Pliny the Elder.

The Natural History of Pliny, Volume 1 (of 6) online

. (page 8 of 57)
Online LibraryPliny the ElderThe Natural History of Pliny, Volume 1 (of 6) → online text (page 8 of 57)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


they have been disclosed to the master of a family or to a parent.
But the futility of this observation was detected when the temple of
Juno was struck at Rome, during the consulship of Scaurus, he who was
afterwards the Prince of the Senate[416].

It lightens without thunder more frequently in the night than in the
day[417]. Man is the only animal that is not always killed by it, all
other animals being killed instantly, nature having granted to him
this mark of distinction, while so many other animals excel him in
strength. All animals fall down on the opposite side to that which
has been struck; man, unless he be thrown down on the parts that are
struck, does not expire. Those who are struck directly from above sink
down immediately. When a man is struck while he is awake, he is found
with his eyes closed; when asleep, with them open. It is not considered
proper that a man killed in this way should be burnt on the funeral
pile; our religion enjoins us to bury the body in the earth[418]. No
animal is consumed by lightning unless after having been previously
killed. The parts of the animal that have been wounded by lightning are
colder than the rest of the body.




CHAP. 56. (55.)—OBJECTS WHICH ARE NEVER STRUCK.


Among the productions of the earth, thunder never strikes the
laurel[419], nor does it descend more than five feet into the earth.
Those, therefore, who are timid consider the deepest caves as the most
safe; or tents made of the skins of the animal called the sea-calf,
since this is the only marine animal which is never struck[420];
as is the case, among birds, with the eagle; on this account it is
represented as the bearer of this weapon[421]. In Italy, between
Terracina and the temple of Feronia, the people have left off building
towers in time of war, every one of them having been destroyed by
thunderbolts.




CHAP. 57. (56.)—SHOWERS OF MILK, BLOOD, FLESH, IRON, WOOL, AND BAKED
TILES[422].


Besides these, we learn from certain monuments, that from the lower
part of the atmosphere[423] it rained milk and blood, in the consulship
of M’ Acilius and C. Porcius, and frequently at other times[424]. This
was the case with respect to flesh, in the consulship of P. Volumnius
and Servius Sulpicius, and it is said, that what was not devoured
by the birds did not become putrid. It also rained iron among the
Lucanians, the year before Crassus was slain by the Parthians, as
well as all the Lucanian soldiers, of whom there was a great number
in this army. The substance which fell had very much the appearance
of sponge[425]; the augurs warned the people against wounds that
might come from above. In the consulship of L. Paulus and C. Marcellus
it rained wool, round the castle of Carissanum, near which place,
a year after, T. Annius Milo was killed. It is recorded, among the
transactions of that year, that when he was pleading his own cause,
there was a shower of baked tiles.




CHAP. 58. (57.)—RATTLING OF ARMS AND THE SOUND OF TRUMPETS HEARD IN THE
SKY.


We have heard, that during the war with the Cimbri, the rattling of
arms and the sound of trumpets were heard through the sky, and that the
same thing has frequently happened before and since[426]. Also, that in
the third consulship of Marius, armies were seen in the heavens by the
Amerini and the Tudertes, encountering each other, as if from the east
and west, and that those from the east were repelled[427]. It is not at
all wonderful for the heavens themselves to be in flames[428], and it
has been more frequently observed when the clouds have taken up a great
deal of fire.




CHAP. 59. (58.)—OF STONES THAT HAVE FALLEN FROM THE CLOUDS[429]. THE
OPINION OF ANAXAGORAS RESPECTING THEM.


The Greeks boast that Anaxagoras[430], the Clazomenian, in the second
year of the 78th Olympiad, from his knowledge of what relates to the
heavens, had predicted, that at a certain time, a stone would fall
from the sun[431]. And the thing accordingly happened, in the daytime,
in a part of Thrace, at the river Ægos. The stone is now to be seen, a
waggon-load in size and of a burnt appearance; there was also a comet
shining in the night at that time[432]. But to believe that this had
been predicted would be to admit that the divining powers of Anaxagoras
were still more wonderful, and that our knowledge of the nature of
things, and indeed every thing else, would be thrown into confusion,
were we to suppose either that the sun is itself composed of stone,
or that there was even a stone in it; yet there can be no doubt that
stones have frequently fallen from the atmosphere. There is a stone,
a small one indeed, at this time, in the Gymnasium of Abydos, which
on this account is held in veneration, and which the same Anaxagoras
predicted would fall in the middle of the earth. There is another at
Cassandria, formerly called Potidæa[433], which from this circumstance
was built in that place. I have myself seen one in the country of the
Vocontii[434], which had been brought from the fields only a short time
before.




