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Pliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books online

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Parts it first shineth out. For if it be like unto Flutes
( Tibice}, it portendeth somewhat to Musicians : if it appear
in the obscene Organs of the Signs, it threatens filthy Per-



concluded from Pliny's incredulity. Modern theory would refer this
abundance of shooting stars to a very limited period of the month of No-
vember ; but on the only occasion in which the Editor was an observer of
a very remarkable quantity, the observation was made on the second or
third day of October ; when, in a ride of more than two hours, the sky
was never free from them ; although no more than three were visible at
any one time. Wern. Club.

1 Dalechamp remarks, that in this observation Pliny has mistaken
the meaning of Aristotle, whom he is copying. The latter says, that a
comet disappears, or is dissipated, before it sinks so low as the horizon.
Wern. Club.

2 This expiation was the business of the priests ; and in the affair of a
comet could only be judged to have taken effect when the awful manifest-
ation had disappeared: and consequently not until after a considerable
period. Wern. Club.



BOOK II.] History of Nature. 65

sons. It regards Men of Talents and Learning, if it put forth
a triangular or four-square Figure, with even Angles, to any
Situations of the fixed Stars. It sprinkleth Poison, if seen in
the Head of the Dragon, either North or South.

In one only Place of the whole World, namely, in a
Temple at Rome, a Comet is worshipped : even that which
by Divus Augustus Ccesar himself was judged fortunate to
him: who, when it began to appear, acted in Person as
Overseer in those Games which he made to Venus Genetrix,
not long after the Death of his father, Ccesar, in the College
by him erected. For, that Joy of his he testified in these
Words : In those very Days of my Games, there was seen a
Comet for seven Days together, in that Region of the Sky
which is under the North Star. It arose about the eleventh
Hour of the Day, bright and clear, and evidently seen in all
Lands. By that Star it was signified (as the common Sort
believed) that the Soul of (Julius) Csesar was received among
the Divine powers of the immortal Gods. In which regard,
that Mark of a Star was set on the Head of the Statue of
Julius Caesar, which soon after we dedicated in the Forum.
These Words he published abroad : but in a more inward
Joy to himself, he interpreted that this Comet 1 was made for

1 It is a strong proof of the popular bias at that time, as well as of the
political tact of Augustus, that he was so far able to dissipate the appre-
hensions usually entertained on the appearance of a comet, as to convert
the phenomenon into a prognostic of especial good to his government ;
and to associate with it, what he wished them to believe of the Divine
adoption of his deceased uncle, the Dictator. The latter had, indeed, al-
ready given him some examples of the art of overruling a portent, when
its understood meaning did not correspond with his wishes ; and Suetonius
observes, that no ominous presage could ever deter or divert him from
the prosecution of his designs. That this celestial phenomenon, which
appeared about an hour before sunset, and was seen for seven successive
days, excited much attention, appears from Ovid (" Metamorphoses,"
b. xv.), who speaks of it as if he wished to avoid the dreaded name of
Comet, a word which, in the original, Pliny also does not use :
" Dumque tulit, lumen capere, atque ignescere sensit,
Emisitque sinu. Luna volat altius ilia,
Flammiferumque trahens spatioso limite crinem
Stella micat."



66 History of Nature. [BooK II.

him, and that himself was born in it. And if we may con-
fess a Truth, a happy Presage that was to the whole World.
Some there he who believe that these Stars be perpetual, and
go their Course round ; but are not seen, unless they be left

" (She) bore it upwards to its native skies :
Glowing with newborn fire she saw it rise :
Forth springing from her bosom, up it flew,
And kindling as it soar'd, a (sparkling star it) grew ;
Above the lunar sphere it took its flight,
And shot behind it a long trail of light."

But the particular object of Augustus seems to have been to connect this
appearance of a star with his family in their claim of Divine honour, as
being directly descended from the goddess Venus, whose particular ensign
this was. Dalechamp mentions a Roman coin, bearing on the obverse
the head and inscription of the deified Caesar, and, on the reverse, a temple
of Venus, with a star, and a statue of Caesar in the augural dress, and an




(From a Coin in the British Museum.)

