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Chapter XXVI.—Argument:  The Weapon that Cæcilius Had Slightly Brandished Against Him, Taken from the Auspices and Auguries of Birds, Octavius Retorts by Instancing the Cases of Regulus, Mancinus, Paulus, and Cæsar.  And He Shows by Other Examples, that the Argument from the Oracles is of No Greater Force Than the Others.

“And now I come to those Roman auspices and auguries which you have collected with extreme pains, and have borne testimony that they were both neglected with ill consequences, and observed with good fortune.  Certainly Clodius, and Flaminius, and Junius lost their armies on this account, because they did not judge it well to wait for the very solemn omen given by the greedy pecking of the chickens.  But what of Regulus?  Did he not observe the auguries, and was taken captive?  Mancinus maintained his religious duty, and was sent under the yoke, and was given up.  Paulus also had greedy chickens at Cannæ, yet he was overthrown with the greater part of the republic.18021802    Reipublicæ; but it is shrewdly conjectured that the passage was written, “cum majore R. P. parte”—“with the greater part of the Roman people,” and the mistake made by the transcriber of the ms.  Caius Cæsar despised the auguries and auspices that resisted his making his voyage into Africa before the winter, and thus the more easily he both sailed and conquered.  But what and how much shall I go on to say about oracles?  After his death Amphiaraus answered as to things to come, though he knew not (while living) that he should be betrayed by his wife on account of a bracelet.  The blind Tiresias saw the future, although he did not see the present.  Ennius invented the replies of the Pythian Apollo concerning Pyrrhus, although Apollo had already ceased to make verses; and that cautious and ambiguous oracle of his, failed just at the time when men began to be at once more cultivated and less credulous.  And Demosthenes, because he knew that the answers were feigned, complained that the Pythia philippized.  But sometimes, it is true, even auspices or oracles have touched the truth.  Although among many falsehoods chance might appear as if it imitated forethought; yet I will approach the very source of error and perverseness, whence all that obscurity has flowed, and both dig into it more deeply, and lay it open more manifestly.  There are some insincere and vagrant spirits degraded from their heavenly vigour by earthly stains and lusts.  Now these spirits, after having lost the simplicity of their nature by being weighed down and immersed in vices, for a solace of their calamity, cease not, now that they are ruined themselves, to ruin others; and being depraved themselves, to infuse into others the error of their depravity and being themselves alienated from God, to separate others from God by the introduction of degraded superstitions.  The poets know that those spirits are demons; the philosophers discourse of them; Socrates knew it, who, at the nod and decision of a demon that was at his side, either declined or undertook affairs.  The Magi, also, not only know that there are demons, but, moreover, whatever miracle they affect to perform, do it by means of demons; by their aspirations and communications they show their wondrous tricks, making either those things appear which are not, or those things not to appear which are.  Of those magicians, the first both in eloquence and in deed, Sosthenes,18031803    Otherwise Hostanes. not only describes the true God with fitting majesty, but the angels that are the ministers and messengers of God, even the true God.  And he knew that it enhanced His veneration, that in awe of the very nod and glance of their Lord they should tremble.  The same man also declared that demons were earthly, wandering, hostile to humanity.  What said Plato,18041804    [Octavius and Minucius had but one mind (see cap. i. supra), and both were philosophers of the Attic Academy reflecting Cicero.  See my remarks on Athenagoras, vol. ii. p. 126, this series.] who believed that it was a hard thing to find out God?  Does not he also, without hesitation, tell of both angels and demons?  And in his Symposium also, does not he endeavour to explain the nature of demons?  For he will have it to be a substance between mortal and immortal—that is, mediate between body and spirit, compounded by mingling of earthly weight and heavenly lightness; whence also he warns us of the desire of love,18051805    According to some editors, “warns us that the desire of love is received.” and he says that it is moulded and glides into the human breast, and stirs the senses, and moulds the affections, and infuses the ardour of lust.


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