I've had a sore throat since Sunday, but this cannot pass without notice:
A couple of bloggers on my blogroll -- unfortunately, I forgot to note their names -- have mentioned a Saskatchewan farmer who predicts the weather using pig spleens. The Classics mailing list was onto this years ago.
Every classicist knows that a pig spleen is the wrong organ: what you need is a sheep liver. That's what the ancient Etruscans used for their hepatoscopy or haruspicy or (one of my favorite words) extispicy (don't try to say that with a lisp).
There is even a surviving model, the so-called Bronze Liver of Piacenza (see below), which turned up in a farmer's field in Italy in the late 19th century. I'm told that it took quite some time before anyone figured out what it was supposed to be. It was apparently used by some ancient professor of extispicy. This site has pictures and diagrams. Doctors and biology teachers today save money with plastic models, and reserve the genuine cadavers for advanced students. I like to think that the owner of the bronze liver, which must have been expensive to make, reserved real sheep for his final exam, and perhaps kept the lamb chops as part of his fee. If the idea of a Ph.D. (or ancient equivalent) in Extispicy seems ridiculous, it's surely no more so than Mrs. Gorbachev's Ph.D. in Marxist-Leninist Philosophy.
The language of the liver is Etruscan, not Latin, so don't ask me to read it: it's not even Indo-European. I don't know whether the site's reconstruction has any value at all, though it does seem likely that the outer edge was intended to match up with the zodiac, so that the liver is a microcosm of the heavens, with disturbances in the order of the universe reflected in the liver of the individual sheep. I assume the teardrop-shaped lump is the gall bladder.Posted by Dr. Weevil at December 10, 2002 11:29 PM