CHAP. 60. (59.)—THE RAINBOW.


What we name Rainbows frequently occur,
and are not considered either wonderful or ominous; for they do not
predict, with certainty, either rain or fair weather. It is obvious,
that the rays of the sun, being projected upon a hollow cloud, the
light is thrown back to the sun and is refracted[435], and that the
variety of colours is produced by a mixture of clouds, air, and
fire[436]. The rainbow is certainly never produced except in the
part opposite to the sun, nor even in any other form except that of
a semicircle. Nor are they ever formed at night, although Aristotle
asserts that they are sometimes seen at that time; he acknowledges,
however, that it can only be on the 14th day of the moon[437]. They are
seen in the winter the most frequently, when the days are shortening,
after the autumnal equinox[438]. They are not seen when the days
increase again, after the vernal equinox, nor on the longest days,
about the summer solstice, but frequently at the winter solstice, when
the days are the shortest. When the sun is low they are high, and when
the sun is high they are low; they are smaller when in the east or
west, but are spread out wider; in the south they are small, but of a
greater span. In the summer they are not seen at noon, but after the
autumnal equinox at any hour: there are never more than two seen at
once.




CHAP. 61.—THE NATURE OF HAIL, SNOW, HOAR, MIST, DEW; THE FORMS OF
CLOUDS.


I do not find that there is any doubt entertained respecting the
following points. (60.) Hail is produced by frozen rain, and snow by
the same fluid less firmly concreted, and hoar by frozen dew[439].
During the winter snow falls, but not hail; hail itself falls more
frequently during the day than the night, and is more quickly melted
than snow. There are no mists either in the summer or during the
greatest cold of winter. There is neither dew nor hoar formed during
great heat or winds, nor unless the night be serene. Fluids are
diminished in bulk by being frozen, and, when the ice is melted, we do
not obtain the same quantity of fluid as at first[440].

(61.) The clouds are varied in their colour and figure according as the
fire which they contain is in excess or is absorbed by them.




CHAP. 62. (62.)—THE PECULIARITIES OF THE WEATHER IN DIFFERENT PLACES.


There are, moreover, certain peculiarities in certain places. In Africa
dew falls during the night in summer. In Italy, at Locri, and at the
Lake Velinum, there is never a day in which a rainbow is not seen[441].
At Rhodes and at Syracuse the sky is never so covered with clouds, but
that the sun is visible at one time or another; these things, however,
will be better detailed in their proper place. So far respecting the
air.




CHAP. 63. (63.)—NATURE OF THE EARTH.


Next comes the earth, on which alone of all parts of nature we have
bestowed the name that implies maternal veneration. It is appropriated
to man as the heavens are to God. She receives us at our birth,
nourishes us when born, and ever afterwards supports us; lastly,
embracing us in her bosom when we are rejected by the rest of nature,
she then covers us with especial tenderness; rendered sacred to us,
inasmuch as she renders us sacred, bearing our monuments and titles,
continuing our names, and extending our memory, in opposition to the
shortness of life. In our anger we imprecate her on those who are now
no more[442], as if we were ignorant that she is the only being who can
never be angry with man. The water passes into showers, is concreted
into hail, swells into rivers, is precipitated in torrents; the air is
condensed into clouds, rages in squalls; but the earth, kind, mild, and
indulgent as she is, and always ministering to the wants of mortals,
how many things do we compel her to produce spontaneously! What odours
and flowers, nutritive juices, forms and colours! With what good faith
does she render back all that has been entrusted to her! It is the
vital spirit which must bear the blame of producing noxious animals;
for the earth is constrained to receive the seeds of them, and to
support them when they are produced. The fault lies in the evil nature
which generates them. The earth will no longer harbour a serpent after
it has attacked any one[443], and thus she even demands punishment in
the name of those who are indifferent about it themselves[444]. She
pours forth a profusion of medicinal plants, and is always producing
something for the use of man. We may even suppose, that it is out
of compassion to us that she has ordained certain substances to be
poisonous, in order that when we are weary of life, hunger, a mode of
death the most foreign to the kind disposition of the earth[445], might
not consume us by a slow decay, that precipices might not lacerate
our mangled bodies, that the unseemly punishment of the halter may
not torture us, by stopping the breath of one who seeks his own
destruction, or that we may not seek our death in the ocean, and become
food for our graves, or that our bodies may not be gashed by steel. On
this account it is that nature has produced a substance which is very
easily taken, and by which life is extinguished, the body remaining
undefiled and retaining all its blood, and only causing a degree of
thirst. And when it is destroyed by this means, neither bird nor beast
will touch the body, but he who has perished by his own hands is
reserved for the earth.

