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

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by their Hearing than Sight.

Of the Ichneumon*

THERE is mortal War between the Asp and the Ichneu-
mon. This Animal is known by this Distinction especially,
that it is bred likewise in
the same Egypt. It wallows
oftentimes within the Mud,
and then dries itself again in
the Sun ; and when he hath
thus armed himself with many

* From the Pavement of the Temple of Fortune
Skins, he gOeth forth tO atPalestrma. Montf. torn. vi. pi. 60.

combat. In Fight he sets up his Tail, and turning it to
the Enemy, receiveth all the Strokes (of the Aspis) without
harm, until he spies a Time to turn his Head on one Side,
that he may catch the Aspis by the Throat. And not

the most common and celebrated is the present species. The animal mea-
sures from three to five feet in length, and is closely allied to the cobra
capello, or spectacled snake of India. It inhabits Egypt and other parts
of Africa. Wern. Club.

1 Herpestes Pharaonis. DESMAE. The Ichneumon. There is no
reason to doubt this being the animal intended by Pliny. Wern. Club.

46 History of Nature. [BOOK VI II .

contented with this, he addresseth himself to a Conflict
with another, as hurtful as the former.

Of the Crocodile, Scink, and Hippopotamus.

THE Nilus is inhabited by the Crocodile, 1 an ill-disposed
Creature, four-footed, as dangerous upon Land as on the
Water. This Animal alone, of all other that live on the
Land, hath no use of a Tongue. He only moveth the
upper Jaw, with which he biteth hard ; and the grasp of
his Mouth is otherwise terrible, by means of the row of his
Teeth, which close within one another as if two Combs
penetrated each other. Ordinarily he is above eighteen
Cubits in Length. The Female layeth Eggs as big as those
of a Goose, and sitteth continually upon them out of the
Water. By a certain Fore-knowledge she is aware how far
the Nile will rise that Year when it is at the highest. There
is no other Creature that from a smaller Beginning groweth
to a greater Size. He is armed with Claws, and his Skin
will resist any Injury whatever. By Day it keepeth on the
Land, but passeth the Night in the Water ; being guided by
each according to the Season. When it hath satisfied its
Appetite with Fishes, it lieth asleep on the Shore, and
always with some of the Meat in his Mouth. Then cometh
a little Bird, called there Trochilos, 2 and in Italy the King of
Birds, and for the sake of her Food she instigates the Crea-
ture to gape by hopping first about its Mouth, which she
pecks and cleanses, and then the Teeth, after which she
getteth within to the Back of his Mouth, which it openeth
the wider because it taketh such great Delight in this
scouring. When the Crocodile is lulled fast asleep with

1 Crocudilus vulgaris. CUVIER. The Crocodile. Wern. Club.

2 This account is taken from Herodotus (Euterpe, Ixviii.) who says,
" The mouth of the crocodile is filled in the inside with leeches. All
birds and animals in general avoid him ; the trochilus is the only animal
at peace with him ; and that on account of the services he receives from
that bird ; for when the crocodile comes out of the water to land, and

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 47

this Pleasure, the Ichneumon, having discovered the Oppor-
tunity, shooteth himself down his Throat like a Dart, and
gnaweth a Hole through his Belly. 1

In the Nilus there breeds also the Scincos, 2 which is like
the Crocodile, but less than the Ichneumon. It is the chief
Antidote against Poisons, and also provokes the Heat of
Lust in Men.

But the Crocodile produceth so much Mischief, that
Nature is not content to have given him only one Enemy;