altar for offerings and vows, with the inscription, " Divo Julio." It was
because of this alleged consanguinity to the goddess, that at his funeral
the Repository was made in the form of the temple of this divinity. The
origin of this story of the star of Venus may be traced to a Phoenician or
Trojan source ; for we find, in the Fragments of Sanchoniatho, the fol-
lowing account : " But travelling about the world, she found a star fall-
ing from the sky ; which she, taking up, consecrated in the Holy Island
Tyre. And the Phoenicians say, that Astarte is she who is amongst the
Greeks called Aphrodite:' (Bishop Cumberland's Trans, p. 36.) This
Tyrian or Trojan deity was the Marine Venus, and is to be distinguished
from Venus Urania, the heavenly, the greatest ; who, according to Cicero,
(N. D. iii. 23.) and other authority, was the Syrian Astarte, and the
Ashteroth of sacred Scripture ; whose ensigns were : on her head, the
horns of a bull ; about her, thunderbolts ; and round her, many stars.
Lucian, describing her statue, which he had seen, says : " She had a splen-
did stone on her head, which was called xvxb, which in the night gave
much light to the temple, but shone weakly in the day-time, and looked
like fire. Nor were these, the Roman deities Venus and Juno, the only
powers that were designated by a star. The prophet Amos (chap. v. 26)



BOOK II.] History of Nature. 67

by the Sun. Others, again, are of opinion, that they are pro-
duced casually by some Humour and the Power of Fire, and
thereby do consume away.

CHAPTER XXVI.

The Opinion of Hipparchus concerning the Stars. Also,
historical Examples of Torches, Lamps, Beams, Fiery
Darts, Opening of the Firmament.

HIPPARCHUS, the aforesaid Philosopher (a man never
sufficiently praised, as being he that more than any other
proved the Affinity of Stars with Men ; affirming also, that
our Souls were Parcel of Heaven), discovered and observed
a new Star produced in his Time, and by the Motion thereof
on the Day it first shone, he was led into a doubt, whether it
happened not very often that new Stars should arise ? and
whether those Stars also moved not, which we imagine to be
fixed ? The same Man went so far, that he attempted (a
Thing even hard for God to perform) to deliver unto Pos-
terity the exact Number of the Stars. He brought the said
Stars within the Compass of Rule, by devising certain In-
struments to take their several Places, and set out their
Magnitudes : that thereby it might be easily discerned, not
only whether the old died, and new were born, but also
whether they moved, and which Way they took their Course?
likewise, whether they increased or decreased? Thus he left
the Inheritance of the Sky unto all Men, if any one haply
could be found able to enter upon it as lawful Heir.

There be also certain flaming Torches shining out in the
Sky, though they are never seen but when they fall. Such
an one was that which, at the Time that Germanicus Ccesar
exhibited a Show of Gladiators, passed at Noontide in the

refers to a male deity, that, so early as the days of Moses, was worshipped
in a portable shrine by the people of Israel, and by them probably derived
from Egypt. A star thus became associated with the idea of Divine
benignity ; and how widely so, appears from the history of the Magi,
who came from the East to Jerusalem, to seek out the Desire of all Nations,
in pursuance of a prophecy that must have been of the highest antiquity.
Wern. Club.



68 History of Nature. [BooK II.

Sight of all the People. And there are two Sorts of them.
One is Lampades, which they call plain Torches ; and the
other, Bolides, or Lances, such as the Mutinians saw in their
Calamity. They differ, in that those Lamps or Torches form
long Trains, of which the forepart only is on Fire. But
Bolis burneth all over, and draweth a longer Tail. There
shine out, after the same Manner, certain Beams, which
the Greeks call Docus ; which appeared when the Lacede-
monians, being vanquished in a Sea-fight, lost the Dominion
of Greece. The Firmament also is seen to open ; and this they
name Chasma.

CHAPTER XXVII.

Of the strange Colours of the Shy.

THERE appeareth in the Sky also a Resemblance of
Blood 1 , and (than which Nothing is more dreadful to
Mortals) a burning, falling from Heaven to Earth : as it
happened in the third Year of the hundred and seventh
Olympiad, when King Philip terrified all Greece. And
these Things I suppose to come at certain Times by Course
of Nature, like other Things; and not, as the most Part

1 Showers of blood have been recorded in chronicles of various ages ;
and in those turbulent times it was never difficult to find some public
evil which such unwonted phenomena might be supposed to have fore-
told. By modern inquiry these appearances have been ascribed to the
excrements of a mighty swarm of butterflies to the extraordinary abun-
dance of an animalcula, called Oscellatoria Vubesuns and to the red
vegetable Protococcus Nivalis, swept up by winds from the snow, on which
it naturally grows. None of these explanations, however, appear to an-
swer so completely to Pliny's account, as the following; to which the
Editor was once a witness. On the 15th of February, 1837, when the
weather had long been damp, misty, and rather windy the direction of
the wind being South of West at a quarter of an hour after five in the
evening, there came in a mist, of a bright red colour ; which attracted
attention, through a window, by the glare of light it diffused. On pro-
ceeding to examine it in the open air, it was observed to have become of
a pink colour ; and presently passing into violet, it settled into a grey ; in
which tint it remained until the evening hid it from view. No refraction
of sunbeams can be allowed to account for this appearance ; for the sun
had long before been hidden by intervening hills from the valley in
which this beautiful coloured mist appeared. Wern. Club.



