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

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are dealt with in such long Discourses, that they are ren-
dered tedious to the Readers. It is a difficult Enterprise
to make old Matters new, to give Authority and Credit to
Novelties, to polish that which is obsolete, to set a Lustre
upon that which is dim, to grace Things disdained, to
procure Belief to Matters doubtful, and, in one Word, to
reduce all to their own Nature. And to make the Attempt
only, although it be not effected, is a fair and magnificent
Enterprise. I am confidently of opinion, that the greatest
Credit belongs to those learned Men who have forced their
Way through all Difficulties, and have preferred the Profit
of instructing to the Grace of pleasing, the Gratification of
mere Desire of pleasing the present Age; and this I have
aimed at, not in this Work only, but in other of rny Books.
And I wonder at T. Livius, a very celebrated Writer, who,
in a Preface to one of his Books of the Roman History,

BOOK I.] Pliny s Epistle to T. Vespasian. 19

which he compiled from the Foundation of Rome, thus pro-
tested : That he had gotten Glory enough by his former
Writing, and might now be at ease, but that his Mind was
so little able to abide Repose, that it could not subsist but in
labour. But, surely, in finishing those Chronicles, he should
have respected the Glory of a People of Conquerors, who
had advanced the Honour of the Roman Name, rather than
displayed his own Praise : his Merit had been the greater to
have continued his History for Love of the Subject, rather
than his private Pleasure; to have preferred the Gratification
of Rome to his own mere Pleasure. As touching myself
(forasmuch as Domitius Piso saith, " That Books ought to be
Treasuries, and not bare Writings"), I will be bold to say,
that in Thirty-six Books I have comprised 20,000 Things
that are worthy of Consideration, and these I have collected
out of about 2000 Volumes that I have diligently read (and
of which there are few that Men otherwise learned have
ventured to meddle with, for the deep Matter therein con-
tained), and those written by one hundred several excellent
Authors ; besides a Multitude of other Matters, which either
were unknown to our former Writers, or Experience has lately
ascertained. And yet we cannot doubt but there are many
Things which we have overlooked : for we are Men, and
employed in a Multiplicity of Affairs ; and we follow these
Studies at vacant Times; that is to say, by Night Season
only ; so that you may know, that to accomplish this we
have neglected no Time which was due to your Service.
The Days we assign to your Person ; we sleep only to satisfy
Nature, contenting ourselves with this Reward, that whilst
we study (as Varro saith) these Things, we gain so many
Hours to our Life ; for surely we live then only when we
are awake. Considering those Occasions and Hindrances, I
had no Reason to promise much ; but as you have embol-
dened me to dedicate my Books to you, yourself supply what-
ever in me is wanting ; not that I place Dependency on the
Worth of the Work ; so much as that by this Means it will
be better esteemed, for many Things there be that appear

20 Pliny s Epistle to 1\ Vespasian. [BooK I.

the more precious only because they are consecrated in the
sacred Temples.

We, indeed, have written of you all your Father, your-
self, and your Brother, in an adequate Volume, which we
compiled touching the History of our Times, beginning at
the Place where Aufidius Bassus ended. If you inquire of
me, Where that History is ? I answer, That it is long since
finished, and by this Time is justified and approved by your
Deeds : otherwise I was determined to leave it unto my
Heir, and I gave Order that it should be published only
after my Death, to remove the Suspicion that it had been
written to obtain some selfish End. And by so doing, I do
both them a great Favour, who, perhaps, were inclined to
publish the like Chronicle ; and Posterity, also, who, I well
know, will compete with us as we have done with our Pre-
decessors. A sufficient Argument of this my Mind you shall
have by this, that in the Front of these Books now in Hand,
I have set down the Names of those Writers whose Help I
have used in the compiling of them : for I am of Opinion,
that it is the Part of an honest Man, and one that has a
Claim to any Modesty, to confess by whom he hath pro-
fited ; and not as many of those Persons have done, whom I
have alleged for my Authors. For, to tell you the Truth, in
conferring them together about this Work of mine, I have
met with some of our modern Writers, who, Word for Word,
have copied out whole Books of old Authors, and never
vouchsafed so much as the Naming of them ; but have taken
their Labours to themselves. And this they have not done
in the Spirit to imitate and match them, as Virgil did
Homer: much less have they shewed the Simplicity and
Openness of Cicero, who, in his Books on the Common-
wealth, professeth himself to follow Plato; in his consola-
tory Epistle written to his Daughter, he saith, " I follow
Crantor" and Pancetius likewise, in his Treatise concerning
Offices. Which Volumes of his (as you know well) deserve
not only to be handled, but read daily, and committed en-
tirely to Memory. It is the Part of a base and servile Mind