opens his mouth, the trochilus goes into his throat and devours the
leeches : the crocodile is pleased at being relieved, and hurts not the
trochilus." Although this statement is confirmed by Aristotle, Pliny,
and other ancient writers, it has been very generally discredited in
modern times. Recent inquiries, however, shew that in this, as in most
of his relations, the father of history is justified by the fact. The term
"bdella" has hitherto been translated " leech." But M. Geoffrey St.
Hilaire has adopted the opinion that it corresponds to "culex," that is,
" a gnat," myriads of which insects swarm on the banks of the Nile, and
attack the crocodile when he comes to repose on the sand. His mouth
is not so hermetically closed but that they can enter, which they do in
such numbers, that the interior of his palate, which is naturally of a
bright yellow, appears covered with a darkish brown crust. The insects
strike their trunks into the orifices of the glands which abound in the
mouth of the crocodile ; and the tongue of the animal being immoveable,
it cannot get rid of them. It is then that the trochilus, a kind of plover,
closely allied to the Charadrius minor of Meyer, or in the opinion of M.
St. Hilaire, C. Egyptiacus, but which Pliny, confounding with another
bird of the same name, calls " the king of birds," in its pursuit of the
gnats, hastens to his relief ; the crocodile always taking care, when he is
about to shut his mouth, to make certain movements which warn the
bird to fly away. Thus the ancient story is not so unreasonable as might
be thought. It is matter of every-day observation, that gnats will attack
bulls and other large terrestrial animals of the fiercest nature ; and that
wagtails and other insectivorous birds will peck the former from their
muzzles. While in India it is common to see the ox approaching its eye
deliberately to the ground, by holding its head on one side, to enable the
mina, a species of starling, to take an insect from the hairs of the eyelid.
There appears, therefore, no reason why the crocodile should not have
recourse to similar aid on similar necessity. Wern. Club.

1 It can hardly be worth while to refute such a fable as this, but it
was long entertained as worthy of serious belief. Wern. Club.

a Lib. xxviii. c. 8. Wern. Club.

48 History of Nature. [BooK VIII.

and therefore when the Dolphins pass into the River Nile,
where the Crocodiles assume to be Kings, as if the River
were their peculiar Property, and therefore drive them away
and prevent them from taking Food : seeing themselves to
be otherwise inferior to the Crocodiles in Strength, but
being armed on the Back with a Fin as Sharp as a Knife,
they manage to destroy them by Craft. For all Creatures
are herein very skilful, and know not only their own
Advantages, but also what may hurt their Enemies. They
know what offensive Weapons they have, and the fit Occa-
sions of using them ; as also the weak Parts of those opposed
to them. The Skin of the Crocodile's Belly is thin and
soft; and therefore the Dolphins, 1 as if afraid of them, dive
under Water, and getting beneath until they have gotten
under his Vent, rip it up with this sharp Spine. Also,
there is a Kind of People that bear a Hatred to the Croco-
dile, and they are called Tentyrites, from an Island of the
Nile which they inhabit. These Men are of small Stature,
but when opposed against the Crocodiles, and then only, it is
wonderful to see how resolute they are. Indeed this Cro-
codile is a terrible Beast to them who fly from him ; but on
the other Hand he runneth away from such as pursue him.
Now, these People are the only Men that dare to approach
right in front of him. They will even swim into the River
after them, and mount upon their Backs, 2 and sit on them

1 Lib. ix. c. 8. Wern. Club.

2 The exploits of these Tentyrites have not been unmatched in modern
times. A ride on the back of a crocodile does not seem a very tempting
thing ; but that it has long been occasionally performed in the process of
killing these monsters is shewn by Dr. Pocock, in his " Observations on
Egypt," where he says, " They make some animal cry at a distance from
the river, and when the crocodile comes out they thrust a spear into his
body, to which a rope is tied : they then let him go into the water to
spend himself, and afterwards drawing him out, run a pole into his
mouth, and, jumping on his back, tie his jaws together." (Vol. i. p. 203.)
Mr. Waterton, in his "Wanderings in South America," tells us he per-
formed the same extraordinary feat. His Indian assistants having
secured a monster of the Essequibo, by a baited hook fastened to a long
pole, "they pulled the cayman," as he describes (p. 231,) "within two

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 49

like Horsemen ; and as they turn up their Heads, with their
Mouth wide open to bite, they thrust a Club into it across,
and so holding with the Hands each End of it, the one with
the right and the other with the left as with a Bridle,
they bring them Prisoners to land ; and then, when they
have them there, they so frighten them with their Voice
only, that they compel them to vomit up those Bodies which
they have newly swallowed, and bury them. And therefore
this is the only Island which the Crocodiles will not swim
to ; for the very Smell of these Tentyrites drives them
away, just as the Psylli 1 do with Serpents. This Animal
is said to see but badly in the Water ; but out of it they are
very quick-sighted. The four Winter Months they pass in a
Cave, and eat nothing. Some are of Opinion, that this is the
only Creature that groweth as long as he liveth ; and certainly
he liveth a long Time.

