This is an Omen; This is Not an Omen

Dionysus of Halicanarssus, II.56

“For they claim that there was a total solar eclipse at the moment when his mother was raped (whether by some mortal or some god) and darkness completely covered the earth as it would it night and that the same thing happened when Romulus died. So, Romulus is said to have obtained this kind of end, the man who was first selected king by Rome and who build the city.

ἔν τε γὰρ τῷ βιασμῷ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ εἴθ᾿ ὑπ᾿ ἀνθρώπων τινὸς εἴθ᾿ ὑπὸ θεοῦ γενομένῳ τὸν ἥλιον ἐκλιπεῖν φασιν ὅλον καὶ σκότος παντελῶς ὥσπερ ἐν νυκτὶ τὴν γῆν κατασχεῖν ἔν τε τῇ τελευτῇ αὐτοῦ ταὐτὸ συμβῆναι λέγουσι πάθος. ὁ μὲν δὴ κτίσας τὴν Ῥώμην καὶ πρῶτος ἀποδειχθεὶς ὑπ᾿ αὐτῆς βασιλεὺς Ῥωμύλος τοιαύτης λέγεται τελευτῆς τυχεῖν…

Valerius Maximus, 7.1

“The extreme effort of Sulpicius Galus in grasping every type of literature was especially helpful to the republic. For, when he was legate when Lucius Paullus was waging war against king Perses, the moon suddenly eclipsed during a quiet night. Our army was horrified by that as if it were a terrible omen and lost the confidence to meet the enemy in battle. But he returned them quickly to the battle line by offering an expert lecture on the logic of the heavens and the nature of the stars. Thus the liberal arts gave to Galus a means to win that famous Paulline victory—since, if he had not conquered the fear of our soldiers, the general would have been incapable of conquering the enemy.”

Sulpicii Gali maximum in omni genere litterarum recipiendo studium plurimum rei publicae profuit: nam cum L. Paulli bellum adversum regem Persen gerentis legatus esset, ac serena nocte subito luna defecisset, eoque velut diro quodam monstro perterritus exercitus noster manus cum hoste conserendi fiduciam amisisset, de caeli ratione et siderum natura peritissime disputando alacrem eum in aciem misit. itaque inclitae illi Paullianae victoriae liberales artes Gali aditum dederunt, quia nisi ille metum nostrorum militum vicisset, imperator vincere hostes non potuisset.


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The Funereal Birth of Gorgias the Epirote

I am proud my self-restraint for not posting this anecdote on Mother’s Day

Valerius Maximus, Wondrous Deeds and Sayings 1.8 ext2

 “The origin of Gorgias of Epiros*, a famous man, was also miraculous. He fell out of his mother’s womb during her funeral and the pallbearers were forced to stop by his surprising wail. This offered his country a new spectacle, a baby finding light and a cradle almost from his mother’s own grave—she gave birth although she was dead at the same time he was prepared for a funeral before he was born!”

Gorgiae quoque Epirotae, fortis et clari viri, origo admirabilis <fuit>, quod in funere matris suae utero elapsus inopinato vagitu suo lectum ferentes consistere coegit novumque spectaculum patriae praebuit, tantum non ex ipso genetricis rogo lucem et cunas adsecutus: eodem enim momento temporis altera iam fato functa peperit, alter ante elatus quam natus est.

This is not Gorgias of Leontini, the rhetorician and Pre-socratic Philosopher. This Gorgias of Epirus is primarily famous for the anecdote you just read.

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Roman relief showing a birthing scene. Tomb of a Midwife (Tomb 100), Isola Sacra Ostia Photo credit: magistrahf on Flickr

Children, Shipwrecked into Life

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.218-227

“Why does nature nourish and increase the races
of horrible beasts, enemies to humankind on land and sea?
Why do the seasons of the year bring diseases?
Why does an early death come suddenly?
So a child, just like a shipwrecked man tossed by savage waves,
lies naked and speechless on the ground needing everything required
to support life at the very moment when nature pours him
from his mother’s womb into the world of light,
he fills the room with a sorrowful wail, as if he knows
the measure of troubles that still remain for him to endure in life.”


praeterea genus horriferum natura ferarum
humanae genti infestum terraque marique
cur alit atque auget? cur anni tempora morbos
adportant? quare mors inmatura vagatur?
tum porro puer, ut saevis proiectus ab undis
navita, nudus humi iacet infans indigus omni
vitali auxilio, cum primum in luminis oras
nixibus ex alvo matris natura profudit,
vagituque locum lugubri complet, ut aequumst
cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum.

Nobility Comes Not from Noble Birth: Euripides, fr. 52

“Our conversation will be superfluous if
We praise nobility in human birth.
For long ago at the moment we were first created
And the earth produced mortals one could distinguish
She raised us all up with similar appearance.
We have no special trait. One race
Are the well-born and the low-born.
Time makes some haughty with custom.
But god makes some noble with intelligence
and understanding, not wealth….”

περισσόμυθος ὁ λόγος, εὐγένειαν εἰ
βρότειον εὐλογήσομεν.
τὸ γὰρ πάλαι καὶ πρῶτον ὅτ’ ἐγενόμεθα,
διὰ δ’ ἔκρινεν ἁ τεκοῦσα γᾶ βροτούς,
ὁμοίαν χθὼν ἅπασιν ἐξεπαίδευσεν ὄψιν.
ἴδιον οὐδὲν ἔσχομεν• μία δὲ γονὰ
τό τ’ εὐγενὲς καὶ τὸ δυσγενές•
νόμῳ δὲ γαῦρον αὐτὸ κραίνει χρόνος.
τὸ φρόνιμον εὐγένεια καὶ τὸ συνετὸν
ὁ θεὸς δίδωσιν, οὐχ ὁ πλοῦτος.

This is from Euripides’ lost play Alexandros.