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The Roman Questions. 70 79

"The Roman and Greek Questions", by Plutarch, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt, [1936],


Why do they call such persons as stand convicted of theft or of any other servile offences "furciferi"? b

Is this also evidence of the carefulness of the men of old? For anyone who had found guilty of some knavery a slave reared in his own household used to command him to take up the forked stick, which they put under their carts, and to proceed through the community or the neighbourhood, observed of all observers, that they might distrust him and be on their guard against him in the future. This stick we call a prop, and the Romans "furca" ("fork");

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wherefore also he who has borne it about is called "furcifer" ("fork-bearer").

Why do they tie hay to one horn of vicious bulls to warn anyone who meets them to be on guard?

Is it because bulls, horses, asses, men, all wax wanton through stuffing and gorging? So Sophocles a has somewhere written,

You prance, as does a colt, from glut of food,

For both your belly and your cheeks are full.

[paragraph continues] Wherefore also the Romans used to say that Marcus Crassus b had hay on his horn: for those who heckled the other chief men in the State were on their guard against assailing him, since they knew that he was vindictive and hard to cope with. Later, however, another saying was bandied about, that Caesar had pulled the hay from Crassus; for Caesar was the first to oppose Crassus in public policy and to treat him with contumely.

Why did they think that the priests that take omens from birds, whom they formerly called "Auspices", but now "Augures", should always keep their lanterns open and put no cover on them?

Were they like the Pythagoreans, c who made small matters symbols of great, forbidding men to sit on a peck measure or to poke a fire with a sword; and even so did the men of old make use of many riddles, especially with reference to priests; and is the question of the lantern of this sort? For the

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lantern is like the body which encompasses the soul; the soul within is a light a and the part of it that comprehends and thinks should be ever open and clear-sighted, and should never be closed nor remain unseen.

Now when the winds are blowing the birds are unsteady, and do not afford reliable signs because of their wandering and irregular movements. Therefore by this custom they instruct the augurs not to go forth to obtain these signs when the wind is blowing, but only in calm and still weather when they can use their lanterns open.

Why was it forbidden to priests that had any sore upon their bodies to sit and watch for birds of omen?

Is this also a symbolic indication that those who deal with matters divine should be in no way suffering from any smart, and should not, as it were, have any sore or affection in their souls, but should be untroubled, unscathed, and undistracted?

Or is it only logical, if no one would use for sacrifice a victim afflicted with a sore, or use such birds for augury, that they should be still more on their guard against such things in their own case, and be pure, unhurt, and sound when they advance to interpret signs from the gods? b For a sore seems to be a sort of mutilation or pollution of the body.

Why did King Servius Tullius build a shrine of Little Fortune, which they call "Brevis"? c

Is it because although, at the first, he was a man of little importance and of humble activities and the

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son of a captive woman, yet, owing to Fortune, he became king of Rome? Or does this very change reveal the greatness rather than the littleness of Fortune, and does Servius beyond all other men seem to have deified the power of Fortune, a and to have set her formally over all manner of actions? For he not only built shrines b of Fortune the Giver of Good Hope, the Averter of Evil, the Gentle, the First-Born, c and the Male; but there is also a shrine of Private Fortune, another of Attentive Fortune, and still another of Fortune the Virgin. Yet why need anyone review her other appellations, when there is a shrine of the Fowler's Fortune, or "Viscata", as they call her, signifying that we are caught by Fortune from afar and held fast by circumstances?

Consider, however, whether it he not that Servius observed the mighty potency of Fortune's ever slight mutation, and that by the occurrence or nonoccurrence of some slight thing, it has often fallen to the lot of some to succeed or to fail in the greatest enterprises, and it was for this reason that he built the shrine of Little Fortune, teaching men to give great heed to events, and not to despise anything that they encountered by reason of its triviality.

Why did they not extinguish a lamp, but suffered it to go out of itself? d

Did they reverence it as akin and closely related to the inextinguishable and undying fire, or is this also a symbolic indication that we should not destroy

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nor do away with any living thing, if it does us no harm, since fire is like a living thing? For it needs sustenance, it moves of itself, and when it is extinguished it gives out a sound as if it were being slain.

Or does this custom teach us that we should not destroy fire, water, or any other necessity when we have enough and to spare, but should allow those who have need of these things to use them, and should leave them for others when we ourselves no longer have any use for them?

Why do they that are reputed to be of distinguished lineage wear crescents on their shoes? a

Is this, as Castor says, b an emblem of the fabled residence in the moon, and an indication that after death their souls will again have the moon beneath their feet c; or was this the special privilege of the most ancient families? These were Arcadians of Evander's following, the so-called Pre-Lunar d people.

Or does this also, like many another custom, remind the exalted and proud of the mutability, for better or worse, in the affairs of men, and that they should take the moon as an illustration e:

When out of darkness first she comes anew

Her face she shows increasing fair and full;

And when she reaches once her brightest sheen,

Again she wastes away and comes to naught?

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Or was it a lesson in obedience to authority, teaching them not to be disaffected under the government of kings, but to be even as the moon, who is willing to give heed to her superior and to be a second to him,

Ever gazing in awe at the rays of the bright-gleaming Sun-god,

as Parmenides a puts it; and were they thus to be content with their second place, living under their ruler, and enjoying the power and honour derived from him?

Why do they believe that the year belongs to Jupiter, but the months to Juno?

