Nor did astrology find much favor in early Rome. To begin with, the Romans distrusted all calculations; astronomy was bad enough, and astrology just one degree worse. Then too they had their own system of divination which the wandering Etruscans had brought from Asia Minor many centuries before. This method involved no higher mathematics, and was concerned only with the entrails of an animal killed for sacrifice--if healthy the omen was good, if diseased it was bad. Models of the entrails were cast in metal covered with a guiding diagram, and an elaborate science of reading the portents was developed.
Had we known better, or had we been more careful in our examinations, we need not have wasted so much time on a mining trip a few years ago. A friend and I started out for a day's hunting and managed to shoot two jack rabbits, which with some effort we carried home for supper after a walk of some five or six miles. When the rabbits were skinned and cleaned, both of them were found to be diseased. It was certainly not a good day for the hunters, and the mining trip proved to be a fizzle.
Such philosophers as Rome could boast were very firm on the disadvantage of knowing what fate had in store. A passage from one such writer was forced on me four separate times in school and each time it was presented for translation from the Latin as "unseen." Owing to the unusual circumstances I have never known the name of the author, but the gist of the passage was impressed indelibly upon my memory. It told how intolerable the lives of the old heroes would have been if they had known their fate in advance. Certainly Hector would have led a miserable life if he had known that he was to be remembered as the objective in the famous question, "Who dragged whom how many times around the what of what?"
There was a deep feeling too that uttered prophecy might bring about its own evil. Even today there are people who fear to make their wills, lest they put the idea of death in the minds of the gods; and of course in certain ways a prediction, either by hope or fear, may help to cause its own result. There was, for instance, a story of Marius, the common ploughboy, who in his youth saw an eagle's nest with seven eagles, and was told by a soothsayer that he would seven times be consul of Rome. So he set about to make the prediction come true with such remarkable success that he was six times consul before the rise of the opposite party exiled him from Rome. Had it not been for the soothsayer his predicament might have seemed hopeless. Marius was an old man by that time, his power and influence had gone; but so certain was he of his own fate that he sat on the ruined stones of Carthage planning for his seventh consulship. Actually he managed to raise an army against fearful odds, and rode at the head of it in through the Roman gates. Just a few days before his death he became consul for the seventh time.
The feeling against astrologers was so strong in Italy from 139 B. C. onward that they were continually banished from the state. It was the one sure way which Rome could have found to make the astrologers powerful. Before they were banished no one even considered them; afterward even the emperors desired to heed their warnings of disaster. Insidiously they crept through the Roman culture, and from the Latin language and the Greek into ours; in the last sentence there are three astrological terms, which have become so much part of our everyday vocabulary that we have forgotten their association. "Consider" meant focusing your mind upon things sidereal; "desire" meant turning from them, probably a wish for something other than the stars foretold; and "disaster" was the result of an unpropitious star.