BOOK I.] Pliny s Epistle to T. Vespasian. 21

to choose rather to be taken in a Theft, than to bring Home
borrowed Goods, or to repay a due Debt ; especially when
the Interest thereof hath gained a Man as much as the

In the Titles and Inscriptions of Books, the Greeks have
a happy Art. Thus one has been entitled Kj/ov, whereby
they would give us to understand of a Honeycomb: others 1
Kygag A^aXSs/ag, that is to say, the Horn of Plenty ; so that
whosoever readeth these goodly Titles must hope for some
great Matters ; and as the Proverb goes, look to drink there
a Draught of Hen's Milk 2 . You shall have, moreover, their
Books set out with these glorious Inscriptions ! The Muses,
The Pandects 3 , Enchiridion 4 , As/^wv 5 , r/vax/<rr/oi/ 6 : so that one
might even consent to forfeit a Recognisance or Obligation
in a Court of Law, to turn over the Leaf. But let a Man
enter into them, and behold, what a Nothing shall he find
within ! As for our Countrymen, they are gross in Compa-
rison of them in giving Titles to their Books : for they come
with their Antiquities, Examples, and Arts ; and those also
be such Authors as are of finest Invention amongst them.
Valerius, who (as I take it) was named AntiaSj both for that
he was a Citizen of Antium, and also because his Ancestors
were so called, was the first that gave to a Book the Title of
Lucubratio, or Night Study. Varro terms some of his Satires
Sesculyxes and Flex'ibulce. Diodorus, among the Greeks,
laid aside such empty Titles, and entitled his Book, JBiblio-
theca, or, a Library. Apion 7 , the Grammarian, whom Tiberius

1 To wit, Helius Melissus.

3 " Lac gallinaceum summa felicitate olim usurpabatur." STBABO, lib.
xiv. " Eos, qui Sami fcecunditatem laudabant, ei proverbium accommo-
dasse tradit, quo aiunt <p'.gi*> ogvduv ><>.." DAUBCHAMPIUS. Wern. Club.

" Proverbium de re singular! et admodum rara." Note in Valpy, p. 18.
Wern. Club.

3 Containing all things, as Tyro Tuttius did.

4 A Manual to be carried always in Hand.

5 Meadow. 6 A Table or Index.

7 Apion, sometimes called Appion, was an Egyptian, but he had a
great desire to be regarded as of Greek extraction. His works were
numerous, and among them was one on all the wonders he had seen or

22 Pliny s Epistle to T. Vespasian. [BOOK I.

CcBsar called the Cymbal of the World (whereas, indeed, he
deserved to be rather named the Drum of public Fame), was
so vainglorious, that he professed to confer Immortality on
all those whom he mentioned in his Writings. I am not
ashamed I have not devised a prettier Title for my Book ;
yet because I would not be thought altogether to condemn
the Greeks, I am willing to be regarded in this Behalf like
those excellent Masters in Greece for Painting and Statuary,
whom you shall find in these Reports of mine, to have enti-
tled their rare and perfect Pieces of Work (which the more
we look upon, the more we admire) with Half-Titles and im-
perfect Inscriptions, in this Manner : Apelles worked at this
Picture*: or,Polycletus undertook this Image: as if they were
but begun and never finished, and laid out of their Hands :
which was done (no doubt) to this End, that for all the
Diversity of Men's Judgments scrutinising their Work, yet
the Artificer thereby had Recourse to an Apology, as if he
meant to have amended any Thing therein amiss, in Case he
had not been prevented. These noble Workmen, therefore,

heard of in Egypt. It seems to have been his practice to regard every
thing in proportion to the wonders it would enable him to relate. He is
the sole authority for some curious facts in Natural History ; which Pliny
seems to have taken from him. Aulus Gellius admits that he was prone
greatly to embellish the truth ; and Josephus has given evidence of his
emptiness and scurrility, which he poured out abundantly against the
Jews, to whom he bore a mortal antipathy. He had an opportunity of
displaying this in an address before the Emperor Caligula, when he repre-
sented their refusal to worship him as a god as a proof of their disaffec-
tion to his person and government ; by which he excited the indignation
of the emperor against the illustrious Philo and his companions. His
notoriety for reviling and noisy opposition was such as to cause his name
to be selected by a Christian writer of the third century, who assumed
the name of Clement of Rome, as the fictitious opponent of St. Peter, in
a disputation concerning the Christian religion : as mentioned by Eusebius
and Lardner. His conceit appears from what Pliny says of him ; and
it would have been to him the deepest mortification, could he have been
told that he would only be known to posterity through the mention made
of him by his opponents. He is sometimes called Plistonicus and Poly-
histor. Wern. Club.
1 Apelles faciebat.

