baroque art

Tarquin the Elder Consulting Attius Navius
Sebastiano Ricci (Italian; 1659–1734)
ca. 1690
Oil on canvas
J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, Los Angeles, California

Tarquin was also making preparations for surrounding the City with a stone wall when his designs were interrupted by a war with the Sabines. So sudden was the outbreak that the enemy were crossing the Anio before a Roman army could meet and stop them. There was great alarm in Rome. The first battle was indecisive, and there was great slaughter on both sides. The enemies’ return to their camp allowed time for the Romans to make preparations for a fresh campaign. Tarquin thought his army was weakest in cavalry and decided to double the centuries, which Romulus had formed, of the Ramnes, Titienses, and Luceres, and to distinguish them by his own name. Now as Romulus had acted under the sanction of the auspices, Attus Navius, a celebrated augur at that time, insisted that no change could be made, nothing new introduced, unless the birds gave a favourable omen. The king’s anger was roused, and in mockery of the augur’s skill he is reported to have said, “Come, you diviner, find out by your augury whether what I am now contemplating can be done.” Attus, after consulting the omens, declared that it could. “Well,” the king replied, “I had it in my mind that you should cut a whetstone with a razor. Take these, and perform the feat which your birds portend can be done.” It is said that without the slightest hesitation he cut it through.

(Livy, History of Rome, Book 1, Chapter 36. Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts. New York, 1912)