228 s era fi n a cuom o
is mentioned by Maecianus as a possible subdivision which is not in use.90
Analogously, land-surveyors report that different people will measure, count
and divide up land differently.91 The Imperial administration through its
ofļ¬cers had to come to terms with this diversity by ļ¬nding either a uniļ¬ed
system or a way of managing the diversity while partially retaining it. If
Frontinus represents an empire where order in the form of measures and
standards is being formulated, perhaps Maecianus speaks for a situation
where one can, at best, acquire the knowledge to understand an order
which is already in place, the result of an ultimately unresolved dialectic
between systematising efforts, convention, regional variations, different
sedimentations of history and the manifestation of disparate interest groups.
The role of the reader of the Distributio (and the emperor is one of the
intended readers)92 is not so much to express an order of oneā™s own, as to
grasp and maintain ā“ administer ā“ what is already in place. It is an active role,
reinforced by the imperatives and the ā˜constructiveā™ verbs through which
the subdivisions of money are in turn made, the names called out, the signs
written down, the account given. Yet, it is not a creative role. The author
is almost resigned to the fact that the world is in a certain way, that fringes
of deregulation will always be present, that we have the stand-in; in fact,
more than one system of stand-ins, but we cannot retrieve with certainty
the ā˜thingsā™ behind them and with that, the real cause of the present order(s)
of things. The Distributio, like many of the legal texts it seems germane
to, does not aspire to retrieve the absolute foundations; it does not aim to
go back to level zero, as it were, but to create a meta-level from which the
others can be adjudicated and regulated. Sheep, if ever they were the ā˜realā™
pecunia, are not important any more: all that counts, and all that effectively
exists, are stand-ins, pecunia numerata, and it is this reality that one must
try to grasp. Marcus Aurelius may have craved the well-rounded speech that
Greek paideia could provide, but Maecianus reminds him of the necessity
to know what is appropriate for an emperor. The Roman children who
learn to divide the as into a hundred parts in Horaceā™s vignette may indeed
have been training for higher and more momentous imperial tasks.
90 See Pedroni (1996), esp. 25, 67ā“8.
91 Hyginus 1, De condicionibus agrorum 80.9, 92.21ā“22; Hyginus 1, De generibus controversiarum 98.11ā“
12; Hyginus 2, Constitutio limitum 138.1ā“28 (Campbell).
92 Addressing technical books to emperors is not uncommon (see, e.g., Vitruvius, Balbus, Pliny), but
that to me does not exclude the possibility to take the dedication at face value as well, especially in
cases, like Maecianusā™, where the author was well acquainted with the dedicatee.
c h a p t e r 10
Probing the entrails of the universe: astrology as
bodily knowledge in Maniliusā™ Astronomica
The upsurge of interest in astrology during the early principate is well
attested. Emperors have their horoscopes published. Zodiacal signs take
their place on a range of objects, from public monuments to legionary
standards. Elite authors advertise their familiarity with astrological lore.
Belief in stellar inļ¬‚uence thus coincides with ā“ and to a certain extent
parallels ā“ the triumph of rationalisation in the realms of law, history and
governance. While we cannot rule out an indigenous interest in stellar
inļ¬‚uence, astrology at Rome is best understood as one more intellectual
discipline transported from the Greek East and systematised and legitimised
as part of Romeā™s cultural revolution of the ļ¬rst centuries bce and ce.1
The paradox that a discipline as seemingly irrational as astrology ļ¬‚our-
ishes amidst the rationalising enterprises of its time invites investigation, all
the more so since astrology seems to have had a special appeal for the cos-
mopolitan elite.2 The traditional explanation for astrologyā™s ascent, which
links it to the rise of dominant individuals, is vague and at best partial.3 Is
it concern to identify potential victors in civil struggle that leads Romans
to search the stars? If so, then we would expect widespread belief in stellar
inļ¬‚uence to precede interest in the horoscopes of a Sulla or Pompey ā“
a proposition for which there is little evidence. Moreover, in its insis-
tence on the predestined nature of human affairs, astrology is as likely to
1 For discussion of astrologyā™s popularity during the period see BouchĀ“-Leclercq (1899) 546ā“70; Cramer
(1954) 44ā“145; Stierlin (1986) 25ā“122; Barton (1994a) 27ā“70; (1994b) 40ā“60; Beard, North and Price
(1998) 231ā“3. On rationalising disciplines during the late Republic and early principate see Wallace-
Hadrill (1997); Moatti (1997).
