails! Now can anybody be induced to believe that the things said to be predicted by means of entrails were learned by the soothsayers through ‘long-continued observation’? How long, pray, did the observations last? How could the observations have continued for a long time? How did the soothsayers manage to agree among themselves what part of the entrails was unfavorable, and what part favorable; or what cleft in the liver indicated danger and what promised some advantage? Are the soothsayers of Etruria, Elis, Egypt, and of Carthage in accord on these matters? Apart from such an agreement being impossible in fact, it is impossible even to imagine; and, moreover, we see some nations interpreting entrails in one way and some in another; hence there is no uniformity of practice.
29. “Surely if entrails have any prophetic force, necessarily that force either is in accord with the laws of nature, or is fashioned in some way by the will and power of the gods. But between that divine system of nature whose great and glorious laws pervade all space and regulate all motion what possible connection can there be with — I shall not say the gall of a chicken, whose entrails, some men assert, give very clear indications of the future, but — the liver, heart, and lungs of a sacrificial ox? And what natural quality is there in the entrails which enables them to indicate the future?
30. “Nevertheless Democritus jests rather prettily for a natural philosopher — and there is no more arrogant class — when he says:
No one regards the things before his feet,
But views with care the regions of the sky.
And yet Democritus gives his approval to divination by means of entrails only to the extent of believing that their condition and color indicate whether hay and other crops will be abundant or the reverse, and he even thinks that the entrails give signs of future health or sickness. O happy mortal! He never failed to have his joke — that is absolutely certain. But was he so amused with petty trifles as to fail to see that his theory would be plausible only on the assumption that the entrails of all cattle changed to the same color and condition at the same time? But if at the same instant the liver of one ox is smooth and full and that of another is rough and shrunken, what inference can be drawn from ‘the condition and color of the entrails’?
31. “Equally amusing is your story about Pherecydes, who, after looking at some water just drawn from a well, foretold an earthquake. It would be presumptuous enough, I think, for natural philosophers to attempt to explain the cause of an earthquake after it had happened; but can they actually tell, from looking at fresh water, that an earthquake is going to happen? Such nonsense is often heard in the schools, but one does not have to believe everything one hears. 32. But grant that these absurdities of Democritus are true — when do we ever consult entrails to learn about crops or health, or when have we acquired information on these particulars from a soothsayer after he had made an inspection of entrails? The soothsayers warn us of dangers by fire and flood and sometimes they prophesy the inheritance, sometimes the loss, of money: they discuss the favorable and the unfavorable cleft; they view the head of the liver with the utmost care from every side. If, perchance, the liver’s head should be wanting they regard it as the most unpropitious sign that could have happened.
33. “Such signs, as I have shown before, certainly could not come within your classification of the kinds of divination ‘dependent on observation.’ Therefore they are not the result of immemorial usage, but they are the inventions of art — if there can be any art in the occult. But what relationship have they with the laws of nature? Assuming that all the works of nature are firmly bound together in a harmonious whole (which, I observe, is the view of the natural philosophers and especially of those men who maintain that the universe is a unit), what connection can there be between the universe and the finding of a treasure? For instance, if the entrails foretell an increase in my fortune and they do so in accordance with some law of nature, then, in the first place, there is some relationship between them and the universe, and in the second place, my financial gain is regulated by the laws of nature. Are not the natural philosophers ashamed to utter such nonsense? And yet a certain contact between the different parts of nature may be admitted and I concede it. The Stoics have collected much evidence to prove it. They claim, for example, that the livers of mice become larger in winter; that the dry pennyroyal blooms the very day of the winter solstice, and that its seed-pods become inflated and burst and the seeds enclosed thither are sent in various directions; that at times when certain strings of the lyre are struck others sound; that it is the habit of oysters and of all shell-fish to grow with the growth of the moon and to become smaller as it wanes; and that trees are considered easiest to cut down in winter and in the dark of the moon, because they are then free from sap.
34. “There is no need to go on and mention the seas and straits with their tides, whose ebb and flow are governed by the motion of the moon. Innumerable instances of the same kind may be given to prove that some natural connection does exist between objects apparently unrelated. Concede that it does exist; it does not contravene the point I make, that no sort of a cleft in a liver is prophetic of financial gain. What natural tie, or what ‘symphony,’ so to speak, or association, or what ‘sympathy,’ as the Greeks term it, can there be between a cleft in a liver and a petty addition to my purse? Or what relationship between my miserable money-getting, on the one hand, and heaven, earth, and the laws of nature on the other?
“However, I will concede even this if you wish, though it will greatly weaken my case to admit that there is any connection between nature and the condition of the entrails; 35. yet, suppose the concession is made, how is it brought about that the man in search of favorable signs will find a sacrifice suitable to his purpose? I thought the question insoluble. But what a fine solution is offered! I am not ashamed of you — I am actually astonished at your memory; but I am ashamed of Chrysippus, Antipater, and Posidonius who say exactly what you said: ‘The choice of the sacrificial victim is directed by the sentient and divine power which pervades the entire universe.’
“But even more absurd is that other pronouncement of theirs which you adopted: ‘At the moment of sacrifice a change in the entrails takes place; something is added or something taken away; for all things are obedient to the Divine Will.’ 36. Upon my word, no old woman is credulous enough now to believe such stuff! Do you believe that the same bullock, if chosen by one man, will have a liver without a head, and if chosen by another will have a liver with a head? And is it possible that this sudden going or coming of the liver’s head occurs so that the entrails may adapt themselves to the situation of the person who offers the sacrifice? Do you Stoics fail to see in choosing the victim it is almost like a throw of the dice, especially as facts prove it? For when the entrails of the first victim have been without a head, which is the most fatal of all signs, it often happens that the sacrifice of the next victim is altogether favorable. Pray what became of the warnings of the first set of entrails? And how was the favor of the gods so completely and so suddenly gained?
“But, you say, ‘Once, when Caesar was offering a sacrifice, there was no heart in the entrails of the sacrificial bull; and, and, since it would have been impossible for the victim to live without a heart, the heart must have disappeared at the moment of immolation.’ 37. How does it happen that you understand the one fact, that the bull could not have lived without a heart and do not realize the other, that the heart could not suddenly have vanished I know not where? As for me, possibly I do not know what vital function the heart performs; if I do I suspect that the bull’s heart, as the result of a disease, became much wasted and shrunken and lost its resemblance to a heart. But, assuming that only a little while before the heart was in the sacrificial bull, why do you think it suddenly disappeared at the very moment of immolation? Don’t you think, rather, that the bull lost his heart when he saw that Caesar in his purple robe had lost his head?
“Upon my word you Stoics surrender the very city of philosophy while defending its outworks! For, by your insistence on the truth of soothsaying, you utterly overthrow physiology. There is a head to the liver and a heart in the entrails, presto! they will vanish the very second you have sprinkled them with meal and wine! Aye, some god will snatch them away! Some invisible power will destroy them or eat them up! Then the creation and destruction of all things are not due to nature, and there are some things which spring from nothing or suddenly become nothing. Was any such statement ever made by any natural philosopher? ‘It is made,’ you say, ‘by soothsayers.’ Then do you think that soothsayers are worthier of belief than natural philosophers?
38. “Again, when sacrifices are offered to more than one god at the same time, how does it happen that the auspices are favorable in one case and unfavorable in another? Is it not strange fickleness in the gods to threaten disaster in the first set of entrails and to promise a blessing in the next? Or is there such discord among the gods — often even among those who are nearest of kin — that the entrails of the sacrifice you offer to Apollo, for example, are favorable and of those you offer at the same time to Diana are unfavorable? When victims for the sacrifice are brought up at haphazard it is perfectly clear that the character of entrails that you will receive will depend on the victim chance may bring. Oh! but someone will say, ‘The choice itself is a matter of divine guidance, just as in the case of lots the drawing is directed by the gods!’ I shall speak of lots presently; although you really do not strengthen the cause of sacrifices by comparing them to lots; but you do weaken the cause of lots by comparing them with sacrifices. 39. When I send a slave to Aequimelium to bring me a lamb for a sacrifice and he brings me the lamb which has entrails suited to the exigencies of my particular case, it was not chance, I suppose, but a god that led the slave to that particular lamb! If you say that in this case too chance is, as it were, a sort of lot in accordance with the divine will, then I am sorry that our Stoic friends have given the Epicureans so great an opportunity for laughter, for you know how much fun they make of statements like that.
40. “And they can laugh with the better grace because Epicurus, to make the gods ridiculous, represents them as transparent, with the winds blowing through them, and living between two worlds (as if between our two groves) from fear of the downfall. He further says that the gods have limbs just as we have, but make no use of them. Hence, while he takes a roundabout way to destroy the gods, he does not hesitate to take a short road to destroy divination. At any rate Epicurus is consistent, but the Stoics are not; for his god, who has no concern for himself or for anybody else, cannot impart divination to men. And neither can your Stoic god impart divination, although he rules the world and plans for the good of mankind. 41. Why then do you Stoics involve yourselves in these sophistries, which you can never explain? Members of your school, when they are more hurried than usual, generally give us this syllogism: ‘If there are gods, there is divination; but there are gods, therefore there is divination.’ A more logical one would be this: ‘There is no divination, therefore there are no gods.’ Observe how rashly they commit themselves to the proposition, ‘if there is no divination, there are no gods.’ I say ‘rashly,’ for it is evident that divination has been destroyed and yet we must hold on to the gods.
42. “In demolishing divination by means of entrails we have utterly demolished the soothsayer’s art; for the same fate awaits divination by means of lightnings and portents. According to your view, long-continued observation is employed in the case of lightnings, and reason and conjecture are generally employed in the case of portents. But what is it that has been observed in the case of lightnings? The Etruscans divided the sky into sixteen parts. Of course it was easy enough for them to double the four parts into which we divide it and then double that total and tell from which one of those divisions a bolt of lightning had come. In the first place, what difference does its location make? and, in the second place, what does it foretell? It is perfectly evident that, out of the wonder and fear excited in primitive man by lightning and thunderbolts, sprang his belief that those phenomena were caused by omnipotent Jove. And so we find it recorded in our augural annals: ‘When Jove thunders or lightens it is impious to hold an election.’ 43. This was ordained, perhaps, from reasons of political expediency; for our ancestors wished to have some excuse for not holding elections sometimes. And so lightning is an unfavorable sign only in case of an election; in all other cases we consider it the best of auspices, if it appears on the left side. But I shall speak of auspices in another connection — now I am going to discuss lightnings.
“There is, then, no statement less worthy of a natural philosopher than that anything can be foretold with a certainty by uncertain signs. Of course I do not think you are credulous enough to believe that Jove’s thunderbolt was made on Mount Aetna by the Cyclopes. 44. For if he had but one bolt his hurling it so often would be strange. Nor would he be able to give men so many advices by thunderbolts as to what they should or should not do. But the Stoics account for the thunderbolt thus: ‘When the cold exhalations from the earth begin to circulate they become winds; when these winds enter a cloud they begin to break up and scatter its thinnest portions; if they do this very rapidly and with great violence, thunder and lightning are thereby produced. Again, when clouds collide their heat is forcibly driven out and the thunderbolt is the result.’ Realizing, then, that these phenomena are due to natural causes, and happen without regularity and at no certain time, shall we look to them for signs of future events? It is passing strange, if Jupiter warns us by means of thunderbolts, that he sends so many to no purpose! 45. What, for example, is his object in hurling them into the middle of the sea? or, as he so often does, on to the tops of lofty mountains? Why, pray, does he waste them in solitary deserts? And why does he fling them on the shores of peoples who do not take any notice of them?
