Valerius Maximus

-   Book 1 , chapters 6-8

Adapted from the translation by S. Speed (1678). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each section.   

Previous chapters (1-5)

VI.   Of Prodigies

Of prodigies also, whether lucky or unlucky, it is appropriate for our purpose to discourse.

[6.1] L   While Servius Tullius was an infant and asleep, his attendants beheld a flame upon his head. Tanaquil the wife of Ancus Marcius, admiring this prodigy, brought up Servius, who was the son of a servant, instead of her own son, and advanced him to the throne.

[6.2] L   Equal happiness in outcome did that flame promise which blazed upon the head of Lucius Marcius, captain of the two armies, which the deaths of P. and Cn. Scipio had much weakened in Spain, while he was speaking to his soldiers. For upon the sight of that, the soldiers, who before were fearful, were now encouraged to recover their customary fortitude; after slaughtering thirty-eight thousand men, and taking a great number of prisoners, they captured two camps of the Carthaginians, crammed with spoil.

[6.3] L   Also when after a long and sharp war the people of Veii could not be taken, though besieged within their own walls, and that the delay was no less terrible to the besiegers than the besieged, the gods themselves opened the way to an unexpected victory. For on a sudden Lake Albanus, neither augmented by any showers, nor assisted by the inundation of any other stream, rose far above its usual hight. To know the reason for this, messengers were sent to the oracle at Delphi, who brought the answer, that they should let the waters that over-swelled the lake into the fields: for thus the people of Veii would come into the power of the Romans. Before the messengers could bring back this answer, a soothsayer of Veii, taken by one of our soldiers - because we lacked our own interpreters - and brought into the camp, had declared the same; so that the senate, doubly admonished, both obeyed the gods, and got possession of the city.

[6.4] L   Nor was the following an omen of bad success. Lucius Sulla, proconsul in the Social War, while he was sacrificing before the praetorium in the territory of Nola, on a sudden beheld a snake glide from the lower part of the altar.  At the sight of this, by the advice of Postumius the soothsayer, he led forth his army, and captured the strong camp of the Samnites. This victory was the first foundation and step to his future greatness.

[6.5] L   Very remarkable are those prodigies which happened in our city, when P. Volumnius and Ser. Sulpitius were consuls, amidst the first stirrings of war. An ox, his lowing being changed into human speech, troubled the minds of all people with the strangeness of the occurrence. Little pieces of flesh also fell like showers of rain from the sky, of which a great part was devoured by the birds; the rest lay many days upon the ground, neither offensive to the smell, nor irksome to the sight.

During another crisis, prodigies of the same nature were to be seen. A child of half a year old in the Forum Boarium, proclaimed a triumph. Another child was born with an elephant's head. In Picenum it rained stones. In Gaul a wolf came and took a sword out of the sentinel's scabbard. In Sicily two shields sweated blood. Bloody ears of corn dropped among the sheaves, as men were reaping near Antium. The waters of Caere were mixed with blood. And in the second Punic War, an ox was heard to say, "Beware, O Rome."

[6.6] L   When Gaius Flaminius, being inauspiciously made consul, was preparing to fight with Hannibal at Lake Trasimene, he commanded the standards to be taken up, but immediately his horse stumbling, he was thrown to the ground and pitched upon his head. Giving no regard to this prodigy, when the standard-bearers told him they could not stir the standards, he threatened to punish them if they did not dig them out. But of this rashness of his, would that only he himself, and not the whole people of Rome had felt the doleful outcome: for in that battle fifteen thousand Romans were slain, six thousand captured, and twenty thousand put to flight. The headless body of the consul was sought out by Hannibal, in order to have it buried, who had done what he could to bury the Roman empire.

[6.7] L   The headlong obstinacy of Flaminius was followed by C. Hostilius Mancinus with a vain obstinacy, to whom these prodigies happened as he was going as consul to Spain. When he resolved to sacrifice at Lavinium, the chickens being let out of the coop, flew to the neighbouring wood, and though sought for with all diligence imaginable, could never be found. And when he was about to go aboard at the Port of Hercules, whither he went on foot, he heard a strange voice, crying, "Stay, Mancinus." When, frightened by this,  he went by another route to Genua, and there went aboard a little boat, a snake of a prodigious size appeared, and suddenly vanished out of sight. Which three prodigies he equalled with the number of calamities which befell him; an unsuccessful battle, a shameful truce, and a most dismal surrender.

[6.8] L   The sad end of Gracchus, a most resolute citizen, makes the rashness of  an inconsiderate person less surprising. He was forewarned, but could take no counsel to avoid it. For when being proconsul, he was sacrificing among the Lucanians, two snakes on a sudden creeping out of some hidden place, having eaten the liver of the beast which he had sacrificed, withdrew to their lurking holes. And when by reason of this occurrence the sacrifice was renewed, the same prodigy happened again. The third sacrifice being slain, and the entrails more diligently inspected, neither could the serpents be driven away when they came, not be hindered in their flight. Though as the soothsayers affirmed, this signified that the general was to be careful of his own safety, yet Gracchus was not so careful, but that by the treachery of Flavius, at whose house he stayed, he was drawn to a place where the Carthaginian general Mago was hidden with an armed force, who slew him unarmed and without defence.

