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[4] The third consists in avoiding ambiguous terms, unless you deliberately intend the opposite, like those who, having nothing to say, yet pretend to say something; such people accomplish this by the use of verse, after the manner of Empedocles.1 For the long circumlocution takes in the hearers, who find themselves affected like the majority of those who listen to the soothsayers. For when the latter utter their ambiguities, they also assent; for example, “ Croesus, by crossing the Halys, shall ruin a mighty dominion.2

And as there is less chance of making a mistake when speaking generally, diviners express themselves in general terms on the question of fact; for, in playing odd or even, one is more likely to be right if he says “even” or “odd” than if he gives a definite number, and similarly one who says “it will be” than if he states “when.” This is why soothsayers do not further define the exact time. All such ambiguities are alike, wherefore they should be avoided, except for some such reason.3

1 Of Agrigentum (c. 490-430), poet, philosopher, and physician. Among other legends connected with him, he is said to have thrown himself into the crater of Etna, so that by suddenly disappearing he might be thought to be a god. His chief work was a poem called Nature, praised by Lucretius. The principles of things are the four elements, fire, air, water, and earth, which are unalterable and indestructible. Love and hate, alternately prevailing, regulate the periods of the formation of the world. The existing fragments corroborate Aristotle's statement.

2 Hdt. 1.53, Hdt. 1.91. Croesus consulted the Delphian oracle whether he should attack Cyrus the Persian or not. Encouraged by the ambiguous oracle, he did so, but was utterly defeated.

3 The deliberate intention to mislead.

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