20 “Oh! but you say, ‘the head was found in the Tiber.’ As if I contended that your soothsayers were devoid of art! My contention is that there is no divination. By dividing the heavens in the manner already indicated and by noting what happened in each division the soothsayers learn whence the thunderbolt comes and whither it goes, but no method can show that the thunderbolt has any prophetic value. However, you array those verses of mine against me:
For high-thundering Jove, as he stood on starry Olympus,
Hurtled his blows at the temples and monuments raised in his honor,
And on the Capitol’s site unloosed the bolts of his lightning.
‘Then,’ the poem goes on to say, ‘the statue of Natta, the images of the gods and the piece representing Romulus and Remus, with their wolf-nurse, were struck by a thunderbolt and fell to the ground. The prophecies made by the soothsayers from these events were fulfilled to the letter.’ 46. Besides, you quote me as authority for the remarkable fact that, at the very time when proof of the conspiracy was being presented to the Senate, the statue of Jupiter, which had been contracted for two years before, was being erected on the Capitol.
“‘Will you then’ — for thus you pleaded with me — ‘will you then persuade yourself to take sides against me in this discussion, in the face of your own writings and of your own practice?’ You are my brother and on that account I shrink from recrimination. But what, pray, is causing you distress in this matter? Is it the nature of the subject? Or is it my insistence on finding out the truth? And so I waive your charge of my inconsistency — I am asking you for an explanation of the entire subject of soothsaying. But you betook yourself to a strange place of refuge. You knew that you would be in straits when I asked your reason for each kind of divination, and, hence, you had much to say to this effect: ‘Since I see what divination does I do not ask the reason or the cause why it does it. The question is, what does it do? not, why does it do it?’ As if I would grant either that divination accomplished anything, or that it was permissible for a philosopher not to ask why anything happened! 47. It was in that same connection that you brought force my Prognostics and some samples of herbs — the scammony and aristolochia root — saying that you could see their virtue and effect but did not know the cause.
“But your illustrations are not pertinent at all. For example, the causes of meteorological phenomena have been investigated by Boëthus the Stoic, whom you mentioned, and by our friend Posidonius; and even if the causes are not discovered by them, yet the phenomena themselves are capable of observation and study. But what opportunity was there for long-continued observation in the case where Natta’s statue and the brazen tablets of laws were struck by lightning? ‘The Nattas,’ you say, ‘were of the Pinarian gens and of noble birth, therefore danger was to be expected from the nobility.’ So clever of Jupiter to devise such a means to warn us of danger! ‘The statue of the infant Romulus,’ you observe, ‘was struck by a thunderbolt; hence danger was thereby predicted to the city which he founded.’ How wise of Jupiter to use signs in conveying information to us! Again, you say, ‘Jupiter’ statue was being set up at the very time the conspiracy was being exposed.’ You, of course, prefer to attribute this coincidence to a divine decree rather than to chance. The man to whom Cotta and Torquatus let the contract for the statue did not, I presume, delay the completion of his work either from lack of energy or from lack of funds, but his hand was stayed till the appointed hour by the immortal gods!
48. “I am not a hopeless sceptic on the subject of such warnings really being sent by the gods; however, I do not know that they are and I want to learn the actual facts from you. Again, when certain other events occurred as they had been foretold by diviners and I attributed the coincidence to chance, you talked a long time about chance. You said, for example, ‘For the Venus-throw to result from one cast of the four dice might be due to chance; but if a hundred Venus-throws resulted from one hundred casts this could not be due to chance.’ In the first place I do not know why it could not; but I do not contest the point, for you are full of the same sort of examples — like that about the scattering of the paints and that one about the hog’s snout, and you had very many other examples besides. You also mentioned that myth from Carneades about the head of Pan — as if the likeness could not have been the result of chance! and as if every block of marble did not necessarily have within it heads worthy of Praxiteles! For his masterpieces were made by chipping away the marble, not by adding anything to it; and when, after much chipping, the lineaments of a face were reached, one then realized that the work now polished and complete had always been inside the block. 49. Therefore, it is possible that some such figure as Carneades described did spontaneously appear in the Chian quarries. On the other hand, the story may be untrue. Again, you have often noticed clouds take the form of a lion or a hippocentaur. Therefore it is possible for chance to imitate reality, and this you just now denied.
“But since entrails and lightnings have been sufficiently discussed it remains for us to examine portents, if we are to treat soothsaying in its entirety. You spoke of a mule bearing a colt. Such an event excites wonder because it seldom occurs; but if it had been impossible it would not have occurred. And it may be urged with effect against all portents that the impossible never has happened and that the possible need not excite any wonder. Now, in case of some new occurrence, ignorance of its cause is what excites our wonder; whereas, the same ignorance as to things of frequent occurrence does not. For the man who marvels that a mule has foaled does not understand how a mare foals and is ignorant of animal parturition in general. What he sees frequently causes him no astonishment even though he does not know how it happened. If something happens which he never saw before he considers it a portent. Then, which is the portent — the mule’s conception or its parturition? 50. The conception, it may be, is contrary to the usual course of nature, but the parturition follows as a necessary sequel of conception.
“It seems useless to say more about soothsaying. However, let us examine its origin and thus we shall very readily determine its value. The tradition is that, once upon a time, in the district of Tarquinii, while a field was being ploughed, the ploughshare went deeper than usual and a certain Tages suddenly sprang forth and spoke to the ploughman. Now this Tages, according to the Etruscan annals, is said to have had the appearance of a boy, but the wisdom of a seer. Astounded and much frightened at the sight, the rustic raised a great cry; a crowd gathered and, indeed, in a short time, the whole of Etruria assembled at the spot. Tages then spoke at length to his numerous hearers, who received with eagerness all that he had to say, and committed it to writing. His whole address was devoted to an exposition of the science of soothsaying. Later, as new facts were learned and tested by reference to the principles imparted by Tages, they were added to the original fund of knowledge.
“This is the story as we get it from the Etruscans themselves and as their records preserve it, and this, in their own opinion, is the origin of their art. 51. Now do we need a Carneades or an Epicurus to refute such nonsense? Who in the world is stupid enough to believe that anybody ever ploughed up — which shall I say — a god or a man? If a god, why did he, contrary to his nature, hide himself in the ground to be uncovered and brought to the light of day by a plough? Could not this so-called god have delivered this art to mankind from a more exalted station? But if this fellow Tages was a man, pray, how could he have lived covered with earth? Finally, where had he himself learned the things he taught others? But really in spending so much time in refuting such stuff I am more absurd than the very people who believe it.
“But indeed, that was quite a clever remark which Cato made many years ago: ‘I wonder,’ said he, ‘that a soothsayer doesn’t laugh when he sees another soothsayer.’ 52. For how many things predicted by them really come true? If any do come true, then what reason can be advanced why the agreement of the event with the prophecy was not due to chance? While Hannibal was in exile at the court of King Prusias he advised the king to go to war, but the king replied, ‘I do not dare, because the entrails forbid.’ ‘And do you,’ said Hannibal, ‘put more reliance in piece of ox-meat than you do in a veteran commander?’ Again, when Caesar himself was warned by a most eminent soothsayer not to cross over to Africa before the winter solstice, did he not cross? If he had not done so all the forces opposed to him would have effected a junction. Why need I give instances — and, in fact, I could give countless ones — where the prophecies of soothsayers either were without result or the issue was directly the reverse of the prophecy? 53. Ye gods, how many times were they mistaken in the late civil war! What oracular messages the soothsayers sent from Rome to our Pompeian party then in Greece! What assurances they gave to Pompey! For he placed great reliance in divination by means of entrails and portents. I have no wish to call these instances to mind, and indeed it is unnecessary — especially to you, since you had personal knowledge of them. Still, you are aware that the result was nearly always contrary to the prophecy. But enough on this point: let us now come to portents.
54. “You have cited many instances of portents from the verses which I wrote during my consulship; you adduced many others which occurred prior to the Marsian War and which are included in Sisenna’s compilation, and you mentioned a great number which are recorded by Callisthenes and which preceded the unfortunate battle of the Spartans at Leuctra. I shall, of course, speak of each of these instances separately, in so far as they require notice; but I must first discuss portents generally. Now, what is the nature of these intimations, or of this advance-information, as it were, sent out by the gods to apprise us of coming disasters? In the first place, why do immortal gods see fit to give us warning which we can’t understand without the aid of interpreters? In the next place, why do they warn us of things which we cannot avoid? Why, even a mortal, if he has a proper sense of duty, does not warn his friends of imminent disasters which can in no way be escaped. Physicians, for example, although they know many times that their patients are going to die of a present disease, yet never tell them so; for a forewarning of an evil is justified only when to the warning is joined a means of escape. 55. However, then, did portents of their interpreters help the Spartans of long ago, or our Pompeian friends in more recent times? If these signs you speak of are to be considered as sent by the gods, why were they so obscure? For, if we had the right to know what was going to happen, it should have been stated to us clearly: or, if the gods did not wish us to know, they should not have told us — even in riddles.
“Now every sort of conjecture — and divination depends on conjecture — is often applied by the wit of man to many different and even contradictory uses. As in judicial causes the prosecutor draws one inference and the lawyer for the defendant another from the same set of facts, and yet the inferences of both are plausible; so, in all investigations in which it is customary to employ conjecture, ambiguity is found. Moreover, in the case of things that happen now by chance now in the usual course of nature (sometimes too mistakes are caused by taking appearance for reality), it is the height of folly to hold the gods as the direct agents and not to inquire into the causes of such things.
56. “You believe that the Boeotian bards at Lebadia foretold victory for the Thebans from the crowing of cocks; for cocks, you say, are wont to be silent when defeated and to crow when victorious. Do you really believe that Jupiter would have employed chickens to convey such a message to so great a state? And is it true that these fowls are not accustomed to crow except when they are victorious? But at that time they did crow and they had not yet been victorious. ‘Oh! that was a
portent, ’ you say. A fine portent indeed! you talk as if a fish and not a cock had done the crowing! But come; is there any time, day or night, when they are not liable to crow? And if the pleasant sensation — or ‘joy’ if you will — which comes from victory causes them to crow, then, possibly, joy springing from some other source may have the same effect. 57. By the way, Democritus gives a very good explanation of why cocks crow before day. ‘Their food,’ he says, ‘after it has been digested, is expelled from the craw and is distributed over the entire body. By the time that process is completed they have had sleep enough and begin to crow.’ And then, ‘in the silence of the night,’ as Ennius says, ‘they indulge their russet throats in song and beat their flapping wings.’ In view, then, of the fact that this creature is prone to crow of its own volition at any time, and may be made to crow either by nature or by chance, how did it ever occur to Callisthenes to say that the gods conveyed prophecies to men by the crowing of cocks?
