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WHAT is to be regarded as the cause of earthquakes is not only not obvious to the ordinary understanding and thought of mankind, but it is not agreed even among the natural philosophers whether they are due to the mighty winds that gather in the caverns and hollow places of the earth, or to the ebb and flow of subterranean waters in its hollows, as seems to have been the view of the earliest Greeks, who called Neptune “the Earth Shaker” ; or whether they are the result of something else or due to the divine power of some other god—all this, I say, is not yet a matter of certain knowledge. For that reason the Romans of old, who were not only exceedingly scrupulous and careful in discharging all the other obligations of life, but also in fulfilling religious duties and venerating the immortal gods, whenever they felt an earthquake or received report of one, decreed a holy day on that account, but forbore to declare and specify in the decree, as is commonly [p. 223] done, the name of the god in whose honour the holy day was to be observed; for fear that by naming one god instead of another they might involve the people in a false observance. If anyone had desecrated that festival, and expiation was therefore necessary, they used to offer a victim “to either the god or goddess,” and Marcus Varro tells us 1 that this usage was established by a decree of the pontiffs, since it was uncertain what force, and which of the gods or goddesses, had caused the earthquake. But in the case of eclipses of the sun or moon they concerned themselves no less with trying to discover the causes of that phenomenon. However, Marcus Cato, although a man with a great interest in investigation, nevertheless on this point expressed himself indecisively and superficially. His words in the fourth book of his Origins are as follows: 2 “I do not care to write what appears on the tablet of the high priest: how often grain was dear, how often darkness, or something else, obscured the light 3 of sun or moon.” Of so little importance did he consider it either to know or to tell the true causes of eclipses of the sun and moon.
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