[6.9] L   The misfortune of the consuls, an equal error, and an end not differing from that of Ti. Gracchus, draws me to the memory of Marcellus. He, inflamed with the glory of having taken Syracuse, and first of all driven Hannibal from the walls of Nola, resolved either to overthrow the Carthaginians, or at least to drive them out of Italy; and to that end he intended with a most solemn sacrifice to inquire into the will and pleasure of the gods. Of the first beast that was slain before the fire, the liver was found without a head; the next had a liver with a double head: which being viewed, the soothsayer with a sad countenance said that the entrails did not please him: the first were altogether bad, the second were not so good. Thus Marcellus being warned not to do anything rashly, the next night he ventured to go out with a few men to view the enemy's camp. Surrounded by a multitude of his enemies in the country of the Bruttii, by his death he caused much sorrow and detriment to his country.

[6.10] L   As for Octavius the consul, though he feared a most direful omen, he could not avoid it; for finding the head of the image of Apollo broken, and so pitched in the ground that it could not be pulled up, being at that time in arms against his colleague Cinna, he from thence prognosticated his own ruin. In the midst of this fear he came to a sad end, and then the fixed head of the image was easily put back in its place.

[6.11] L   Nor must we pass over in silence Marcus Crassus, who is to be reckoned one of the greatest losses of our empire, who was warned by many and most remarkable blows of fate, before so great a disaster. As he was drawing his army out of Carrhae against the Parthians, he had a black garment brought him; whereas they should have brought him either a white or a purple robe, when he was going to battle. The soldiers marched sad and silent to their places, whereas they were wont to run with loud acclamations. One of the eagles could scarcely be pulled up out of the ground; another being pulled up, turned itself quite the contrary way to which it ought to have been carried. These prodigies were very great, but the calamities of the defeat were far greater; the slaughter of so many fair legions, so many standards, so much of the glory and beauty of the Roman army trodden to the ground by the horsemen of the barbarians; a father splashed with the blood of his promising son; and the body of their commander among the confused heaps of the slain, thrown a common prey to the fowls of the air. I wish I could say something more delightful; but I relate the truth. Thus the gods, being despised, become furious in their anger; thus the counsels of men are chastised, when they think to outbrave the warnings of heaven.

[6.12] L   Mighty Jupiter had also abundantly warned Cn. Pompey that he should not try the utmost hazard of war with C. Caesar, casting his lightning full in front of his battalions marching from Dyrrachium, covering his standards with swarms of bees, frightening his whole army with nocturnal terrors, and the flight of the sacrifices from the altars. But the laws of invincible necessity would not suffer a mind, otherwise remote enough from folly, to weigh those prodigies with a due consideration. And therefore while he might extol his great power, his wealth above private use, and all those honours which from his youth he had contracted so as even to excite envy, in the space of one day he lost them all. In the temples of the gods, the statues turned about of themselves. Such a noise of men shouting, such clattering of arms, was heard at Antioch and Ptolemais, that the soldiers ran to the walls. There was a great noise of drums in the inmost recesses of Pergamum: in the temple of Victory a palm suddenly sprang up under the statue of Caesar, in the pavement between the stones. Whereby it is plain that the gods did favour Caesar, and wished to restrain  Pompey in his error.

[6.13] L   To your altars and most holy temples I address myself, most divine Julius, that you would favourably allow the falls of so many great men to lie hidden under the defence and tuition of your example. For we read that on the day when you sat in the golden seat, clothed in purple, so that you might not seem to have despised the honours which the senate had with so much diligence designed, and with so much duty offered, before you would publicly show your wished-for presence to the people, you spent some time in that religious worship which was shortly to be offered to you; and offering a fat ox which lacked a heart, Spurinna the soothsayer told you that the omen concerned your life, and to care of your own preservation, Then was that parricide committed by those persons, who while they sought to remove you from the number of men, added you to the number of the gods.


Let us conclude the domestic account of such prodigies with this example, lest by dilating further upon those of the Romans, I should seem to transfer such customs from the temples of the gods to unsuited private habitations. I shall therefore touch upon foreign examples, which being related in Latin, as they are of less authority, yet they bring with them something of a grateful variety.

[6e.1] L   In the army of Xerxes which he had gathered up against Greece, a mare is said to have brought forth a hare, before the army had yet passed Mount Athos: by which kind of monstrous birth, the outcome of such vast preparations was plainly shown. For he that had covered the sea with his fleets, and the land with his armies, was forced, like the most timorous animal, with shameful flight to go back to his own Kingdom.

Before he had destroyed Athens, while he was deliberating how to invade Lacedaemon, a most remarkable prodigy happened while he was at dinner. For when the wine was poured forth into the cup, more than once, twice, or thrice, nay a fourth time, it was changed into blood. Whereupon the Magi being consulted, advised him to desist from his purpose. And had he had the least trace of reason in his vain breast, he might have prevented his disaster, being so often warned to take heed of Leonidas and the Spartans.