58. “‘Reports,’ you say, ‘were made to the Senate that there was a shower of blood, that the river Atratus actually flowed with blood and that the statues of the gods dripped with sweat.’ You do not think for a moment that Thales, Anaxagoras, or any other natural philosopher would have believed such reports? Sweat and blood you may be sure do not come except from animate bodies. An effect strikingly like blood is produced by the admixture of water with certain kinds of soil; and the moisture which forms on the outside of objects, as we see it on our plastered walls when the south wind blows, seems to resemble sweat. Such occurrences, which in time of war appear to the timid to be most frequent and most real, are scarcely noticed in times of peace. Moreover, in periods of fear and of danger stories of portents are not only more readily believed, but they are invented with greater impunity. 59. But are we simple and thoughtless enough to think it a portent for mice to gnaw something, when gnawing is their one business in life? ‘But,’ you say, ‘the fact that just before the Marsian War mice gnawed the shields at Lanuvium was pronounced by the soothsayers to be a very direful portent.’ As if it mattered a whit whether mice, which are gnawing something day and night, gnawed shields or sieves! Hence, by the same token, the fact that, at my house, mice recently gnawed my Plato’s Republic should fill me with alarm for the Roman republic; or if they had gnawed my Epicurus On Pleasure I should have expected a rise in the market price of food!
60. “Are we going to be frightened at these tales of portents, whether of animal or of human birth? Not to be too verbose, all portents have one and the same explanation and it is this: whatever comes into existence, of whatever kind, must needs find its cause in nature; and hence, even though it may be contrary to experience, it cannot be contrary to nature. Therefore, explore the cause, if you can, of every strange thing that the excites your astonishment. If you do not find the cause be assured, nevertheless, that nothing could have happened without a cause, and employ the principles of natural philosophy to banish the fear which the novelty of the apparition may have occasioned. Then no earthquake or opening of the heavens, no showers of stones or blood, no shooting stars, or comets, will fill you with alarm.
61. “If I were to ask Chrysippus the causes of all the phenomena just mentioned, that distinguished writer on divination would never say that they happened by chance, but he would find an explanation for each of them in the laws of nature. For he would say: ‘Nothing can happen without a cause; nothing actually happens that cannot happen; if that has happened which could have happened, then it should not be considered a portent; therefore there are no such things as portents.’ Now if a thing is to be considered a portent because it is seldom seen, then a wise man is a portent; for, as I think, it oftener happens that a mule brings forth a colt than that nature produces a sage. Chrysippus, in this connection, gives the following syllogism: ‘That which could not have happened never did happen; and that which could have happened is no portent; therefore, in any view, there is no such thing as a portent.’ 62. This is illustrated by the story of a clever response made by a certain diviner and interpreter of portents. A man referred to him for interpretation as a portent the fact that a snake was seen at his house, coiled about a beam. ‘That was not a portent,’ said the diviner; ‘it would have been if the beam had been wrapped around the snake.’ By this answer he said plainly enough: ‘Nothing that can happen is to be considered a portent.’
“You refer to a letter, written by Gaius Gracchus to Marcus Pomponius, stating that Tiberius Gracchus, father of Gaius, caught two snakes in his house and called together the soothsayers. And why a conference about snakes rather than about lizards or mice? You answer, ‘Because we see lizards and mice every day; snakes we do not.’ As if it makes any difference how often a thing happens if it can happen at all! And yet what surprises me is this: If the release of the female snake was to be fatal to Tiberius Gracchus and that of the male was to be the death of Cornelia, why in the world did he let either snake escape? For Gaius in his letter does not state that the soothsayers expressed any opinion as to the result if neither snake had been released. ‘Be that as it may,’ you reply, ‘death overtook Gracchus.’ That is granted, but his death was caused by some very serious illness and not by the release of the snake. Besides, soothsayers are not so unlucky that their predictions never come true — even by accident!
63. “I should, of course, marvel at that famous story you got out of Homer about Calchas predicting the years of the Trojan War from the number of sparrows — if I believed it! In a leisure moment I thus translated what Agamemnon in Homer says about this prophecy:
Be patient, men; with fortitude endure
Your grievous tasks till we can ascertain
If what our Calchas prophesies be true,
Or only idle fancies of his breast
For all who have not left the light of day,
In gloomy shades to dwell, retain these signs
Imprinted on their minds. When Aulis first
Was decked with Grecian fleets, which carried death
For Priam, ruin for Troy, we stood about
The fountains cool and sought to please the gods
With gold-crowned bulls on smoking altars laid.
Beneath the plane-tree’s shade, whence gushed a spring,
We saw a frightful dragon, huge of size,
With mighty folds, forth from an altar come,
By Jove impelled. It seized some sparrows hid
Within the plane-tree’s leafy boughs and eight
Devoured; the ninth — the mother bird — began
To flutter round and utter plaintive cries:
From her the cruel beast her vitals tore.
64. Now when the mother and her tender brood
Were slain, the son of Saturn who had sent
The dragon forth, took it away; and then
Did change its form into enduring stone.
In fear we stood and watched the monster strange,
As midst the altars of the gods it moved.
Then Calchas, full occurring, thus did speak:
‘Why paralysed with sudden fear, O Greeks?
These signs divine were sent by Jove himself.
And though these tardy signs were long delayed,
Their fame and glory will for ever live.
The number of the birds ye saw destroyed
By horrid tooth, portends how many years
Of war we shall endure in front of Troy.
The tenth year Troy will fall and then her fate
Will satisfy the Greeks.’ Thus Calchas spoke
And what he prophesied ye see fulfilled.
65. But, pray, by what principle of augury does he deduce years rather than months or days from the number of sparrows? Again, why does he base his prophecy on little sparrows which are not abnormal sights and ignore the alleged fact — which is impossible — that the dragon was turned to stone? Finally, what is there about a sparrow to suggest ‘years’? In connection with your story of the snake which appeared to Sulla when he was offering sacrifices, I recall two facts: first, that when Sulla offered sacrifices, as he was about to begin his march against the enemy, a snake came out from under the altar; and, second, that the glorious victory won by him that day was due not to the soothsayer’s art, but to the skill of the general.
66. “There is nothing remarkable about the so-called portents of the kind just mentioned; but after they have happened they are brought within the field of prophecy by some interpretation Take, for example, your stories of the grains of wheat heaped into the mouth of Midas when a boy, and of the bees which settled on the lips of Plato, when he was a child — they are more remarkable as guesses than as real prophecies. Besides, the incidents may have been fictitious; if not, then the fulfilment of the prophecy may have been accidental. As to that incident about Roscius it may, of course, be untrue that a snake coiled itself around him; but it is not so surprising that a snake was in his cradle — especially in Solonium where snakes are attracted in large numbers by the heat of the fireplaces. As to your statement that the soothsayers prophesied a career of unrivalled brilliancy for Roscius, it is a strange thing to me that the immortal gods foretold the glory of a future actor and did not foretell that of Africanus!
67. And you have even collected the portent-stories connected with Flaminius: ‘His horse,’ you say, ‘stumbled and fell with him.’ That is very strange, isn’t it? And, ‘The standard of the first company could not be pulled up.’ Perhaps the standard-bearer had planted it stoutly and pulled it up timidly. What is astonishing in the fact that the horse of Dionysius came up out of the river, or that it had bees in its mane? And yet, because Dionysius began to reign a short time later — which was a mere coincidence — the event referred to is considered a portent! ‘The arms sounded,’ you say, ‘in the temple of Hercules in Sparta; the folding-doors of the same god at Thebes, though securely barred, opened of their own accord, and the shields hanging upon the walls of that temple fell to the ground.’ Now since none of these things could have happened without some exterior force, why should we say that they were brought about by divine agency rather than by chance?
68. “You mention the appearance — a ‘sudden’ appearance it was — of a crown of wild herbs on the head of Lysander’s statue at Delphi. Really? And do you think the crown of herbs appeared before their seeds were formed? Besides, the wild herbs, in my opinion, came from seeds brought by birds and were not planted by human agency. Again, imagination can make anything on top of a head look like a crown. ‘At the same time,’ you say, ‘the golden stars in the temple of Castor and Pollux at Delphi fell down and were nowhere to be found.’ That appears to me to have been the work of thieves rather than of gods. 69. I am indeed astonished that Greek historians should have recorded the mischievous pranks of the Dodonean ape. For what is less strange than for this hideous beast to have turned over the vase and scattered the lots? And yet the historians declare that no portent more direful than this ever befell the Spartans!
“You spoke also of the Veientine prophecy that ‘if Lake Albanus overflowed and emptied into the sea, Rome would fall, but if held in check Veii would fall.’ Well, it turned out that the water from the lake was drawn off — but it was drawn off through irrigation ditches — not to save the Capitol and the city, but to improve the farming lands. ‘And, not long after this occurred, a voice was heard,’ you say, ‘warning the people to take steps to prevent the capture of Rome by the Gauls. Therefore an altar was erected on the Nova Via in honor of Aius the Speaker.’ But why? Did your ‘Aius the Speaker,’ before anybody knew who he was, both speak and talk and from that fact receive his name? And after he had secured a seat, an altar, and a name did he become mute? Your Juno Moneta may likewise be dismissed with a question: What did she ever admonish us about except the pregnant sow?
70. “Enough has been said of portents; auspices remain and so do lots — I mean ‘lots’ that are drawn, and not those uttered by prophets, and more correctly styled ‘oracles.’ I shall speak of oracles when I get to natural divination. In addition I must discuss the Chaldeans. But first let us consider auspices. ‘To argue against auspices is a hard thing,’ you say, ‘for an augur to do.’ Yes, for a Marsian, perhaps; but very easy for a Roman. For we Roman augurs are not the sort who foretell the future by observing the flights of birds and other signs. And yet, I admit that Romulus, who founded the city by the direction of auspices, believed that augury was an art useful in seeing things to come — for the ancients had erroneous views on many subjects. But we see that the art has undergone a change, due to experience, education, or the long lapse of time. However, out of respect for the opinion of the masses and because of the great service to the State we maintain the augural practices, discipline, religious rites and laws, as well as the authority of the augural college.
71. “In my opinion the consuls, Publius Claudius and Lucius Junius, who set sail contrary to the auspices, were deserving of capital punishment; for they should have respected the established religion and should not have treated the customs of their forefathers with such shameless disdain. Therefore it was a just retribution that the former was condemned by a vote of the people and that the latter took his own life. ‘Flaminius,’ you say, ‘did not obey the auspices, therefore he perished with his army.’ But a year later Paulus did obey them; and did he not lose his army and his life in the battle of Cannae? Granting that there are auspices (as there are not), certainly those which we ordinarily employ — whether by the tripudium or by the observation of the heavens — are not auspices in any sense, but are the mere ghosts of auspices.
“‘Quintus Fabius, I wish you to assist me at the auspices.’ He answers, ‘I will.’ (In our forefathers’ time the magistrates on such occasions used to call in some expert person to take the auspices — but in these days anyone will do. But one must be an expert to know what constitutes ‘silence,’ for by that term we mean ‘free of every augural defect.’ 72. To understand that belongs to a perfect augur.) After the celebrant has said to his assistant, “Tell me when silence appears to exist,’ the latter, without looking up or about him, immediately replies, ‘Silence appears to exist.’ Then the celebrant says, ‘Tell me when the chickens begin to eat.’ ‘They are eating now,’ is the answer. But what are these birds they are talking about, and where are they? Someone replies, ‘It’s poultry. It’s in a cage and the person who brought it is called
a poulterer, because of his business.’ These, then, are the messengers of Jove! What difference does it make whether they eat or not? None, so far as the auspices are concerned. But, because of the fact that, while they eat, some food must necessarily fall from their mouths and strike upon the ground (terram pavire), — this at first was called terripavium, and later, terripudium; now it is called tripudium — therefore, when a crumb of food falls from a chicken’s mouth a tripudium solistimum is announced to the celebrant.