BOOK I.] Pliny s Epistle to T. Vespasian. 23

shewed great Modesty, that the Inscriptions on their Works
were as if they had been their last Pieces, and their Perfec-
tion was hindered by their Death : for there were not known
( I believe ) above three which had their absolute Titles
written upon them in this Form : Ille fecit, or, This Apelles
finished : and those Pictures I will specify in the proper
Place. By which it appeared evidently, that the said three
Pictures were so fully finished, that the Workman was
highly satisfied with their Perfection, and feared the Censure
of no Man: no Marvel, then, if all three were so much
admired throughout the World, and every Man desired to
be Master of them.

For myself, I confess that many more Things may be
added, not to this Story alone, but to all the Books that I
have published before : which I say, because I would antici-
pate those Fault-finders and Scourgers 1 of Homer (for surely
that is their very Name) ; because I hear say there be certain
Stoic Philosophers, professed Logicians, and Epicureans also
(for at the Hands of Critics I never looked for any other),
who are in Labour to be delivered of somewhat against my
Books which I have published on Grammar : and the Space
of Ten Years has produced nothing but Abortion, when the
Elephant is not so long in producing her young one. But
this does not trouble me ; for I am not ignorant that a
Woman wrote against Theophrastus*, though he was a Man
of such Eloquence that from thence he obtained his divine
Name, Theophrastus : from whence arose this Proverb, "Then
go choose a Tree to hang thyself." 3 I cannot refrain, but I

1 Homeromastiges.

* Her name was Leontium, and she studied philosophy under Epi-
curus, where she became more celebrated for her talents than her virtue.
The elegancy of her style is praised by Cicero. Wern. Club.

3 There is a passage in Plutarch's " Life of Antony," which shews how
lamentably the antients were addicted to the crime of suicide, and at the
same time illustrates this proverb. It is thus translated by Langhorne :
" Once, in an assembly of the people, he (Timon of Athens) mounted the
rostrum, and the novelty of the thing occasioned an universal silence and
expectation : at length he said, ' People of Athens, there is a fig-tree in
my yard, on which many worthy citizens have hanged themselves ; and

24 Pliny s Epistle to T. Vespasian. [BoOK I.

must set down the very Words of Cato the Censor, so perti-
nent to this purpose ; whereby it may appear, that even
Cato himself, who wrote of Military Discipline, who had
been trained to War under Scipio Africanus, or rather, in-
deed, under Hannibal; who, in the end, could not endure
Africanus himself, but was able to control him in martial
Affairs ; and who, besides having the Conduct, as Imperator,
of the Roman Army, achieved the Superiority over his Ene-
mies in the Field, and returned with Victory : this Cato
could not avoid such Slanderers ; but knowing that there
would be many of them ready to purchase to themselves
some Reputation by reproving the Knowledge and Skill of
others, brake out into a certain Speech against them : and
what was it ? "I know well" (says he, in that Book) "that if
these Writings be published to the World, many will step
forth to cavil at them, and those soonest who are themselves
void of all Praise. But I let their Words flow by." It was
well said by Plancus, when being informed that Asinius
Pollio was framing certain Orations against him, which
should be published either by himself or his Children, after
the Decease of Plancus, that they might not be answered by
him ; he remarked : " That none but Bugbears 1 fight with
the Dead :" with which Word he gave those Orations such a
Rebuff, that (by the Judgment of the Learned) none were

as I have determined to build on the spot, I thought it necessary to
give this public notice, that such as choose to have recourse to this tree
for the aforesaid purpose, may repair to it before it is cut down.'"
Wem. Club.

1 Bugbears. Larvae. It was supposed that the soul of man, when
freed from the bonds of the body, and not obliged to perform its func-
tions, became a kind of demon, and this was denominated generally
Lemur. Of these Lemures, those who were kind to their families, and
preserved them in peace, were called Lares familiar es, or domestic Lares;
but those who, for punishment of their crimes committed during life,
were condemned to continual wandering, without finding a place of rest,
frightening good men and plaguing the wicked, were denominated Larvce.
The sarcasm consisted in comparing Asinius Pollio to such a perturbed
spirit. In the singular number, Larva signifies a mask, used to terrify
children. Wern. Club.

