By such training and schooling in religious matters the city became so tractable, and stood in such awe of Numa's power, that they accepted his stories, though fabulously strange, and thought nothing incredible or impossible which he wished them to believe or do.
At any rate, the story goes that he once invited a large number of the citizens to his table, and set before them mean dishes and a very simple repast; but just as they began to eat, he surprised them by saying that the goddess with whom he consorted was come to visit him, and lo, on a sudden, the room was full of costly beakers and the tables were laden with all sorts of meats and abundant furniture.
But nothing can be so strange as what is told about his conversation with Jupiter. When the Aventine hill—so runs the tale—was not yet a part of the city nor even inhabited, but abounded in springs and shady dells, two demi-gods, Picus and Faunus, made it their haunt. In other ways these divinities might be likened to Satyrs or Pans, but they are said to have used powerful drugs and practised clever incantations, and to have traversed Italy playing the same tricks as the so-called Idaean Dactyli1
of the Greeks.
These demi-gods Numa is said to have caught, by mixing wine and honey with the water of the spring from which they were wont to drink. When captured, they dropped their own forms and assumed many different shapes, presenting hideous and dreadful appearances. But when they perceived that they were fast caught and could not escape, they foretold to Numa many things that would come to pass, and taught him besides the charm against thunder and lightning, which is still practised with onions, hair, and sprats.
Some, however, say that it was not the imps themselves who imparted the charm, but that they called Jupiter down from heaven by their magic, and that this deity angrily told Numa that he must charm thunder and lightning with
‘Of onions?’ asked Numa, filling out the phrase.
‘Of men,’ said Jupiter. Thereupon Numa, trying once more to avert the horror of the prescription, asked,
‘Nay,’ answered Jupiter,
‘sprats?’ added Numa, as he had been taught by Egeria to say.
Then the god returned to heaven in a gracious
‘hileos,’ as the Greeks say,—and the place was called Ilicium from this circumstance; and that is the way the charm was perfected. These stories, fabulous and ridiculous as they are, show us the attitude which the men of that time, from force of custom, took towards the gods. And Numa himself, as they say, had such implicit confidence in the gods, that once, when a message was brought to him that enemies were coming up against the city, he smiled and said:
‘But I am sacrificing.’