BOOK II.] History of Nature. 69

think, of sundry Causes, which the Wit of ingenious Men is
able to devise. They have, indeed, been Forerunners of ex-
ceeding great Miseries ; but I suppose those Calamities to
have happened, not because these Appearances were seen, but
these were procreated to foretell the Accidents that ensued
afterward. Now, it is because they fall out so seldom, that
the Reason of them is hidden, as is the Case with the
Rising of Planets abovesaid, the Eclipses, and many other
Things.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

Of the Flame of Heaven.

LIKEWISE there are seen Stars with the Sun 1 all Day long :
yea, and very often about the Compass of the Sun, other
Flames, like unto Garlands of Ears of Corn : also, Circles of
various Colours, such as those were when Augustus C&sar,
in the Prime of his Youth, entered the City of Rome after
the Decease of his Father, to take upon him his great
Name.

CHAPTER XXIX.

Of Celestial Crowns. 2

ALSO the same Garlands appear about the Moon, and
the brighter Stars which are fixed in the Firmament. Round

1 The only star seen near the sun at mid-day is the planet Venus :
" No stars beside their radiance can display
In Phoebus' presence, the dread lord of day ;
E'en Cynthia's self, the regent of the night,
Is quite obscur'd by his emergent light ;
But Venus only, as if more divine,
With Phoebus dares in partnership to shine."

Wern. Club.

3 None of the appearances in this and the following chapters, to the
37th, can be regarded as unusual ; and the explanation of them is to be
found in the fact, of the refraction of the light by peculiar conditions of
the air. Records of those things would scarcely have been found in the
books of the augurs, if some political object had not been mixed with the
report of the occurrences. It is well known that during the Republican
days of Rome, the reckoning of dates by the years of the consuls was
the common order of chronology. The consulship of L. Opimius and
Q. Fabius Maximus was in the 630th year of Rome, and 123 years before



70 History of Nature. [Boox II.

about the Sun there was seen an Arch, when Lu. Opimius
and Q. Fabius were Consuls ; and a Circle, when L. Porcius
and M. Acilius were Consuls.

CHAPTER XXX.
Of Sudden Circles.

THERE appeared a Circle of red Colour, when L. Julius
and P. Rutilius were Consuls. Moreover, there are strange
Eclipses of the Sun, continuing longer than ordinary ; which
happened when Ccesar the Dictator was slain. In the Wars
of Antony also, the Sun continued almost a whole Year, with
a pale and wan Colour.

CHAPTER XXXI.
Many Suns.

AGAIN, many Suns are seen at once, neither above nor
beneath the Body of the true Sun, but obliquely: never near,
nor directly against, the Earth ; neither in the Night, but when
the Sun either riseth or setteth. Once they are reported to
have been seen at Noon-day in the Bosphorus, and they con-
tinued from Morning to the Evening. Three Suns together
our Ancestors have often beheld ; as, for instance, when
Sp. Posthumius with Q. Mutius, Q. Martins with M. Porcius,
M. Antonius with P. Dolabella, and Mar. Lepidus with
L. Plancus, were Consuls. And our Age hath seen the like in
the Time of Divus Cl. Ccesar s Sovereignty and joint-Consul-
ship, with Cornelius Orfitus, his Colleague. More than three
we never to this Day find to have been seen together.

the Christian era. That the former of these consuls was capable of any
violence or fraud, to secure political preponderance, appears from his his-
tory in connexion with the Gracchi. He was openly accused of forging
portents ; and when one of his lictors had knocked down Tiberius Grac-
chus, whose person as tribune was sacred, in the riots that followed he
offered a reward, of its weight in gold, for the head of his opponent. The
bribe was successful : the head was found to weigh 171bs. 8oz. ; and to
shew his pious gratitude for the result, as well, perhaps, as to divert
public attention, he built a temple to Concord. Wern. Club.



BOOK I L] History of Nature. 7 1

CHAPTER XXXII.
Many Moons.

THREE Moons also appeared at once, when Cn. Domitius
and C. Fannius were Consuls ; and these most Men call
Night Suns.

CHAPTER XXXIII.

Daylight in the Night.

OUT of the Firmament by Night, there was seen a Light 1 ,
when C. Coelius and Cn. Papyrius were Consuls ; and often-
times besides, so as the Night seemed as light as the Day.

