Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 25.2

After this, with three days resolved for an armistice, while everyone tended to his own wounds or of those nearby, a fast—already unendurable—tortured us, destitute of supplies; and on that account, since the harvests and foodstuffs had been burned, men came into extreme peril, and the pack-animals, too; from that food which the animals of the tribunes conveyed, and the comites, to even the lowest plebeian of the soldiers, in the very depths of need, a great part was distributed.  And the emperor, for whom there were no delicacies of food, according to the regal custom, but rather he dined more sparingly beneath the tent poles, prepared a mean portion of gruel, loathed even by the common custodian, whatever was demanded for his ministries, he himself discharged, untroubled, for the poor common tents.

He himself was wearied for a short time by rest interrupted and agitated; once, when sleep was thrust away—as was his custom, in emulation of Julius Caesar—writing something beneath pelts in the deep dark of night, he was striving for understanding of some philosopher, he saw dimly, as he confessed to those closest, that image of the public Genius which, when he had been rising to the Augustan peak, he had observed in Gaul, with head and cornucopia veileddeparting with much sadness through the embroidered curtains. And although he paused for a moment, fixed by astonishment, yet superior to all fear, he entrusted his goings to heavenly decrees, and with bed left behind, spread out on the earth, roused in a night already advanced, while he was supplicating to the divine powers with rites for averting evil, he thought a blaze vanished, though it seemed to burn so very brightly, as if falling, ploughing a part of the aether, and he was filled with horror, lest thus the menacing star of Mars should openly appear.

However, the fiery lustre was that which we call diaissonta (Greek: “rushing across”), neither falling anywhere, nor touching the earth. For he who believes bodies are able to fall from heaven, is judged, with good reason, as profane and mad. This condition, however, is made in several ways, of which it is sufficient to show a few. Some think that sparkling lights shining brightly from the aether, and not sufficing to reach widely enough, are extinguished, or at least that, when the flames of their rays are applied to dense clouds, they sparkle brilliantly on contact, or when any light coheres to a cloud. For it indeed traverses, fashioned in the appearance of a star, while it is sustained by the power of its brilliance; emptied by the true extent of space, the body dissolves in the air, passing away to its essence, by the exhaustion of which, it burned too hot.

And thus immediately prior to the firstlings of light, the Etruscan diviners were summoned and consulted, what did the new appearance of a star portend; they responded with great caution that it must be avoided, lest anything be tried at that time, showing that in the book of Tarquitian, in the chapter, On Divine Matters, this is related: that when a brand is seen in the sky, it is not opportune that battle be engaged, or anything similar. But spurning this, among many other things, the soothsayers pleaded with him to put off the departure for at least a few hours, and they would not even achieve this, since the emperor resisted the expertise of all prophesying, but as soon as the day arose, the camp was pushed onward.

This entry was posted in Ammianus Marcellinus and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s