73. “Then, how can there be anything divine about an auspice so forced and so extorted? That such a practice did not prevail with the augurs of ancient times is proven by an old ruling of our college which says, ‘Any bird may make a tripudium.’ There might be an auspice if the bird were free to show itself outside its cage. In that case it might be called ‘the interpreter and satellite of Jove.’ But now, when shut up inside a cage and tortured by hunger, if it seizes greedily upon its morsel of pottage and something falls from its mouth, do you consider that is an auspice? Or do you believe that this was the way in which Romulus used to take the auspices? 74. Again, do you not think that formerly it was the habit of the celebrants themselves to make observation of the heavens? Now they order the poulterer, and he gives responses! We regard lightning on the left as a most favorable omen for everything except for an election, and this exception was made, no doubt, from reasons of political expediency so that the rulers of the State would be the judges of the regularity of an election, whether held to pass judgments in criminal cases, or to enact laws, or to elect magistrates.
“‘The consuls, Scipio and Figulus,’ you say, ‘resigned their office when the augurs rendered a decision based on a letter written by Tiberius Gracchus, to the effect that those consuls had not been elected according to augural law.’ Who denies that augury is an art? What I deny is the existence of divination. But you say: ‘Soothsayers have the power of divination’; and you mention the fact that, on account of the unexpected death of the person who had suddenly fallen while bringing in the report of the vote of the prerogative century, Tiberius Gracchus introduced the soothsayers into the Senate and they declared that ‘the president’ had violated augural law. 75. Now, in the first place, do not understand that by ‘the president’ they meant the president of the prerogative century, for he was dead; and, moreover, they could have told that by conjecture without the use of divination; or, in the second place, perhaps, they said so by accident which is no wise to be left out of account in cases of this kind. For what could the Etruscan soothsayers have known, either as to whether the tabernaculum had been properly placed, or as to whether the regulations pertaining to the pomerium had been observed? For my part, I agree with Gaius Marcellus, rather than with Appius Claudius — both of whom were my colleagues — and I think that, although in the beginning augural law was established from a belief in divination, yet later it was maintained and preserved from considerations of political expediency.
76. But we shall discuss the latter point at greater length in other discourses; let us dismiss it for the present.
“Now let us examine augury as practised among foreign nations, whose methods are not so artificial as they are superstitious. They employ almost all kinds of birds, we only a few; they regard some signs as favorable, we, others. Deiotarus used to question me a great deal about our system of augury, and I him about that of his country. Ye gods! how much they differed! So much that in some cases they were directly the reverse of each other. He employed auspices constantly, we never do except when the duty of doing so is imposed by a vote of the people. Our ancestors would not undertake any military enterprise without consulting the auspices; but now, for many years, our wars have been conducted by pro-consuls and pro-praetors, who do not have the right to take auspices. 77. Therefore they have no tripudium and they cross rivers without first taking the auspices. What, then, has become of divining by means of birds? It is not used by those who conduct our wars, for they have not the right of auspices. Since it has been withdrawn from use in the field I suppose it is reserved for city use only!
“As to divination ex acuminibus, which is altogether military, it was wholly ignored by that famous man, Marcus Marcellus, who was consul five times and, besides, was a commander-in-chief, as well as a very fine augur. In fact, he used to say that, if he wished to execute some manoeuvre which he did not want interfered with by the auspices, he would travel in a closed litter. His method is of a kind with the advice which we augurs give, that the draught cattle be ordered to be unyoked so as to prevent a iuge auspicium. 78. What else does a refusal to be warned by Jove accomplish except either to prevent an auspice from occurring, or, if it occurs, to prevent it from being seen?
“Your story about Deiotarus is utterly absurd: ‘He did not regret the auspices given him as he was setting out to join Pompey. They caused him to continue in the path of loyalty and friendship to the Roman people and to perform his duty; for he valued his reputation and glory more than kingdom and riches.’ I dare say; but that has nothing to do with auspices. For the crow would not tell Deiotarus that he was doing right in preparing to defend the liberty of the Roman people. He ought to have realized that of himself, and in fact he did. 79. Birds indicate that results will be unfavorable or favorable. In my view of the case Deiotarus employed the auspices of virtue, and virtue bids us not to look to fortune until the claims of honor are discharged. However, if the birds indicated that the issue would be favorable to Deiotarus they certainly deceived him. He fled from the battle with Pompey — a serious situation! He separated from Pompey — an occasion of sorrow! He beheld Caesar at once his enemy and his guest — what could have been more distressing than that? Caesar wrested from him the tetrarchy over the Trocmi and conferred it upon some obscure sycophant of his own from Pergamus; deprived him of Armenia, a gift from the Senate; accepted a most lavish hospitality at the hands of his royal host and left him utterly despoiled. But I wander too far: I must return to the point at issue. If we examine this matter from the standpoint of the results — and that was the question submitted to the determination of the birds — the issue was in no sense favorable to Deiotarus; but if we examine it from the standpoint of duty, he sought information on that score not from the auspices, but from his own conscience.
80. “Then dismiss Romulus’s augural staff, which you say the hottest of fires was powerless to burn, and attach slight importance to the whetstone of Attus Navius. Myths would have no place in philosophy. It would have been more in keeping with your rôle as a philosopher to consider, first, the nature of divination generally, second, its origin, and third, its consistency. What, then, is the nature of an art which makes prophets out of birds that wander aimlessly about — now here, now there — and makes the action or inaction of men depend upon the song or flight of birds? and why was the power granted to some birds to give a favorable omen when on the left side and to others when on the right? Again, however, when, and by whom, shall we say that the system was invented? The Etruscans, it is true, find the author of their system in the boy who was ploughed up out of the ground; but whom have we? Attus Navius? But Romulus and Remus, both of whom, by tradition, were augurs, lived many years earlier. Are we to say that it was invented by the Pisidians, Cilicians, or Phrygians? It is your judgment, then, that those devoid of human learning are the authors of a divine science!
81. “‘But,’ you say, ‘all kings, peoples, and nations employ auspices.’ As if there were anything so absolutely common as want of sense, or as if you yourself in deciding anything would accept the opinion of the mob! How often will you find a man who will say that pleasure is not a good! Most people actually call it the highest good. Then will the Stoics abandon their views about pleasure because the crowd is against them? or do you think that the multitude follows the lead of the Stoics in very many matters? What wonder, then, if in auspices and in every kind of divination weak minds should adopt the superstitious practices which you have mentioned and should be unable to discern the truth? 82. Moreover, there is no uniformity, and no consistent and constant agreement between augurs. Ennius, speaking with reference to the Roman system of augury, said:
Then on the left, from out a cloudless sky,
Jove’s thunder rolled its goodly omen forth.
But Homer’s Ajax, in complaining to Achilles of some ferocious deed or other of the Trojans, speaks in this wise:
For their success Jove thunders on the right.
So we regard signs on the left as best — Greeks and barbarians, those on the right. And yet I am aware that we call favorable signs sinistra, or ‘left-hand’ signs, even though they may be on the right. Undoubtedly our ancestors in choosing the left side and foreign nations the right were both influenced by what experience had shown them was the more favorable quarter in most cases. 83. What a conflict this is! In view, then, of the differences between different nations in the responses, in the manner in which observations are made and in the kinds of birds and signs employed, need I assert that divination is compounded of a little error, a little superstition, and a good deal of fraud?
“And to these superstitions you have actually joined omens! For example: ‘Aemilia told Paulus that Persa was dead and her father accepted this as an omen.’ ‘Caecilia said that she surrendered her seat to her sister’s daughter.’ Then you go on and speak of the order of silence, favete linguis and the ‘prerogative,’ or omen of the elections. This is indeed turning the artillery of one’s eloquence and learning against oneself! For while on the watch for these ‘oracles’ of yours could you be so free and calm of mind that you would have reason and not superstition to guide your course? Now, if a person in the course of his own business or conversation should make some remark, and a word spoken by him happened to apply to what you were doing or thinking, do you really believe that such an accident should cause you either fear or joy? 84. When Marcus Crassus was embarking his army at Brundisium a man who was selling Caunian figs at the harbor, repeatedly cried out ‘Cauneas, Cauneas.’ Let us say, if you will, that this was a warning to Crassus to bid him ‘Beware of going,’ and that if he had obeyed the omen he would not have perished. But if we are going to accept chance utterances of this kind as omens, we had better look out when we stumble, or break a shoe-string, or sneeze!
“Lots and the Chaldean astrologers remain to be discussed before we come to prophets and to dreams. 85. And pray what is the need, do you think, to talk about the casting of lots? It is much like playing at morra, dice, or knuckle-bones, in which recklessness and luck prevail rather than reflection and judgment. The whole scheme of divination by lots was fraudulently contrived from mercenary motives, or as a means of encouraging superstition and error. But let us follow the method used in the discussion of soothsaying and consider the traditional origin of the most famous lots. According to the annals of Praeneste Numerius Suffustius, who was a distinguished man of noble birth, was admonished by dreams, often repeated, and finally even by threats, to split open a flint rock which was lying in a designated place. Frightened by the visions and disregarding the jeers of his fellow-townsmen he set about doing as he had been directed. And so when he had broken open the stone, the lots sprang forth carved on oak, in ancient characters. The site where the stone was found is religiously guarded to this day. It is hard by the statue of the infant Jupiter, who is represented as sitting with Juno in the lap of Fortune and reaching for her breast, and it is held in the highest reverence by mothers.
86. “There is a tradition that, concurrently with the finding of the lots and in the spot where the temple of Fortune now stands, honey flowed from an olive-tree. Now the soothsayers, who had declared that those lots would enjoy an unrivalled reputation, gave orders that a chest should be made from the tree and lots placed in the chest. At the present time the lots are taken from their receptacle if Fortune directs. What reliance, pray, can you put in these lots, which at Fortune’s nod are shuffled and drawn by the hand of a child? And how did they ever get in that rock? Who cut down the oak-tree? and who fashioned and carved the lots? Oh! but somebody says, ‘God can bring anything to pass.’ If so, then I wish he had made the Stoics wise, so that they would not be so pitiably and distressingly superstitious and so prone to believe everything they hear! This sort of divining, however, has now been discarded by general usage. The beauty and age of the temple still preserve the name of the lots of Praeneste — that is, among the common people, 87. for no magistrate and no man of any reputation ever consults them; but in all other places lots have gone entirely out of use. And this explains the remark which, according to Clitomachus, Carneades used to make that he had at no other place seen Fortune more fortunate than at Praeneste. Then let us dismiss this branch of divination.
