Hippolytus is impressed by Egeria’s transformation into water. A ploughman is amazed when a clod of earth transforms into a man who predicts the future. Similarly, Romulus was astonished when he saw the spear he’d thrown transform into a tree.
These examples of transformations that inspire awe point out that, as the world is more developed by humans, divine instances of transformation become more and more astonishing.
A Roman man named Cipus is surprised when he looks at his reflection and sees that he’s grown horns. Cipus calls to the gods, praying that if the horns are a good omen, they will be for the good of Rome; if they are a bad omen, he hopes they are bad only for himself. The prophet who used to be the clod of soil then prophesies that when Cipus walks through the gates of Rome, he will be its king. Cipus sees this as a bad omen and would rather spend his life in exile than be Rome’s tyrant.
In this scene, a prophet lays out the future of Rome. In previous instances, prophets always revealed the events that were fated to occur outside of any divine or human efforts to prevent them. In this instance, Cipus recognizes that the fate the prophet has revealed is a bad one. Instead of accepting it, Cipus uses his intelligence to find a loophole in the wording of his fate.
Cipus conceals his horns in a wreath, summons the Roman citizens, and delivers a speech. He says that there is a man present who will be Rome’s tyrant unless the people drive him out of the city or put him to death. This man has two horns on his head. The citizens murmur, wondering who the man is. Cipus removes his wreath, revealing his horns, and the people gasp. They banish him from the city, but award him his own parcel of land and engrave horns on Rome’s gateposts in his memory.
Cipus knows that the prophecy the prophet made cannot be altered by either gods or humans. However, he finds a way of blocking the bad consequences of this fate. Knowing he will be Rome’s tyrant, he has the Roman citizens drive him out of the city before he can begin his reign. In this way, Cipus accepts unchangeable fate but manipulates it to suit his people.