BOOK I, CHAPTER XI
Cicero says that Xenophanes the Colophonian alone of all the philosophers who acknowledged the existence of the gods, tried to uproot every kind of divination. It is in so much the less strange if we have seen sometimes, to their hurt, some of our princely personages dally with these vanities.
I should greatly like to have beheld with my own eyes those two marvels — the book of Joachim, the Calabrian abbot, who predicted all the popes to come, their names and persons; and that of the Emperor Leo, who predicted the emperors and patriarchs of Greece. This I have seen with my own eyes, that, in times of public confusion, men amazed by what happens to them fall back, as into other forms of superstition, into seeking in the heavens the causes and past threatenings of their ill-fortune; and they are so strangely lucky at it in my time that they have convinced me that, inasmuch as it is an occupation for keen and idle minds, those who are trained to this subtle art of knotting and unknotting these signs would be capable of finding in any writings whatever they sought therein. But what above all helps them in this game is the obscure, ambiguous, and fantastic language of the prophetical jargon, to which those who use it give no clear sense, so that posterity may ascribe to it any meaning it pleases. (b) The Demon of Socrates was, perhaps, a certain impulse from the will, which moved him without awaiting the concurrence of his reason. In a mind so purified as his, and so prepared by the continuous practice of wisdom and virtue, it is probable that those impressions, although unexpected and formless, were always important and worthy of being followed. Every man feels within himself some likeness to such emotions, (c) of a quick, vehement, and haphazard judgement. I can but give these some weight, who give so little weight to our sagacity; (b) and I have had some (c) equally weak in common sense
- De Divin., I, 3.
- a.d. 1130-1202.
- Leo VI, the Philosopher, a.d. 865-911. See Chalcondylas (tr. Vigenère), I, 8.
- On the intentional obscurity of the seers, see Cicero, De Divin., II, 54, 56.
- Opinion prompte, vehemente et fortuite.