“Let us come to Chaldean manifestations. In discussing them Plato’s pupil, Eudoxus, whom the best scholars consider easily the first in astronomy, has left the following opinion in writing: ‘No reliance whatever is to be placed in Chaldean astrologers when they profess to forecast a man’s future from the position of the stars on the day of his birth.’ 88. Panaetius, too, who was the only one of the Stoics to reject the prophecies of astrologers, mentions Anchialus and Cassander as the greatest astronomers of his day and states that they did not employ their art as a means of divining, though they were eminent in all other branches of astronomy. Scylax of Halicarnassus, an intimate friend of Panaetius, and an eminent astronomer, besides being the head of the government in his own city, utterly repudiated the Chaldean method of foretelling the future.
89. “But let us dismiss our witnesses and employ reasoning. Those men who defend the natal-day prophecies of the Chaldeans, argue in this way: ‘In the starry belt which the Greeks call the Zodiac there is a certain force of such a nature that every part of that belt affects and changes the heavens in a different way, according to the stars that are in this or in an adjoining locality at a given time. This force is variously affected by those stars which are called ‘planets’ or wandering’ stars. But when they have come into that sign of the Zodiac under which someone is born, or into a sign having some connection with or accord with the natal sign, they form what is called a ‘triangle’ or ‘square.’ Now since, through the procession and retrogression of the stars, the great variety and change of the seasons and of temperature take place, and since the power of the sun produces such results as are before our eyes, they believe that it is not merely probable, but certain, that just as the temperature of the air is regulated by this celestial force, so also children at their birth are influenced in soul and body and by this force their minds, manners, disposition, physical condition, career in life and destinies are determined.
90. “What inconceivable madness! For it is not enough to call an opinion ‘foolishness’ when it is utterly devoid of reason. However, Diogenes the Stoic makes some concessions to the Chaldeans. He says that they have the power of prophecy to the extent of being able to tell the disposition of any child and the calling for which he is best fitted. All their other claims of prophetic powers he absolutely denies. He says, for example, that twins are alike in appearance, but that they generally unlike in career and in fortune. Procles and Eurysthenes, kings of the Lacedaemonians, were twin brothers. 91. But they did not live the same number of years, for the life of Procles was shorter by a year than that of his brother and his deeds were far more glorious. But for my part I say that even this concession which our excellent friend Diogenes makes to the Chaldeans in a sort of collusive way, is in itself unintelligible. For the Chaldeans, according to their own statements, believe that a person’s destiny is affected by the condition of the moon at the time of his birth, and hence they make and record their observations of the stars which anything in conjunction with the moon on his birthday. As a result, in forming their judgments, they depend on the sense of sight, which is the least trustworthy of the senses, whereas they should employ reason and intelligence. For the science of mathematics which the Chaldeans ought to know, teaches us how close the moon comes to the earth, which indeed it almost touches; how far it is from Mercury, the nearest star; how much further yet it is from Venus; and what a great interval separates it from the sun, which is supposed to give it light. The three remaining distances are beyond computation: from the Sun to Mars, from Mars to Jupiter, from Jupiter to Saturn. Then there is the distance from Saturn to the limits of heaven — the ultimate bounds of space. 92. In view, therefore, of these almost limitless distances, what influence can the planets exercise upon the moon, or rather, upon the earth?
“Again, when the Chaldeans say, as they are bound to do, that all persons born anywhere in the habitable earth under the same horoscope, are alike and must have the same fate, is it not evident that these would-be interpreters of the sky are of a class who are utterly ignorant of the nature of the sky? For the earth is, as it were, divided in half and our view limited by those circles which the Greeks call ὁρίζοντες, and which we may in all accuracy term finientes or horizons. Now these horizons vary without limit according to the position of the spectator. Hence, of necessity, the rising and setting of the stars will not occur at the same time for all persons. 93. But if this stellar force affects the heavens now in one way and now in another, how is it possible for this force to operate alike on all persons who are born at the same time, in view of the fact that they are born under vastly different skies? In those places in which we live the Dog-star rises after the solstice, in fact, several days later. But among the Troglodytes, we read, it sets before the solstice. Hence if we should now admit that some stellar influence affects persons who are born upon the earth, then it must be conceded that all persons born at the same time may have different natures owing to the differences in their horoscopes. This is a conclusion by no means agreeable to the astrologers; for they insist that all persons born at the same time, regardless of the place of birth, are born to the same fate.
94. “But what utter madness in these astrologers, in considering the effect of the vast movements and changes in the heavens, to assume that wind and rain and weather anywhere have no effect at birth! In neighboring places conditions in these respects are so different that frequently, for instance, we have one state of weather at Tusculum and another at Rome. This is especially noticeable to mariners who often observe extreme changes of weather take place while they rounding the capes. Therefore, in view of the fact that the heavens are now serene and now disturbed by storms, is it the part of a reasonable man to say that this fact has no natal influence — and of course it has not — and then assert that a natal influence is exerted by some subtle, imperceptible, well-nigh inconceivable force which is due to the condition of the sky, which condition, in turn, is due to the action of the moon and stars?
“Again, is it no small error of judgment that the Chaldeans fail to realize the effect of the parental seed which is an essential element of the process of generation? For, surely, no one fails to see that the appearance and habits, and generally, the carriage and gestures of children are derived from their parents. This would not be the case if the characteristics of children were determined, not by the natural power of heredity, but by the phases of the moon and by the condition of the sky. 95. And, again, the fact that men who were born at the very same instant, are unlike in character, career, and in destiny, makes it very clear that the time of birth has nothing to do in determining man’s course in life. That is, unless perchance we are to believe that nobody else was conceived and born at the very same time that Africanus was. For was there ever anyone like him?
96. “Furthermore, is it not a well-known and undoubted fact that many persons who were born with certain natural defects have been restored completely by Nature herself, after she had resumed her sway, or by surgery or by medicine? For example, some, who were so tongue-tied that they could not speak, have had their tongues set free by a cut from the surgeon’s knife. Many more have corrected a natural defect by intelligent exertion. Demosthenes is an instance: according to the account given by Phalereus, he was unable to pronounce the Greek letter rho, but by repeated effort learned to articulate it perfectly. But if such defects had been engendered and implanted by a star nothing could have changed them. Do not unlike places produce unlike men? It would be an easy matter to sketch rapidly in passing the differences in mind and body which distinguish the Indians from the Persians and the Ethiopians from the Syrians — differences so striking and so pronounced as to be incredible. 97. Hence it is evident that one’s birth is more affected by local environment than by the condition of the moon. Of course, the statement quoted by you that the Babylonians for 470,000 years had taken the horoscope of every child and had tested it by the results, is untrue; for if this had been their habit they would not have abandoned it. Moreover we find no writer who says that the practice exists or who knows that it ever did exist.
“You observe that I am not repeating the arguments of Carneades, but those of Panaetius, the head of the Stoic school. But now on my own initiative I put the following questions: Did all the Romans who fell at Cannae have the same horoscope? Yet all had one and the same end. Were all the men eminent for intellect and genius born under the same star? Was there ever a day when countless numbers were not born? And yet there never was another Homer. 98. Again: if it matters under what aspect of the sky or combination of the stars every animate being is born, then necessarily the same conditions must affect inanimate beings also: can any statement be more ridiculous than that? Be that as it may, our good friend Lucius Tarutius of Firmum, who was steeped in Chaldaic lore, made a calculation, based on the assumption that our city’s birthday was on the Feast of Pales (at which time tradition says it was founded by Romulus), and from that calculation Tarutius even went so far as to assert that Rome was born when the moon was in the sign of Libra and from that fact unhesitatingly prophesied her destiny. 99. What stupendous power delusion has! And was the city’s natal day also subject to the influence of the moon and stars? Assume, if you will, that it matters in the case of a child under what arrangement of the heavenly bodies it draws its first breath, does it also follow that the stars could have had any influence over the bricks and cement of which the city was built? But why say more against a theory which every day’s experience refutes? I recall a multitude of prophecies which the Chaldeans made to Pompey, to Crassus and even to Caesar himself (now lately deceased), to the effect that no one of them would die except in old age, at home and in great glory. Hence it would seem very strange to me should anyone, especially at this time, believe in men whose predictions he sees disproved every day by actual results.
There remain the two kinds of divination which we are said to derive from nature and not from art — vaticination and dreams, — these, my dear Quintus, if agreeable to you, let us now discuss.
Delighted, I assure you, said he,
for I am in entire accord with the views which you have so far expressed. To be quite frank, your argument has merely strengthened the opinion which I already had, for my own reasoning had convinced me that the Stoic view of divination smacked too much of superstition. I was more impressed by the reasoning of the Peripatetics, of Dicaearchus, of ancient times, and of Cratippus, who still flourishes. According to their opinion there is within the human soul some sort of power —
oracular, I might call it — by which the future is foreseen when the soul is inspired by a divine frenzy, or when it is released by sleep and is free to move at will. I should like very much to learn your views of these two classes of divination and by what arguments you disprove them.
101. After this statement had been made by Quintus, I began again, making a new start, so to speak:
“I am well aware, my dear Quintus, that, while you have always felt a doubt about all other kinds of divination, you approve of the two you just mentioned — divination by frenzy and divination by dreams, both of which, it is thought, flow from a soul set free. Let me, then, state my opinion of these two kinds of divination. But, first, let me examine that syllogism of the Stoics and of our friend Cratippus and see how sound it is. You stated the syllogism of Chrysippus, Diogenes, and Antipater in this way:
“‘If there are gods and they do not make clear to man in advance what the future will be, then they do not love man, or they themselves do not know what the future will be; or they think that it is of no advantage to man to know what the future will be; or they think it inconsistent with their dignity to give to man forewarnings of the future; or they, though gods, cannot give signs of human events. 102. But it is not true that the gods do not love us (for they are the friends and benefactors of the human race); nor is it true that they do not know what they themselves have determined and planned; nor is it true that it is of no advantage to us to know what is going to happen (for man would be more prudent if he knew); nor is it true that the gods think it inconsistent with their dignity to give forecasts of the future (for there is no more excellent quality than kindness); nor is it true that they have not the power to know the future; therefore, it is not true that there are gods and yet that they do not give us signs of the future; but there are gods; therefore they give us such signs; and it is not true, if they give us such signs, that they give us no means of understanding those signs, otherwise their signs would be useless; nor, if they give us the means, is it true that there is no divination: therefore divination exists.’
103. “What keen-witted men! With how very few words they think the business dispatched! But to establish their syllogism they take propositions for granted which are not conceded at all; yet a chain of reasoning, to be valid, should proceed from premises which are not doubtful to the conclusion which is in dispute.
“Pray observe the neat way in which Epicurus (whom you Stoics usually call a blundering idiot) proves that what we term ‘the universe’ is infinite. ‘That,’ said he, ‘which is finite has an end.’ Who would deny that? Again, ‘That which has an end is seen from some point outside itself.’ That, too, must be granted. ‘But the universe is not seen from without itself.’ We cannot question the proposition either. ‘Therefore, since it has no end the universe must be infinite.’ 104. You see how Epicurus proceeds from admitted premises to the proposition to be established. But this you Stoic logicians do not do; for you not only do not assume premises which everybody concedes, but you even assume premises which, if granted, do not tend in the least to establish what you wish to prove. For you start with this assumption: ‘If there are gods they are kindly disposed towards men.’ Now who will grant you that? Epicurus? But he says that the gods do not trouble a whit about themselves or about anybody else. Is it our own Ennius? But he says with general approval and applause:
I always said that there were gods on high,
And this I never will neglect to say;
But my opinion is they do not care
What destiny befalls the human race.