The same River Nile produceth another Beast of greater
Height, called Hippopotamus. 2 He hath a cloven Foot like
an Ox ; the Back, Mane, and Neighing of an Horse ; his
Snout turning up. The Tail and hooked Teeth are like those
of Boars, but less formidable ; the Skin of his Back impene-

yards of me ; I saw he was in a state of fear and perturbation ; I instantly
dropped the mast, sprang up, and jumped on his back, turning half round
as I vaulted, so that I gained my seat with my face in a right position. I
immediately seized his fore legs, and by main force twisted them on his
back : thus they served me for a bridle." Wern. Club.

1 Lib. vii. 2.

2 Hippopotamus Senegalensis. DESMOULIN. The Hippopotamus.
In this account of the Hippopotamus, Pliny seems to have followed Ari-
stotle (Lib. ii. c. 7), who in like manner copied from Herodotus (Lib. ii.
c. 71). It is probable that the two latter writers never saw the animal,
but trusted to the wild accounts of others ; and Pliny himself, although
he says, in the next chapter, that Marcus Scaurus exhibited the Hippo-


50 History of Nature. [BooK VIII.

trable if made into Shields and Helmets, unless it be soaked
in some Liquor. He feedeth on the standing Corn ; and they
say that he fixeth beforehand where he will feed by Day ;
and his Footsteps are always backward, in order that against
his Return no Snare shall be laid for him.


Who first showed the Hippopotamus and Crocodiles at Rome.
Also the Medicines discovered by Animals.

MARCUS SCAURUS was the first, who, in the Games
which he displayed at Rome in his Office of Edileship, pro-
duced one Hippopotamus and four Crocodiles, swimming in
a temporary Pool.

The Hippopotamus hath taught a Practice in a certain
Part of the Art of Healing. For finding himelf overfat, by
Reason of his full Feeding so continually, he getteth to the
Shore, having spied where the Reeds have been newly cut ;
and where he seeth the sharpest. Stem he presseth down his
Body on it, and pierceth a certain Vein in his Leg, so that
by a Flow of Blood he relieves his diseased Body, and he
covereth over the Orifice again with Mud.


What Herbs certain Creatures have showed us: Deer, Lizards,
Swallows, Tortoises, the Weasel, Stork, the Boar, the
Snake, Dragon, Panther, Elephant, Bears, Doves, Pigeons,
Cranes, the Raven.

SOMETHING like this was showed us by a Bird which is
called Ibis in the same Country of Egypt. This Bird having

potamus at Rome, can hardly be supposed to have seen it, or he never
could have fallen into so great an error as to give it the mane of an
horse. It need hardly be observed, that in all probability the Romans
derived their Hippopotamus from Northern Africa ; if, therefore, there be
more than one species, the Hippopotamus Senegalensis is, in all likelihood,
the one intended. Went. Club.
1 Lib. x. 30.

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 51

a crooked Bill, useth it to squirt Water through that Part
through which it is most healthy to discharge the Burdens of
Meat. Neither have dumb Creatures directed us to these
Practices only, which might serve for use to Man. For
Deers 1 first showed us the Virtue of the Herb Dictarnnus 2 to
draw out Arrows. Being shot with that Dart, with feeding
on this Herb it is driven out again. The same Creatures
being also stung by the Phalangium, 3 a kind of Spider, or
any of like Nature, cure themselves by eating Cray-fishes. 4

There is an Herb called Calaminth, 5 of remarkable Effi-
cacy against the biting of Serpents ; with the Application of
which the Lizards, when they have fought with them, cure
their Wounds.

