How to Listen to a Horse

Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Ingaevones Territory
Year 98 of the New Calendar

Gnaeus Julius Agricola
Governor, Britannia, ret.

Dearest Father in Law,

How are you, I am fine. Julia sends her love. I am still in Germania, moving in the direction of Gaul, separated from this place by rivers, mountains, and mutual dread. This is a land rude in its surface, rigorous in its climate, cheerless to every beholder and cultivator.

Today I observed the practice of conjuring, which one cannot avoid as no people are more addicted to divination by omens and lots. Of their methods, some are familiar and civilized for instance auguring from the sounds and flights of birds, others prove most unnatural, such as deriving admonitions and presages from horses. These are the omens they deem most important:

When a horse neighs, the people foresee a meeting or gathering, of which they sit to many, most often fully armed. If the neigh or whinny is seen in a negative light, perhaps a period of loneliness or isolation will be at hand.

A horse nickering means pay attention, or perhaps a redirection of attention. Conversely it may presage dangerous lack of attention to something important. Also, one might expect a feast in the near future, though these meals prove a challenge to the stomach, not brought on by the usual wild fruits, fresh venison, and coagulated milk, but because these simple foods are consumed without seeking the elegances and delicacies of the table.

The snorting of a horse means imminent danger. Something is on the wind, something terrible, coming this way. Run. A snort accompanied by a squeal says the danger will be unavoidable and swift.

However, if the snort is a blowing of air without vibration, one may relax entirely. The enquirer shall be visited by friends or relations, though with some of our relations dear father in law, caution is yet advised. Tell me if I err.

A chomping or grinding noise means the horse is eating. Let the animal eat.

I submit these observations to you with my admiration, as far as my nature will permit, and in imitation of your example,