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king Psyllus, whose Sepulchre is in a part of the Greater

1 The earliest existing reference that we have to the Psylli, or serpent-
charmers, is found in the 58th Psalm, the 8th verse ; and the art is yet
practised in the East. These men were, and still are, distinct tribes in
their several countries, professing the power they claim to be an inherent
and natural function. Lucan, in the 5th book of his "Pharsalia," gives a
complete exposition of the ancient belief concerning the charming of ser-
pents. He chiefly describes the measures which were taken to protect
the Roman camp. When the encampment was marked out, the serpent-
charmers marched around it chanting their charms, the mystic sounds of
which chased the serpents far away. But not trusting entirely to this,
fires of different kinds of wood were kept up beyond the furthest tents,
the smell of which prevented the serpents from approaching. Thus the
camp was protected during the night. But if any soldier when abroad in
the day time happened to be bitten, the Psylli exerted their power to
effect a cure. First they rubbed the wounded part around with saliva,
to prevent, as they said, the poison from spreading while they assayed
their arts to extract it :

" Then sudden he begins the magic song,

And rolls the numbers hasty o'er his tongue ;

Swift he runs on, nor pauses once for breath,

To stop the progress of approaching death ;

He fears the cure might suffer by delay,

And life be lost but for a moment's stay.

Thus oft, though deep within the veins it lies,

By magic numbers chased, the mischief flies :

But if it hear too slow, if still it stay,

And scorn the potent charmer to obey ;

With forceful lips he fastens on the wound,

Drains out and spits the venom to the ground." ROWE.
Lane ("Modern Egyptian") gives a particular account of the different
methods made use of by the Psylli of the present day when exhibiting
their supposed powers. As to the pretensions of ancient as well as mo-
dern serpent-charmers, of being in their own persons insensible to the
poison of the reptiles, there is no satisfactory proof of it : indeed numerous
instances to the contrary have occurred ; and where they escape unharmed,
it is to be attributed to the poison fangs having been previously extracted,
or to their fearless handling of the deadly creatures. See the note on
Ps. Iviii. 5, in the "Pictorial Bible," by Dr. Kitto. Wern. Club.

BOOK VII.] History of Nature. 181

Syrtes, could do the like. These Men had naturally in
their Bodies a Poison fatal to Serpents, so that by the
Smell of it they were able to stupify them. And by
this means they used to try the Chastity of their Wives.
For as soon as their Children were born, they exposed
them to the most furious Serpents ; for these would not fly
from them if they were begotten in Adultery. This Nation,
in general, hath been almost entirely extirpated by the
Nasamones, who now inhabit those parts ; but a kind of
these Men remaineth still, descended from those who fled,
or else who were not present when the Battle was fought; but
they exist in small Companies. In like manner, the Nation
of the Marsi continue in Italy, who preserve the Reputa-
tion of being descended from a Son of Circe, and therefore
possess the same natural faculty. Yet so it is that all Men
possess within them that which is Poison to Serpents: for
it is reported they flee from Man's Spittle, as they do from
the touch of Scalding Water; but if it penetrate into their
Mouth, especially if it come from a Man that is fasting, it is
present Death. Beyond the Nasamonse, and their Neigh-
bours the Machlyae, there are Androgyni, of a double Nature,
inter se vicibus coeuntes, as Calliphanes reporteth. Aristotle
adds, that their Right Breast is like that of a Man, and the
Left that of a Woman. In the same Africa Isigonus and Nym-
phodorus avouch that there are certain Families of Charmers:
who, if they praise, destroy the Sheep, cause .the Trees to
wither, and Infants to pine away to death. Isigonus addeth
further, that there are People of the same kind among the Tri-
balli and Illyrii, who charrn with their Eyesight, and kill those
whom they look upon for a long time, especially if their Eyes
look angry : which Evil of theirs is more quickly felt by those
who are above the age of Puberty. It is worthy of remark,
that they have two Pupils in each Eye. Of this kind Apol-
lonides saith, there are also Women in Scythia named Bithyae.
Philarchus witnesseth, that in Pontus also the Race of
the Thibii, and many others, have the same Quality : of
whom he giveth these marks, that in one of their Eyes they
have two Pupils, and in the other the Resemblance of a