CHAPTER XXXIV.
Burning Shields.

A BURNING Shield ran sparkling from the West to the
East, at the Sun's Setting, when L. Valerius and C. Marius
were Consuls.

CHAPTER XXXV.

A strange Sight in the Shy.

BY Report there was once seen, and never but once,
when Cn. Octavius and C. Scribonius were Consuls, a Spark
to fall from a Star : and as it approached the Earth it waxed
greater, and after it came to the Bigness of the Moon, it
shone out and gave Light, as in a cloudy Day : then, being
retired again into the Sky, it became a burning Lamp
(Lampas). This, Licinius Syllanus, the Pro-consul, saw,
together with his Attendants.

1 This remarkable phenomenon is rarely noticed in modern times, and
is in itself rare ; but one or two instances have been related by living
witnesses. On one occasion, in a very dark night, two or three indivi-
duals, scarcely able to grope their way, were surprised at finding them-
selves able to see every object as clearly as in a moderate daylight. They
were so much astonished and alarmed at the sudden brightness, that,
being engaged in an exploit, in which they had no desire of recognition,
they were glad to hurry off with hasty expedition. Wern. Club.



72 History of Nature. [BooK II.

CHAPTER XXXVI.
The extraordinary Shooting of Stars in the Sky.

STARS are also seen to shoot hither and thither, but
never to any purpose : for, from the same Quarter where
they appear, there rise terrible Winds, and after them Tem-
pests both by Sea and Land.

CHAPTER XXXVII.
Of the Stars called Castor and Pollux 1 .

I HAVE seen myself, in the Camp, from the Sentinels in
the Night-watch, the Resemblance of Lightning to fix on the
Spears set before the Rampart. They settle also upon the
Yards, and other Parts of the Ship, at Sea : making a Kind
of vocal Sound, and shifting their Places as Birds do which
fly from Bough to Bough. They are dangerous when they
come singly, for they sink those Ships on which they alight ;

1 Luminous meteors are mostly seen at night ; since daylight is too
powerful to allow them to be seen. They have not been studied as the
subject deserves ; and hence the futility of the explanations generally
given to their causes. There is little doubt, that they differ greatly in
nature. Some are undoubtedly electric; as may be judged from their
sudden explosion, sometimes with signs of great violence. The appear-
ances termed Castor and Pollux, and among modern sailors Corbisant, or
Corpo Santo, is exceedingly rare on land, and in the British seas ; but
common in warmer latitudes than Britain. Light of, perhaps, the same
nature, is sometimes seen on the ears of animals, as the horse, when tra-
velling in stormy weather. Pliny speaks of being himself an eye-witness
to the settling of meteors on the military spears ; and there is a record of
a similar appearance in the sixth volume (p. 38) of Hearne's edition of
Leland's Itinerary: "In the yere of our Lord 1098, Corborant, admiral
to the Soudan of Perce, was faught with at Antioche, and discumfited by
the Christianes. The night cumming on yn the chace of this bataile, and
waxing dark, the Christianes beying 4 miles from Antioche, God willing
the saufte of the Christianes, shewid a white starre or molette of fy ve
pointes on the Christen host, which to every manne's sighte did lighte and
arrest upon the standard of Alboy the 3rd, there shining excessively."
Wern. Club.



BOOK II.] History of Nature. 73

or they set them on Fire if they fall upon the Bottom of the
Keel. But if the Pair appear, they are salutary, and foretel
a prosperous Voyage ; for by their coming, it is supposed that
the dreadful and threatening Meteor called Helena, is driven
away. And therefore it is, that Men assign this mighty
Power to Castor and Pollux, and invocate them as Gods at
Sea. Men's Heads, also, in the Evening are seen to shine
round about ; which presageth some great Matter. Of all
these Things there is no certain Reason to be given ; but they
are hidden in the Majesty of Nature.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.
Of the Air.