[6e.2] L   When Midas, to whose sceptre all Phrygia once was subject, was a child, a company of ants laid a heap of wheat in his mouth as he lay asleep. His parents desiring to know what the meaning of the prodigy should be, the augurs answered that he should be the richest of all men. Nor was the prediction vain; for Midas exceeded all the princes of his time, in abundance of money; and the cheap gift of the gods, which was given in the cradle of the infant, was balanced by great treasures of gold and silver. 

[6e.3] L   I should have by right and deservedly preferred Plato's bees before Midas's ants; for the latter were only prognostications of frail and fading fortune,  but the former of solid and eternal felicity, as they brought honey and laid it upon the lips of the little infant, sleeping in his cradle. When this was reported, the interpreters of prodigies declared that a most singular grace of utterance should hereafter drop from his mouth. But to me those bees, not bred upon Hymettus covered with fragrant flowers of thyme, but on the verdant Heliconian Hills of the Muses, flourishing with all sorts of learning, seemed to distil into his mouth the sweetest nourishment of eloquence.

VII.   Of Dreams

Now, because I have touched upon the riches of Midas, and the eloquence of Plato in their sleep, I will show you how the quiet and safety of many men has been foreshadowed in certain apparitions.

[7.1] L   And where should I sooner begin, than from the most sacred memory of divine Augustus? His physician Artorius being asleep, the night before the day when the Romans fought against each other in the plains of Philippi, the appearance of Minerva told him to warn Augustus, then lying very ill, that notwithstanding his sickness he should not abstain from the battle. When Caesar heard this he caused himself to be carried in a litter into the field of battle, where, while he laboured above his strength for the victory, his camp was taken by Brutus. What other can we think then,  but that divine benevolence so ordained it, that a man destined to immortality, should not be subject to a fate unworthy of his divinity?

[7.2] L   Nor was it only the dream of Artorius that gave warning to Augustus, who had a natural perspicacity and vigour to judge of everything, but also a recent and domestic example. For he had heard that Calpurnia the wife of his father Julius, the last night that he lived upon earth, dreamed that she saw her husband lie stabbed and bleeding in her bosom; and being frightened by the strangeness of the dream, she earnestly begged him to abstain from going to the senate the next day. But he, lest he should have been thought to have been moved by a woman's dream, went even so to the senate-house, where the murderers quickly laid violent hands upon him. It is not necessary to make any comparison between the father and the son, both equal in their divinity: for the one had already made way for himself to heaven by his own works, and the other was to let the world enjoy his virtues for a long time. Therefore the gods were only willing that the first should know the approaching change, which the other was to defer; it being enough that one honour should be given to heaven, and another promised.

[7.3] L   Remarkable also was that dream, and clear in its outcome, which the two consuls P. Decius Mus and T. Manlius Torquatus dreamed, when they lay encamped not far from the foot of Mount Vesuvius, at the time of the Latin War, which was very fierce and dangerous. For a certain person foretold to both of them, that the Manes and Terra Mater claimed as their due the general of one side, and the whole army of the other side; but whichever general should assail the forces of the enemy, and devote himself as a victim for the good of his army, would obtain the victory. The entrails of the sacrifices confirmed this on the next morning to both consuls, who endeavoured either to expiate the misfortune, if it might be averted, or else resolved to undergo the decision of the gods. Therefore they agreed, that whichever wing should begin to give way, there the commander should with his own life appease the Fates; which while both undauntedly ventured to perform, Decius happened to be the person whom the gods required.

[7.4] L   The dream which follows, seems equally to concern public religion. A certain head of a family caused his servant to be whipped, and brought him to the execution at the fork in the Flaminian Circus, at the time of the Plebeian Games, a little before the show was about to begin. Jupiter, in a dream, commanded Titus Latinius, one of the common people, to tell the consuls, that the front-dancer at the last Circus Games in no way pleased him; and that unless the fault were expiated by an exact repetition of the games, there would ensue not a little vexation and trouble to the city. He, fearing to involve the commonwealth in a duty of religion to his own disadvantage, held his peace. Immediately his son, taken with a sudden fit of sickness, died. Afterwards being asked by the same god in his sleep whether be thought himself punished enough for the neglect of his command - yet remaining obstinate - he was stricken with a general weakness of body. At length, by the advice of his friends, he was carried in a horse-litter to the consuls' tribunal, and fully declared the cause of his misfortunes; then, to the wonder of all men recovering his former strength, he walked on foot to his house.

[7.5] L   Nor must we pass over in silence, that when M. Cicero was banished from the city by the conspiracy of his enemies, he went aside into a certain country house in the territory of Atina, and falling asleep there,  he thought that he was wandering through strange places and uncouth regions, and that he met C. Marius in his consul's robes, who asked him why he was wandering unsurely there with so sad a countenance. Whereupon Cicero making his condition known to him, the consul took him by the right hand and delivered him to the principal lictor, to conduct him to Marius's own monument, telling him that there there was a joyful hope of a better condition laid up for him. Nor did it fall out otherwise; for the senate made a decree for his return in the temple of Jupiter built by Marius.