To be sure he proceeds to give the reason for his opinion in succeeding lines, but there is no need to repeat them. Enough has been shown to make it clear that your Stoic friends assume as certain what is the subject of doubt and discussion.
105. “But the syllogism goes on to say: ‘The gods are not ignorant of anything, for all things were ordained by them.’ But what a heavy attack is made on this very point by scholars who deny that such and such things were ordained by the immortal gods! ‘But it is to our interest to know what is going to happen.’ Yet Dicaearchus has written a large volume to prove that it is better not to know than to know the future. They say further: ‘It is not inconsistent with the dignity of gods to give knowledge of the future.’ But entirely consistent, I presume, for them to peer into every man’s house to see what he needs! 106. ‘It is not true that the gods cannot know the future.’ But their ability to know is denied by those who maintain that it is not certain what the future will be. Now don’t you see what doubtful premises they assume to be certain and take for granted? Next they hurl this dialectical dart: ‘Therefore it is not true both that there are gods and yet that they do not give signs of the future.’ And of course you think that the matter is now settled. Then they make another assumption: ‘But there are gods.’ Even that is not conceded by everybody. ‘Therefore they give signs of the future.’ Not necessarily so: for they may not give us signs of the future and still be gods. ‘Nor is it true that, if they give such signs, they give no means of interpreting those signs.’ But it may be that they have the means and yet do not impart them to man; for why would they impart them to the Etruscans rather than to the Romans? Again, the Stoics say: ‘If the gods do impart the means, that is divination.’ Grant that they do (which is absurd), what is the good if we do not understand? Their conclusion is: ‘Therefore there is divination.’ Suppose that is their conclusion, still they have not proved it; for, as they themselves have taught us, the truth cannot be proved from false premises. Hence their entire argument falls to the ground.
107. “Now let us come to the argument of that most worthy gentleman, our intimate friend, Cratippus:
“‘Though without eyes,’ he says, ‘it is impossible to perform the act and function of sight, and though the eyes sometimes cannot perform their appointed function, yet when a person has once so employed his eyes as to see things as they are, he has a realization of what correct vision is. Likewise, too, although without the power of divination it is impossible for the act and function of divining to exist, and though one with that power may be mistaken and may make erroneous prophecies, yet to establish the existence of divination it is enough that a single event has been so clearly foretold as to exclude the hypothesis of chance. But there are many such instances; therefore the existence of divination must be conceded.’
“Delightfully and briefly put; but after he has twice made gratuitous assumptions, even though he has found us quite generous in making concessions, yet his further assumption cannot possibly be conceded. 108. He says in substance, ‘If the eyes are sometimes at fault, yet, because they have sometimes seen correctly, the power of sight resides within them; likewise if a person has once foreseen something by means of divination, yet even when he errs in his predictions, he must be held to have the power of divination.’
“Pray point out, my dear Cratippus, the similarity in these propositions of yours. I confess that it is not apparent to me. For the eyes in seeing correctly employ a sense conferred by nature; while the soul, if it ever has a true vision of the future, whether by vaticination or by dreams, relies upon luck or chance. This you must admit unless, perchance, you think that those who consider dreams as dreams and nothing more, are going to concede that the fulfilment of any dream was ever due to anything but luck. While we may grant your two major premises, — these the Greeks call λήμματα, but we prefer to call them by their Latin equivalent sumptiones — yet we will not grant your minor premise — which the Greeks call πρόσληψις.
109. “Cratippus states his minor premise thus; ‘But there are countless instances of prophecies being fulfilled without the intervention of luck.’ On the contrary, I say there isn’t even one. Observe how keen the controversy grows! Now that the minor premise is denied the conclusion fails. But he retorts: ‘You are unreasonable not to grant it, it is so evident.’ Why ‘evident’? ‘Because many prophecies come true.’ And what of the fact that many more don’t come true? Does not this very uncertainty, which is characteristic of luck, demonstrate that their fulfilment is accounted for by luck and not by any law of nature? Furthermore, my dear Cratippus — for my controversy is with you — if that argument of yours is sound, don’t you see that it is equally available in behalf of the means of divination practised by soothsayers, augurs, Chaldeans and by interpreters of lightnings, portents, and lots? For each of these classes will furnish you with at least one instance of a prophecy that came to pass. Therefore either they too are all means of divining — and this you very properly deny — or, if they are not, then, so far as I can see, the two classes which you permit to remain are not means of divining. Hence the same reasoning employed by you to establish the two kinds which you accept may be used to establish the others which you reject.
110. “But what weight is to be given to that frenzy of yours, which you term ‘divine’ and which enables the crazy man to see what the wise man does not see, and invests the man who has lost human intelligence with the intelligence of the gods? We Romans venerate the verses of the Sibyl who is said to have uttered them while in a frenzy. Recently there was a rumour, which was believed at the time, but turned out to be false, that one of the interpreters of those verses was going to declare in the Senate that, for our safety, the man whom we had as king in fact should be made king also in name. If this is in the books, to what man and to what time does it refer? For it was clever in the author to take care that whatever happened should appear foretold because all reference to persons or time had been omitted. 111. He also employed a maze of obscurity so that the same verses might be adapted to different situations at different times. Moreover, that this poem is not the work of frenzy is quite evident from the quality of its composition (for it exhibits artistic care rather than emotional excitement), and is especially evident from the fact that it is written in what is termed ‘acrostics,’ wherein the initial letters of each verse taken in order convey a meaning; as, for example, in some of Ennius’s verses, the initial letters form the words, Quintus Ennius Fecit, that is, ‘Quintus Ennius wrote it.’ That surely is the work of concentrated thought and not of a frenzied brain. 112. And in the Sibylline books, throughout the entire work, each prophecy is embellished with an acrostic, so that the initial letters of each of the lines give the subject of that particular prophecy. Such a work comes from a writer who is not frenzied, who is painstaking, not crazy. Therefore let us keep the Sibyl under lock and key so that in accordance with the ordinances of our forefathers her books may not even be read without permission of the Senate and may be more effective in banishing rather than encouraging superstitious ideas. And let us plead with the priests to bring forth from those books anything rather than a king, whom henceforth neither gods nor men will suffer to exist in Rome.
“But many persons in a frenzy often utter true prophecies, as Cassandra did when she said
Already on the mighty deep…
and when, a little later, she exclaimed,
Alas! behold! …
113. Then, I suppose you are going to force me to believe in myths? Let them be as charming as you please and as finished as possible in language, thought, rhythm, and melody, still we ought not to give credence to fictitious incidents or to quote them as authority. On that principle no reliance, in my opinion, should be placed in the prophecies of your Publicius — whoever he may have been — or in those of the Marcian bards or in those of the hazy oracles of Apollo: some were obviously false and others mere senseless chatter and none of them were ever believed in by any man of ordinary sense, much less by any person of wisdom.
114. “‘Oh! but what about that oarsman in Coponius’s fleet,’ you say, ‘didn’t he truly foretell what afterwards came to pass?’ He did indeed, and the very things that all of us at the time feared would happen. For news was coming to us that the armies of Caesar and Pompey were facing each other in Thessaly. We thought that Caesar’s troops had more reckless courage because they were fighting against their country and greater strength because of their long military training. Besides there was not one of us who did not dread the outcome of the battle, but our apprehension was not openly shown and was such as not to be discreditable to men of strong character. As for that Greek sailor, is it strange if, in the extremity of his fear, he, as most people do in such cases, lost his courage, reason, and self-control? In his mental excitement and aberration, he merely stated that things would occur, which, when he was himself, he feared would come to pass. In heaven’s name, pray tell me, then, which you think was more likely to have had the power to interpret the decrees of the immortal gods — that crazy sailor, or someone of our party then on the ground — Cato, Varro, Coponius or I?
115. “But now I come to you,
Apollo, sacred guard of earth’s true core,
Whence first came frenzied, wild prophetic words.
Chrysippus filled a whole volume with your oracles; of these some, as I think, were false; some came true by chance, as happens very often even in ordinary speech; some were so intricate and obscure that their interpreter needs an interpreter and the oracles themselves must be referred back to the oracle; and some so equivocal that they require a dialectician to construe them. For example, when the following oracular response was made to Asia’s richest king:
When Croesus o’er the river Halys goes
He will a mighty kingdom overthrow,
Croesus thought that he would overthrow his enemy’s kingdom, whereas he overthrew his own. 116. But in either event the oracle would have been true. Besides, why need I believe that this oracle was ever given to Croesus? or why should I consider Herodotus more truthful than Ennius? and was the former less able to invent stories about Croesus than Ennius was about Pyrrhus? For instance, nobody believes Ennius when he says that Apollo’s oracle gave the following response to Pyrrhus:
O son of Aeacus, my prediction is
That you the Roman army will defeat.
In the first place Apollo never spoke in Latin; second, that oracle is unknown to the Greeks; third, in the days of Pyrrhus Apollo had already ceased making verses, and, finally, although
the sons of Aeacus have ever been, as Ennius says,
a stolid race,
And more for valor than for wisdom famed,
still Pyrrhus would have had sense enough to see that the equivocal line —
You the Roman army will defeat — was no more favorable to him than to the Romans. As for that equivocal response which deceived Croesus, it might have deceived — Chrysippus, for example; but the one made to Pyrrhus wouldn’t have fooled — even Epicurus!
117. “However, the main question is this: Why are Delphic oracles (of which I have just given you examples) not uttered at the present time and have not been for a long time?c And why are they regarded with the utmost contempt? When pressed at this point their apologists affirm that ‘the long flight of time has gradually dissipated the virtue of the place whence came those subterranean exhalations which inspired the Pythian priestess to utter oracles.’ One might think that they are talking about wine or brine which do evaporate. But the question is about the virtue of a place — a virtue which you call not only ‘natural’ but even ‘divine,’ — pray how did it evaporate? ‘By length of time,’ you say. But what length of time could destroy a divine power? And what is as divine as a subterranean exhalation that inspires the soul with power to foresee the future — a power such that it not only sees things a long time before they happen, but actually foretells them in rhythmic verse? When did the virtue disappear? Was it after men began to be less credulous?
118. “By the way, Demosthenes, who lived nearly three hundred years ago, used to say even then that the Pythian priestess ‘philippized,’ in other words, that she was Philip’s ally. By this expression he meant to infer that she had been bribed by Philip. Hence we may conclude that in other instances the Delphic oracles were not entirely free of guile. But, for some inexplicable cause, those superstitious and half-cracked philosophers of yours would rather appear absurd than anything else in the world. You Stoics, instead of rejecting these incredible tales, prefer to believe that a power had gradually faded into nothingness, whereas if it ever had existed it certainly would be eternal.
119. “There is a like error in regard to dreams. How far-fetched is the argument in their defense! ‘Our souls’ (according to the view of your school) ‘are divine and are derived from an external source; the universe is filled with a multitude of harmonious souls; therefore, because of its divinity and its contact with other souls, the human soul during sleep foresees what is to come.’ But Zeno thinks that sleep is nothing more than a contraction — a slipping and a collapse, as it were — of the human soul. Then Pythagoras and Plato, who are most respectable authorities, bid us, if we would have trustworthy dreams, to prepare for sleep by following a prescribed course in conduct and in eating. The Pythagoreans make a point of prohibiting beans, as if thereby the soul and not the belly was filled with wind! Somehow or other no statement is too absurd for some philosophers to make.