The Swallows taught us the Usefulness ^
of Chelidonia 6 for the Eyesight; for with
it they heal t their young Ones when their Eyes
are injured.

The Tortoise, 7 by eating Cunila, which is
also called Bubula, reneweth his Powers against
Serpents. Mont/, tom. i. pi. 84.

The Weasel useth Rue 8 when he purposeth to hunt for
Rats, in case he should fight with any of them.

The Stork goeth to the Herb Origanum for a Remedy;
and the Boar, when he is sick, is his own Physician, by
eating Ivy and Crabs, such especially as the Sea casteth
on Shore.

The Snake, 9 by lying still all the Winter, hath a Mem-
brane growing over the Body; but with the Juice of Fennel
she throweth off that Incumbrance, and appeareth fresh and
elegant again. She beginneth to throw it off first at the
Head ; and she is so slow as to occupy a whole Day and a
Night in folding it backward, before the Inside of the Mem-

1 Lib. viii. 32. 2 Lib. xxv. 8. 3 Lib. xi. 24.

4 Lib. ix. 50, 51. 4 That is, the Condrillon. Lib. xxii. 22.

6 Lib. xxv. 8, 12. The juice of Chelidonium majus, diluted with milk,
is said to consume white opaque spots on the eyes. Wern. Club.

7 Lib. xx. 16. 8 Lib. xx. 13. 9 Lib. xx. 23.

52 History of Nature. [BOOK VIII.

brane can be turned outward. Also, when by keeping close
all the Winter, her Sight is become dim, she rubbeth herself
with the Herb Marathrum, and also anointeth and com-
forteth her Eyes. But if the Scales be hard and insensible,
she scratcheth herself with the Prickles of the Juniper.

The Dragon, 1 feeling a Loathing of Meat in the Spring,
removeth it with the Juice of the wild Lettuce. 2

The Barbarians, when they hunt Panthers, 3 thoroughly
rub the Flesh (which they lay as a Bait for them) with
Aconitum 4 (which is Poison). The Beasts have no sooner
touched the Flesh, but immediately they are seized with
great Anguish in their Throat; on which Account some have
called this Poison Pardalianches. But the wild Beast hath a
Remedy against this in the Ordure of a Man; and at other
Times, also, so eager is he for it, that when the Shepherds
have carefully hanged it up aloft in some Vessel, so that
it is above their Power to reach it by leaping, he becomes
ready to faint with straining to get up and seize it, and in the
end thus killeth himself. And yet otherwise he is of such
enduring Vitality, that he continueth to fight when his very
Bowels are cut out.

The Elephant, if he swallow the Chameleon among the
Leaves which this Creature is like in Colour, goeth straight
to the wild Olive for a Remedy against this his Poison.

Bears, when they have tasted Mandrake Apples, 5 lick
up Emmets.

The Stag uses as an Antidote against poisonous Weeds in
its Pasture, the Herb Cinara (Artichoke). 6

Pigeons, 7 Graculus, 8 Merulse, 9 purge away their yearly
Loss of Appetite with eating Bay-leaves. Partridges, 10
Doves, 11 Turtle-doves, 12 and Poultry, 13 do the like with the

I Perhaps some species of Boa. Lib. viii. 14. Wern. Club.

8 Lib. xix. 8. 3 Lib. viii. 17. 4 Lib. xxvii. 2. 5 Lib. xxix. 6.

6 This word Cinara, here translated Artichoke, is not mentioned any
where else by Pliny, and it is by no means certain that the artichoke is
the plant intended. Wern. Club.

7 Lib. x. 35. 8 Lib. xi. 29. 9 Lib. x. 29. 10 Lib. x. 33.

II Lib. x. 34. Ia Lib. x. 24. I3 Lib. x. 21.

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 53

Herb called Helxine. 1 Ducks, 2 Geese, 3 and other Water-
Fowls, purge with the Herb Siderite. 4 Cranes, 5 and Birds
of that kind, with the Marsh-reed. 6

The Raven, when he hath killed the Chameleon, and is
hurt by him, extinguished! the Venom that he is infected
with by Aid of the Bay-tree.

