V[5arg] A story which is told of the treachery of Etruscan diviners; and how because of that circumstance the boys at Rome chanted this verse all over the city: “Bad counsel to the giver is most ruinous.”
The statue of that bravest of men, Horatius Cocles, which stood in the Comitium 1 at Rome, was struck by lightning. To make expiatory offerings because of that thunderbolt, diviners were summoned from Etruria. These, through personal and national hatred of the Romans, had made up their minds to give false directions for the performance of that rite. [p. 329] They accordingly gave the misleading advice that the statue in question should be moved to a lower position, on which the sun never shone, being cut off by the high buildings which surrounded the place on every side. When they had induced the Romans to take that course, they were betrayed and brought to trial before the people, and having confessed their duplicity, were put to death. And it became evident, in exact accord with what were later found to be the proper directions, that the statue ought to be taken to an elevated place and set up in a more commanding position in the area of Vulcan; 2 and after that was done, the matter turned out happily and successfully for the Romans. At that time, then, because the evil counsel of the Etruscan diviners had been detected and punished, this clever line is said to have been composed, and chanted by the boys all over the city: 3
Bad counsel to the giver is most ruinous.This story about the diviners and that senarius 4 is found in the Annales Maximi, in the eleventh book, 5 and in Verrius Flaccus' first book of Things Worth Remembering. 6 But the verse appears to be a translation of the Greek poet Hesiod's familiar line: 7
And evil counsel aye most evil is
To him who gives it.