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

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can sustain Thirst for four Days together; and when they
find Occasion to drink, they fill themselves full enough to
serve both for the Past and Future ; but before they drink,
they trample with their Feet to trouble the Water, for other-
wise they take no Pleasure in drinking. They live for fifty
Years, and some of them an hundred. These Creatures, also,
as it were, fall to be mad. Also a Method hath been disco-
vered of castrating the very Females, to make them service-
able in War ; for if the sexual Disposition be denied to them,
they become stronger.

There are two other Kinds of Beasts 2 which resemble in

1 In a state of nature this appears to be the case ; while at Smyrna,
and other parts of Asia, the horse and camel are constantly seen, each
occupied in its respective labours, in friendly harmony ; this may, indeed,
be only the effect of hereditary habit, the animals having been so long
accustomed to each other; for at Pisa, where the camel has been intro-
duced not much more than two centuries, we are informed by Professor
Santi, that it is necessary to accustom the horses of the neighbourhood to
the sight of the camel, as without such precaution constant accidents
would occur. And Herodotus relates (Clio, 80), that when Cyrus met
the Lydian army, commanded by Croesus, fearing the cavalry of his
enemy, he unloaded the baggage camels, and placed soldiers upon them,
with orders to march against the enemy's cavalry ; this he did, as Hero-
dotus says, because " the horse has a dread of the camel, and cannot bear
either to see the form, or to smell the scent of him." And the stratagem
of Cyrus succeeded, for the horses no sooner saw and smelt the camels,
than they turned back, and the hopes of Croesus were destroyed. Wern.

2 Pliny, in the original, implies that there are two other kinds of

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 35

some sort the Camel : one of them is called by the Ethiopians,
the Nabis ; with a Neck like a Horse, and the Leg and Foot
like the Ox ; the Head resembles that of a Camel, and it is
marked with white Spots upon a red Ground, from which it
taketh the Name of Camelopardalis ; 1 and the first Time it
was seen at Rome was in the Games of the Circus given by
Ccesar the Dictator; since which Time it is sometimes seen,
being more remarkable for the Sight than for any wild Nature
that it hath ; on which Account some have given it the Name
of the Wild Sheep.

Of the Chaus and Cephus.

THE Chaus, 2 which the Gauls called Rhaphius, having
the Shape of a Wolf with Leopard's Spots, was shewed first
in the Plays exhibited by Pompey the Great. He also brought
out of Ethiopia the Animals named Cephi, 3 whose fore Feet

animal which resembles the camel in name, that is, the camelopardalis,
and the struthiocamelus, or ostrich. Wern. Club.

1 The giraffe was certainly well known to the ancients long before
the time of Julius Ca3sar, when, as Pliny says, it first appeared in Italy.
It occurs, though rarely, in the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and is mentioned
by Agatharchidas, a Greek writer, who flourished about 150 B.C. In his
description of the animal, Pliny appears to have taken the darker parts of
the skin as forming the ground colour, which is relieved by the lighter
tints. Wern. Club.

3 Felts Lynx. LINN. The European Lynx. This animal is again
mentioned, Lib. viii. c. 22, where it is called the Lupus Cervarius, or
Stag- Wolf ; and Dr. Fischer supposes it also to be the lynx mentioned,
Lib. xi. ch. 46. It is probable that Pliny has confounded together this
and the Marsh- Lynx, FeUs Chaus, CUVIER. Wern. Club.

3 Cercopithecus Ruber, of Authors. The Patas, or Nismas. ^Elian,
" Hist. Anim." xvii. 8, on the authority of Pythagoras, describes the
Cephi as inhabiting the country bordering on the Red Sea. They are
vsaid to have been called xJJwa/, that is, gardens, from the various colours
for which they are distinguished. The Patas being one of the most beau-
tiful of the monkey tribe, the author of the volume on monkeys in the

36 History of Nature. [BooK VIII.

were like Men's Hands, and the hind Feet and Legs re-
sembled those of a Man. This Creature was never seen
afterwards at Rome.

