Pliny the Elder, Natural History

LCL 418: 8-9

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Pliny: Natural History

non adeo expetendam censemus ut quoquo modo trahenda sit. quisquis es talis,1 aeque moriere, etiam cum2 obscaenus vixeris aut nefandus. quapropter hoc primum quisque in remediis animi sui habeat, ex omnibus bonis quae homini tribuit natura nullum melius esse tempestiva morte, idque in ea optimum quod illam sibi quisque praestare poterit.


III. Ex homine remediorum primum maximae quaestionis et semper incertae est, polleantne3 aliquid verba et incantamenta carminum. quod si verum est, homini acceptum fieri oportere conveniat, sed viritim sapientissimi cuiusque respuit fides, in universum vero omnibus horis credit vita nec sentit. quippe victimas caedi sine precatione 11non videtur referre aut deos rite consuli. praeterea alia sunt verba inpetritis, alia depulsoriis, alia commendationis, videmusque certis precationibus obsecrasse4 summos magistratus et, ne quod verborum praetereatur aut praeposterum dicatur, de scripto praeire aliquem rursusque alium custodem dari qui adtendat, alium vero praeponi qui favere linguis iubeat, tibicinem canere, ne quid aliud exaudiatur, utraque memoria insigni, quotiens ipsae



not indeed hold that life ought to be so prized that by any and every means it should be prolonged. You holding this view, whoever you are, will none the less die, even though you may have lived longer through foulness or sin.a Wherefore let every man consider that first among the remedies for his soul is this: that of all the blessings given to man by Nature none is greater than a timely death, and herein the brightest feature is that each man can have the power to bestow it on himself.

III. Of the remedies derived from man, the firstHave words power? raises a most important question, and one never settled: have words and formulated incantations any effect? If they have, it would be right and proper to give the credit to mankind. As individuals, however, all our wisest men reject belief in them, although as a body the public at all times believes in them unconsciously. In fact the sacrifice of victims without a prayer is supposed to be of no effect; without it too the gods are not thought to be properly consulted. Moreover, there is one form of words for getting favourable omens, another for averting evil, and yet another for a commendation. We see also that our chief magistrates have adopted fixed formulas for their prayers; that to prevent a word’s being omitted or out of place a reader dictates beforehand the prayer from a script; that another attendant is appointed as a guard to keep watch, and yet another is put in charge to maintain a strict silence; that a piper plays so that nothing but the prayer is heard. Remarkable instances of both kinds of interference are on record: cases when the noise of actual ill omens has ruined the prayer, or when a mistake has been made in the prayer itself; then suddenly

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.pliny_elder-natural_history.1938