The History, 21.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1While Constantius was detained by this perplexing war beyond the Euphrates, Julian at Vienne devoted his days and nights to forming plans for the future, as far as his limited resources would allow; being in great suspense, and continually doubting whether to try every expedient to win Constantius over to friendship, or to anticipate his attack, with the view of alarming him.

2And while anxiously considering these points he feared him, as likely to be in the one case a cruel friend, while in the other case he recollected that he had always been successful in civil disturbances. Above all things his anxiety was increased by the example of his brother Gallus, who had been betrayed by his own want of caution and the perjured deceit of certain individuals.

3Nevertheless he often raised himself to ideas of energetic action, thinking it safest to show himself as an avowed enemy to him whose movements he could, as a prudent man, judge of only from his past actions, in order not to be entrapped by secret snares founded on pretended friendship.

4Therefore, paying little attention to the letters which Constantius had sent by Leonas, and admitting none of his appointments with the exception of that of Nebridius, he now celebrated the Quinquennalia as emperor, and wore a splendid diadem inlaid with precious stones, though when first entering on that power he had worn but a paltry-looking crown like that of a president of the public games.

5At this time also he sent the body of his wife Helen, recently deceased, to Rome, to be buried in the suburb on the road to Nomentum, where also Constantina, his sister-in-law, the wife of Gallus, had been buried.

6His desire to march against Constantius, now that Gaul was tranquillized, was inflamed by the belief which he had adopted from many omens (in the interpretation of which he had great skill), and from dreams that the emperor would soon die.

7And since malignant people have attributed to this prince, so erudite and so eager to acquire all knowledge, wicked practices for the purpose of learning future events, we may here briefly point out how this important branch of learning may be acquired by a wise man.

8The spirit which directs all the elements, and which at all times and throughout all places exercises its activity by the movement of these eternal bodies, can communicate to us the capacity of foreseeing the future by the sciences which we attain through various kinds of discipline. And the ruling powers, when properly propitiated, as from everlasting springs, supply mankind with words of prophecy, over which the deity of Themis is said to preside, and which, because she teaches men to know what has been settled for the future by the law of Fate, has received that name from the Greek word τεθειμένα (“fixed”), and has been placed by ancient theologians in the bed and on the throne of Jupiter, who gives life to all the world.

9Auguries and auspices are not collected from the will of birds who are themselves ignorant of the future (for there is no one so silly as to say they understand it); but God directs the flight of birds, so that the sound of their beaks, or the motion of their feathers, whether quiet or disturbed, indicates the character of the future. For the kindness of the deity, whether it be that men deserve it, or that he is touched by affection for them, likes by these acts to give information of what is impending.

10Again, those who attend to the prophetic entrails of cattle, which often take all kinds of shapes, learn from them what happens. Of this practice a man called Tages was the inventor, who, as is reported, was certainly seen to rise up out of the earth in the district of Etruria.

11Men too, when their hearts are in a state of excitement, foretell the future, but then they are speaking under divine inspiration. For the sun, which is, as natural philosophers say, the mind of the world, and which scatters our minds among us as sparks proceeding from itself, when it has inflamed them with more than usual vehemence, renders them conscious of the future. From which the Sibyls often say they are burning and fired by a vast power of flames; and with reference to these cases the sound of voices, various signs, thunder, lightning, thunderbolts, and falling stars, have a great significance.

12But the belief in dreams would be strong and undoubted if the interpreters of them were never deceived; and sometimes, as Aristotle asserts, they are fixed and stable when the eye of the person, being soundly asleep, turns neither way, but looks straight forward.

13And because the ignorance of the vulgar often talks loudly, though ignorantly, against these ideas, asking why, if there were any faculty of foreseeing the future, one man should be ignorant that he would be killed in battle, or another that he would meet with some misfortune, and so on; it will be enough to reply that sometimes a grammarian has spoken incorrectly, or a musician has sung out of tune, or a physician been ignorant of the proper remedy for a disease; but these facts do not disprove the existence of the sciences of grammar, music, or medicine.

14So that Tully is right in this as well as other sayings of his, when he says, “Signs of future events are shown by the gods; if any one mistakes them he errs, not because of the nature of the gods, but because of the conjectures of men.” But lest this discussion, running on this point beyond the goal, as the proverb is, should disgust the reader, we will now return to relate what follows.

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