in its original meaning differs little
from ostentum, monstrum, portentum.
“Quia enim ostendunt, portendunt, monstrant, praedicunt, ostenta,
portenta, monstra, prodigia dicuntur” (Cic. de Div. 1.4. 2
, 93). [It should be observed,
however, that prodigium
cannot be derived from
] In its widest acceptation the
word denotes any sign by which the gods indicated to men a future event,
whether good or evil, and thus includes omens and auguries of every
description (Verg. A. 5.638
; Servius ad loc.
; Cic. in
Verr. 4.49, 107
). It is, however, generally employed
in a more restricted sense to signify some strange incident which was
supposed to herald the approach of misfortune, under such circumstances as
to announce calamities impending over the nation rather than over private
Hence the distinction of “prodigium quod in privato loco,” or
“quod in peregrino factum est” (Liv.
): the rites and offerings which would in his judgment
afford a procuratio privati portenti
upon the owner of the house where it occurred (Liv.
); so, too, as regards the Roman senate a prodigy in a colonia
would be looked upon as in peregrino loco,
left to the magistrates of the town where it occurred. A common instance of
private procuration was when anything in private property was struck by
lightning [see BIDENTAL
Such prodigies were viewed as manifestations of the wrath of heaven and
warnings of coming vengeance; it was believed that the wrath might be
appeased and the vengeance averted by the proper rites and sacrifices.
Although it was impossible to provide for every contingency, rules for
expiation applicable to most cases were laid down in the sacred books of the
Etruscans (Cic. de Div. 1.3.
, 72); and when the prodigy was of an unprecedented: character,
recourse might be had not only to the haruspices, but to the Sibylline books
or even the Delphic oracle [HARUSPICES; SIBYLLINI
LIBRI]. When the senate received information of a prodigy happening
in publico loco,
the first process was
either themselves to examine witnesses (Liv.
), or to commit the examination and decision to the pontifices
). If the fact was proved, and also
judged important to the state, then they were said suscipere procurationem:
when the wrath of heaven was clearly
connected with some known crime, the first necessity was atonement by
punishing the criminal (cf. Liv. 2.42
; Dionys. A. R. 9.40
): the next point was to
settle what deities were pointed out by the prodigy as needing appeasement:
e. g. when the spears of Mars are shaken in the sacrarium regiae, then
sacrifices of hostiae majores
to Jupiter and
Mars are indicated (Gel. 4.6
)--where no god was
specially pointed to, there was a sacrifice in general terms, “deo aut
deae” (Gel. 2.28
): finally, when the
offended deity was, if possible, ascertained, it remained to determine what
) for atonement he made. (See
Cic. de Harusp. Resp. 10
20; 14, 31; Varro, L. L.
5.148; Arnob. 4.31, who instances
for neglect, perhaps
accidental, of duties and ceremonies.) An edict then declared how the
expiation should be made, by hostiae majores
and the matter was entrusted to the consuls.
Marquardt gives abundant instances of these cases
iii. p. 260), but he gathers from Philarg.
Verg. G. 2.162
, that the carrying out of the
atonement was sometimes committed to the Pontifices instead of the consuls.
When in doubtful and difficult cases, as mentioned above, the haruspices or
the Sibylline books were consulted, it usually followed that a greater
solemnity, a SUPPLICATIO
a jejunium, was ordered (Liv. 36.37
(Müller, Die Etrusker,
2.191; Hartung, Die
Religion der Romer,
Hist. de la Divination,
p. 181; Marquardt,
iii.2 pp. 259-264.)