Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 3.71.1-5

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[71] This Nevius, when Tarquinius once desired to create three new tribes out of the knights he had previously enrolled, and to give his own name and the names of his personal friends to these additional tribes, alone violently opposed it and would not allow any of the institutions of Romulus to be altered. 2 The king, resenting this opposition and being angry with Nevius, endeavoured to bring his science to nought and show him up as a charlatan who did not speak a word of truth. With this purpose in indicate he summoned Nevius before the tribunal when a large crowd was present in the Forum; and having first informed those about him in what manner he expected to show the augur to be a false prophet, he received Nevius upon his arrival with friendly greetings and said: "Now is the time, Nevius, for you to display the accuracy of your prophetic science. For I have in mind to undertake a great project, and I wish to know whether it is possible. Go, therefore, take the auspices and return speedily. I will sit here and wait for you." 3 The augur did as he was ordered, and returning soon after, said he had obtained favourable omens and declared the undertaking to be possible. But Tarquinius laughed at his words, and taking out a razor and a whetstone from his bosom, said to him: "Now you are convicted, Nevius, of imposing on us and openly lying about the will of the gods, since you have dared to affirm that even impossible things are possible. I wanted to know from the auspices whether if I strike the whetstone with this razor I shall be able to cut it in halves." 4 At this, laughter arose from all who stood round the tribunal; but Nevius, nothing daunted by their raillery and clamour, said: "Strike the whetstone confidently, as you propose, Tarquinius. For it will be cut asunder, or I am ready to submit to any punishment." The king, surprised at the confidence of the augur, struck the razor against the whetstone, and the edge of the steel, making its way quite through the stone, not only cut the whetstone asunder but also cut off a part of the hand that held it. 5 All the others who beheld this wonderful and incredible feat cried out in their astonishment; and Tarquinius, ashamed of having made this trial of the man's skill and desiring to atone for his unseemly reproaches, resolved to win back the goodwill of Nevius himself, seeing in him one favoured above all men by the gods. Among many other instances of kindness by which he won him over, he caused a bronze statue of him to be made and set up in the Forum to perpetuate his memory with posterity. This statue still remained down to my time, standing in front of the senate-house near the sacred fig-tree; it was shorter than a man of average stature and the head was covered with the mantle. At a small distance from the statue both the whetstone and the razor are said to be buried in the earth under a certain altar. The place is called a well by the Romans. Such then, is the account given of this augur.

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