120. “Then shall we believe that the souls of sleepers while dreaming are spontaneously moved? or, as Democritus thinks, that they are impelled to action by phantoms from without? Whether the one theory or the other be correct, the fact remains that men in sleep assume many false apparitions to be true. Likewise, to men who are sailing, stationary objects on shore seem to be moving; and also, sometimes in looking at a lamp, by some sort of optical illusion we see two flames instead of one. Why need I mention how many non-existent things are seen by men who are drunk or crazy? And if we are to put no trust in such apparitions of the waking man I do not understand why we should put any trust in dreams. Of course you may argue, if you will, about these tricks of vision as you would about dreams, and say, for example, that when stationary objects appear to be in motion, it foretells an earthquake or a sudden flight; and when the lamp’s flame appears to be double it portends that insurrection and rebellion are afoot!
121. “By applying conjecture to the countless delusions of drunk or crazy men we may sometimes deduce what appears to be a real prophecy; for who, if he shoots at a mark all day long, will not occasionally hit it? We sleep every night and there is scarcely ever a night when we do not dream; then do we wonder that our dreams come true sometimes? Nothing is so uncertain as a cast of dice and yet there is no one who plays often who does not sometimes make a Venus-throw and occasionally twice or thrice in succession. Then are we, like fools, to prefer to say that it happened by the direction of Venus rather than by chance? And if we are to put no trust in false visions at other times I do not see what especial virtue there is in sleep to entitle its false visions to be taken as true. 122. On the other hand if nature had intended that sleepers should do what they dreamed, persons on going to bed would always have to be tied, otherwise they would commit more follies in their dreams than any madman ever did.
“And if, because of their unreality, we are to have no faith in the visions of the insane, I do not understand why we place any confidence in dreams, which are far more confused. Is it because the insane do not tell their delusions to interpreters of visions while dreamers do? I ask you this: suppose I wished to read, write, or sing, or to play on the lute, or to solve some problem in geometry, physics, or logic, must I wait for a dream, or must I depend upon the peculiar knowledge which each of these several arts or sciences requires and without which none of them can be utilized or mastered? No; and not even if I wanted to sail a ship, would I pilot it as I might have dreamed I should; for the punishment would be immediate. 123. What would be the sense in the sick seeking relief from an interpreter of dreams rather than from a physician? Or do you think that Aesculapius and Serapis have the power to prescribe a cure for our bodily ills through the medium of a dream and that Neptune cannot aid pilots thru the same means? or think you that though Minerva will prescribe physic in a dream without the aid of a physician, yet that the Muses will not employ dreams to impart a knowledge of reading, writing, and of other arts? If knowledge of a remedy for disease were conveyed by means of dreams, knowledge of the arts just mentioned would also be given by dreams. But since knowledge of these arts is not so conveyed neither is the knowledge of medicine. The theory that the medical art was imparted by means of dreams having been disproved, the basis of a belief in dreams is utterly destroyed.
124. “But, though the conclusion just stated is obvious, let us now look deeper into the question. Surely you must assume, either that there is a Divine Power which, in planning for our good, gives us information by means of dreams; or that, because of some natural connection and association — the Greeks call it συμπάθεια — interpreters of dreams know what sort of a dream is required to fit any situation and what sort of a result will follow any dream; or that neither of these suppositions is true, but that the usual result or consequence of every dream is known by a consistent system of rules based on long-continued observation. In the first place, then, it must be understood that there is no divine power which creates dreams. And indeed it is perfectly clear that none of the visions seen in dreams have their origin in the will of the gods; for the gods, for our sakes, would so interpose that we might be able to foresee the future.
125. “But how often, pray, do you find anyone who pays any attention to dreams or who understands or remembers them? On the other hand, how many treat them with disdain, and regard a belief in them as the superstition of a weak and effeminate mind! Moreover, why does God, in planning for the good of the human race, convey his warnings by means of dreams which men consider unworthy not only of worrying about, but even of remembering? For it is impossible that God does not know how people generally regard dreams; and to do anything needlessly and without a cause is unworthy of a god and is inconsistent even with the habits of right-thinking men. And hence, if most dreams are unnoticed and disregarded, either God is ignorant of that fact, or he does a vain thing in conveying information by means of dreams; but neither supposition accords with the nature of a god, therefore, it must be admitted that God conveys no information by means of dreams.
126. “I also ask, if God gives us these visions as forewarnings, why does he not give them to us when we are awake rather than when we are asleep? For, whether our souls in sleep are impelled by some external and foreign force; or whether they are self-moved; or whether there is some other cause why, during sleep, we imagine ourselves seeing or hearing, or doing certain things — whatever the cause, it would apply just as well when we are awake. If the gods did send us warnings in our sleep and for our good they would do the same for us when we are awake, especially since, as Chrysippus says in replying to the Academicians, appearances seen when we are awake are much more distinct and trustworthy than those seen in dreams. It would, therefore, have been more in keeping with the beneficence of gods, in consulting for our good, to send us clear visions in our waking moments rather than unintelligible ones in our dreams. But since that is not the case, dreams ought not to be held divine. 127. And further, what is the need of a method which, instead of being direct, is so circuitous and roundabout that we have to employ men to interpret our dreams? And if it be true that God consults for our advantage he would say: ‘Do this,’ ‘Don’t do that,’ and not give us visions when we are awake rather than when we are asleep.
“And further, would anybody dare to say that all dreams are true? ‘Some dreams are true,’ says Ennius, ‘but not necessarily all.’ Pray how do you distinguish between the two? What mark have the false and what the true? And if God sends the true, whence come the false? Surely if God sends the false ones too what is more untrustworthy than God? Besides what is more stupid than to excite the souls of mortals with false and lying visions? But if true visions are divine while the false and meaningless ones are from nature, what sort of caprice decided that God made the one and nature made the other, rather than that God made them all, which your school denies, or that nature made them all? Since you deny that God made them all you must admit that nature made them all. 128. By ‘nature,’ in this connection, I mean that force because of which the soul can never be stationary and free from motion and activity. And when, because of the weariness of the body, the soul can use neither the limbs nor the senses, it lapses into varied and untrustworthy visions, which emanate from what Aristotle terms ‘the clinging remnants of the soul’s waking acts and thoughts.’ These ‘remnants,’ when aroused, sometimes produce strange types of dreams. Now if some of these dreams are true and others false, I should like very much to know by what mark they may be distinguished. If there is none, why should we listen to your interpreters? But if there is one, I am eager for them to tell me what it is, but they will grow confused when I ask and will not answer.
129. “The question now arises as to which is the more probable: do the immortal gods, who are of surpassing excellence in all things, constantly flit about, not only the beds, but even the lowly pallets of mortals, wherever they may be, and when they find someone snoring, throw at him dark and twisted visions, which scare him from his sleep and which he carries in the morning to a dream-expert to unravel? or does nature bring it to pass that the ever-active soul sees in sleep phantoms of what it saw when the body was awake? Which is more consonant with philosophy: to explain these apparitions by the superstitious theories of fortune-telling hags, or by an explanation based on natural causes? But even if it were possible to draw trustworthy inferences from dreams, it could not be done by those who profess to have that power; for their fraternity is composed of the most shallow and the most ignorant of men. Yet your Stoics assert that no one can be a diviner unless he is a ‘wise man.’
130. “Chrysippus, indeed, defines divination in these words: ‘The power to see, understand, and explain premonitory signs given to men by the gods.’ ‘Its duty,’ he goes on to say, ‘is to know in advance the disposition of the gods towards men, the manner in which that disposition is shown and by what means the gods may be propitiated and their threatened ills averted.’ And this same philosopher defines the interpretation of dreams thus: ‘It is the power to understand and explain the visions sent by the gods to men in sleep.’ Then, if that be true, will just ordinary shrewdness meet these requirements, or rather is there not need of surpassing intelligence and absolutely perfect learning? But I have never seen such a man.
131. “Therefore, even if I granted your contention as to the existence of divination — and this I will never do — still, you must realize that it would be impossible for us to find a diviner. Then what do the gods mean by sending us in our dreams visions which we cannot understand ourselves and which we cannot find anybody to interpret for us? If the gods send us these unintelligible and inexplicable dream-messages they are acting as Carthaginians and Spaniards would if they were to address our Senate in their own vernacular without the aid of an interpreter. 132. Beside, what purpose is served by dark and enigmatic dreams? Surely the gods ought to want us to understand the advice they give us for our good. ‘Oh!’ but you retort, ‘Are poets and natural philosophers never obscure?’ Indeed they are: Euphorion is even too obscure; but Homer is not. 133. Which of them, pray, is the better poet? Heraclitus is very obscure; Democritus is not so in the least: then are they to be compared? But you give me advice and for my good in words that I cannot understand. Then why do you advise me at all? That’s like a doctor ordering a patient to take
A bloodless, earth-engendered thing that crawls
And bears its habitation on its back,
instead of saying in common, every-day speech, ‘a snail.’ Amphion, in a play by Pacuvius, speaks to the Athenians of a creature as
Four-footed, of stature short; rough, shy, and slow;
Fierce-eyed, with tiny head and serpent’s neck;
When disembowelled and deprived of life,
It lives for ever in melodious song.
His meaning being too obscure the Athenians replied:
Speak plainer, else we cannot understand.
Whereupon he described it in a single word — ‘a tortoise.’ Couldn’t you have said so at first, you cithara-player?
134. “A diviner was consulted by a man who had dreamed that he saw an egg hanging from the bed-cords of the bed in his sleeping-room — the story is from Chrysippus On Dreams — and the diviner answered, ‘A treasure is buried under your bed.’ The man dug, found a quantity of gold surrounded with silver and sent the diviner as much of the silver as he thought fit. The diviner then inquired, ‘Do I get none of the yolk?’ For, in his view, the yolk meant gold, the white of the egg, silver. Now, did no one else ever dream of an egg? If so, then why did this fellow, whoever he was, alone find a treasure by dreaming of an egg? What a lot of poor devils there are, deserving of divine assistance, who never were instructed by a dream how to find a treasure! Furthermore, why was this man given so obscure an intimation as that contained in the fancied resemblance between an egg and a treasure, instead of being as plainly directed as Simonides was when he was bidden not to go on board the ship? 135. My conclusion is that obscure messages by means of dreams are utterly inconsistent with the dignity of gods.
“Let us now consider dreams that are clear and direct, like the dream of the man who was killed by the innkeeper at Megara; or like that of Simonides who was warned by the man he had buried not to sail; and also like Alexander’s dream, which, to my surprise, my dear Quintus, you passed by without notice: Alexander’s intimate friend, Ptolemaeus, had been struck in battle by a poisoned arrow and was at the point of death from his wound and suffering the most excruciating agony. Alexander, while sitting by the bedside of his friend, fell fast asleep. Thereupon, so the story goes, he dreamed that the pet serpent of his mother Olympias appeared to him carrying a root in its mouth and, at the same time, gave him the name of a place close by where it said the root grew. This root, the serpent told him, was of such great virtue that it would effect the speedy cure of Ptolemaeus. As soon as Alexander awoke he related his dream to his friends and men were sent to find the root. It is said that when the root was found it worked the cure not only of Ptolemaeus, but also of many soldiers who had been wounded by the same kind of arrow.