But it must be acknowledged, that everything which the earth has
produced, as a remedy for our evils, we have converted into the poison
of our lives. For do we not use iron, which we cannot do without, for
this purpose? But although this cause of mischief has been produced,
we ought not to complain; we ought not to be ungrateful to this one
part of nature[446]. How many luxuries and how many insults does she
not bear for us! She is cast into the sea, and, in order that we may
introduce seas into her bosom, she is washed away by the waves. She
is continually tortured for her iron, her timber, stone, fire, corn,
and is even much more subservient to our luxuries than to our mere
support. What indeed she endures on her surface might be tolerated,
but we penetrate also into her bowels, digging out the veins of gold
and silver, and the ores of copper and lead; we also search for gems
and certain small pebbles, driving our trenches to a great depth. We
tear out her entrails in order to extract the gems with which we may
load our fingers. How many hands are worn down that one little joint
may be ornamented! If the infernal regions really existed, certainly
these burrows of avarice and luxury would have penetrated into them.
And truly we wonder that this same earth should have produced anything
noxious! But, I suppose, the savage beasts protect her and keep off
our sacrilegious hands[447]. For do we not dig among serpents and
handle poisonous plants along with those veins of gold? But the Goddess
shows herself more propitious to us, inasmuch as all this wealth ends
in crimes, slaughter, and war, and that, while we drench her with
our blood, we cover her with unburied bones; and being covered with
these and her anger being thus appeased, she conceals the crimes of
mortals[448]. I consider the ignorance of her nature as one of the evil
effects of an ungrateful mind.




CHAP. 64. (64.)—OF THE FORM OF THE EARTH.


Every one agrees that it has the most perfect figure[449]. We always
speak of the ball of the earth, and we admit it to be a globe bounded
by the poles. It has not indeed the form of an absolute sphere, from
the number of lofty mountains and flat plains; but if the termination
of the lines be bounded by a curve[450], this would compose a perfect
sphere. And this we learn from arguments drawn from the nature of
things, although not from the same considerations which we made use
of with respect to the heavens. For in these the hollow convexity
everywhere bends on itself, and leans upon the earth as its centre.
Whereas the earth rises up solid and dense, like something that
swells up and is protruded outwards. The heavens bend towards the
centre, while the earth goes from the centre, the continual rolling
of the heavens about it forcing its immense globe into the form of a
sphere[451].




CHAP. 65. (65.)—WHETHER THERE BE ANTIPODES?


On this point there is a great contest between the learned and the
vulgar. We maintain, that there are men dispersed over every part of
the earth, that they stand with their feet turned towards each other,
that the vault of the heavens appears alike to all of them, and that
they, all of them, appear to tread equally on the middle of the earth.
If any one should ask, why those situated opposite to us do not fall,
we directly ask in return, whether those on the opposite side do not
wonder that we do not fall. But I may make a remark, that will appear
plausible even to the most unlearned, that if the earth were of the
figure of an unequal globe, like the seed of a pine[452], still it may
be inhabited in every part.

