All Divination Is For The Birds

“You tell me to put my trust in birds, flying off on their long wild wings? Never!” – Hector’s response to Polydamas’ interpretation of an eagle omen (Iliad 12:235-38).
“Flocks of birds go fluttering under the sun’s rays, not all of them are fraught with meaning.” – Eurymachus’ rejection of Halitherses’ interpretation of another eagle omen (Odyssey 2:181-182a).
We should not take these two expressions as skepticism in the modern sense. Hector believed that he had better information about Zeus’s will and Eurymachus just didn’t like what was within the culture of the day rather obvious.
Translates from Robert Fagles, trans, Homer, The Iliad (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), with Introduction and notes by Bernard Knox (New York: Penguin Books, 1998) and Homer, The Odyssey, with Introduction and notes by Bernard Knox (New York: Penguin Books, 1997).

One thought on “All Divination Is For The Birds”

  1. Auspicy was common among the Etruscans too and many Mediterranean peoples. The sun was widely understood as the Illuminator of prophecy (nb. Apollo, Tinia, Shamash, etc.). So in “birds go fluttering under the sun’s rays”, it seems to me to allude to the sun’s role in interpreting these supposed omens.
    Interesting quotes to ponder. It reminds us that not all ancients believed the same thing or all bought the nonsense of the time. Maybe, just maybe, our species still has hope yet.

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