Of the Rhinoceros. 1

IN the same Plays of Pompey, and many Times beside
was shewed a Rhinoceros, with a single Horn on his Snout.
This is a second begotten Enemy to the Elephant. 2 He fileth
this Horn against hard Stones, and so prepareth himself to
fight ; and in his Conflict he aimeth principally at the Belly,
which he knoweth to be the tenderest Part. He is full as
long as his enemy ; his Legs much shorter ; his Colour a
palish Yellow.

" Library of Entertaining Knowledge," thinks there is no doubt of its
being the Cephus here mentioned. " It is seldom, indeed," he says, " that
we are able to identify an animal so satisfactorily with the ancient descrip-
tion." The Cephus of Pliny must not be confounded with the Cebus of
Aristotle, which is the Papis Gelada. Wern. Club.

1 Rhinoceros Indicus. Cuv. The Indian Rhinoceros. It has been
asserted by Bruce and Salt that the Indian or one-horned Rhinoceros
has never been found in Africa ; from whence, since it was led in the
triumph of Pompey, it was implied that this animal was brought. But
in confirmation of the above inference, Dio Cassius states, though indi-
rectly, that Augustus, in the celebration of his triumph over Cleopatra,
gave a one-horned rhinoceros to be slain in the circus. And Strabo de-
scribes another which he saw at Alexandria ; while Burckhardt says ex-
pressly, that it is the one-horned rhinoceros that is found in the country
above Sennaar. Wern. Club.

9 The first is the Dragon, mentioned Lib. viii. c. 12. Wern. Club.


History of Nature.


Of Lynxes and Sphinges; ofCro-
cutce, CercopitheccBj Indian
Oxen, JLeucrocutce, Eale ;
Ethiopian Bulls, the Manti-
chora, Monoceros, Catoblepa,
the Basilisca.

LYNXES are common; 1 and
so are Sphinges: 2 with brown-
ish Hair, and two Breasts on
their Chests (pectus). Ethiopia
produceth them, and many other
similar monstrous Beasts, as
Horses with Wings, and armed
with Horns, which they call
Pegasi. 3 Also Crocutse, 4 which appear as if begotten between

T. Q. Couch. From Montf. torn. iii. pi. 17

1 Felis Caracal. LINN. The Caracal. Bennet (" Tower Menage-
ries,") thinks that the Caracal is unquestionably identical with the lynx
of the ancients, though the name has been usurped in modern times for
an animal of northern origin, utterly unknown to the Greeks, and known
to the Romans by a totally different appellation. But although it is
generally agreed that the Caracal is the lynx of the ancients, it is to be
observed that they use the term to denote various animals; and particu-
larly in the case of the animal accorded to Bacchus as one of his attri-
butes, they seem to have had no precise idea respecting it. The terms,
Lynx, Panther, and Tiger, seem to be all employed to designate this
animal, or these animals. Wern. Club.

3 The term " Sphinx," which Dr. Holland translated " Marmozet,"
was undoubtedly used to designate some species of Simia, but what sort
it does not seem possible to determine. Wern. Club.

3 Pliny has, on more than one occasion, manifested an inclination to
regard as real the fabulous creations of the heathen mythology. But
modern inquiry has failed to discover either the Pegasus, the Syren, or
the Mantichora, the latter, an imaginary monster, mentioned also by
Aristotle ("Hist. Anim." Book ii. ch. 11); by Pausanias (Lib. ix.); by
vElian (c. iv. 21), and by Ctesias, " Apud Photium." Wern. Club.

4 Canis Hycena. LINN. The Striped Hyaena. The most monstrous
fables were rife among the ancients respecting this animal. It would be a
waste of time and space to enumerate all the wonderful powers that were


History of Nature.

