Birds of a feather
Augury is the practice of divination through flight patterns of birds.
The augur was a priest andofficial in the classical world, especially ancient Rome and Etruria. His main role was to interpretthe will of the gods by studying the flight of birds: whether they are flying in groups/alone, whatnoises they make as they fly direction of flight and what kind of birds they are. This was knownas "taking the auspices." The ceremony and function of the augur was central to any majorundertaking in Roman society
public or private
including matters of war, commerce, andreligion.The Roman historian Livy stresses the importance of the augurs:
"Who does not know that this city was founded only after taking the auspices, that everything in war and in peace, at home and abroad, was done only after taking the auspices?"
The derivation of the word augur is uncertain; ancient authors believed that it contained thewords avi and gero
Latin for "directing the birds"
but historical-linguistic evidence pointsinstead to the root aug-, "to increase, to prosper."
“'Come then,' Tarquin said angrily, 'Deduce when they make up in bed, if your augury can, whether what I have in my mind righ
t now is possible.' And when Navius, expert in augury that he was, immediately said that it would happen, Tarquin replied: 'Well, I thought that you would cut a whetstone with a sharp knife. Here, take this and do what your birds have predicted would be possible.' And Navius, hardly delaying at all, took the whetsto
ne and cut it. “
In biblical times, the observation of the flight of birds for the purpose of divination is shown inEcclesiastes 10:20: "...for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shalltell the matter." Among the Arabs the raven was a bird of omen. Josephus narrates that a bird(an owl) alighted on the tree against which Agrippa was leaning while a prisoner at Rome;whereupon a fellow prisoner, a German, prophesied that he would become king, but that if thebird appeared a second time, it would mean he would die. The Romans also understood thelanguage of the birds, since Judah was said not to dare, even in a whisper, to advise theEmperor Antoninus to proceed against the nobles of Rome, for the birds would carry his voiceonward. The Babylonians divined by flies. The belief in animal omens was also widely spreadamong the Babylonians, who also divined by the behavior of fish, as was well known. Thelanguage of trees, which the ancient peoples, especially the Babylonians, are said to haveunderstood, was probably known to the Babylonian Jews as early as the eighth century.Abraham learned from the sighing of the tamarisk-tree that his end was nigh. Omens indicatedby birds are still a concern for modern people.
Livy’s History of Rome
Douglas - Harper Etymology Dictionary,
Weekley's "An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English," Klein's "AComprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language," and the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Edition)
Livy’s History of Rome