[7.6] L   But C. Gracchus was most openly and clearly forewarned in a dream, of the mischief of approaching misfortune: for being asleep, he saw the likeness of his brother Tiberius, who told him that there was no way for him to avoid the same fate which he had undergone, when he was killed. This many heard from the mouth of Gracchus himself, before he had undertaken the tribuneship, wherein he perished. And one Caelius, a Roman Historian, said that he had heard talk of this while Gracchus was still living.

[7.7] L   But what follows exceeds the dire aspect of that dream. After Antonius had lost the battle of Actium, Cassius Parmensis, who had taken his side, fled to Athens; where he fell asleep in the night, being tired with care and trouble. He thought there came to him a person of a very great stature, with dark complexion, his beard bedraggled, and long hanging hair, who being asked what he was answered, ? "Cacodaemon {Evil Genius}". Being frightened by so horrid a sight, and so terrible a name, he called for his servants, and asked them if they had seen anyone of such an appearance, either come in or go out of the chamber: When they affirmed that no such person had come there, he again betook himself to his rest; and immediately the same figure appeared to him again. Awaking completely, he called for a light, and commanded the servants to depart. Between this night and his execution, to which Caesar condemned him, there was only a very short space of time.

[7.8] L   The dream of Haterius Rufus, a Roman knight, was more plainly hinted to him: for he dreamed one night, at a time when there was a great gladiatorial show at Syracuse, that he saw himself slain: which he told the next day to those that sat by him in the theatre. It happened afterwards, that near to the knight's place, a retiarius was introduced with a murmillo, whose face when he saw, he said, that he was to be slain by the retiarius and immediately would have departed. Those who endeavoured by conversation to put away his fear, were the cause of the destruction of this miserable man. For the retiarius drove the murmillo thither and cast him upon the ground, but while he was endeavouring to strike his opponent on the ground, he ran Haterius thorough the body with his sword.


[7e.1] L   The dream also of Hannibal, much as it was detestable to Roman blood, so it was a sure prediction; not only in his waking, but also in his sleeping he was fatal to our empire. He had a dream apposite to his purpose, and fitted to his wishes: for he fancied a young man of human appearance, taller than ordinary, was sent to him by Jupiter, to be his guide and conductor in his invasion of Italy. By his command at first he followed his foot-steps, without casting his eyes either one way or another: afterwards, out of the eager desire in mortals to do what is forbidden, looking behind him, he saw a serpent of an immense magnitude destroying all before it. After that he beheld prodigious showers of hail, with thunder and dark clouds. Being astonished, he asked what that monster meant - to which his conductor said, "Behold the waste and devastation of Italy; therefore be silent, and commit the rest to Fate."

[7e.2] L   How well was Alexander king of Macedonia warned to take more care of his life, had Fortune given him enough wisdom to avoid the danger! For he knew that the right hand of Cassander would be fatal to him, long before he felt it by the event: for he believed he should be slain by him, although he had never seen him. After some time, upon sight of him, beholding the resemblance of his nocturnal fear, as soon as he found him to be the son of Antipater, he repeated the Greek verse which dismisses the credibility of dreams, and banished from his thoughts all suspicion of the poison already had prepared against him, with which - as was commonly believed - he was killed by Cassander.

[7e.3] L   More indulgent were the gods to the poet Simonides, confirming their warning by the strength of repeated advice. For he, coming ashore and finding the dead body of a man, buried it; whereupon he was by the same body admonished, that he should not set sail the next day: he believed this and stayed ashore, but those that went to sea were all cast away. He was not a little glad that he had trusted his life to the security of a dream, rather than to the mercy of the sea. And being mindful of the benefit received, he immortalised the memory of the person in a living poem, raising up for him a better sepulchre in the memories of men, than that which he had bestowed upon him on the deserted and remote shore.

[7e.4] L   Of great efficacy also was that apparition to Croesus in his sleep, which first occasioned in him great fear, and afterwards greater grief. For it seemed to him that Atys, one of his sons, the most excellent for strength of body and endowments of mind, and his designated successor, was murdered with iron. Thereupon whatever could be done to avert the predicted disaster, all was done through the care of his father. The young man, though he was usually sent to the wars, was kept at home. He had also an armoury stored with all sorts of weapons, and that was removed from him. He had companions that used to go about armed: they were also forbidden to come near him. Yet necessity found a way to cause the misfortune. For there being a wild boar, of an incredible size, that wasted the tilled fields of Mount Olympus, and killed several of the country-people, and the aid of the king being implored, the son obtained from his father leave that he might be sent to deliver the people from their calamity.  Croesus more readily granted this, because the mischief was not threatened from tusks, but from iron. But while everyone was intent and eager in killing the wild beast, obstinate destiny, persisting in her intended violence, directed a spear into his  body, which was intended against the boar, and chose particularly that the guilt of the murder lay on no other than the right hand of him, to whose charge and tuition the father had chiefly committed his son. This suppliant's hand - contaminated with the blood of involuntary homicide - Croesus, in reverence for the gods of hospitality, purified by sacrifice.