HITHERTO we have treated of the World itself, and the
Stars. It remaineth now to speak of other memorable
Things observed in the Sky. For even that Part also have
our Forefathers called Cesium, or the Sky, which otherwise
they name the Air : even all that Portion which seeming
like a void and empty Place, yieldeth this vital Spirit
whereby all Things do live. This Region is seated beneath
the Moon, and far under that Planet (as I observe it is, in
Manner, by all Men agreed upon). And mingling together
an infinite Portion of the superior celestial Nature of Air,
with very much of earthly Vapours, it doth participate con-
fusedly of both. From hence proceed Clouds, Thunders,
and those terrible Lightnings. From hence come Hail,
Frosts, Rain, Storms, and Whirlwinds : from hence arise
most of the Calamities of mortal Men, and the continual
War that Nature maketh with herself. For these gross
Exhalations, as they mount upward to the Heaven, are
beaten back by the Violence of the Stars : and the same
again draw up to them those Matters, which of their own
Accord ascend not. For thus we see, that Showers of Rain
fall, Mists arise, Rivers are dried up, Hail-storms came down
amain, the Sunbeams scorch the ground, and drive it every
where to the midst : but the same again unbroken, and not
loosing their Force, rebound and take up with them whatso-



74 History of Nature. [BoOK II.

ever they are able. Vapours fall from aloft, and return again
on high: forcible Winds come empty, but return with a
Booty. So many living Creatures draw their Breath from
above : but the same laboureth contrariwise, and the Earth
infuseth into the Air a Spirit as if it were empty. Thus, while
Nature goeth to and fro, as forced by some Engine, by the
Swiftness of the Heaven the Fire of Discord is kindled.
Neither can she stand to the Fight, but being continually
carried away she is rolled about, and as she spreadeth about
the Earth, with an immeasurable Globe of the Heaven, so
ever and anon through the Clouds she frameth another Sky.
And this is that Region where the Winds reign. And there-
fore their Kingdom principally is there where they execute
their Forces. For Thunderbolts and Lightnings most Men
attribute to their Violence. Nay, and so it is supposed that
sometimes it raineth Stones, which may be taken up first by
the Wind ; and many similar Appearances. Wherefore many
Matters besides are to be treated of together.

CHAPTER XXXIX.
Of Ordinary Sedsons.

IT is manifest that of Seasons, as also of other Things,
some Causes be certain ; others, casual ; or, such as yet the
Reason thereof is unknown. For who doubteth that Sum-
mers and Winters, and those alternative Seasons which we
observe by yearly Course, are occasioned by the Motion of
the Planets? As, therefore, the Sun's Nature is understood
by tempering and ordering the Year, so the rest of the Stars
have every one their peculiar Power, and the same effectual
to perform their own Nature. Some are fruitful to bring
forth Moisture, that is turned into liquid Rain : others to
yield an Humour either congealed into Frosts, or gathered
and thickened into Snow, or else frozen into Hail : some
afford Winds ; others Warmth : some hot and scorching
Vapours ; some, Dews ; and others, Cold. Neither ought
these Stars to be esteemed no more than they shew in Sight,
seeing that none of them is less than the Moon ; as may



BOOK 1 1 .] History of Nature. 75

appear by the Reason of their exceeding Height. All of
them, then, every one in its own Motion, exercise their
several Natures : which appeareth manifestly by Saturn
especially, who setteth open the Gates for Rain and Showers
to pass. And not only the seven Wandering Stars possess
this Power, but many of them also that are fixed in the Fir-
mament ; so often as they be either driven by the Approach
of those Planets, or provoked by the Casting and Influence
of their Beams : like as we find it happeneth in the seven
Stars called Suculce, which the Grecians, of Rain, name
Hyades (because they ever bring foul Weather). Howbeit
some of their own Nature, and at certain set Times, do cause
Rain ; as the Rising of the Kids. The Star Arcturus very
rarely appeareth without some tempestuous Hail 1 .

CHAPTER XL.
The Power of the Dog- Star.

WHO knoweth not, that when the Dog-Star ariseth, the
Heat of the Sun is fiery and burning? the effects of which
Star are felt exceeding much upon the Earth. The Seas at
his Rising do rage, the Wines in Cellars are troubled, stand-
ing Waters are moved. A wild Beast there is in Egypt,
called Orix~, which the Egyptians say, doth stand full against

1 It is scarcely necessary to warn the modern reader, that throughout
these observations on the weather, an influence is ascribed to the rising of
certain stars, from no better cause than the coincidence of the occurrences.
Wern. Club.

2 Pliny mentions this animal in book x. c. 73 ; and again in book xi.
c. 46 ; but modern naturalists have failed to identify it with any creature
known at the present time. Indeed, there is reason to believe that more
than one creature has been thus designated by the ancients ; for it has
been described as having only one horn; which would make it either
a species of rhinoceros, or the animal resembling a stag or horse, so often
spoken of under the name of Unicorn. It has also been compared to an
ox ; and four horns have been ascribed to it. But, more precisely, it is said
to be white, with horns and a beard ; which renders it probable that it
was of the goat kind. As the religion of the ancient Heathens was merely
ceremonial, the imputing to the creature, in the practice of sneezing, an



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