But of how little moment is this, when we have another miracle rising
up to our notice! The earth itself is pendent and does not fall with
us; it is doubtful whether this be from the force of the spirit which
is contained in the universe[453], or whether it would fall, did not
nature resist, by allowing of no place where it might fall. For as the
seat of fire is nowhere but in fire, nor of water except in water, nor
of air except in air, so there is no situation for the earth except in
itself, everything else repelling it. It is indeed wonderful that it
should form a globe, when there is so much flat surface of the sea and
of the plains. And this was the opinion of Dicæarchus, a peculiarly
learned man, who measured the heights of mountains, under the direction
of the kings, and estimated Pelion, which was the highest, at 1250
paces perpendicular, and considered this as not affecting the round
figure of the globe. But this appears to me to be doubtful, as I well
know that the summits of some of the Alps rise up by a long space of
not less than 50,000 paces[454]. But what the vulgar most strenuously
contend against is, to be compelled to believe that the water is
forced into a rounded figure[455]; yet there is nothing more obvious
to the sight among the phænomena of nature. For we see everywhere,
that drops, when they hang down, assume the form of small globes, and
when they are covered with dust, or have the down of leaves spread
over them, they are observed to be completely round; and when a cup
is filled, the liquid swells up in the middle. But on account of the
subtile nature of the fluid and its inherent softness, the fact is more
easily ascertained by our reason than by our sight. And it is even more
wonderful, that if a very little fluid only be added to a cup when
it is full, the superfluous quantity runs over, whereas the contrary
happens if we add a solid body, even as much as would weigh 20 denarii.
The reason of this is, that what is dropt in raises up the fluid at the
top, while what is poured on it slides off from the projecting surface.
It is from the same cause[456] that the land is not visible from the
body of a ship when it may be seen from the mast; and that when a
vessel is receding, if any bright object be fixed to the mast, it seems
gradually to descend and finally to become invisible. And the ocean,
which we admit to be without limits, if it had any other figure, could
it cohere and exist without falling, there being no external margin
to contain it? And the same wonder still recurs, how is it that the
extreme parts of the sea, although it be in the form of a globe, do not
fall down? In opposition to which doctrine, the Greeks, to their great
joy and glory, were the first to teach us, by their subtile geometry,
that this could not happen, even if the seas were flat, and of the
figure which they appear to be. For since water always runs from a
higher to a lower level, and this is admitted to be essential to it,
no one ever doubted that the water would accumulate on any shore, as
much as its slope would allow it. It is also certain, that the lower
anything is, so much the nearer is it to the centre, and that all the
lines which are drawn from this point to the water which is the nearest
to it, are shorter than those which reach from the beginning of the
sea to its extreme parts[457]. Hence it follows, that all the water,
from every part, tends towards the centre, and, because it has this
tendency, does not fall.




CHAP. 66.—HOW THE WATER IS CONNECTED WITH THE EARTH. OF THE NAVIGATION
OF THE SEA AND THE RIVERS.


We must believe, that the great artist, Nature, has so arranged it,
that as the arid and dry earth cannot subsist by itself and without
moisture, nor, on the other hand, can the water subsist unless it be
supported by the earth, they are connected by a mutual union. The
earth opens her harbours, while the water pervades the whole earth,
within, without, and above; its veins running in all directions, like
connecting links, and bursting out on even the highest ridges; where,
forced up by the air, and pressed out by the weight of the earth, it
shoots forth as from a pipe, and is so far from being in danger of
falling, that it bounds up to the highest and most lofty places. Hence
the reason is obvious, why the seas are not increased by the daily
accession of so many rivers[458].

(66.) The earth has, therefore, the whole of its globe girt, on every
side, by the sea flowing round it. And this is not a point to be
investigated by arguments, but what has been ascertained by experience.




CHAP. 67. (67.)—WHETHER THE OCEAN SURROUNDS THE EARTH.


