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This sketch gives an idea of the sometimes unfortunate and often confusing changes the Essays underwent from the many additions at various times. They render them not simple growths, but complicated agglomerations.

AS to oracles, it is certain that a good while before the coming of Jesus Christ they had begun to be discredited; for we see Cicero trying to find out the cause of their failure. (c) And these are his words: Cur isto modo jam oracula Delphis non eduntur non modo nostra ætate sed jamdiu, ut modo nihil possit esse contemptius?[1] (a) But as for the other prognostics which were derived at sacrifices from the anatomy of animals, (c) to which Plato[2] ascribes in part the natural structure of their internal organs, (a) from the quick motions[3] of chickens, or the flight of birds, (c) aves quasdam rerum augurandarum causa natas esse putamus),[4] (a) from thunder and lightning, from the overflow of rivers; (c) multa cernunt aruspices, multa augures provident, multa oraculis declarantur, multa vaticinationibus, multa somniis, multa portentis;[5] (a) and other things upon which antiquity based most of its undertakings, both public and private — our religion has done away with them. And although there still remain among us certain methods of divination, by the stars, by spirits, by ghosts, by dreams, and otherwise, — a notable example of the senseless curiosity of our nature, occupying itself with future matters, as if it had not enough to do in digesting those at hand, —

(b) cur hanc tibi, rector Olympi,
Sollicitis visum mortalibus addere curam,
Noscant venturas ut dira per omina clades?

  1. Why is it that oracles of such a sort not only are not uttered at Delphi in our time, but have not been given out for some time past, so that nothing could be more contemptible? — Cicero, De Divin., II, 57.
  2. In the Timæus.
  3. Trepignement.
  4. We hold that certain birds were purposely created to be used in the art of augury. — Cicero, De Nat. Deor., II, 64.
  5. Many things the soothsayers discern; many the augurs foresee; many are announced by oracles, many by prophecies, many by dreams, many by portents. — Ibid., II, 65.