[7e.5] L   Neither was Cyrus a small argument of the inevitable necessity of fate. His birth, to which the empire of all Asia was promised, Astyages his grandfather by the mother's side sought in vain to hinder, after the predictions of a dream. He married his daughter Mandane, because he had dreamed that she had overwhelmed all the nations of Asia with her urine, not to one of the nobles, lest the right of dominion might fall to his family, but to one of a lesser fortune among the Persians. When Cyrus was born he caused him to be exposed, having dreamed that a vine growing out of the secret parts of Mandane, should cover all his dominions. But he was frustrated in all his endeavours and human counsels, not being able to hinder the good fortune of his grandson, which the gods had so fully determined.

[7e.6] L   While Dionysius of Syracuse still lived a private life, a woman in Himera, of no mean parentage, fancied in her sleep that she ascended into heaven, and having there viewed the seats of all the gods, she saw a strong man, with yellow hair and a freckled faced, bound in iron chains to the throne of Jupiter, and lying at his feet. She asked a young man who was her guide the meaning of this, she was told that he was the ill fate of Sicily and Italy; and when his chains should be taken off, many towns would be ruined. She disclosed this dream in her talk the next day. Afterwards seeing Dionysius, an enemy to the liberty of Syracuse and the lives of the innocent - with the help of Fortune freed from his celestial chains and hurled like a thunderbolt against peace and tranquillity - entering the walls of Himera, she cried out that this was he whom she had seen in her dream. When this was related to Dionysius, he caused her to be put to death.

[7e.7] L   Safer was the dream of the mother of the same Dionysius; who, when she had conceived him, fancied that she was giving birth to a great Satyr: and consulting the interpreter of prodigies, she understood that he should be the greatest and most powerful of all the Greeks of his time.

[7e.8] L   But Hamilcar general of the Carthaginians, while he was besieging Syracuse, thought that he heard a voice proclaiming to him, that he should dine the next day in that city. With great joy, as if victory were promised him from heaven, he prepared his army for the assault. But at this time, dissension arising between the Carthaginians and Sicilians, the Syracusans sallied out, took his camp, and brought him bound into the city. Thus deluded by his hope, not by his dream, he dined a captive in Syracuse, not, as he had conceived, a victor.

[7e.9] L   Alcibiades also beheld his lamentable end in a dream, no way fallacious. For being slain and unburied, he was covered with the same cloak of his concubine, that he had seen himself wearing in his sleep.

[7e.10] L   The following dream, for its manifest precision, though somewhat longer, demands not to be omitted. Two Arcadian companions travelling together came to Megara; one of which went to lie at his friend's house, the other at a public inn. He that lay at his friend's house dreamed that he heard his companion entreating his help, because he was plotted against by the inn-keeper, whose villainy he might prevent by his speedy presence. Leaping out of his bed, he endeavoured to find the inn where his friend lay. But Fate condemned his human purpose as needless; and believing that what he had heard was but a dream, he went to bed again and to sleep. Then the same person came wounded and beseeched, that since he had neglected to assist him in his life-time, he would not delay to avenge his death; for his body, slain by the inn-keeper, was being carried out at the gate in a cart, covered with dung. His friend, moved by his prayers, made haste to the gate, and stopped the cart which was described to him in his sleep; then he apprehended the inn-keeper, and brought him to punishment by death.

VIII.   Of Miracles.

Many accidents also happen to men awake, and by day, as well as those which are involved in the clouds of darkness and dreams; because it is hard to understand whence they proceed, or upon what reason they are grounded, they are deservedly called miracles.

[8.1] L   Among the great multitude of miracles, this first occurs. When the dictator Aulus Postumius and Mamilius Octavius, leader of the Tusculans, were  fighting at Lake Regillus, with great forces on both sides, and for some time neither side gave ground, Castor and Pollux took the Romans side and overthrew the forces of the enemy.

Likewise  in the Macedonian War, P. Vatinius, a magistrate of Reate, when he was returning towards the city by night, thought he met two handsome men sitting upon white horses, who told him that the day before Perseus had been taken by Paullus. When he related this to the senate, he was by them committed to prison, as one who demeaned their majesty and power with his idle talk. But afterwards, when they understood by letters from Paullus that Perseus was taken on that same day, he was not only delivered out of custody, but honoured with a gift of land, and exemption from duties. 

It was also further found that Castor and Pollux did watch over the safety of the commonwealth, and worked hard for its good, because they were seen to wash themselves and their horses in the Lake of Juturna, and their temple adjoining the spring opened of its own accord, not being unlocked by the hand of any person.