BOOK I.] Pliny s Epistle to T. Vespasian,


accounted more Impudent than they. Therefore, feeling
myself secure against these Busy-bodies, (and verily Cato
hath given such Fellows a proper Name when he called
them Vitilitigatores, by a Term elegantly compounded of
Vices and Quarrels: for to say a Truth, what do they else
but pick Quarrels and make Brawls?) I will proceed in
my intended Purpose.

To conclude my Epistle : knowing that for the Good of
the Commonwealth you ought to be spared in any private
Business of your own, and especially in perusing these long
Volumes of mine ; to prevent such a Trouble, therefore, I
have adjoined to this Epistle, and prefixed before these
Books, the Summary or Contents of every one : and care-
fully have I endeavoured, that you should not need to read
them throughout to ascertain their Contents ; whereby alt
others also, after your Example, may ease themselves of the
like Labour: and as any Man is desirous to know this or
that, he may readily find in what Place to meet with the
same. This Plan I learned of Valerius Sorranus, one of our
own Latin Writers, who hath done the like before me in
those Books which he entitled

Brass coin of T. Vespasian, in the possession of Mr. Coticft.







1 . Whether the World be limited ?

and whether there be but one ?

2. The Form of the World.

3. The Motion of Heaven.

4. Why the World is called Mun-


5. Of the Four Elements.

6. Of the Seven Planets.

7. Concerning God.

8. The Nature of the fixed Stars

and Planets : their Revolution.

9. The Nature of the Moon.

10. The Eclipse of Sun and Moon:

also of the Night.

11. The Magnitude of Stars.

12. The divers Discoveries of Men

and their Observations of the
Celestial Bodies.

13. Of Eclipses.

14. The Motion of the Moon.

15. General Rules concerning Pla-

nets and Lights.

16. The Reason why the same

Planets seem higher or lower
at sundry times.

17. General Rules concerning the


18. What is the Cause that Planets

change their Colours ?

19. The Course of the Sun: his Mo-

tion : and whence proceedeth
the Inequality of Days.

20. Why Lightnings are assigned

to Jupiter.


21. The Distances between the


22. The Harmony of Stars.

23. The Geometry of the World.

24. Of Stars appearing suddenly.

25. Of Comets and other prodi-

gious Appearances in the
Sky : their Nature, Situa-
tion, and Kinds.

26. The Opinion of Hipparchus of

the Stars, Torches, Lamps,
Pillars or Beams of Fire,
burning Darts, Gapings of
the Sky: with Instances.

27. Strange Colours appearing in

the Sky.

28. Flames seen in the Sky.

29. Circles or Garlands in the Sky.

30. Of Celestial Circles and Gar-

lands of short Duration.

31. Of many Suns.

32. Of many Moons.

33. Of Nights as light as Day.

34. Of Meteors resembling fiery


35. A wonderful Appearance in

the Sky.

36. The extraordinary Shooting of


37. Of the Stars named Castor and


38. Of the Air.

39. Of certain set Times and Sea-


Contents of the Second Book.



40. The Power of the Dog- Star.

41. The Influences of Stars accord-

ing to the Seasons and De-
grees of the Signs.

42. The Causes of Rain, Wind, and


43. Of Thunder and Lightning.

44. Whereupon cometh the Re-

doubling of the Voice, called

45. Of Winds again.

46. Considerations on the Nature

of Winds.

47. The Kinds of Winds.

48. Of sudden Blasts.

49. Other strange Kinds of Tem-


50. In what Regions there fall no


5 1 . Divers Sorts of Lightnings, and

wondrous Accidents by them

52. The Observations [of the Tus-

cans in old Time] about

53. Of causing Lightning.

54. General Rules concerning


55. What Things are not struck

by Lightning.

56. Of monstrous Showers of

Milk, Blood, Flesh, Iron,
Wool, Brick, and Tile.

57. The rattling of Armour : and

the Sound of Trumpets heard
from the Sky.

58. Of Stones falling from the


59. Of the Rainbow.

60. Of Hail, Snow, Frost, Mists,

and Dew.

61. Of Shapes represented in the


62. The particular Properties of

the Sky in certain Places.

63. The Nature of the Earth.

64. The Figure of the Earth.


65. Of the Antipodes: and whe-

ther there be such. Also, of
the Roundness of the Water.

66. How the Water resteth upon

the Earth.

67. Of Seas and Rivers of Naviga-


68. What Parts of the Earth be


69. That the Earth is in the Midst

of the World.

70. Whence proceedeth the In-

equality in the Rising of the
Stars. Of the Eclipse : where
it is, and why.

71. The Reason of Daylight upon


72. A Discourse thereof according

to the Gnomon : also of the
first Sun-dial.