2 In addition to the self-advertisement of astrological knowledge by elite poets (e.g., Virg. G. 1.3ā“4; Hor.
Carm. 2.13, 2.18; Luc. 1.45ā“59), we might note emperorsā™ interest in astrology (Cramer (1954) 81ā“231);
the lawā™s protection of astrological research (Cramer (1954) 102; further discussion by Beard, North
and Price (1998) 1.231ā“2); and its exemption of the well-connected Thrasyllus and his descendants
from periodic expulsions of run-of-the mill astrologers and soothsayers (Cramer (1954): 92ā“5). In the
words of Tacitus, astrologers constitute a class that ā˜in our state will always be prohibited and always
retainedā™ (Hist. 1.22) ā“ a good indicator of their indispensability to elite dominance.
3 E.g., Stierlin (1986) 15; Barton (1994b) 35.
230 thom a s h a b i nek
undermine elite claims to authority based on achievement as it is to
encourage allegiance to one warlord or another;4 and its popularity per-
sists unabated even after an imperial decree of 11 ce bans inquiry about
individual fates.5 Is it then that disruption caused by great men and their
client armies, or by the transition from republic to principate, prompts
lesser mortals to seek consolation in contemplation of cosmic order? On
this view, astrology would be a way of accommodating fast-paced change
to a prior system of understanding the world. Such an explanation gains
credence from surviving horoscopes, which are overwhelmingly retrospec-
tive in nature, telling the inquirer why person x turned out to live life y,
rather than offering advice on a speciļ¬c venture.6 But it, too, founders on
chronology, since elite acceptance of astrology at Rome seems not to predate
the problems it allegedly explains, nor does astrology diminish in inļ¬‚uence
as the turmoil of the late republic subsides. Bartonā™s admirable attempt to
understand astrology as a Foucauldian discourse of power improves upon
the ascription of astrologyā™s rise to an interest in the fates of great men, but
still leaves us to wonder: why a discourse of this sort at this point in time?7
Investigation of astrologyā™s hold on the imagination of elite Romans in
the early principate can beneļ¬t from closer examination of the ways in
which it was presented to them. In particular, the ļ¬ve-book hexameter
treatise of Manilius, written during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius,
explicitly seeks to justify the ways of heaven to men, who are represented
as neither inclined nor disinclined to take them seriously.8 Comparison of
the Astronomica (Astr.) with earlier works in the Latin didactic tradition
brings to light issues and concerns that, at least in Maniliusā™ view, had
not been addressed by even the most compelling thinkers and writers of
preceding generations. And analysis of his poem in the context of other
astrological treatises makes it possible to identify those aspects of astrol-
ogy that Manilius expected would most engage his audience. Maniliusā™
4 This is the inference of Cramer (1954) 60 concerning the revolt of Aristonicus of Pergamum in 133ā“30
bce The community of Heliopolis described by Diod. Sic. 2.57.3 combines universal freedom with
commitment to astrology.
5 Dio Cass. 56.25.5; Cramer (1954) 99; Barton (1994a) 54ā“5.
6 For extant horoscopes see Neugebauer and van Hoesen (1959). Good examples of retroactive interpre-
tations at 90ā“1 and 94. Astrology seems to follow the pattern of other ancient modes of explanation,
such as medicine, which draw inferences from accumulation of past examples. Failure to make pre-
dictions is a key point in the critique of astrology by Favorinus of Arles at Gell. NA 14.1.24. Barton
(1994b) 93 suggests that catarchic astrology, concerned with the likely outcome of new ventures, may
have appealed more to non-elite clientele.
7 Barton (1994b).
8 Goold (ed.) (1977) xiā“xv; Wilson (1985) 285. On Maniliusā™ participation in the elite tradition of
didactic poetry, see Volk (2002), and running comments in Scarcia (ed.) (1996) and (2001).
