THE STRANGE SIGNS OF THE ROMANS
 ALTHOUGH the senator had told the Romans that Romulus had
gone, never to return, they did not at once elect another
king. They were afraid that their first ruler might
yet come back, and so they let the senate govern the
city for a while alone.
As time passed on without bringing any news of the missing
king, they little by little grew sure that he would
never return, and finally they elected a new ruler. This
was Numa Pompilius, a Sabine, who was wise, just, gentle, and very good.
The new king of Rome was a pious man, and he built many
temples for the worship of the gods. One of these was
round, and was set aside for the service of Vesta, the
goddess of the hearth, whose fire was guarded night and
day by the Vestal Virgins.
Numa also built a square temple, in honor of the double-faced
god Janus. This god was supposed to be the patron of
all beginnings, and it is for this reason that the
first month of the year was called January, or the month of Janus.
The Temple of Janus was built in the form of a gateway;
and the king ordered that its doors should be open in
time of war, so that the people could go in freely to pray,
and closed only in time of peace, when they felt no
need of the god's help.
The second king of Rome was so wise that many people
fancied that he was advised by a nymph, or water fairy,
called Egeria. They said that this nymph lived in a
fountain near Rome, in a beautiful spot which the
king liked to visit; and whenever he went there to be
quiet and think, they declared that it was to consult
Numa Pompilius was not at all ambitious, and he had no
wish to be king. He had accepted the office, therefore,
only on condition that the people would obey him, and
would try to be good.
Now, as you know, the Romans were a fighting people, and
until then they had always been at war with some of their
neighbors. But the new king made them keep the peace,
and closed the gates of the Temple of Janus. Then he
taught the Romans how to plow their fields, bade them sow
and harvest grain, and showed them that farming was a
far better and wise occupation than war.
The people were very superstitious, and thought that
the stars, the weather, the flight of birds, and the
actions of certain animals were signs of what would happen,
if you could only understand them aright. Numa,
therefore, said that there should be two companies of
priests, whose duty it should be to tell what the gods wished,
in a way that the people could understand.
In the first place, there were the
Pontiffs,—priests who had general charge of all public worship, and who
told the people which days would be lucky and which ones
The other company of priests were called Augurs. They watched the changes in the weather, the flight of the
birds, and the behavior of the geese which they kept in
the temple. By observing these things carefully, they
thought they could tell the future; and the people
often asked them the meaning of certain signs, such as the
appearance of some bird or animal on their
right or left side when they were starting out on a
Of course all this was mere nonsense; yet some people
still believe in these foolish things. You have all
heard the saying, "See a pin and pick it up, all the day
you'll have good luck," and "If your left ear burns, some
one is talking ill of you." It was such signs as these
that the Romans believed in; and the augurs were
supposed to know all about them, and to explain them to the
Besides the pontiffs and augurs, there was a lower
class of priests, called Haruspices, who told the future
by means of sacrifices. In those days the Romans used
to offer up bulls, goats, sheep, and other animals, on
the altars of their gods. It was the duty of these
priests to kill the animals, open them, burn certain parts,
and carefully examine the insides of the victims.
The haruspices thought that they could see signs in the
bodies of the animals they had sacrificed, and that
these signs gave them very important knowledge. Of course
this was all humbug, but the early Romans believed
that the priests could thus learn much about the future.
As these Romans lived a long time ago, and had few
chances to learn, their mistakes were very excusable; for
you know it is no shame to be ignorant when one has no
chance to learn. But it is a very great shame to be
ignorant in such a country as this, where you can all
attend good schools, and have teachers to explain anything
you do not understand. Nowadays, when people believe in
such silly things as signs, they are said to be
superstitious. But as soon as they learn more, they
see how foolish they have been.