73. Where and when no Shadows

are cast.

74. Where the Shadows fall oppo-

site twice in the Year.

75. Where the Days are longest,

and where shortest.

76. Likewise of Dials.

77. The divers Observations and

Acceptations of the Day.

78. Reasons of the Difference of


79. Of the Earthquake.

80. Of Openings in the Earth.

81. Signs of an Earthquake.

82. Helps against approaching


83. Strange Wonders seen only

once in the Earth.

84. Miraculous Accidents of Earth-


85. In what Parts the Seas went back

86. Islands appearing new out of

the Sea.

87. What Islands have thus shewed,

and at what Times.

88. Into what Lands the Seas have

forcibly broken.


Contents of the Second Book.


89. What Islands have been joined

to the Continent.

90. What Lands Jmve become all


91. Of Lands that have been swal-

lowed up of themselves.

92. What Cities have been over-

flowed by the Sea.

93. Wonderful Things of Lands.

94. Of Lands that always suffer


95. Of Islands that float continu-


96. In what Countries it never

raineth : also, of Miracles, as
well of the Earth as other
Elements, accumulated to-

97. The Reason of the Sea- tides,

as well ebbing as flowing,
and where the Sea floweth


98. Wonderful Things in the Sea.

99. The Power of the Moon over

Sea and Land.

100. The Power of the Sun : and

why the Sea is salt.

101. Also of the Nature of the


102. Where the Sea is deepest.

103. Remarkable Observations of

the Waters, of Fountains,
and Rivers.

104. Remarkable Things in Fire

and Water jointly together :
also of Maltha.

105. Of Naphtha.

106. Of Places that burn continu-


107. Wonders of Fire alone.

108. The Dimension of the Earth,

in length and breadth.

109. The harmonical Circumfer-

ence of the World.

In Sum, there are in this Book, of Histories and Observations, Four
Hundred and Eighteen in Number.


M. Varro, Sulpitius Gallus, Tiberius Ccesar the Emperor, Q. Tubero,
Tullius Tiro, L. Piso, T. Livius, Cornelius Nepos, Statins, Sebosus, Ccelius
Antipater, Fabianus, Antias, Mutianus, Cecina (who wrote of the Tuscan
Learning), Tarquitius, L. Aquila, and Sergius Paulus ! .


Plato, Hipparchus, Timceus, Sosigenes, Petosiris, Necepsus, Pythagoras,
Posidonius, Anaximander, Epigenes, Gnomonicus, Euclides, Cceranus Philo-
sophus, Eudoxus, Democritus,Crisodemus, Thrasyllus, Serapion, Diccearchus,
Archimedes, Onesicritus, Eratosthenes, Pytheas, Herodotus, Aristoteles,
Ctesias, Artemidorus Ephesius, Isidorus Characenus, Theopompus.

1 Sergius Paulus. There can be no doubt that this writer on Natural
Philosophy whose works are lost is the same person that is mentioned
in the 13th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles; and from the nature of
his pursuits we are enabled to perceive the reason why, at one time, he
was the patron of Elymas the Sorcerer. The greater portion of the Im-
postors- of those days were accustomed to found their claims to regard on
their acquaintance with some branches of Philosophy, in which Sergius
Paulus was an inquiring student. We do not find the name of the Sorcerer
among the numerous authors referred to by Pliny. Wern. Club.





Whether the World be finite, and but one.

HE World 1 , and that which, by another Name.
Men have thought Good to call Heaven
(under the Compass of which all Things are
covered), we ought to believe, in all Reason, to
be a Divine Power, eternal, immense, without
Beginning, and never to perish. What is beyond the Compass

1 The Author manifests a philosophic, as well as pious spirit, in begin-
ning his work with a reference to Divine power ; but in giving this idea
of the nature of the world, and representing it as a separate and inde-
pendent divinity, he adopts an ancient speculative opinion derived from the
Oriental philosophy, in preference to the popular opinion of his country,
which is selected by Ovid in his Introduction to the " Metamorphoses;" and
which ascribed the creation of the world to an already existing or eternal
God " whichever God he was :" though not to the highest in rank of the
Heathen Mythology ; for the latter is represented as descended from pre-
viously existing, or humanly deified, parents, and consequently was of a
subsequent age. The knowledge of the Great Eternal having been left

30 History of Nature. [ BOOK II.

thereof, neither is it fit for Men to search, nor within Man's
Understanding to conceive. Sacred it is, everlasting, infi-
nite, all in all, or rather itself all and absolute : limited, yet

Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 2 of 60)