182 History of Nature. [BOOK VII.

Horse. He reporteth also, that they cannot sink in the
Water, not even if weighed down with Apparel. Damon
reports that there is a sort of People not unlike these in
Ethiopia, called Pharnaces, whose Sweat, if it chance to
touch a Man's Body, presently causeth him to waste away.
And Cicero, 1 a Writer of our own, testifieth, that all Women
everywhere who have double Pupils in their Eyes inflict
Injury with their Sight. In such manner Nature, having
generated in Man this custom of Wild Beasts, to feed upon
the Bowels of Men, hath taken Delight also to generate
Poisons in their whole Body, and even in the very Eyes of
some; that there should be no evil in the whole World, that
might not be likewise found in Man. Not far from the City
of Rome, within the Territory of the Falisci, there are a few
Families called Hirpise, which at their Yearly Sacrifice cele-
brated to Apollo upon the Mount Soracte, walk upon the
pile of Wood as it is on Fire without being burnt. 2 On
which account, by a perpetual Act of the Senate, they possess
an Immunity from War and all other Public Services.
Some men have certain Parts of their Bodies naturally
working surprising Effects. As for example, King Pyrrhus, 3
whose Great Toe of his Right Foot was a Remedy by its

1 This must have been in some of the lost works of Cicero, as no
such opinion is found in any of his extant writings. Wern. Club.

2 The art of treading bare-foot on burning embers, red-hot iron, &c.,
which has its professors in the present day, is from this passage shewn to
be of great antiquity ; Virgil also alludes to the same when he speaks of
the annual festival of the Hirpi on Mount Soracte, in Etruria, where
Chlorcus, the priest of Cybele, thus addresses Apollo (yEn. xi. 785) :

" O patron of Soracte's high abodes !

Phoebus, the ruling power among the gods !

Whom first we serve : whole woods of unctuous pine

Are fell'd for thee, and to thy glory shine ;

By thee protected, with our naked soles,

Through flames unsinged we march, and tread the kindled coals."

DRYDEN. Wern. Club.

3 According to Plutarch, in his life of Pyrrhus, the person of this king
was very extraordinary : " Instead of teeth in his upper jaw, he had one
continued bone, marked with small lines resembling the divisions of a row

BOOK VII.] History of Nature. 183

Touch for them that had Diseased Spleens. And they say, that
when the rest of his Body was Burned that Great Toe could
not be consumed : so that it was preserved in a little Case in
the Temple. But principally India and the whole Tract of
Ethiopia is full of these wonderful Things. The greatest Ani-
mals are bred in India, as will appear by their Dogs, 1 which
are much greater than those of other Parts. And there are
Trees growing in that Country to such a Height, that a
Man cannot shoot an Arrow over them. The reason of this
is the Goodness of the Soil, the Temperature of the Air, and
the Abundance of Water : which is the cause also that under
a single Fig-tree, 2 if it can be believed, Squadrons of Horse-
men may stand. There are Reeds also of such Length 3 that
between every Joint they will yield sufficient to make Boats
able to receive three Men. There are many Men there who
are above five Cubits in Height : never do they Spit : they
are not troubled with Pain in the Head, Toothache, or any
Disease of the Eyes, and seldom of any other Parts of the
Body; so hardy are they through the Moderate Heat of the
Sun. There are certain Philosophers, whom they call Gym-
nosophistae, 4 who from Sunrising to its setting persevere in
standing and looking full against the Sun without once

of teeth. It was believed that he cured the swelling of the spleen, by
sacrificing a white cock, and with his right foot gently pressing the part
affected, the patients lying on their backs for that purpose. There was
no person, however poor or mean, to whom he refused this relief, if
requested. He received no reward, except the cock for sacrifice ; and this
present was very agreeable to him. It is also said that the great toe of
that foot had a divine virtue in it ; for, after his death, when the rest of
his body was consumed, that toe was found entire and untouched by the
flames." LANGHORNE. The reader will here be reminded of the royal
touch for the cure of scrofulous diseases once exercised by our own kings.
Wern. Club.

1 Pliny (lib. viii. 40) tells us of one of these Indian dogs that con-
quered a lion. Wern. Club.

2 The Ficus Religiosa, well known to modern travellers. Wern. Club.

3 Lib. xvi. 36.

4 It is remarkable to observe how exactly the austerities of these
ancient gymnosophists are still practised by the Fakirs of India. Wern.

