when here recently a mule (which is an animal
ordinarily sterile by nature) brought forth a foal,1
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; besides that he
was a most competent augur, a wise man and a preeminent 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. 19.
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;2
and let us pronounce them liars, utterly indifferent
to the opinion of succeeding generations.