For the ancient world, birds played a powerful role in furnishing signs about what was to come in the future. In modern English we have the words “auspicious” and “augury,” each of which reflect the role of birds in telling us what the future holds – derived from an auspicium, or viewing of birds. To the ancients, the birds were vehicles through which the gods delivered their judgment to men. Plutarch recounts the tale of Romulus and Remus and their determination of the site of Rome based on identifying a flock of vultures. And Robert Graves, in his masterful I, Claudius dramatizes the legend by which Gaius Claudius was marked as a future emperor of the Augustine line when a young eagle fell to earth before him. There are hundreds of other examples of birds acting to reveal frauds and the impious, to warn of attacks, or to mark persons as leaders. Should we lightly dismiss a way of viewing the world which has such deep roots?
And yesterday, the auguries were taken on Alberto Gonzales. And they were exceedingly clear. Gonzales has besmirched our democracy and disgraced the government he serves – an almost unimaginable feat – they said.
An outdoor news conference in perfect spring weather, with birds chirping loudly in the magnolia trees, is not without its hazards.
As President Bush took a question Thursday in the White House Rose Garden about scandals involving his Attorney General, he remarked, “I’ve got confidence in Al Gonzales doin’ the job.” Simultaneously, a sparrow flew overhead and dropped excrement on the President’s sleeve, which Bush tried several times to wipe off.
You can watch the divine judgment being delivered on Gonzales here. Pay attention to the soundtrack and note the cacophony of the birds starting as Bush begins to speak.