184 History of Nature. [BooK VII.

moving their Eyes : and from Morning to Night stand some-
times on one Leg, and sometimes on the other, on the Burn-
ing Sand. Meyasthenes writeth, that on a Mountain named
Milo, there are Men whose Feet are turned backward, and
on each Foot they have eight Toes. And in many other
Mountains there is a kind of Men with Heads like Dog's, clad

O '

all over with the Skins of Wild Beasts, and who instead of
Speech used to Bark: they are armed with Nails, and they live
on the Prey which they get by Hunting Beasts, and Fowling.
Ctesias writeth that there were known of them above
120,000 in number ; and that in a certain Country of
India the Women bear but once in their Life, and their
Infants presently become Grey. Likewise, that there is a
kind of People named Monoscelli, which have but one Leg,
but they are exceedingly Swift, and proceed by Hopping.
These same Men are also called Sciopodse, because in the
hottest Season they lie along on their Back on the Ground,
and defend themselves with the Shadow of their Feet : and
these People are not far from the Trogloditae. Again, be-
yond these westward, some there are without a Neck, but
carrying their Eyes in their Shoulders. Among the Western
Mountains of India there are the Satyri (the Country where
they are is called the Region of the Cartaduli), the swiftest
of all Animals : which sometimes run on four Legs, at
others on two Feet like Men : but so light-footed are they,
that unless they are very Old or Sick they cannot be taken.
Tauron writeth, that the Choromandee are a wild People,
without any Voice, but uttering a horrible Noise : their
Bodies Hairy, their Eyes bluish-grey, their Teeth like Dogs.
Eudoxus saith, that in the South Parts of India the Men
have Feet a Cubit long, but those of the Women 1 are
so small that they are called Struthopodes. Megasthenes
writeth, that among the Indian Nomadse there is a Nation

1 This character is so applicable to Chinese women, that it seems to
point out the great antiquity to which the strange custom of binding their
feet can be traced. The name of Struthopodes, or ostrich -footed, can only
have been applied to them by foreigners, but is not badly descriptive of
the figure of this artificial deformity. Wern. Club.

BOOK VII.] History of Nature. 185

that instead of Noses have only two small Orifices, and after
the manner of Snakes have wiry Legs, and are named
Syrictae. In the utmost Borders of India, eastward, about
the Source of the Ganges, there is a Nation called the
Asthomes, having no Mouths : hairy over the whole Body,
but clothed with the Down of the Branches of Trees : they
live only by the Vapour and Smell which they draw in at
their Nostrils : no Meat or Drink do they take, but only
various pleasant Odours from Roots, Flowers, and Wild
Fruits ; which they carry with them when they take a Long
Journey, because they would not miss their Smelling; but if
the Scent be a little too strong they are soon deprived of
Life. Higher in the Country, in the Edge of the Mountains,
the Pygmaei Spithamei are reported to be ; which are three
Spans in Length, that is, not exceeding three times nine
Inches. The Climate is healthy, and ever like the Spring,
by reason that the Mountains are on the North side of them.
And these People Homer 1 also hath reported to be much
annoyed by Cranes. The report goeth, that in the Time of
Spring they set out all in a great Troop, mounted upon the
Backs of Rams and Goats, armed with Darts, to go down to
the Sea-side, and devour the Eggs and Young of their
Winged prey. For three Months this Expedition continueth,
for otherwise they would not be able to withstand their future
Flocks. Their Cottages are made of Clay, Feathers, and
Egg-shells. Aristotle' 2 ' writeth, that the Pygmsei live in
Caves. For all the other matters he reported the same as
all the rest. Isigonus saith, that the kind of Indians named
Cyrni live a hundred and forty Years. The like he thinketh
of the Ethiopian Macrobii and the Serae, and those who

1 Iliad, lib. iii. 6 :

" So when inclement winters vex the plain
With piercing frosts, or thick descending rain,
To warmer seas the cranes embodied fly,
With noise, and order, through the mid- way sky :
To pygmy nations wounds and death they bring,
And all the war descends upon the wing." POPE.

