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How we ought to use divination.

THROUGH an unreasonable regard to divination many of us omit many duties.1 For what more can the diviner see than death or danger or disease, or generally things of that kind? If then I must expose myself to danger for a friend, and if it is my duty even to die for him, what need have I then for divination? Have I not within me a diviner who has told me the nature of good and of evil, and has explained to me the signs (or marks) of both? What need have I then to consult the viscera of victims or the flight of birds, and why do I submit when he says, It is for your interest? For does he know what is for my interest, does he know what is good; and as he has learned the signs of the viscera, has he also learned the signs of good and evil? For if he knows the signs of these, he knows the signs both of the beautiful and of the ugly, and of the just and of the unjust. Do you tell me, man, what is the thing which is signified for me: is it life or death, poverty or wealth? But whether these things are for my interest or whether they are not, I do not intend to ask you. Why don't you give your opinion on matters of grammar, and why do you give it here about things on which we are all in error and disputing with one another?2 The woman therefore, who intended to send by a vessel a month's provisions to Gratilla3 in her banishment, made a good answer to him who said that Domitian would seize what she sent, I would rather, she replied, that Domitian should seize all than that I should not send it.

What then leads us to frequent use of divination? Cowardice, the dread of what will happen. This is the reason why we flatter the diviners. Pray, master, shall I succeed to the property of my father? Let us see: let us sacrifice on the occasion.—Yes, master, as fortune chooses. —When he has said, You shall succeed to the inheritance, we thank him as if we received the inheritance from him. The consequence is that they play upon us.4

What then should we do? We ought to come (to divination) without desire or aversion, as the wayfarer asks of the man whom he meets which of two roads leads (to his journey's end), without any desire for that which leads to the right rather than to the left, for he has no wish to go by any road except the road which leads (to his end). In the same way ought we to come to God also as a guide; as we use our eyes, not asking them to show us rather such things as we wish, but receiving the appearances of things such as the eyes present them to us. But now we trembling take the augur (bird interpreter)5 by the hand, and while we invoke God we intreat the augur, and say Master have mercy on me;6 suffer me to come safe out of this difficulty. Wretch, would you have then any thing other than what is best? Is there then any thing better than what pleases God? Why do you, as far as is in your power, corrupt your judge and lead astray your adviser?

1 Divination was a great part of antient religion, and, as Epictetus says, it led men 'to omit many duties.' In a certain sense there was some meaning in it. If it is true that those who believe in God can see certain signs in the administration of the world by which they can judge what their behaviour ought to be, they can learn what their duties are. If these signs are misunderstood, or if they are not seen right, men may be governed by an abject superstition. So the external forms of any religion may become the means of corruption and of human debasement, and the true indications of God's will may be neglected. Upton compares Lucan (ix. 572), who sometimes said a few good things.

2 A man who gives his opinion on grammar gives an opinion on a thing of which many know something. A man who gives his opinion on divination or on future events, gives an opinion on things of which we all know nothing. When then a man affects to instruct on things unknown, we may ask him to give his opinion on things which are known, and so we may learn what kind of man he is.

3 Gratilla was a lady of rank, who was banished from Rome and Italy by Domitian. Pliny, Epp. iii. 11. See the note in Schweig.'s ed. on ἐπιμήνια.

4 As knavish priests have often played on the fears and hopes of the superstitious.

5 Schweighaeuser reads τὸν ὀρνιθάριον. See his note.

6 '“Κύριε ἐλέησον, Domine miserere. Notissima formula in Christiana ecclesia jam usque a primis temporibus usurpata”' Upton.

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