Thomas Brodhead – American, born 1968 – Haruspex –2015 – acrylic on canvas – 48" x 36" x 1.25" (121.92cm x 91.44cm x 3.18cm)
A haruspex thrusts skyward the kidney-shaped liver of a freshly slaughtered sheep while performing haruspicy, a form of prognostication based on reading animal entrails. While other animals may be used in this 4,000 year-old divination process (first performed by the Babylonians and Hittites, then later refined by the Etruscans, who in turn passed it on to the Romans), the artiodactyl Ovis aries is the farm animal of choice for this joyous hepatoscopy. The bronze Piacenza Liver plate, inscribed in Etruscan, provides the student of haruspicy with the precise meaning each noxious fold that this master waste-filtering organ indicates. Lest you doubt its power, consider the fate of poor Julius Caesar: He didn’t heed his haruspex, Spurinna, who told him to beware the Ides of March after a bloody, bilious reading, and...well, you know the rest.
Wither haruspicy? Today we consult astrologers, mediums from Long Island, and even search for clues in anachronistic religious texts that still control our daily lives, so why not revive it? Since sheeple are everywhere, we may as well use portions of their livers for the ceremony: the organ does have a regenerative capacity, so they really shouldn’t mind if we borrow a lobe or two every now and then, don’t you think?