Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/778

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The two weeks preceding the plenilunium suggest the prime of life, when things in general progress favorably, while the subsequent half months correspond to the age of declining strength and general retrogression. The haruspices augured on the principle that a bird's flight from left to right was a favorable omen—things were going the right way, while by the laws of consistency the opposite direction suggested adverse tendencies. Birds, as creatures of the air, seemed the fittest messengers of the gods, who had a way of imparting their revelations by symbols, and might be supposed to choose the beginning of an unlucky enterprise as the best time for warning their favorites: When Conradin of Hohenstauffen set out for that fatal campaign that ended on the scaffold of Naples, his horse refused to cross the Arno Bridge, and an old citizen adjured him to turn back, but he dismounted and led his horse across." It means that we are going to prevail afoot," he laughed, alluding to the preponderance of his infantry force. A year before the invasion of the Saracens, King Roderic saw their horses and riders in a dream; and Appolonius of Tyana foresaw even the great aphanasia, the fifteen hundred years' eclipse of common sense and reason. "Woe be to our children!" he exclaimed, on awakening from a trance; "I see a shadow approaching; a great darkness is going to cover this world."

After the analogy of great natural catastrophes, events of national importance were supposed to cast premonitory shadows, and in nearly every country on earth the myth-making faculty of the people has accordingly supplied a set of portents for every momentous incident of their history. Tacitus records a due number of obituary prodigies for every one of his Cæsars. The battle of Adrianople, where the clubs of the Visigoths broke the power of the Roman Empire, was foretold by an augur who had seen a portentous cloud approaching from the east in the teeth of a strong west wind. The conquest of Mexico was the fulfillment of an omen that had plainly warned the natives of their impending fate. In the night when Abderrahman el Hakim died, shooting-stars showered down as if they were going to set the earth afire. The tyrant Polycrates of Samos was born during an earthquake that shook the foundations of the island. Before the birth of Buddha Sakyamuni the Ganges flowed back to its source, flowers sprouted in desert places, a sound of music rung through the air, corpses left their tombs, and a new star appeared. A new star appeared also after the murder of Julius Cæsar, and certainly after the death of Antinous, for the Emperor Hadrian ordered it to be worshiped as the transfigured spirit of his favorite.

The rationale of the superior luckiness of odd numbers is less obvious, but they were certainly the favorite numbers of the Gnostics and of all mythological systems. The three Graces, three Fates, three Furies, three Judges of the dead, and three-headed hell-hounds appear as mystical as the Indian Trimurti and its derivatives. The seven