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p240 Caput Extorum

Article by Robert Whiston, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
on p240 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

CAPUT EXTORUM. The Roman soothsayers (haruspices) pretended to a knowledge of coming events from the inspection of the entrails of victims slain for that purpose. The part to which they especially directed their attention was the liver, the convex upper portion of which seems to have been called the caput extorum (Plin. H. N. XI.37 s73). Any disease or deficiency in this organ was considered an unfavourable omen; whereas, if healthy and perfect, it was believed to indicate good fortune. The haruspices divided it into two parts, one called familiaris, the other hostilis: from the former, they foretold the fate of friends; from the latter, that of enemies. Thus we read (Liv. VIII.9), that the head of the liver was mutilated by the knife of the operator on the "familiar" part (caput jecinoris a familiari parte caesum), which was always a bad sign. But the word "caput" here seems of doubtful application; for it may designate either the convex upper part of the liver, or one of the prominences of the various lobes which form its lower and irregularly concave part. It is, however, more obvious and natural to understand by it the upper part, which is formed of two prominences, called the great and small, or right and left lobes. If no caput was found, it was a bad sign (nihil tristius accidere potuit); if well defined or double, it was a lucky omen (Cic. de Div. II.12, 13; Liv. XXVII.26).


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