[8.2] L   But then we may relate how favourable the rest of the gods were to our city. For when our city was visited with a three-year pestilence, and neither through divine compassion or human aid could any remedy be found for so long and lasting a calamity, the priests consulted the Sibylline Books and observed, that there was no other way to restore the city to its former health but by fetching the image of Aesculapius from Epidaurus. The city therefore sent ambassadors thither, hoping that by its authority, the greatest then in the world, they might prevail to obtain the only remedy against the fatal misery. Neither did hope deceive them. For their desire was granted with as much willingness, as it was requested with earnestness. For immediately the Epidaurians conducted the ambassadors to the temple of Aesculapius (distant from the city some five miles) and told them to take out of it whatever they thought appropriate for the preservation of Rome. Their liberal goodwill was imitated by  the god himself in his celestial compliance, approving the kindness of mortals. For that snake, seldom or never seen except to their great benefit, which the Epidaurians worshipped equally to Aesculapius, began to glide with a mild aspect and gentle motion through the chief parts of the city; and being seen for three days to the religious admiration of all men, without doubt taking in good part the change to a more noble seat, it hastened to the Roman trireme, and while the mariners stood frightened by so unusual a sight, crept aboard the ship. It peaceably folded itself into several coils, and quietly remained in the cabin of Q. Ogulnius, one of the ambassadors. The envoys returned due thanks, and being instructed by those who were skilful in the due worship of the serpent, like men who had obtained their hearts' desire, joyfully departed. When after a prosperous voyage they put in at Antium, the snake, which had remained in the ship, glided to the porch of the temple of Aesculapius, adorned with myrtle and other boughs, and twisted itself around a palm-tree of a very great height, where it stayed for three days in the temple of Antium. The ambassadors with great care put out those things wherewith he used to be fed, for fear he should be unwilling to return to the ship: and then he patiently allowed himself to be transported to our city. When the ambassadors landed upon the shore of the Tiber, the snake swam to the island where the temple was dedicated, and by his coming dispelled the calamity, for which he had been sought as a remedy.

[8.3] L   Equally willing was the coming of Juno to our City. When Veii was captured by Furius Camillus, the soldiers by command of the general went about to remove the image of Juno Moneta, which was most worshipped there, and endeavoured to remove it from the place where it stood. Among the rest, one of the soldiers jokingly asked the goddess, whether she wanted to go to Rome; when the goddess replied that she did want it, the jest was turned into wonderment. And then, believing that they not only carried the image, but Juno herself, with great joy they placed her in that part of the Aventine hill, where now we see her temple stand.

[8.4] L   The image also of Fortuna Muliebris, about four miles from the city along the Via Latina, which was consecrated together with her temple at the same time that Coriolanus was diverted from destroying the city by his mother's tears, was heard, not once but twice, to speak these words: "In due manner have you seen me, matrons, and in due manner dedicated me."

[8.5] L   But Valerius Publicola the consul, after the expulsion of the kings, waged war with the Veientes and Etruscans; while the one sought to restore Tarquinius to his kingdom, the other sought to retain their new-recovered liberty. At this time, while the Etruscans and Tarquinius had the upper hand on the right wing, there happened such a sudden panic, that not only the victors began to fly, but also drew the Veientes, struck with the same fear, along with them. A miracle is adduced as the cause of this panic: on a sudden a loud voice had been heard from the adjoining Arsian Wood, said to be uttered from the mouth of Silvanus as follows: "But one more of the Etruscans shall fall: the Roman army shall obtain the victory." The truth of the miracle appeared when the number of the dead bodies was counted.

[8.6] L   What do you say about the assistance of Mars, which facilitated the victory of the Romans - is it not worthy of lasting memory? When the Bruttians and Lucanians with most inveterate hatred and great forces sought the destruction of the city of Thurii, C. Fabricius Luscinus the consul on the other side endeavoured with all his might to preserve the city.  The outcome seemed dubious, the forces of both sides meeting in one place, and the Romans not daring to venture battle. A young man of a comely stature began to exhort them to take courage; when he found them not very forward, taking hold of a ladder, he passed through the middle of the enemy's force to the opposite camp, and setting up his ladder scaled the fortifications. Then, crying out with a loud voice, that there was a step made towards victory, he drew our men to assail, and the Lucanians and Bruttians to defend their own camp. There they joined battle, but the outcome was doubtful until the same man, by the onslaught of his arms, delivered the enemy over to be slain and taken by the Romans. Twenty thousand were slain, and five thousand captured, together with Statius Statilius, general of both peoples, and twenty three military standards. The next day, when the consul was rewarding those who had fought strenuously for him, he told the soldiers that he had reserved a crown for the man who had shown so much courage in taking the camp, but no young man was to be found to claim it. Then it was known and believed that Mars had supported the Romans side. And among other demonstrations of the truth of the thing, there was a helmet found with two plumes, which had covered his sacred head. Therefore by command of Fabricius there was proclaimed a supplication to Mars, and thanks returned to him with great joy by the soldiers, crowned with laurel, in testimony of the assistance which they had received from him.

[8.7] L   I shall relate now what being known in that age was faithfully passed on to those which succeeded. Aeneas, bringing his household-gods with him from Troy, placed them in Lavinium. From thence they were by his son Ascanius removed to Alba, which himself had built: lest this should seem a force put upon them by the hands of men, they resolved to testify their goodwill. Wherein I am not ignorant how opinion hesitates in the asserting the truth of the motion and voice of the immortal gods. However, because we do not relate new things, but only repeat what has been passed on, let the first authors vindicate the truth. It is our part not to refuse as vain, what the sacred monuments of history have consecrated for certain.

