Jul 12, 2007

Rapid Rhetoric: HARUSPEX

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

haruspex (hah-RUH-speks or HAH-ruh-speks) n. a soothsayer, in particular one who practices the art of divination through the use of the entrails of a sacrificed animal.

The word haruspex is partly of Latin origin, from the Latin specere ("to look at"), and refers to a Roman or Etruscan priest who interpreted the will of the gods by examining the livers, spleens, and entrails of sacrificed animals, especially sheep and poultry. The plural form of the word is "haruspices," and the practice itself is known as "haruspicy."

From the excellent site on haruspicy developed by John Opsopaus:

"Haruspices" (diviners) from Etruria were consulted privately throughout the history of the Roman Empire. The Roman Senate also held haruspicy in the highest regard and consulted haruspices before all important state decisions. The emperor Claudius was a student of Etruscan language and learning, and created a "college" of 60 haruspices that existed until the beginning of the fifth century AD. In 408 they offered their services to Pompeianus, the Prefect of Rome, to save the city from the Goths; Innocent, the Christian bishop, reluctantly agreed, so long as the rites were kept secret. It is likely that in the end the rites were not performed; in any case Rome fell. The open practice of "The Etruscan Discipline" continued into the sixth century, but disappeared after that.

1 comment:

Maggie Thurber said...

I'm resisting the temptation to make analogies between this word definition and our own local politics...it's hard, but I'm doing it...