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Although the ancient Romans were no more devoted to religion than any other society, and most educated people didn't believe in the complex mythology anyway, a general belief in augurs and oracles was fairly widespread--but also widely questioned and frequently ridiculed. For those that may not know, an augur sought knowledge of the future by studying the stars (astrology), the entrails of dead beasts, and a host of other numerous signs and manifestations. Anyone who became a "professional" augur was immediately the subject of skepticism--but such people were also sought after for their advice.

Marcus Porcius Cato was a curmudgeonly Roman statesman of the second century B.C. He was also among several Romans who thoroughly debunked pagan religion in their writings and speeches. Possessed of all the unlovable virtues, he was hardworking, honest, and rigidly moral.

His rationalist views would allow only the greatest contempt for augurs, soothsayers, and other pretenders to special knowledge. Grimly, Cato once remarked:

"One wonders how one augur may pass another in the street without laughing."

--------------- A Final Thought ...

"This is the excellent foppery of the world: that when we are sick in fortune-often the surfeits of our own behavior-we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence ... An admirable evasion of man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star!"

- William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist, poet. Edmond, in King Lear, act 1, scene 2