Maniliusā™ Astronomica 231
rhetorical relationship to his subject matter and his audience is itself a kind
of testimony to the status of astrology in his day. Unlike Virgil, who in the
Georgics assumes a shared understanding of the importance of agriculture,
or Lucretius, who assumes resistance to the revolutionary nature of the Epi-
curean enterprise, Manilius claims to merit his readersā™ attention chieļ¬‚y on
the basis of his virtuosity in presenting the esoteric subject matter of astrol-
ogy in sophisticated and aesthetically pleasing Latin poetry. He doesnā™t so
much defend astrology as demonstrate its compatibility with his audienceā™s
generic and ideological expectations. His emphasis on astrology as both an
intellectual and a corporeal practice revitalises a traditional unity of knowl-
edge threatened by the very processes of rationalisation that characterise
his era. His poetry transforms astrology into an instrument of domination
both in the banal sense of making the status quo seem inevitable and in the
more challenging sense of making available to his elite audience ā˜a strategy
for living with the worldā™ that encompasses both mind and body.9 From
the professional astrologers he acquires a defence of astrology as a rational
mode of explanation; from the Roman poetic and religious tradition an
understanding of the ways in which knowledge is carried by and through
bodies. Various scholars have noted the complementarity between decline
in importance of augury and haruspication, on the one hand, and rise in
interest in astrology, on the other.10 Manilius helps us to understand not
just what was gained by the transition to astrology, but also what was lost
by the marginalisation of divination and therefore in need of recovery by
some other means.
Maniliusā™ interest in and particular take on the double nature of astro-
logical knowledge is apparent already in his proem. Having just introduced
his subject matter and thanked Caesar for the world peace that makes
poetic endeavour possible, he proceeds to differentiate between two types
Nor is it enough to know (novisse): thereā™s greater delight in understanding deeply
the entrails of the great universe (scire . . . magni penitus praecordia mundi)
The verbs ā˜knowā™ (novisse) and ā˜understandā™ (scire) may at ļ¬rst seem to
describe modes of intellection. But the addition of the adverb ā˜deeplyā™
(penitus) raises the possibility of a different kind of knowledge altogether, a
bodily practice of handling and inspecting, the sort of activity carried out
by priests who examine the entrails of sacriļ¬cial victims. This suggestion
9 Taussig (1993) 47 describing mimetic practices more generally.
10 E.g. Potter (1994); Barton (1994b) 33ā“40; Beard, North and Price (1998) 230ā“2, 372ā“4.
232 thom a s h a b i nek
is only strengthened by succeeding verses, which speak of altars and ļ¬res
and identify Manilius himself as a vates ā“ a priest-prophet who, at least
in Augustan literature, is also understood to have specialised knowledge of
sacriļ¬cial victims and procedures.11 The word praecordia (translated here as
ā˜entrailsā™), describing the object of the second kind of knowing, itself does
double duty in the passage, turning knowledge into a physical activity and
assimilating the universe to the human body.12 As Pliny tells us, praecordia is
the proper term for all of the exta, or ā˜innardsā™, found in humans.13 While
exta would be the more precise term in the context of animal sacriļ¬ce,
praecordia is not impossible, and in the passage from the Astronomica serves
to complicate the image of bodily exploration, transforming the universe
into a human ļ¬gure.14
The distinction between the types of knowledge represented by ā˜knowā™
(nosco) and ā˜understandā™ (scio) recalls the standard ancient differentiation
between astronomy, which entails knowledge of the movements of the
stars, and astrology, which considers their effect on terrestrial life.15 Indeed,
in an equally charged passage from book 4 of the Astronomica, Manilius
invokes the same contrast, this time explicitly associating astrology with
haruspication, that is the visual and tactile inspection of entrails. In a
veritable ode to human ingenuity, Manilius proclaims that the god-like
Does not remain content with the external appearance of the gods but searches
within the bowels of heaven (caelum scrutatur in alvo), and pursuing (sequens) a
body (corpus) kindred to his own he seeks himself (se quaerit) among the stars.
I ask for conļ¬dence in this process as great as that assigned to birds and to organs
(ļ¬brae) quivering in the victimā™s chest. (Astr. 4.908ā“12)
Again, the universe is both sacriļ¬cial victim and human analogue. And
again the verbs describing the astrologerā™s knowledge of it vacillate between
the intellectual and the physical, with quaero (seek, search out) gravitating
11 On vatesā™ interest in entrails see Virg. G. 3.490ā“91, Aen. 4.60ā“66, Livy 2.42.10; on their knowledge
of sacriļ¬cial procedure, Virg. Aen. 3.433ā“40, 6.149ā“53, Livy 1.45.6. On these and other passages, see
Habinek (2005) 226ā“30, 255. On sacriļ¬cial imagery in the proem of Astronomica see also Schrijvers
(1983); Wilson (1985) 293.