5 Hist. Anim. lib. viii. 15.

186 History of Na tyre. [BooK VIT.

dwell upon Mount Athos : and of these last, because they
Feed on Vipers' 1 Flesh, and therefore it is that no offensive
Creatures are found on their Heads, nor on their Clothes.
Onesicritus affirmeth, that in those Parts of India there are
no Shadows, that the Men are five Cubits and two Palms in
Stature, that they live one hundred and thirty Years : and
never bear the Marks of Age, but die as if they were in the
middle of their age. Crates of Pergamus nameth those
Indians, who live above an hundred Years, Gymnetae : but
not a few call them Macrobii. Ctesias saith there is a Race
of Indians, named Pandore, inhabiting certain Valleys, who
live two hundred Years : in their youthful Time their Hair is
White, but as they grow old it becometh Black. On the
other hand, there are some who are Neighbours to the
Macrobii, who exceed not forty Years, and their Women
bear but once in their Lifetime. And this also is avouched
by Agatharcides, who addeth, that they feed on Locusts, and
are swift of Foot. Clitarchus and Megasthenes name them
Mandri, and number up three hundred Villages in their
Country : also, that the Women bear Children when they
are but seven Years old, and are aged at forty. Artemi-
dorus affirmeth, that in the Island Taprobana the People
live exceeding long without any Bodily Infirmity. Duris
maketh report, that certain Indians have fellowship with
Beasts, of which acquaintance are bred a mixed and half
Savage Race ; that among the Calingi, a Nation of India,
the Women conceive at five Years of Age, and live not above
eight. In another Tract of that Country, there are Men with
shaggy Tails and of great Swiftness : and some again that
with their Ears cover their whole Body. The Orites are
divided from the Indians by the River Arbis. They are
acquainted with no other Food but Fish, which they split
in Pieces with their Nails, and Roast against the Sun,
and then make Bread of it, as Clitarchus makes Report.
Crates of Pergamus saith, that the Trogloditse above Ethiopia
are swifter than Horses, and that there are Ethiopians above

1 Lib. xxix. 6.

BOOK VII.] History of Nature. 187

eight Cubits High : that this Nation of Ethiopian Nomades
is called Syrbotse, and dwelleth along the River Astapus,
toward the North. The Nation called Menismini dwell
Twenty Days' Journey from the Ocean, and live on the Milk
of certain Animals which we call Cynocephali, 1 of which
they keep Flocks of the Females, but they kill the Males,
except only enough to preserve the Race. In the Deserts of
Africa you will meet oftentimes with Appearances in the
shape of Men, but they vanish in an instant. Ingenious
Nature disposes this and such-like things, as a Pastime to
her, but which are Miracles to us. And indeed, who is able
to recount every one of her Sports, which she accomplishes
daily and even hourly ? Let it suffice therefore, in order to
declare her Power, that we have set down those prodigious
Works of hers, as displayed in whole Nations. And now we
proceed to a few Particulars that are well known in regard
to Man.


Of Prodigious Births*

THAT Women may bring forth three at one Birth, ap-
peareth evidently by the example of the Horatii and Curiatii.
But to exceed that number is reputed to be among the Por-
tents ; except in Egypt, where Women are more fruitful by
drinking the Water of the Nile. Of late Years, about the
latter end of the Reign of Divus Augustus, a Woman at Ostia
named Fausta, of ordinary Rank, was delivered of two
Boys and as many Girls ; but this was a Portent beyond

1 The cynocephalus anubis of modern zoologists is without doubt here
intended. Wern. Club.

2 " Prodigious births :" that is, not simply out of the common course
of nature, but such as were believed to be prophetic of some remarkable
events, and so reported by augurs to the proper authorities. What, at the
end of this chapter, Pliny reports that he had himself seen, is of no uncom-
mon occurrence, and would be regarded among us as nothing beyond a
monstrous birth, an irregular formation of nature ; but the incident he
mentions last can only be regarded as a proof of the great agitation of the
public mind, at a period when the danger was a sufficient motive to raise
and propagate the strangest reports. Wern. Club.

188 History of Nature. [BooK VII.

doubt of the Famine that ensued. In Peloponnesus also
there is found a Woman, who brought forth at four Births
twenty Children, and the greater Part of them lived.
Trogus is the authority, that in Egypt a Woman hath borne
seven at a Birth. It falleth out, moreover, that there come
into the World Children of both Sexes in one, whom we call
Hermaphrodites. In old Time they were known by the
Name of Androgyni, and reputed for Prodigies ; but now
Men take Pleasure in them. Pompey the Great, in the
Theatre which he adorned with remarkable Ornaments, as
well for the subject as the most exquisite Hand of the great
Artists, among other Images represented Eutichtt, a Woman
of Tralles, who after she had borne thirty Births, was carried
by twenty of her Children to the Funeral Fire for to be
burnt. AlcippZ was delivered of an Elephant, and that
certainly was a monstrous Token. Also in the beginning of
the Marsian War a Bondwoman brought forth a Serpent. 1