[8.8] L   Having made mention of the city of Alba, from whence our own had its first origin, heavenly Julius the glorious offspring thereof comes into our mind, whom C. Cassius (never to be named without remembering his public parricide) while he was labouring courageously at the Battle of Philippi, saw a figure  of above mortal stature, clad in a purple robe, and an angry countenance, making toward him with full speed; at which sight affrighted he fled, having first heard these words uttered, "What more would you do, if it be too little to have killed? Did you not murder Caesar, O Cassius? But no deity can be prevailed against; therefore by injuring him whose mortal body still burns, you hast deserved to have a god so much your enemy."

[8.9] L   Lentulus passed by the shore where the body of Pompey the Great, murdered by the treachery of king Ptolemy, was then burning; altogether ignorant of his death, he cried out to his soldiers, "How do we know but that Pompey may be now burning in that flame?" The miracle was that he should in ignorance speak so great a truth, as it were by inspiration.

[8.10] L   This was only the saying of a man; but that which came from the mouth of Apollo himself was more miraculous, and clear evidence of Delphic prophesy, foretelling the death of Appius. During the civil war, wherein Pompey had abandoned his friendship with Caesar, through advice no less baneful to himself than disadvantageous to the commonwealth, Appius wished to know the outcome of so great a crisis. By the power of his command (for he was governor of Achaia) he caused the priestess of the Delphic oracle to descend into the innermost part of the holy shrine, where as more certain answers are demanded, so the over-abundance of the divine exhalation becomes more noxious to those who give the answer. The virgin therefore through the impulse of this divine inspiration, with a most dreadful tone, among other obscure terms and enigmas, thus replied to Appius: "The war does not concern you, O Roman. You shall have for your lot, the place in Euboea called the Hollows." He, believing that Apollo had forewarned him to avoid the danger of the war, withdrew into the region which lies between Rhamnus - a noble part of Attica - and Carystus by the strait of Chalcis; this region is called Hollow Euboea. There he was consumed with sickness before the battle of Pharsalia, and so possessed the place predicted for his burial.

[8.11] L   The following things may also be accounted as miracles. When the shrine of the Salii was burnt down, there was nothing that survived the fire except the augural staff of Romulus. The statue of Servius Tullius remained untouched, when the temple of Fortune was consumed by fire. The statue of Quinta Claudia, placed near the entry into the temple of the Mother of the Gods, although that temple was twice consumed by fire, once when P. Scipio Nasica and L. Bestia were consuls, another time when M. Servilius and L. Lamia were consuls, stood firm upon its base and untouched.

[8.12] L   The funeral pyre of Acilius Aviola brought no small astonishment to our city, who - being taken for dead both by the physicians and by his friends - when he had been laid out for some time upon the ground, as soon as the flames came near his body, rose up and affirmed himself to be alive. He called for the assistance of his tutor, who alone remained with him, but being encompassed with the flames, he could not be rescued from them.

[8.13] L   L. Lamia also, a person of praetorian rank, is said to have cried out upon his funeral pyre.


[8e.1] L   But the fate of Er of Pamphylia has rendered the foregoing stories less surprising; who, as Plato affirmed, after he was thought to have been slain in battle, and had lain in the field for ten days, when he came to be taken away and laid upon the funeral pyre, revived and described the strange things, which he saw while he lay dead.

[8e.2] L   And since we have come to foreign examples, there was a certain learned man at Athens, who having received a blow from a stone upon his head, though he retained his memory as to all other things quite perfectly, yet forgot his learning, which he had followed all his lifetime. It was a dire and fatal wound to the soul of the wounded man, as if having deliberately sought through every sense, it had chosen that particularly wherein the sufferer most delighted, burying the singular doctrine and learning of the person in the perpetual grave of indignation.  Since he was not able to enjoy those studies, it would have been better for him that he had never obtained a taste of them, than to lack the sweetness of what he once had possessed.

[8e.3] L   But more lamentable is the story of the following misfortune. For the wife of Nausimenes, an Athenian, happened to catch her son and daughter in the act of incest. Struck with horror at so monstrous a sight, she became suddenly dumb, so that she neither could express her present indignation, nor ever afterwards speak a word. Her children punished themselves for their own wicked act, with voluntary death.

[8e.4] L   Thus savage Fortune took speech away from her, but she granted it to this man, most appropriately. Echecles, a Samian athlete who was born mute, when he saw the rewards of a victory that he had won taken from him, out of indignation for the injury done him, recovered his speech.

[8e.5] L   Remarkable also was the birth of Gorgias of Epirus, a brave and famous man, who coming forth of his mother's womb as she was going to be buried, with his crying caused them that carried the bier to stop. He afforded a strange spectacle to his country, as one that received his birth and life from the funeral pyre of his mother. For at the same moment she after her death gave birth, and her son was taken for burial before he was born.

[8e.6] L   A fortunate wound was that which a certain person gave to Jason of Pherae, while endeavouring to slay him. For striking at him with his sword, he pierced a boil of such a sort, that could neither be pierced nor cured by any skilled physician, and delivered him from an incurable disease.

[8e.7] L   Equally beloved of the immortal gods was Simonides, who being saved from (?)  shipwreck, was also preserved from a building's collapse. For while he was at dinner with Scopas in Crannon, a city of Thessaly, news was brought to him that two young men were at the door, earnestly desiring to speak with him. When he came to the gate, he found nobody there. But at the same moment, the roof of the dining-room fell down, and killed both Scopas and all his guests. What greater wealth could there be than so much good fortune, which neither the rage of the sea or land could take away from him?