12 13 Plin. HN 30.42.
14 For the Latin vocabulary of sacriļ¬ce see Santini (1988). On the animation of the Manilian universe
see also HĀØ bner (1984). Several times elsewhere in imperial literature praecordia does double duty
for human and animal innards: Apul. Met. 4.21.1, where a man disguised as a bear is stabbed in the
gut; Apul. Met. 6.31.5, where a bandit proposes gutting Lucius, who has been transformed into an
ass; and Tert. Apol. 30.6, where the Christian apologist asks why ā˜the entrails of the victims rather
than of the priestsā™ are to be examined.
15 Wilson (1985) 288.
Maniliusā™ Astronomica 233
toward the former, scrutari (rummage around in) toward the latter, and
sequor (pursue, follow, trace) somewhere in between.
Maniliusā™ assimilation of astrology to haruspication is a distinctive and
motivated intervention in astrological lore. The most inļ¬‚uential of Greek
works on astrology, Ptolemyā™s Four books (Tetrabiblos: second century ce),
also commences with a contrast between astronomy and astrology built
around two different verbs of knowing. To Ptolemy, astronomy entails
grasping (katalambanomai) the movements of the heavens, while astrology
relies upon observation (episkeptomai) of their inļ¬‚uence on human life.
The former process, because it pertains to the ethereal realm, yields sureness
(bebaitoĀÆs) of conclusions, while the latter, concerned as it is with materiality
(hylĀÆ ), is less reliable. Ptolemy raises the issue of bodiliness, but only by
way of apology: astrology, he concedes, cannot be as dependable a science
as astronomy.16 Knowledge of it will always be at a distance, removed and
visual in nature (episkeptomai derives from the root skept-, implying seeing).
Manilius has no such qualms: the bodiliness of astrology and of its objects
(the innards of the sky, the lives of human beings) arouses his passion
and elevates his subject. Even when he changes metaphors from inspecting
entrails to riding a chariot through the skies, he canā™t escape bodies ā“ his
own, or those of the stars and planets that impinge upon him during his
Other passages of Manilius that correspond closely to Greek astrolog-
ical writings also emphasise knowledge acquired of and through bodies.
For example, while Maniliusā™ account of human progress runs parallel to
one found in the late-antique body of mystical writings now known as
the Corpus Hermeticum, especially in its inclusion of religious rites among
the civilising practices of early human beings, Manilius expressly identiļ¬es
haruspication, augury and magic as instances of such rites at the point where
the Greek treatise mentions only the swathing of corpses.18 Maniliusā™ inter-
est in decans-theory (whereby the zodiacal disc is divided into ten-degree
sections) differentiates him from Ptolemy and other more philosophical
astrologers, but it closely parallels a hermetic treatise that associates each
sign of the zodiac (and subsequently each subdivision, or decans, thereof ),
with a part of the human body.19 According to both Manilius and the
16 For analysis of Ptolemyā™s argument and its relationship to Aristotle, see Long (1982).
17 On the physicality of Maniliusā™ journey to the skies see Wilson (1985), Landolļ¬ (2003) 23ā“8.
18 Stob. Ecl. 23.64ā“8, in reference to the rites taught by Isis and Osiris as part of their civilising
endeavours. Cf. the important discussion of Maniliusā™ relationship to the Corpus Hermeticum in
19 Ruelle (1908).
234 thom a s h a b i nek
anonymous hermetic treatise, Aries is assigned the head, Taurus the neck,
Gemini the shoulders, and so on. By associating limbs of the human body
with signs of the zodiac, as opposed to an alternate system in which planets
govern body parts, Manilius can maintain the analogy between the totality
of the heavens, i.e. the complete circle of the zodiac, and the human body.
