Today’s (short) post is on haruspicy. This isn’t something that I personally practice – it involves sacrificing an animal and looking at its entrails – but it is a very interesting form of divination that was extremely important to the ancient Romans.
Haruspicy is the inspection of the exta, the entrails of sacrificed animals, to ascertain the approval (or disapproval) of the gods. Every part of the entrails was important, as anything, from the size to the color to the shape, could indicate a portent. The name of the man that would perform haruspicy is a haruspex, an odd word that is Etruscan in origin.
It is thought that haruspicy originated in the Near East and was practiced especially among the Babylonians and the Hittites. The latter brought the practice to Italy where it was taken up most heartily by the Etruscans, who in turn lent the practice to the Romans.
The Etruscans preserved their procedures for haruspicy in the Libri Tagetici, a set of books dictated by Tages, a strange figure who was said to have sprung up out of a field being hoed by a peasant. He taught haruspicy to the high priests of the twelve Etruscan tribes and then promptly disappeared.
There is a famous model of a sheep’s liver – the favored portion of the entrails used for haruspicy by the Etruscans – called the Piacenza Liver. It is thought to be from 100 BCE and was discovered in the town of Piacenza, Italy. It is divided into portions which are ascribed to different deities: there are several regions and bumps on the model that are supposed to match up with the actual liver of the animal.
Famously, according to the historian Suetonius, the haruspex Spurinna warned Julius Caesar that he should “Beware the Ides of March!” Obviously, Julius Caesar did not take the warning to heart.