[8e.8] L   I am not unwilling to add to this the story of Daphnites, so that men may understand how much more profitable it is to sing the praises of the gods, than to disparage their divinity. By profession he was one of those who are called sophists, of a silly and sarcastic disposition, and resolved to ask a frivolous question of the oracle of Apollo. In derision he asked whether he would find the horse that he had lost - when in truth he had none at all. To which the oracle answered that he would find his horse, but be killed with a fall off its back. Upon his return home, being merry and laughing at the trick he had played on the oracle, he fell into the hands of Attalus the king, whom he had often abused with his scurrilous verses, when he was out of his reach. By the king's command he was thrown headlong down a rock, which was called The Horse, and he received the reward deserved by one who would cavil with the gods.

[8e.9] L   Philip king of Macedonia, because he had been warned by the same oracle to beware of the violence of a four-horse chariot, caused all the chariots in his kingdom to be cut to pieces, and always carefully shunned that place in Boeotia which is called Chariot. And yet he could not avoid that kind of death which was foretold for him: for Pausanias, who slew him, had a chariot engraved on the hilt of his sword.

[8e.10] L   And this remorseless fate, which the father could not avoid, was just as severe to his son Alexander. For when Calanus the Indian was about to throw himself, of his own accord, upon his own funeral pyre, he was asked by Alexander whether he had anything to command or tell him; to which he made no other reply, but "I shall see you shortly." Nor was his answer amiss, for the sudden death of Alexander soon followed his voluntary decease.

[8e.11] L   The deaths of these kings are equalled as a miracle by the fortune of a rower, who, while standing at the pump in a Tyrian hexeris, was thrown out of it by the violence of a wave, but then the force of a contrary wave washed him back into the vessel again. He was congratulating and bewailing, at the same time, his miserable and happy condition.

[8e.12] L   What more? Are we not to believe that there are certain mockeries of Nature in the bodies of men? These are tolerable indeed, because they are not cruel; yet no less miraculous, because unusual. The son of Prusias king of Bithynia, bearing the same name as his father, instead of an upper row of teeth, had one continuous bone, though neither deformed nor unfit for use.

[8e.13] L   Drypetine also the daughter of Mithridates, born of Laodice the queen, had her mouth deformed with a double row of teeth above and below; she was her father's companion when he fled from Pompey.

[8e.14] L   No less remarkable were the eyes of that person, who is reported to have had so sharp a sight, that he was able to discern the ships going out of the port of Carthage, from the promontory of Lilybaeum in Sicily.

[8e.15] L   More remarkable than his eyes was the heart of Aristomenes the Messenian; when the Athenians, because of his remarkable subtlety, caused it to be cut out (for they had often captured him, yet still by his cunning he escaped them), they found it to be hairy all over.

[8e.16] L   The poet Antipater of Sidon every year on his very birthday had a fever; and having lived to a great age, upon his birthday he died of the fever.

[8e.17] L   Here we may very conveniently take notice of Polystratus and Hippoclides, the philosophers, who were born the same day, followed the precepts of the same teacher Epicurus, shared the same property, went to the same school, and after living long as friends together, at length both died the same day. So equal was the fortune and friendship of their relationship, that who would not think them born, bred, and deceased in the very bosom of divine Concord herself?

[8e.18] L   Why all this should come to pass, either to the children of kings, or to a most famous leader himself, or to a poet of a great genius, or be so remarkable in the lives of learned men, or among the common people, Nature itself, so fruitful in good or evil, has never given a reason. No more than why she so has favoured the wild goats, which are bred in Crete, that when they are wounded with arrows, they fly for present help to the herb dittany, which being eaten immediately forces the arrow and poison out of their wounds. Or how it comes to pass that on the island of Cephallenia, whereas all beasts in other places are refreshed by drinking water, in that place they are accustomed to quench their thirsts by receiving the wind into their mouths. Or why at Croton, in the temple of Lacinian Juno, the ashes on the altar should remain undisturbed, whatsoever wind blows. Or why one spring in Macedonia, and another in the territory of Cales, should have so much likeness to wine, as to intoxicate men. These things should not so much amaze us, as be thought worthy of remembrance, because we know well that Nature may be allowed some license, when she has the difficult task of begetting all things.

[8e.19] L   And now seeing we are talking of things that exceed common reason, let us give an account of that serpent, which Livy has so elegantly described. For he says that upon the banks of the river Bagrada in Africa, so great a serpent appeared, as to prevent the whole army of Atilius Regulus from using the water. Many soldiers she swallowed down her wide mouth, many she killed with the hideous coils of her tail, and when they could not pierce her with javelins, at length they were forced to bring up their catapults against her, and she collapsed under the blows of many heavy stones; and to all the cohorts and legions she seemed more terrible than Carthage itself. Because the river was then defiled with her blood, and the air infected with the stench of her body, the Roman camp was forced to be moved. The skin of this monster, Livy says, was a hundred and twenty feet long, and it was sent to Rome.

Book 2

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