136. “You, too, have drawn on history for dreams, a number of which you told. You spoke, for example, of the dreams of the mother of Phalaris, of Cyrus the Elder, of the mother of Dionysius, of the Carthaginians Hamilcar and Hannibal, and of Publius Decius. You mentioned that much-spoken-of dream about the slave who opened the votive games, also the dream of Gaius Gracchus and the recent one of Caecilia, the daughter of Balearicus. But these are other people’s dreams and hence we know nothing about them and some of them are fabrications perhaps. For who stands sponsor for them? And what have we to say of our own dreams? Of your dream of me and of my horse emerging from the river and appearing on the bank? and of my dream of Marius, attended by his laurelled fasces, ordering me to be conducted to his monument?
“All dreams, my dear Quintus, have one explanation and, in heaven’s name, let us see that it is not set at naught by superstition and perversity. 137. Now what Marius do you think it was I saw? His ‘likeness’ or ‘phantom,’ I suppose — at least that is what Democritus thinks. Whence did the ‘phantom’ come? He would have it that ‘phantoms’ emanate from material bodies and from actual forms. Then, it was the body of Marius from which my ‘phantom’ came? ‘No,’ says Democritus, ‘but from his body that was.’ So that ‘phantom’ of Marius was pursuing me to the plains of Atina? ‘Oh, but the universe is full of
phantoms; no picture of anything can be formed in the mind except as the result of the impact of
phantoms.’ 138. Then are these ‘phantoms’ of yours so obedient to our beck and call that they come the instant we summon them? And is this true even of the ‘phantoms’ of things that do not exist? For what is there so unreal and unheard of that we cannot form a mental picture of it? We even shape things which we have never seen — as the sites of towns and the faces of men. 139. Then, by your theory, when I think of the walls of Babylon or of the face of Homer, some ‘phantom’ of what I have in mind ‘strikes upon my brain’! Hence it is possible for us to know everything we wish to know, since there is nothing of which we cannot think. Therefore no ‘phantoms’ from the outside steal in upon our souls in sleep; nor do ‘phantoms’ stream forth at all. In fact I never knew anybody who could say nothing with more ponderous gravity than Democritus.
“The soul is of such a force and nature that, when we are awake, it is active, not because of any extraneous impulse, but because of its own inherent power of self-motion and a certain incredible swiftness. When the soul is supported by the bodily members and by the five senses its powers of perception, thought, and apprehension are more trustworthy. But when these physical aids are removed and the body is inert in sleep, the soul then moves of itself. And so, in that state, visions flit about it, actions occur and it seems to hear and say many things. 140. When the soul itself is weakened and relaxed many such sights and sounds, you may be sure, are seen and heard in all manner of confusion and diversity. Then especially do the ‘remnants’ of our waking thoughts and deeds move and stir within the soul. For example, in the time of my banishment Marius was often in my mind as I recalled with what great fortitude and courage he had borne his own heavy misfortunes, and this I think is the reason why I dreamed about him.
“As for your dream, it occurred while you were thinking and worrying about me and then you had the vision of me as I suddenly arose from the river. For in the souls of us both were ‘traces of our waking thoughts,’ but with some added features, of course: as, for example, my dreaming of Marius’s monument and your dreaming that the horse on which I rode sank with me and then reappeared. 141. But do you suppose that there ever would have been any old woman crazy enough to believe in dreams, if by some lucky accident or chance they had not come true sometimes? But let us consider Alexander’s dream of the talking serpent. The story may be true and it may be wholly false. In either case it is no miracle; for he did not hear the serpent speak, but thought he heard it and, strangest thing of all, he thought it spoke while it held the root in its mouth! But nothing seems strange to a man when he is dreaming. Now, if Alexander ever had such a vivid and trustworthy dream as this, I want to ask why he never had another one like it and why other men have not had many of the same kind? As for me, except for that dream about Marius, I really never had one that I can recall. Think then how many nights in my long life I have spent in vain! 142. Moreover, at the present time, owing to the interruption of my public labors, I have ceased my nocturnal studies, and (contrary to my former practice) I have added afternoon naps. Yet despite all this time spent in sleep I have not received a single prophecy in a dream, certainly not one about the great events now going on. Indeed, I never seem to be dreaming more than when I see the magistrates in the forum and the Senate in its chamber.
“Coming now to the second branch of the present topic, is there some such natural connecting link, which, as I said before, the Greeks call συμπάθεια, that the finding of a treasure must be deduced from dreaming of an egg? Of course physicians, from certain symptoms, know the incipiency and progress of a disease; and it is claimed that from some kinds of dreams they even can gather certain indications as to a patient’s health, as whether the internal humours of the body are excessive or deficient. But what natural bond of union is there between dreams, on the one hand, and treasures, legacies, public office, victory and many other things of the same kind, on the other? 143. A person, it is said, while dreaming of coition, ejected gravel. In this case I can see a relation between the dream and the result; for the vision presented to the sleeper was such as to make it clear that what happened was due to natural causes and not to the delusion. But by what law of nature did Simonides receive that vision which forbade him to sail? or what was the connection between the laws of nature and the dream of Alcibiades in which according to history, shortly before his death, he seemed to be enveloped in the cloak of his mistress? Later, when his body had been cast out and was lying unburied and universally neglected, his mistress covered it with her mantle. Then do you say that this dream was united by some natural tie with the fate that befell Alcibiades, or did chance cause both the apparition and the subsequent event?
144. “Furthermore, is it not a fact that the conjectures of the interpreters of dreams give evidence of their authors’ sagacity rather than afford any proof of a relation between dreams and the laws of nature? For example, a runner, who was planning to set out for the Olympic games, dreamed that he was riding in a chariot drawn by four horses. In the morning he went to consult an interpreter, who said to him, ‘You will win, for that is implied in the speed and strength of horses.’ Later the runner went to Antipho, who said, ‘You are bound to lose, for do you not see that four ran ahead of you? And behold another runner! — for the books of Chrysippus and Antipater are full of such dreams — but to return to the runner: he reported to an interpreter that he had dreamed of having been changed into an eagle. The interpreter said to him, ‘You are the victor, for no bird flies faster than the eagle.’ This runner also consulted Antipho. ‘Simpleton,’ said the latter, ‘don’t you see that you are beaten? For that bird is always pursuing and driving other birds before it and itself is always last.’
145. “A married woman who was desirous of a child and was in doubt whether she was pregnant or not, dreamed that her womb had been sealed. She referred the dream to an interpreter. He told her that since her womb was sealed conception was impossible. But another interpreter said, ‘You are pregnant, for it is not customary to seal that which is empty.’ Then what is the dream-interpreter’s art other than a means of using one’s wits to deceive? And those incidents which I have given and the numberless ones collected by the Stoics prove nothing whatever except the shrewdness of men who employ slight analogies in order to draw now one inference and now another. There are certain indications from the condition of the pulse and breath and from many other symptoms in sickness by means of which physicians foretell the course of a disease. When pilots see cuttle-fish leaping or dolphins betaking themselves to a haven they believe that a storm is at hand.d In such cases signs are given which are traceable to natural causes and explicable by reason, but that is far from true of the dreams spoken of a little while ago.
146. “In our consideration of dreams we come now to the remaining point left for discussion, which is your contention that ‘by long-continued observation of dreams and by recording the results an art has been evolved.’ Really? Then, it is possible, I suppose, to ‘observe’ dreams? If so, how? For they are of infinite variety and there is no imaginable thing too absurd, too involved, or too abnormal for us to dream about it. How, then, is it possible for us either to remember this countless and ever-changing mass of visions or to observe and record the subsequent results? Astronomers have recorded the movements of the planets and thereby have discovered an orderly course of the stars, not thought of before. But tell me, if you can, what is the orderly course of dreams and what is the harmonious relation between them and subsequent events? And by what means can the true be distinguished from the false, in view of the fact that the same dreams have certain consequences for one person and different consequences for another and seeing also that even for the same individual the same dream is not always followed by the same result? As a rule we do not believe a liar even when he tells the truth, but, to my surprise, if one dream turns out to be true, your Stoics do not withdraw their belief in the prophetic value of that one though it is only one out of many; rather, from the character of the one true dream, they establish the character of countless others that are false.
147. “Therefore, if God is not the creator of dreams; if there is no connection between them and the laws of nature; and finally, if, by means of observation no art of divining can be found in them, it follows that absolutely no reliance can be placed in dreams. This becomes especially evident when we consider that those who have the dreams deduce no prophecies from them; that those who interpret them depend upon conjecture and not upon nature; that in the course of the almost countless ages, chance has worked more miracles through all other agencies than through the agency of dreams; and, finally, that nothing is more uncertain than conjecture, which may be led not only into varying, but sometimes even into contradictory, conclusions.
148. “Then let dreams, as a means of divination, be rejected along with the rest. Speaking frankly, superstition, which is widespread among the nations, has taken advantage of human weakness to cast its spell over the mind of almost every man. This same view was stated in my treatise On the Nature of the Gods; and to prove the correctness of that view has been the chief aim of the present discussion. For I thought that I should be rendering a great service both to myself and to my countrymen if I could tear this superstition up by the roots. But I want it distinctly understood that the destruction of superstition does not mean the destruction of religion. For I consider it the part of wisdom to preserve the institutions of our forefathers by retaining their sacred rites and ceremonies. Furthermore, the celestial order and the beauty of the universe compel me to confess that there is some excellent and eternal Being, who deserves the respect and homage of men.
149. “Wherefore, just as it is a duty to extend the influence of true religion, which is closely associated with the knowledge of nature, so it is a duty to weed out every root of superstition. For superstition is ever at your heels to urge you on; it follows you at every turn. It is with you when you listen to a prophet, or an omen; when you offer sacrifices or watch the flight of birds; when you consult an astrologer or a soothsayer; when it thunders or lightens or there is a bolt from on high; or when some so-called prodigy is born or is made. And since necessarily some of these signs are nearly always being given, no one who believes in them can ever remain in a tranquil state of mind.
Sleep is regarded as a refuge from every toil and care; but it is actually made the fruitful source of worry and fear. In fact dreams would be less regarded on their own account and would be viewed with greater indifference had they not been taken under the guardianship of philosophers — not philosophers of the meaner sort, but those of the keenest wit, competent to see what follows logically and what does not — men who are considered well-nigh perfect and infallible. Indeed, if their arrogance had not been resisted by Carneades, it is probable that by this time they would have adjudged the only philosophers. While most of my war of words has been with these men, it is not because I hold them in especial contempt, but on the contrary, it is because they seem to me to defend their own views with the greatest acuteness and skill. Moreover, it is characteristic of the Academy to put forward no conclusions of its own, but to approve those which seem to approach nearest to the truth; to compare arguments; to draw forth all that may be said in behalf of any opinion; and, without asserting any authority of its own, to leave the judgment of the inquirer wholly free. That same method, which by the way we inherited from Socrates, I shall, if agreeable to you, my dear Quintus, follow as often as possible in our future discussions.
Nothing could please me better, Quintus replied.
When this was said, we arose.
© 2019-2020. Stoic Therapy, LLC. All rights reserved.