[Bdoic VIII,

a Dog arid a Wolf; they crush every Thing with their
Teeth ; and a Thing is no sooner devoured but presently it is
passed through the Body ; and Cercopithecse, 1 with black
Heads, and Hair like Asses, differing from other (Apes) in
their Voice : also Indian Oxen with
one Horn, 2 arid others with three.
Also the Leucrocutse, 3 a very swift
Beast, almost as big as an Ass, with
Legs like a Deer ; with a Neck,
Tail, and Breast of
a Lion, the Head of

a Badger, with a clo-
ven Foot ; the Gape
of his Mouth reach-
ing to his Ears ; and
instead of Teeth, an
entire Bone. They
report that this Beast
They have among them, also,

From the Pavement of the Temple of Fortune at Palestrina.
Montf. torn. iv. pi. 60.

imitateth the human Voice.

attributed to it ; but among other accomplishments it was said to imitate
the language of men, in order to draw to it shepherds, whom it devoured
at leisure, and to have the power of charming dogs, so that they became
dumb ; and the early modern naturalists repeat the fables of the ancients.
See ch. 30, and ^Elian, Book i. ch. 25 ; Book vi. ch. 14; Book vii. ch. 22.
Wern. Club.

1 Cercopithecus Griseus. F. Cuv. The Grey Guenon. It has been
usual to consider the term " Cercopithecus," as employed generically by
the ancients. The Greeks and Romans, however, were acquainted with
only two species of Cercopithecus, viz., that here alluded to, and the Cepus
(Cercopithecus Ruber). It is, therefore, highly improbable that they
should have had a generic term for these two animals, and we therefore
consider it most likely that Pliny here referred to the present species.
See " Natural History of Monkeys," in " Library of Entertaining Know-
ledge." Wern. Club.

2 The reader is referred to the note on the Oryx, Lib. xi. c. 46 ; and
also to Vol. i. p. 75, note. Wern. Club.

3 The best editions of Pliny have Leucocrota, and the animal intended
was probably a species of antelope. Leocrocota would imply a fabulous
monster deriving its origin from the Hyaena and the Lioness. See
chap. 30. Wern. Club.

BOOK VIII,] History of Nature. 39

another Beast, named Bale, 1 of the size of the River-Horse,
with the Tail of the Elephant, the Colour either black
or tawny (fulvus) ; his Jaws resemble those of a Boar ;
he hath Horns above a Cubit long, which he can fix on either
Side in Fight, or alter them in a formidable Manner obliquely,
as he sees occasion. But the most cruel are the Wild Bulls
of the Forest, 2 which are greater than the field Bulls ; swifter
than all the others ; of a tawny Colour, the Eyes bluish,
their Hair reversed, the Gape of their Mouth reaching to
their Ears ; their Horns, near them, movable ; 3 their Hide as
hard as a Flint, resisting every Wound ; all other Wild Beasts
they hunt, but these cannot be taken except in Pit-falls; and
in this Fierceness they die. Ctesias writeth, that there is a
Beast which he calleth Mantichora, 4 having three Rows of
Teeth, which meet together like the Teeth of a Comb ; with
the Face and Ears of a Man ; blue Eyes ; the Colour like
Blood, the Body like a Lion> and having a Tail armed with
a Sting like a Scorpion ; his Voice resembleth the Sound of
a Flute and Trumpet {Fistula et Tuba) sounded together ;
very swift, and before all others he desireth Man's Flesh.
In India there are also Oxen with solid Hoofs and a single

1 Pliny appears to be the only author, with the exception of his
copyist, Solinus, who has described the animal which he here calls Bale ;
it is impossible to conjecture what he meant. Wern. Club.

1 Bos Bubalus. LINN. The Buffalo. According to the accounts of
travellers the Buffalo still exists in a wild condition in many parts of
Africa, more particularly in Abyssinia, the Ethiopia of the ancients.
Wern. Club.

3 This seems to be Pliny's representation of the condition of the Eale,
and also the wild bull. Julian says, that the Erythraean oxen have horns
as moveable as their ears. Book iii. ch. 34. Wern. Club.

