“Let them drink, since they don’t wish to eat”
In the thick of the First Punic War, in 249 BC to be exact, Publius Claudius Pulcher (aka handsome hunk- pulcher meant handsome)- the then senior consul of the Roman republic was planning an attack on the harbour of Drepana to attack Carthaginian ships. In accordance with Roman custom, Pulcher went about inspecting the auspicious omens before the battle. Custom prescribed that the sacred chickens (carried in a cage on the ship) were fed and the behaviour of the chickens when feeding informed the judgement on whether the omens were good or not. That is, if the chickens ate the food you gave them- the Gods would be on your side. If they didn’t – the Gods were throwing you to the lions.
In Pulcher’s case the chickens had one look at the crap that was offered to them and turned their haughty faces away. After all they were the sacred chickens and if they didn’t eat- the alarmed crew and soldiers would go groveling on their knees in fear. What would happen to them? They hadn’t been acquainted with dear old Claudius Pulcher of course who promply threw them overboard giving an alternative interpretation of the omen that the chickens only wanted to drink and not eat before the battle. Poor chickens!
Anyway this is the part where we all start laughing.
Fuddy duddy romans and their silly omens with their augurs, auspices and sacrifices. How irrational and stupid to have to base your judgements on how birds flew or how the entrails of a sacrificed bull looked like. What could such a dumb society do? Quite a lot actually- from straight roads to a strong republic and then empire with unparalleled historical figures to mosaics and aqueducts to name very little. No one ever doubts that this society shaped the way the world would be in a further day.
Unfortunate for us that…
In this scientific, rational and post modern age when logic and cold reasoning counts for everything we still find ourselves (or a majority of us find ourselves) glued to a screen trying to find which box a cephalopod (Paul the Octopus, in case you were wondering- don’t you dare say Paul who- I am officially the most football reclusive person in this world and I am writing this) eats from. And many are those now who want to do a la Claudius Pulcher (but how do you throw an octopus overboard? D’ah barbecue him you know or use him for Sushi etc etc and Claudius himself was only trying to be do an a la Marie Antoinette ‘let them eat cake’- which I believe she never said by the way but how was Claudius to know).
The chickens could not be rescued from the wrath of Pulcher. I hope the aquarium staff are more careful about Paul. After all he can’t be more guarded than priceless artworks in galleries can he? And if they can be stolen….
I hope for the sake of Paul that he is wrong..so people can go back to letting him be what he is- an octopus in an aquarium rather than some kind of clairvoyant celebrity. What will he be used for next I wonder- predicting election results?? (Then aren’t we really going the way of the Romans who didn’t know modern science. One wonders or ok I wonder what they would have been like if they had-maybe no different, they would have been feeding the chickens to find out which gladiator to bet on.)
And oh by the way, if you were wondering what really happened to Claudius Pulcher….he lost…majorly!
Always listen to the chickens and the octopus.
Disclaimer: The author knows nothing of football, very little of chickens and octopus and slightly more about Roman consuls.