Prognostications from A nimals.

THERE are a thousand Properties besides bestowed on
Beasts ; and particularly many of them are endued by the
same Nature with the Observation of the Air above, to fore-
see what Weather we shall have, what Winds, Rain, Tem-
pests ; which to search out in particular is not possible, no
more than their other Qualities, respective to the Society
with every Man. For they warn us beforehand of Dangers,
not only by their Fibres and Bowels, about which a large
Part of the World fixeth its Attention, 7 but also by other
Significations. When a House is ready to tumble, the Mice
are sure to have quitted it; and the Spiders, with their Webs,
are the first to fall. Augury, indeed, hath formed itself into
an Art; and among the Romans there is a College of Priests,
instituted for the most Party early. In Thracia, where Places
are frozen, the Fox, an Animal that is otherwise sharp in his
Hearing, will not pass over any River or Pool that is frozen,
before he hath tried the Ice by his Ear ; and then he does not
venture, except when he goeth to feed, or returneth. It is
observed that he judgeth of the Thickness of the Ice by
applying his Ear to it.

1 Helxine, Lib. xxi. 16. 2 Lib. x. 38. 3 Lib. x. 22.

4 Siderite, Lib. xxv. 5. 5 Lib. x. 23.

6 Juncas Palustris, Lib. xix. 2.

7 Alluding to the art of Divination by these means ; so constantly
practised by the Ancients. Wern. Club.

54 History of Nature. [BooK VIII.


The Cities and Nations which have been utterly destroyed by
small Animals.

NOTHING is more notorious than the Fact, that much
Injury hath come from contemptible Creatures. M. Varro
writeth, That there was a Town in Spain undermined by
Rabbits ; and one in Thessaly, by the Moles. In Gallia, the
Inhabitants of one City were driven out by Frogs. In Africa,
the People were expelled by Locusts. Out of Gyaros, 1 an
Island of the Cyclades, the Inhabitants were driven away by
Rats and Mice. In Italy, Amyclae was destroyed by Ser-
pents. In Ethiopia, on this Side the Cynamolgi, there is a
wide Country which lieth desert, from being dispeopled by
Scorpions and Solpugae. 2 Theophrastus, also, reporteth, that
the Trerienses were forced away by Scolopendres. But let
us return to other Kinds of wild Beasts.


Of the Hycena and Crocuta, and Mantichora, and Beavers,
and Otters.

THE common People believe that Hyasnas 3 possess a
double Nature, and that every second Year they change
their Sex, from Males to Females, and that the latter bear
without the Male ; but Aristotle denieth it. Their Neck and
Mane is stretched out in Continuation of the Spine, and he
denies that it has the Power to bend without turning about
the whole Body. Many strange Matters besides this are
reported ; and above the rest, that he will counterfeit
Man's Speech among the Shepherds' Cottages, and will call

1 See more of this, Lib. viii. 57 ; also, Lib. x. 65.

2 Lib. xxii. 25, and Lib. xxix. 4.

3 Canis Hyama.Lvsy. The Striped Hyama. This seems to be the
same animal that our author in the 21st chapter has named Crocuta. See
the note there. Wern. Club.

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 55

one of them forth by Name ; and when he hath obeyed the
Call, he will tear him in Pieces. Also that he will imitate
the Vomiting of a Man, to entice the Dogs to come to him,
and then devour them. This Beast alone will dig up the
Graves in search of Bodies. The Female is seldom taken.
There are a thousand Variations in their Eyes, through the
change of Colour. Moreover, if a Dog come within his
Shadow, he becometh dumb. Again, by certain magical
Arts, if he go round about any other living Creature three
Times, it shall not have the Power to stir a Foot. The
Lioness of Ethiopia, by Copulation with this kind, brings
forth the Leocrocuta j 1 which likewise knoweth how to imi-
tate the Voice both of Man and the Sheep. His Sharpness
of Sight is constant ; he hath one continuous Tooth (in
either Jaw), and no Gums. That these Bones may not be-
come blunt by continual rubbing against one another, they
are enclosed as if within a Sheath.