As he puts it,
Consider the parts of the human frame distributed among the constellations
(hominis . . . partes) . . .
and the individual limbs obedient to particular authorities (singulaque imperiis
propriis parentia membra) . . .
that exercise control over them out of all the body (toto de corpore). (Astr. 2.453ā“56)
It would be easy, if misleading, to ascribe Maniliusā™ assimilation of the
universe to a human body, and vice versa, to his Stoicising tendencies. As
Anthony Long writes, ā˜the modern consensus on unqualiļ¬ed Stoic support
for astrology has alarmingly frail foundationsā™.20 Indeed, there was a strain of
Stoicism, presumably familiar to Manilius, that overtly rejected astrology.
Stoic ā˜sympathyā™ (sympatheia) implies a correspondence between micro-
cosm and macrocosm that grounds an ethics ā˜in accordance with natureā™.
Manilian astrology, in contrast, assumes a mutual mimesis between heaven
and earth: human reason imposes terrestrial shapes on the heavens (i.e.
the heavens imitate the earth), and human bodies and destinies follow the
course set for them by the stars.
If there is an ancient philosophical school to which Manilius must be
assigned, Pythagoreanism (which also lies behind the Corpus Hermeticum)21
is as strong a candidate as Stoicism. From the very outset of his poem,
Manilius as much as states that it is impossible to transmit astrological lore
without the musicality implicit in the term carmen (ā˜songā™) ā“ an idea made
explicit in Pythagorean teachings on the foundational power of music.22
In the words of Walter Burkert, ā˜the wondrous potency of music, which
moves the world and compels the spirit, captured in the net of number ā“
this was a cardinal element of the secret of the universe revealed to the wise
Pythagorasā™.23 And so it is to Manilius as well, who proposes to draw the
stars down from the heavens and lay bare the ethereal census ā˜through songā™
(per carmina, 1.12), to register as a singer (canentem, 1.22) the ā˜surround-
ing clamourā™ (circumstrepit, 1.23) of the universe. For Manilius, the poetā™s
20 Long (1982) 172. Does Manilius adopt Stoic terminology in order to legitimise an otherwise suspect
discipline? Cf. Baldini Moscadi (1979) on Stoicism, magic and astrology.
21 22 Habinek (2005) 86ā“94. 23 Burkert (1972) 378.
Maniliusā™ Astronomica 235
modulation of words to metre is an important manifestation of the ā˜ļ¬xed
lawā™ (certa cum lege, 1.22) by which the universe operates.
Maniliusā™ claim to poetic authority, in the proem and related passages, is
bolder than that of any of his Roman predecessors ā“ so much so that it has
led one commentator to describe it (wrongly) as self-contradictory, even
impious.24 Manilius draws upon prior images of vatic power and magical
incantation but asks us to take them literally.25 As he puts it in the opening
verses of his poem:
Through song (carmine) I aim to draw down (deducere) from the sphere of the
heavens divine skills and fate-aware constellations that inļ¬‚uence the diverse fates
of men ā“ all the work of heavenly reason.
I will be ļ¬rst (primus) to set Helicon in motion to new tunes and the woods on
its summit nodding from their green treetops.
I bring alien rites unrecounted by any before me. (Astr. 1.1ā“6)
Manilius combines the didactic traditionā™s interest in knowledge of the
cosmos with Roman Alexandriansā™ pride in adapting alien poetic forms
to new contexts. He is both the lucky man of Virgilā™s Georgics (1.490ā“2),
who abandons less worthy concerns for scientiļ¬c inquiry, and the alter ego
of Propertius, who uses metaphors of initiation to convey the intensity of
his commitment to a new poetic art (e.g., ā˜I am the ļ¬rst to enterā™, primus
ingredior, Prop. 3.1.3).
In combining these two aspects of Augustan poetry Manilius revives
and reanimates the metaphor of poet as vates (a title he claims for himself
at Astr. 1.23, as noted earlier). For the Augustan era, vates is not only a
priest-prophet and a singer and a handler of entrails: he (or she) is also an
importer of religious rites from afar.26 In Augustan poetry appeal to the
ļ¬gure of the vates comes close to claiming ritual authority for the poet-
singer as means of access to the world beyond the here and now. But the
fragmentation of the ļ¬gure of the vates into its various components betrays
a secular and rationalising discomfort with any such uniļ¬ed vision of the
power of song. Manilius has no such reservations: he really can ā˜draw downā™
the universe (like the Thessalian witches who are differentiated from poets
by Propertius, Virgil and other predecessors),27 because the universe is a
willing participant in the process. As he puts it elsewhere
24 Volk (2001).
25 Cf. Wilson (1985) 290: ā˜Manilius therefore is claiming literally to set the mountains and the woods
in motion and so to rank as an Orpheus or Arionā™.
