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PRODI´GIUM 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 praedico.] 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 persons.

Hence the distinction of “prodigium quod in privato loco,” or “quod in peregrino factum est” (Liv. 43.13): the rites and offerings which would in his judgment afford a procuratio privati portenti depended upon the owner of the house where it occurred (Liv. 5.15); so, too, as regards the Roman senate a prodigy in a colonia would be looked upon as in peregrino loco, and 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. 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. 22.1), or to commit the examination and decision to the pontifices (Liv. 1.20). 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 claim (postilio) for atonement he made. (See Cic. de Harusp. Resp. 10, 20; 14, 31; Varro, L. L. 5.148; Arnob. 4.31, who instances postiliones for neglect, perhaps accidental, of duties and ceremonies.) An edict then declared how the expiation should be made, by hostiae majores or novendiale sacrum or obsecratio; and the matter was entrusted to the consuls. Marquardt gives abundant instances of these cases (Staatsverw. iii. p. 260), but he gathers from Philarg. ad 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 or a jejunium, was ordered (Liv. 36.37). (Müller, Die Etrusker, 2.191; Hartung, Die Religion der Romer, 1.96; Bouché--Leclercq, Hist. de la Divination, p. 181; Marquardt, Staatsverw. iii.2 pp. 259-264.)

[W.R] [G.E.M]

hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.4.107
    • Cicero, On the Responses of the Haruspices, 10
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 5.638
    • Vergil, Georgics, 2.162
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 43, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 15
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 36, 37
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 42
    • Cicero, De Divinatione, 1.3
    • Cicero, De Divinatione, 1.4
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 2.28
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.6
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