Is it because Jupiter and Juno rule the invisible, conceptual deities, but the sun and moon the visible deities? Now the sun makes the year and the moon the months; but one must not believe that the sun and moon are merely images of Jupiter and Juno, but that the sun is really Jupiter himself in his material form and in the same way the moon is Juno. This is the reason why the Romans apply the name Juno to our Hera, for the name means "young" or "junior," so named from the moon. And they also call her Lucina, that is "brilliant" or "light-giving"; and they believe that she aids women in the pangs of childbirth, even as the moon b:

On through the dark-blue vault of the stars,

Through the moon that brings birth quickly;

for women are thought to have easiest travail at the time of the full moon.

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Why of birds is the one called "left-hand" a bird of good omen?

Is this not really true, but is it the peculiarity of the language which throws many off the track? For their word for "left" is "sinistrum"; "to permit" is "sinere"; and they say "sine" when they urge giving permission. Accordingly the bird which permits the augural action to be taken, that is, the "avis sinisteria", the vulgar are not correct in assuming to be "sinistra" and in calling it so.

Or is it, as Dionysius a says, that when Ascanius, son of Aeneas, was drawing up his army against Mezentius, and his men were taking the auspices, a flash of lightning, which portended victory, appeared on the left, and from that time on they observe this practice in divination? Or is it true, as certain other authorities affirm, that this happened to Aeneas? As a matter of fact, the Thebans, when they had routed and overpowered their enemies on the left wing at Leuctra, b continued thereafter to assign to the left the chief command in all battles.

Or c is it rather, as Juba d declares, that as anyone looks eastward, the north is on the left, and some make out the north to be the right, or upper, side of the universe?

But consider whether it be not that the left is by nature the weaker side, and they that preside over auguries try to strengthen and prop its deficient powers by this method of equalization.

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Or was it that they believed earthly and mortal matters to be antithetical to things heavenly and divine, and so thought that whatever was on the left for us the gods were sending forth from the right?

Why was it permitted to take up a bone of a man who had enjoyed a triumph, and had later died and been cremated, and carry it into the city and deposit it there, as Pyrrhon a of Lipara has recorded?

Was it to show honour to the dead? In fact, to other men of achievement, as well as to generals, they granted, not only for themselves, but also for their descendants, the right to be buried in the Forum, as they did to Valerius b and to Fabricius; and they relate that when descendants of these men die and have been conveyed to the Forum, a lighted torch is placed beneath the body and then immediately withdrawn; thus they enjoy the honour without exciting envy, and merely confirm their prerogative.


:b "Cf". "Life of Coriolanus", chap. xxiv. (225 D).

:a p. 108 Nauck, "Trag. Graec. Frag." p. 311, Sophocles, Frag. 764; or Pearson, no. 848; "cf". Aeschylus, "Agamemnon", 1640-1641; Menander, Hero, 16-17 (p. 291 ed. Allinson in L.c.l.).

:b p. 109 "Cf". Life of Crassus, chap. vii. (547 C); Horace, "Satires", i. 4. 34 "faenum habet in cornu; longe fuge!"

109:c "Cf". 290 E, "infra", and the notes on "Moralia", 12 D-E (Vol. I. p. 58).

:a p. 110 "Cf". "Moralia", 1130 B.

:b p. 111 "Cf". "Moralia", 383 B; Leviticus, xxii. 17-21.

:c Hartman's theory that Plutarch is rendering "Occasio" = "Fortuna Brevis") is very doubtful.

:a p. 112 "Cf". 273 B, "supra".

:b "Cf". 322 F, "infra": the Latin equivalents here are perhaps p. 113 "Felix" ("?"), "Averrunca", "Obsequens", "Primigenia", "Virilis", "Privata", "Respiciens", "Virgo", "Viscata".

:c "Cf". 289 B, "infra".

:d "Cf". "Moralia"; 702 D ff.

:a p. 114 "Cf". Isidore, "Origines", xix. 34; Juvenal, vii. 192.

:b p. 115 Jacoby, "Frag. der griech. Hist." 250, Frag. 16.

:c "Cf". "Moralia", 943 A ff.

:d "Cf". Aristotle, Frag. 591 (ed. V. Rose); Apollonius Rhodius, iv. 264; scholium on Aristophanes, "Clouds", 398.

:e Nauck, "Trag. Graec. Frag." p. 315, Sophocles, Frag. 787; or Pearson, no. 871: the full quotation may be found in "Life of Demetrius", xlv. (911 c). "Cf". the variants there and in "Moralia", 517 D.

:a p. 116 Diels, "Frag. der Vorsokratiker", i. p. 162, Parmenides, no. 15.

:b Timotheus, Frag. 28 (ed. Wilamowitz-Mllendorff); p. 117 Edmonds, "Lyra Graeca", iii. p. 331; better Diels, "Anthologia Lyrica Graeca", ii. p. 152. "Cf". "Moralia", 659 A; Macrobius, "Saturnalia", vii. 16. 28; see also Roscher, "Lexikon der gr. and rm. Mythologie", vol. i. coll. 571-572.

:a Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Antiquities", ii. 5. 5; Virgil, "Aeneid", ix. 630, and Conington's note on Virgil, "Georgics", iv. 7.

:b "Cf". "Life of Pelopida"s, xxiii. (289 D-e).

:c "Cf". "Moralia", 363 E, 888 B.

:d Mller, "Frag. Hist. Graec". iii. p. 471.

:a p. 120 Mller, "Frag. Hist. Graec". iv. p. 479.

121:b "Cf". "Life of Publicola", chap. xxiii. (109 D).

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