4 ^Elian, Book iv. c. 21, under the name of Mantichora, gives a some-
what lengthened description of this animal, from Ctesias, who pretended
to have seen it. The latter author, who is also the only authority for
some other very wonderful accounts of Indian animals, appears to have
been just such a traveller as our own Maundeville; honest, but highly
credulous, and trusting more to the authority of others than to his own
eyesight. What the creature was, to which this name was attached, could
only be recovered by finding the same name still in use in the East.
Wern. Club.

40 History of Nature. [ BOOK VIII.

Horn ; also a Wild Beast named Axis, 1 with its Skin like a
Fawn, but marked with more Spots, and those whiter. This
Creature is sacred to Liber Pater. The Orsians of India
hunt Apes, which are white all over the Body. But the most
furious Beast is the Monoceros: 2 his Body resembleth an
Horse, his Head a Stag, his Feet an Elephant, his Tail a
Boar; the Sound he utters is deep ; there is one black Horn
in the Middle of his Forehead, projecting two Cubits in
Length : by Report, this Wild Beast cannot possibly be
caught alive. Among the Hesperian Ethiopians there is a
Fountain named Nigris, the Head (as many have thought)
of the Nilus, and good Reasons there are for it, as we have
alleged before. 3 Near this Spring there is found a Wild Beast
called Catoblepas, 4 of small Size otherwise, and heavy in all
his other Limbs ; but his Head is so great that his Body is
hardly able to bear it ; it is always carried downwards to-
ward the Earth, for otherwise he would destroy all Man-
kind : for every one that looketh upon his Eyes immediately
dieth. The like Property hath the Serpent called a Basilisk, 5

1 Cervus Axis, of Authors. The Spotted Axis Deer. This beautiful
animal is found in India, and the larger islands of the Indian Archipelago.
Wern. Club.

3 If credit is given to the ancient writers on natural history, nothing
can be more clear than that there once existed a creature which answered
to the modern idea of what is termed the Unicorn, and is represented as
one of the supporters of the royal arms of Britain. JElian, book xvi.
ch. 20, describes it under the name of Cartazonos, as inhabiting a limited
district in the interior of India ; where, however, modern research has
failed to discover it. For a long time the tooth of the Narwahl was sup-
posed to be the horn that projected from between the eyes of the Uni-
corn ; although it did not exactly answer to the description, being white
instead of black. See note on the Oryx, Book xi. ch. 46 ; and Vol. i.
p. 75 ; Book ii. note. Wern. Club.

3 Lib. v. c. 9. Wern. Club.

4 Antelope Gnu. GMELIN. The Gnu. This animal, which inhabits
the plains of South Africa, is generally supposed to be the Katoblepas of
the ancients. JEi,iAN, Book vii. ch. 5. Wern. Club.

5 This fabulous creature is often referred to by ancient authors, and
also by some comparatively modern ; by the latter of whom even its eyes
were supposed to convey poison. Thus, Shakspeare makes the Lady

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 41

which is produced in the Province of Cyrenaica, and is not
above twelve Fingers' Breadth long ; with a white Spot on
the Head, as if distinguished with a Diadem : with his Hiss
he driveth away other Serpents ; he rnoveth not his Body
forward by multiplied Windings like other Serpents, but he
goeth with Half his Body upright and aloft from the Ground;
he killeth all Shrubs not only that he toucheth, but that he
breatheth upon ; he burns up Herbs, and breaketh the Stones;
so great is his Power for Mischief! It is received for a Truth,
that one of them being killed with a Larice by a Man on