Juba reporteth that the Mantichora 2 in Ethiopia imi-
tateth Men's Language. Many Hyaenas are produced in
Africa; which also yieldeth a Multitude of wild Asses. 3
And one of the Males ruleth whole Flocks of the female
Asses. These Beasts are so jealous, that they look narrowly
to the Females great with young; and as soon as they have
foaled, they castrate the young Males. On the other Hand,
the she-Asses, when they are with young, seek hiding-
places, from a Desire to bring forth secretly; and they delight
in the Abundance of their Gratification.

The Beavers in Pontus 4 do the same as the male Asses,
by the same Parts, when Danger presses ; as knowing that
they are sought after for this ; and these Parts Physicians
call Castoreum. And otherwise, the Bite of this Creature is

1 Lib. viii. 21. 2 Lib. viii. 21.

3 Lib. viii. 15. Pliny tells us here, and again in the 44th chapter,
that the wild ass was found in Africa ; but no traveller has since met
with it. And as far as we know, the species in a wild state is confined to
Asia. It has even retired from Syria and Asia Minor, where it was
formerly found. Wern. Club.

4 Lib. xxxii. 3.

56 History of Nature. [BOOK VIII.

terrible ; for he will bite down the Trees by the River-sides,
as if they were cut with an Axe ; and when he catcheth hold
of a Man, he never letteth loose his Bite until he have heard
the broken Bone crack. The Tail of this Creature is like a
Fish, but otherwise he resembleth the Otter. 1 Both these
Animals live in the Water, and their Hair is softer than the
Down of Feathers.

Of Frogs, Sea- Calves, and Stelliones.

THE Frogs called Rubetae, 2 which live both on Land and
in Moisture, yield many Medicines. It is said that they lay
aside these Medicines, reserving only to themselves the Poi-
son ; and when they have taken their Food, they resume
the same again. The Sea-Calf 3 likewise feedeth both in the
Sea and upon the Land ; and hath the same Habits with the
Beaver. He vomiteth up his Gall, which is good for many
Medicines ; and so he doth his Runnet, which is a Remedy
for the Epilepsy : for he is well aware, that Men seek after
him for these two Things. Theophrastus writeth, that the Stel-
liones 4 cast off their old Coat as Snakes do ; but they imme-
diately eat it up again, and so prevent Men from obtaining
the Remedies for the Epilepsy. He reporteth that their
biting in Greece is deadly ; but in Sicily harmless.


To the Deer, 5 also, though he is amongst the gentlest of
Animals, belongs a Degree of Malevolence. If he be over-
driven by Hounds, then willingly he hath recourse to Man.
Likewise, the Hinds, when they are about to calve, choose

1 Lib. xxxii. 11. 2 Lib. xxxii. 5. 3 Lib. xi. 40.

4 Lib. xi. 26.

5 Cervus ElepJias. LTNN. The Red Deer. Pliny, in this chapter,
describes the Elephas of Aristotle, which is, doubtless, the common stag,
or red deer, and was well known to the ancients. Wern. Club.

BOOK VIII.] History of Nature. 57

rather some Place near the Ways that are trodden with
Man's Steps, than secret Corners which lie open to wild
Beasts. They are got with Young after the rising of the Star
Arcturus ; they go eight Months, and sometimes produce
two Calves at once. Finding themselves with Young, they
part Company with the Stags. But the Males, seeing them-
selves left, fall into the Rage of Heat, and dig Pits in the
Ground. Then their Muzzles become black, and so con-
tinue, until such Time as the Rain washeth away the Colour.
The Hinds, before they calve, purge themselves with the
Herb called Seselis, 1 whereby they have more easy Deliver-
ance. After Parturition they have two Herbs, which are called
Arus 2 and Seselis, after having eaten of which they return
to their Young, being willing, for some unknown Reason,
that their first Milk should taste of these Herbs. They exer-

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