The Temples and Gods of Athens
In many cases, naturally, piety runs off into crass superstition. The gods, everybody knows, frequently make known future events by various signs. He who can understand these signs will be able to adjust his life accordingly and enjoy great prosperity. Most educated men take a sensible view of "omens," and do not let them influence their conduct absurdly. Some, however, act otherwise. There is, for instance, Laches, one of the greatest at Prodicus's feast. He lives in a realm of mingled hopes and fears, although he is wealthy and well-educated. He is all the time worried about dreams, and paying out money to the sharp and wily "seer" (who counts him his best client) for "interpretations." If a weasel crosses his path he will not walk onward until somebody else has gone before him, or until he has thrown three stones across the road. He is all the time worrying about the significance of sudden noises, meteors, thunder; especially he is disturbed when he sees birds flying in groups or towards unlucky quarters of the heavens. Laches, however, is not merely religious—although he is always asking "which god shall I invoke now?" or "what are the omens for the success of this enterprise?" His own associates mock him as being superstitious, and say they never trouble themselves about omens save in real emergencies. Still it is "bad luck" for any of them to stumble over a threshold, to meet a hare suddenly, or especially to find a snake (the companion of the dead) hidden in the house.
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