Ann say, in answer to Richard's observation on her eyes : " Would they
were basilisk's, to strike thee dead ! " Its touch was also said to cause the
flesh to fall from the bones of the animal with which it came in contact.
The Basilisk was a wingless dragon, and derived its name from bearing on
its head the figure of a crown. The Egyptians believed it was produced
from the egg of the ibis, and some, more modern, from the egg of the
common cock ; and, strange as it may appear, the latter supposition may
explain much of the superstition regarding it. It is now known that,
from some change in the structure and action of the ovary, a hen some-
times assumes the plumage of a cock ; as is the case also with other galli-
naceous fowls, and even the duck. The final result is barrenness ; but
previous to this an egg may be produced, that is unnatural in its size and
contents ; and such a one is figured by Aldrovandus, and copied from
him by Ruysch (Table of Serpents, X.). Such an egg resembles the
produce of some serpents, and the latter might be easily mistaken for the
former. The egg of a snake may be often found on a dung-heap, over
which a fowl may roost ; and an individual who had seen an egg from
such a transformed fowl, might mistake a snake's egg for it, and watch it
to its hatching. Hens also sometimes lay soft eggs (without a shell), and
when they do so, as wanting the firmness natural to it, the egg escapes
from them when on the perch, without the consciousness of laying. The
Editor has known such eggs to fall on the dungheap below ; and when
so, it would not be easy to distinguish them from those laid by snakes in
the same place. An egg so laid produces nothing living ; but the uncer-
tainty attending it, especially if laid by a hen in a condition of trans-
formed plumage, in the same place with those deposited by a snake, would
be a sufficient foundation for all the superstition attending it. The eggs
of the Basilisk, and their liability to be mistaken for those which were
wholesome, are referred to by the prophet Isaiah, lix. 5. Ruysch
thinks that the cobra da capella, or hooded snake, is one of the ser-
pents that have been called the Basilisk, or the royal serpent. Wern.


History of Nature.


Horseback, the Poison was so strong that it passed along
the Staff, and destroyed both Horse and Man ; and yet a
Weasel hath a deadly Power to kill even such a Monster as
this (for Kings have been desirous to see the Manner how he

is killed). So Nature hath de-
lighted to match every Thing in
the World with its equal ! They
cast these Weasels into their Holes,
which it is easy to know by the
Poison alone. They destroy them
at the same Time with their strong
Smell, but they die themselves ;
and so the Combat of Nature is

Basilisk. Montfaufon, torn. iii. pi. 60. finish ed .

Of Wolves. 1

IT is also commonly believed in Italy that the Eye-sight
of Wolves is hurtful ; 2 so that if they look on a Man before he
see them, they cause him to lose his Voice for the time.
Those which are produced in Africa and Egypt are small,
and without Spirit; but in colder Climates they are more
Fierce and Cruel. That Men are transformed into Wolves,
and restored again to their former Shapes, we must confi-
dently believe to be False, or else give credit to all those
Tales which we have for so many ages found to be mere
Fables. But whence this Opinion came to be so firmly
settled, that when we would give Men the most opprobrious
Words, we term them Versipelles, or Turn-coats, I will shew.
Euanthes, a not contemptible Writer among the Greeks, re-
porteth having found among the Records of the Arcadians

1 Canis Lupus. LINN. The Wolf. Wern. Club.

2 So Virgil, Eel. ix.

" His very voice the hapless Moeris lost ;
His path some wolf's first darted glance hast crost." Wern. Club.

