Psellus, On Scapulimancy and Augury


1 Introduction


[Shoulder blade divination Islamicate. Augury: Apollonius of Lacedaemon, known only from Psellus; his handbook must still have been available in the 11th century.]

2 Translation

<epistolary opening>

When Socrates, the famous son of Sophroniscus, chanced upon the Platonic dialogues, he said, “This young man” – meaning Plato – “leads me wherever he wants.” I too can rightly say this about you; for you lead me wherever you wish with your questions, and when you lead me up high, you suddenly bring me down to earth. What, after all, do the previous questions have in common with what you are asking me now? For you are inquiring what exactly the divination of scapulimancy (gr. ōmoplatoskopía, ‘shoulder blade inspection’) is, and what power it has, as you are seeking to grasp natural and ineffable causes of the things to come beforehand. Now the letter one might investigate with loftier inquiries, but that of shoulder blade divination, while being barbarous and foreign, nevertheless has some power to prognosticate what will be, as it seems to its practitioners.

<shoulder blade divination>

For when they divine this way, and have selected a sheep or lamb from the herd, they first place in their minds or exhibit with their tongue what they wish to learn about; then, after sacrificing (the animal), they separate the shoulder blade from the whole body, as the tool of divination, and roasting this thoroughly on charcoal, and so freeing it from flesh, they take from it the signs of the outcome of their questions.

For different things are foreshown in different parts. For one, they have the judgment of life and death in the projected ridge; and if it is white and pure on both sides, they take signs of life from this, but if it is muddled, tokens of death.

In the middle part of the shoulder blade, the judgments about the affects concerning the air are placed. For if the two membranes in the middle of the shoulder blade appear white and pure on both sides of the ridge, they foreshow a serene constitution of the air; but if they are speckled, they indicate the opposite.

And if someone asks about war, if there appear a red cloud on the right part of the shoulder blade, on a long, black line on the other side, it ordains that there will come a great war; but if you see both sides naturally white, divine that peace is coming.

And generally, in all questions and queries, the redder, blacker or muddled spots are in the worse column, but the opposite of these in the better.


Now I (will tell) you also about the signs of the things to come from other (sources), and firstly from the division of ravens and crows, of whom there is a difference in these four, in flight, call, position and action.

If […] a crow calls twice, it indicates a sign of good and pleasant works; but if once, or thrice, or five times, it shows you the opposite. But if it uses even and odd calls haphazardly, it announces careless affairs. And on the whole, even calls of crows point to the excellent, odd to the bad. If a crow passes by our house door from behind, or a raven from the front, while crying out, they foreshow some kind of listlessness and trouble in your affairs; but if a crow flies along the left and croaks, or analogously a raven from the other side, making a call, they are telling you to take courage. To someone praying, a crow croaking from behind divines that the prayer is efficacious, but coming from the left, it casts fear and terror on the soul.

And let this suffice for you, out of the signs from ravens and crows, in place of a large number. […]

Apollonius of Lacedaemon exhausted all things about birds, for every operation, seizing upon the call, wind (? gr. pneûma), number, lot, measure and apportionment; the whole circuit and the half; the swift, distressed, melodious, discordant, unpleasant, harmonic and disharmonic voice; from these, the different kinds of events are discovered. And the owl, woodpecker, wren and heron will also divine what will happen for you. And so much (about divination) from birds.

<signs of coming weather>