1 We know how prone vulgar ignorance or superstition is to compare
an ordinary monstrous birth to some fancied animal. Such is within the
knowledge of living observers. But what shall we say to the following ?
" Lemnius tells us of a monster, that a certain woman was delivered of,
and to whom he himself was physician and present at the sight, which at
the appearing of the day filled all the chamber with roaring and crying,
running all about to find some hole to creep into-; but the women at the
length stifled and smothered it with pillows." Wanleys Wonders of the
Little World. And from the same authority : " Johannes Naborowsky,
a noble Polonian, and my great friend, (says Bartholini, "Hist. Anat.")
told me at Basil, that he had seen in his country two little fishes without
scales, which were brought forth by a woman, and as soon as they came
out of her womb did swim in the water as other fish." The story given
by Wormius, concerning the birth of an egg from a woman (and of which
he gives a figure in his " Museum Wormianum,") is illustrated, and per-
haps explained, as may all the others on the same principle, by another
given in Wanley's book, of a woman " of good quality, who had made
great preparations for her lying-in, but in the last month her distension
subsided, and it is confessed that she plumped herself up with a stuffing of
garments. However, the time must come at last, and she was delivered
of a creature, very like unto a dormouse of the greater size, which to the
amazement of the women who were present, with marvellous celerity
sought out and found a hole in the chamber, into which it crept and was
never seen after." Instances somewhat similar have occurred in very

BOOK VII.] History of Nature. 189

Many misshapen Creatures of various kinds are produced as
Monsters in the World. Claudius Ccesar writeth, that in Thes-
saly an Hippocentaur was born, and that it died on the very
same Day. And when he was Sovereign we ourselves saw the
like sent to him out of Egypt, preserved in Honey. Among
the Instances there is one of a Child in Saguntum, in the Year
in which that Town was destroyed by Annibal, which, as soon
as it was born, presently returned again into the Womb.

Of the Change of the Sex ; l and of Double Births.

IT is no fable, that Females may be turned to Males ;
for we have found it recorded in the Annals, that in the Year
when Pub. Licinius Crassus and C. Cassius Longinus were
Consuls, there was at Cassinum a Maid who, under her
Parents, became a Boy : and by the order of the Aruspices
he was conveyed to a Desert Island. Lucinius Mutianus re-
porteth, that himself saw at Argos a Person named Arescon,
who had borne the Name of Arescusa, and even had been
Married : but afterwards came to have a Beard, and the
general Properties of a Man, and thereupon married a Wife.
After the same sort he saw at Smyrna a Boy changed. I
myself was an Eye-witness, that in Africa L. Cossicius, a

recent times, to the great disappointment of expecting friends : and the
laugh could only have been rendered the louder if, instead of a simple dis-
appointment, an egg or dormouse, an elephant or serpent had been the
result. By law, " Ut monstrosos partus necare parentibus liceret," that
" it should be lawful to parents to put to death children that were born
monstrous;" but Dionysius Halicarnasseus adds, that it was necessary
they should call witnesses to prove that they were monstrous : although
the latter stipulation can scarcely be reconciled with another law, which
gave to parents the right of life and death over their children. Accord-
ing to the law of Tullus Hostilius, third king of Rome, when three chil-
dren were born at one birth, they were to be brought up to the age of
maturity at the public charge. Wern. Club.

1 Instances similar to these are scarcely uncommon, and the causes
are well known to anatomists. The remarks concerning the fate of twins
are so contrary to experience, that Pliny's error can scarcely be accounted
for. Wern. Club.

190 History of Nature. [BooK VII.

Citizen of Tisdrita, was turned from a Woman to a Man
upon the very Marriage-day. If a Woman bring Twins, it
is rare for them all to live, but either the Mother dieth, or
one of the Babes, if not both. But if the Twins be of both
Sexes, it is rare for both of them to escape. Women grow
old sooner than Men ; and they grow to their Maturity more
speedily than Men. It is certain that a Male Child stirreth
oftener in the Womb, and lieth commonly more to the right
Side ; whereas Females incline to the left. 1


De Hominis Generando, et Pariendi Tempore per illustria
Exempla a Mensibus septem ad undecim. 2

C^TERIS animantibus statum, et pariendi, et partus
gerendi tempus est ; homo toto anno, et incerto gignitur
spatio. Alius septimo mense, alius octavo, et usque ad initia
decimi undecimique. Ante septimum mensem baud unquam
vitalis est. Septimo non nisi pridie posterove plenilunii die,
aut interlunio concept! nascuntur. Translatitium in ^Sgypto
est et octavo gigni. Jam quidem et in Italia tales partus
esse vitales, contra priscorum opiniones. Variant hsec plu-
ribus modis. Vestilia C. Herditii ac postea Pomponii atque
Orfiti, clarissimorum civium, conjunx, ex his quatuor partus
enixa, Sempronium septimo mensi genuit, Suilliuni Rufum
undecimo, Corbulonem septimo, utrunque Consulem : postea
Caesoniam Caii 3 principis conjugem, octavo. In quo men-
sium numero genitis, intra quadragesimum diem maximus

Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 33 of 60)