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 43

that there was a certain Race of the Antaei, out of which one
must be chosen by Lot, to be conveyed to a Pool in the
Country ; and when all his Clothes are taken off and hung
upon an Oak, he swimmeth across the Lake, and goeth
away into the Wilderness to be turned into a Wolf, and so to
keep company with others of that Kind for the space of nine
Years ; during which time, if he forbear to eat Man's Flesh,
he returneth again to the same Pool, and having swam back
over it, he receiveth his former Shape, except that he shall
look nine Years older than before. Fabius addeth one thing
more, that he findeth again the same Garment. It is won-
derful to what extent Grecian Credulity can proceed ; so that
there is not so impudent a Lie but it findeth some one to
bear Witness to it. And therefore Agriopas, who wrote the
Olympionicse, telleth of one Dcemcenetus Parrhasius, who at a
Sacrifice of a Human Being, which the Arcadians celebrated
to Jupiter Lyccens, tasted of the Inwards of a Boy, and was
turned into a Wolf; and the same Man ten Years after was
changed to a Man again, became a Wrestler, contended in
Boxing, and went away home again with Victory from
Olympia. Besides, it is commonly believed that in the
Tail of this Animal there is a little Hair that is effectual to
procure Love ; and that when he is taken he casteth it away,
because it is of no Force unless it is taken from him while
he is Alive. He goeth to rut in the whole Year no more
than twelve Days. When he is very hungry he devoureth
Earth. Among Auguries, if a Wolf, in going about, turn to
their Right Hand, with the Interruption of his Journey, it is
good ; but if his Mouth be full when he doth so, there is
not a better Sign in the World. There are some of this
Kind that are called Stag- Wolves, 1 such as we have said
that Pompey shewed in the Circus, brought out of Gallia.
This Animal, they say, however hungry he may be when
he is eating, if he chance to look backward, forgetteth his
Meat, and wandereth away to seek for some other Prey.

1 Lib. viii. c, 19. Wern. Club.

44 History of Nature. [BOOK VIII.

Of Serpents.

As regards Serpents, it is commonly observed that for
the most part they are of the Colour of the Earth in which
they lie hidden : and a very great number of Sorts there
are of them. The Cerastes 1 hath standing out on the
Body some small Horns, which are often four Double ;
by moving which, while the rest of the Body is hidden,
she enticeth the Birds into her Power.

The Amphisbsena hath two Heads, 2 that is to say, one at
the Head and another at the Tail, as if it were little to cast
out her Poison at one Mouth only. Some have Scales,
others are painted ; but all have deadly Venom. The
Jaculus darteth itself from the Boughs of Trees : so that
we are not only to guard against Serpents with our Feet,
but also to look to them that fly as a Dart from an Engine.
The Aspides swell about the Neck 3 (when they purpose to
sting); and there is no Remedy for the Bite unless the
Parts that are wounded are cut off immediately. This
destructive Creature hath one Point yet of Understanding,

1 Vipera (Cerastes") caudalis. SMITH. Near the middle of each of
the arched eyebrows of this venomous snake there is a slender, pointed,
slightly recurved spine, about a line, or a line and a quarter in length.
This in part answering the description of Pliny, renders it not improbable
that it is the reptile intended by our author. It inhabits the dry sandy
districts of Africa. A harmless serpent much like this is mentioned by
Herodotus, book ii. as being esteemed sacred by the Egyptians. Wern.

3 The modern genus Amphisbsena is perfectly harmless and inoffen-
sive, and confined to Brazil and other parts of South America ; it could
not, therefore, have been known to the ancients. What their Amphis-
baena was, must be left to conjecture. Wern. Club.

3 Vipera Haje. DAUBIN. The Asp. The asp is often mentioned
both by Greek and Roman writers ; and from the discrepancies which are
observable in the accounts given by different authors, it seems probable
that two or three different species of poisonous serpents were known to
the ancients under this common name. From various circumstances,
however, and particularly from the description of Pliny, it is evident that

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 45

or rather of Affection : they for the most part wander abroad
in Pairs ; nor can they live without their Mate : so that if
one be killed, it is incredible how the other seeketh to be
revenged. It pursueth the Murderer; it knoweth him
again amongst a great number of People, and followeth him
closely ; it overcometh all Difficulties, goeth to any Dis-
tance, and nothing will save him unless it is stopped by some
River, or that the Individual betake himself to a hasty
Flight. I am not able to say whether Nature hath been
more free in producing such Evils, or in giving us Remedies.
For, in the first place, she hath afforded to this hurtful
Creature but a dim Pair of Eyes, and those not placed in the
fore Part of the Head, to see directly forward, but in the
Temples. And therefore these Serpents are oftener directed

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