26 For the vates as importer of new rites see Livy 4.30.9, 39.8.4, 39.16.8.
27 E.g., Prop. 1.1.19, Virg. Ecl. 8.69.
236 thom a s h a b i nek
Who could know (nosse) heaven if not through the gift of heaven?
And ļ¬nd god, unless he were himself a part of the gods?
Who could deny the sacrilege in laying hold of the universe ā“ if it were
and drawing (deducere) it down to earth, captive, as to oneself [or itself]?
(Astr. 2.115ā“16, 2.128ā“9)
Manilius acknowledges the boldness of his earlier appropriation of the
Thessalian trick implicit in deducere (ā˜draw downā™) even as he justiļ¬es it.
He treats the universe as a body to be manipulated through magic or taken
by force, but only because the universe wills this treatment. The ambiguity
of the phrase in semet in the ļ¬nal line quoted above (does it mean ā˜drag the
universe onto itselfā™ or ā˜drag the universe onto the person of the draggerā™?)
precisely articulates the commensurability of the universal body and the
human subject.28 By drawing the universe to himself, the poet would also be
drawing it in on itself, since the term mundus (translated here as universe)
can refer both to the totality of creation and to the heavens as a speciļ¬c
portion of creation. In any event, what matters is that Maniliusā™ ā˜deductionā™
of the universe falls short of sacrilege because of the universeā™s willing
participation in the process, a point made clear by the emphatic (and in my
reading, contrastive) position of the adjective ā˜unwillingā™ (invitum, Astr.
2.127) immediately after the main caesura in its line. Indeed, this entire
section of book 2 celebrates the conjunction of man and sky (hominem
coniungere caelo, Astr. 2.105) and their mutual interpenetration by a single
spirit (spiritus unus, Astr. 2.64).
Maniliusā™ adaptation of the earlier poetic tradition raises issues of embod-
iment both implicitly, in his claim to possess the full range of magical,
religious and musical powers of the vates, and explicitly, in his revision of
earlier accounts of human beingsā™ relationship to the material universe. If
Maniliusā™ description of human progress in Astronomica 1 draws upon but
revises a comparable narrative preserved in the Corpus Hermeticum, it bears
a similiar relationship to a long-established literary topos concerning the
civilising effect of human intellectual endeavours.29 Like Cicero, Lucretius
and Virgil, who provide overlapping lists of human achievements,30 Manil-
ius too celebrates the power of skill (sollertia), utility (usus), effort (labor),
28 Volk (2001) clariļ¬es the possible meanings of the phrase in semet, but underestimates the logical and
rhetorical importance of invitum.
29 For fuller discussion see Romano (1979).
30 Cic. Tusc. 1.62; Rep. 3.3; Lucr. 1.62ā“79, 5.1364ā“1456; Virg. G. 1.121ā“46.
Maniliusā™ Astronomica 237
and prior experience (experientia). His evocation of culture-heroes, both
divine (Mercury) and human (unnamed kings), plays off Lucretiusā™ praise
of Epicurus31 as well as Virgilā™s recognition of Jupiterā™s role in human devel-
opment. The Virgilian intertext is particularly noteworthy, since both Virgil
and Manilius describe a marked before and after in human development
(ā˜before Jupiterā™ (ante Iovem), G. 1.125 ā¼ ā˜before themā™ (ante illos), Astr.
1.66), celebrate the importance of labor (G. 1.145, Astr. 1.80, and 1.114),
and refer to the sharpening of mortal wits. Maniliusā™ expression: But when
long time sharpened mortal hearts (sed cum longa dies acuit mortalia corda
(Astr. 1.79) clearly echoes Virgilā™s description, at the outset of his account
of cultural progress, of Jupiter as ā˜sharpening the minds of mortals with
caresā™ (curis acuens mortalia corda, G. 1.123).
Maniliusā™ references to his literary predecessors serve to highlight his
variation on their themes. Whereas Cicero, Lucretius and Virgil collectively
refer to the invention of sailing, agriculture, music and astronomy, only
Manilius inserts divination and magic among the civilising developments
of human history:
Lest I sing the commonplace (vulgata), they began to
understand the language of birds