Every form of divination involving the interpretation of omens and messages conceals within it a desire as simple as human: to be masters of one’s own destiny. But to really be one, you also have to know him. The current era that seems to have given us the reassuring feeling that (almost) everything is measurable, controllable and predictable is the ultimate result of that quest for mastery dating back to the night of time. In the past (but also today) every single human community has practiced some form of divination to know the future and to be able to govern it. One of these, apparently the most mundane but also the one who does not know age, is apantomancy.
This type of divination is based on the interpretation of the events occurred during the day, in particular, by the random encounters with other living beings. The line with mere superstition is practically non-existent, as any of us can deduce. However, being in the shoes of the civilizations that preceded us, it is not difficult to imagine how the encounter with certain animals (crows or snakes for example) or people (lepers, dying or undertakers) could arouse unpleasant sensations that lead to evil omens.
Equally fascinating is how from people to people you change the perception of these meetings. For example, according to legend, the ancient Aztecs saw an eagle flying from a cactus plant carrying a snake. A seemingly terrible view but with a very strong symbolic connotation to the point that it became a symbol of Mexico. Another curious example is the classic black cat, which in Britain does not seem to carry as much bad luck as in many other countries (to the point that the British celebrate it with the National Black Cat Day).
The practice was already known in ancient Rome. It is believed that it was practiced by Auguri, that is, priests able to interpret the divine will by observing the behaviour of some animals. Their task was to extrapolate from these signals, the so-called auspicia, which were often very condescending to those who requested them, especially if they were a very powerful character. This practice guaranteed Auguri a lot of fame and protection, to the point to be consulted and taken into consideration before waging war. Of these fortune tellers the historian Tito Livio has mainly narrated.