The whole of the western ocean is now navigated, from Gades and the
Pillars of Hercules, round Spain and Gaul. The greater part of the
northern ocean has also been navigated, under the auspices of the
Emperor Augustus, his fleet having been carried round Germany to
the promontory of the Cimbri[459]; from which spot they descried an
immense sea, or became acquainted with it by report, which extends to
the country of the Scythians, and the districts that are chilled by
excessive moisture[460]. On this account it is not at all probable,
that the ocean should be deficient in a region where moisture so much
abounds. In like manner, towards the east, from the Indian sea, all
that part which lies in the same latitude[461], and which bends round
towards the Caspian[462], has been explored by the Macedonian arms,
in the reigns of Seleucus and Antiochus, who wished it to be named
after themselves, the Seleucian or Antiochian Sea. About the Caspian,
too, many parts of the shores of the ocean have been explored, so that
nearly the whole of the north has been sailed over in one direction or
another. Nor can our argument be much affected by the point that has
been so much discussed, respecting the Palus Mæotis, whether it be a
bay of the same ocean[463], as is, I understand, the opinion of some
persons, or whether it be the overflowing of a narrow channel connected
with a different ocean[464]. On the other side of Gades, proceeding
from the same western point, a great part of the southern ocean,
along Mauritania, has now been navigated. Indeed the greater part of
this region, as well as of the east, as far as the Arabian Gulf, was
surveyed in consequence of Alexander’s victories. When Caius Cæsar,
the son of Augustus[465], had the conduct of affairs in that country,
it is said that they found the remains of Spanish vessels which had
been wrecked there. While the power of Carthage was at its height,
Hanno published an account of a voyage which he made from Gades to the
extremity of Arabia[466]; Himilco was also sent, about the same time,
to explore the remote parts of Europe. Besides, we learn from Corn.
Nepos, that one Eudoxus, a contemporary of his[467], when he was flying
from king Lathyrus, set out from the Arabian Gulf, and was carried as
far as Gades[468]. And long before him, Cælius Antipater[469] informs
us, that he had seen a person who had sailed from Spain to Æthiopia
for the purposes of trade. The same Cornelius Nepos, when speaking
of the northern circumnavigation, tells us that Q. Metellus Celer,
the colleague of L. Afranius in the consulship, but then a proconsul
in Gaul[470], had a present made to him by the king of the Suevi, of
certain Indians, who sailing from India for the purpose of commerce,
had been driven by tempests into Germany[471]. Thus it appears, that
the seas which flow completely round the globe, and divide it, as it
were, into two parts[472], exclude us from one part of it, as there is
no way open to it on either side. And as the contemplation of these
things is adapted to detect the vanity of mortals, it seems incumbent
on me to display, and lay open to our eyes, the whole of it, whatever
it be, in which there is nothing which can satisfy the desires of
certain individuals.




CHAP. 68. (68.)—WHAT PART OF THE EARTH IS INHABITED.


In the first place, then, it appears, that this should be estimated at
half the globe[473], as if no portion of this half was encroached upon
by the ocean. But surrounding as it does the whole of the land, pouring
out and receiving all the other waters, furnishing whatever goes to the
clouds, and feeding the stars themselves, so numerous and of such great
size as they are, what a great space must we not suppose it to occupy!
This vast mass must fill up and occupy an infinite extent. To this we
must add that portion of the remainder which the heavens[474] take from
us. For the globe is divided into five parts[475], termed zones, and
all that portion is subject to severe cold and perpetual frost which is
under the two extremities, about each of the poles, the nearer of which
is called the north, and the opposite the south, pole. In all these
regions there is perpetual darkness, and, in consequence of the aspect
of the milder stars being turned from them, the light is malignant, and
only like the whiteness which is produced by hoar frost. The middle of
the earth, over which is the orbit of the sun, is parched and burned
by the flame, and is consumed by being so near the heat. There are
only two of the zones which are temperate, those which lie between
the torrid and the frigid zones, and these are separated from each
other, in consequence of the scorching heat of the heavenly bodies. It
appears, therefore, that the heavens take from us three parts of the
earth; how much the ocean steals is uncertain.

And with respect to the part which is left us, I do not know whether
that is not even in greater danger. This same ocean, insinuating
itself, as I have described it, into a number of bays, approaches with
its roaring[476] so near to the inland seas, that the Arabian Gulf is
no more than 115 miles from the Egyptian Sea[477], and the Caspian
only 375 miles from the Euxine. It also insinuates itself into the
numerous seas by which it separates Africa, Europe, and Asia; hence how
much space must it occupy? We must also take into account the extent
of all the rivers and the marshes, and we must add the lakes and the
pools. There are also the mountains, raised up to the heavens, with
their precipitous fronts; we must also subtract the forests and the
craggy valleys, the wildernesses, and the places, which, from various
causes, are desert. The vast quantity which remains of the earth[478],
or rather, as many persons have considered it, this speck of a



Online LibraryPliny the ElderThe Natural History of Pliny, Volume 1 (of 6) → online text (page 8 of 57)