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HaruspexFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In Roman and Etruscan religious practice, a haruspex (plural haruspices; Latin auspex, plural auspices) was a man trained to practice a form of divination called haruspicy, hepatoscopy or hepatomancy. Haruspicy is the inspection of the entrails of sacrificed animals, especially the livers of sacrificed sheep and poultry. The rites were paralleled by other rites of divination such as the interpretation of lightningstrikes, of the flight of birds (augury), and of other natural omens. Practitioners during the period of Roman dominance gradually adopted the title auspex from the older word haruspex, or from the Latin avis (bird) and specere or spectare (to look/see).
Being a specific form of the general practice of extispicy, haruspicy is not original to Etruscans nor Romans. Rather, it is now considered to have originated from the Near East where one would once find Hittites and Babylonians performing similar rites with entrails and producing comparable stylized models of the sheep’s liver.
The Babylonians were famous for hepatoscopy. The liver was considered the source of the blood and hence the base of life itself. From this belief, the Mesopotamians deemed the liver of special sheep the means to discover the will of the gods. The priest, called a bārû, was specially trained to interpret the “signs” of the liver. The liver was divided into sections with each section representing a particular deity.
The Nineveh library texts name more than a dozen liver-related terms and before cuneiform writing was even deciphered, hints of the existence of Babylonian hepatoscopy were recorded in the Bible. One Babylonian clay model of a sheep’s liver, dated between 2050 and 1750 BC, is conserved in the British Museum. The model was used for omen divination which was important to Mesopotamian medicine. This study was carried out by priests and seers who looked for signs in the stars, or in the organs of sacrificed animals, to tell them things about a patient’s illness. Wooden pegs were placed in the holes of the clay tablet to record features found in a sacrificed animal’s liver. The priest or seer then used these features to predict the course of a patient’s illness.
Haruspicy was part of a larger study of organs for the sake of divination, called extispicy, paying particular attention to the positioning of the organs and their shape. There are many records of different peoples using the liver and spleen of various domestic and wild animals to forecast weather. There are hundreds of ancient architectural objects, labyrinths composed of cobblestones in the northern countries that are considered to be a model of the intestines of the sacrificial animal, i.e. the colon of ruminants.
The Etruscans were also well known for the practice of divining by the entrails of sheep. A bronze sculpture of a liver called the “Piacenza Liver” was discovered in 1877—and dating to c. 100 BC—near the town of Piacenza in northern Italy, complete with the name of regions marked on it which were assigned to various gods. It has been connected to the practice of haruspicy. By 1900, a professor of anatomy, Ludwig Stieda, sought to compare this artifact with a Mesopotamian one dated to a millennium earlier.
Etruscan haruspicy probably reached Etruria via the Hittites, perhaps because the Etruscans originated in Asia Minor. The art of haruspicy was taught in the Libri Tagetici, a collection of texts attributed to Tages, a childlike being who figures in Etruscan mythology, and who was discovered in an open field by Tarchon.
Haruspicy continued to be practised throughout the history of the Roman Empire. It was a haruspex, Spurinna, who warned Julius Caesar to beware the Ides of March. The emperor Claudius was a student of Etruscan and opened a college to preserve and improve their art, which lasted until the reign of Theodosius I. Further evidence has been found of haruspices in Bath, England where the base of a statue was inscribed to honour a god for a haruspex.
William Smith wrote about it, too, in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray (London, 1875)
The art of the haruspices, which was called haruspicina, consisted in explaining and interpreting the will of the gods from the appearance of the entrails (exta) of animals offered in sacrifice, whence they are sometimes called extispices, and their art extispicium (Cic. de Div. II.11; Suet. Ner. 56); and also from lightning, earthquakes, and all extraordinary phenomena in nature, to which the general name of portenta was given (Valer. Max. I.1 §1). Their art is said to have been invented by the Etruscan Tages (Cic. de Div. II.23; Festus, s.v. Tages ), and was contained in certain books called libri haruspicini, fulgurales, and tonitruales (Cic. de Div. I.33; cf. Macrob. Saturn. III.7).
This art was considered by the Romans so important at one time, that the senate decreed that a certain number of young Etruscans, belonging to the principal families in the state, should always be instructed in it (Cic. de Div. I.41). Niebuhr appears to be mistaken in supposing the passage in Cicero to refer to the children of Roman families (see Orelli, ad loc.). The senate sometimes consulted the haruspices (Cic. de Div. I.43, II.35; Liv. XXVII.37), as did also private persons (Cic. de Div. II.29). In later times, however, their art fell into disrepute among well-educated Romans; and Cicero (de Div. II.24) relates a saying of Cato, that he wondered that one haruspex did not laugh when he saw another. The Emperor Claudius attempted to revive the study of the art, which had then become neglected; and the senate, under his directions, passed a decree that the pontifices should examine what parts of it should be retained and established (Tac. Ann. XI.15); but we do not know what effect this decree produced.
The name of haruspex is sometimes applied to any kind of soothsayer or prophet (Prop. III.13.59); whence Juvenal (VI.550) speaks of Armenius vel Commagenus haruspex.
The latter part of the word haruspex contains the root spec; and Donatus (ad Ter. Phorm. IV.4.28) derives the former part from haruga, a victim. Cf. Festus, s.v. Harviga, and Varro, De Ling. Lat. V.98, ed. Müller. (Göttling, Gesch. der Röm. Staatsv. p213; Walter, Gesch. des Röm. Rechts, §§ 142, 770, 2nd ed.; Brissonius, De Formulis, I.29, &c.)
So … Who wants liver and onions for lunch?