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

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pontis is joined to the Euxine, in the very Straits of the
Firth that clivideth Asia from Europe, near to Chalcedon on
the Side of Asia, there is a Rock, exceedingly bright, and
shining in such a manner from the Bottom of the Sea
to the Top, that the Tunnies are instantly affrighted at the
Sight ; and to avoid it, they rush with Violence in whole
Flocks towards the Cape overagainst Byzantium : which
Cape on this Account beareth the Name of Auricornu
(Golden Horn). And therefore it is, that all the Fishery is
at Byzantium ; and there is great Scarcity at Chalcedon,
although the Breadth of the Passage between them is not
more than half a Mile. They wait for the North Wind, that
by the aid of the Waves they may pass out of the Pontus ;
but the only taking of them at Byzantium is when they enter
into the Pontus. In Winter they do not wander ; but wher-
ever they are then found, there they remain for the Winter,
and until the Spring Equinox. Many a Time they accompany
the Ships that proceed under Sail, and it is a wonderful
pleasant Sight to see them from the Stern, for Hours together,
and for the Space of several Miles, and not terrified even
though the Sailors strike at them with the Trident. 1 Some
People make a Distinction between those that follow the
Ships under Sail and Tunnies, and call them Pompili. 2
Many of them pass the Summer in the Propontis, and
never enter into the Pontus. Solse 3 likewise do the same,



1 Familiarly termed Grayns by sailors of our day ; who still use the
instrument, skilfully fitted with a line which causes it to become reversed
when the blow is struck, by which means the struggles of the prey only
cause it to become the more securely fixed. Wern. Club.

2 This has been mistaken for the Pilot-fish, Naucrates Ductor ; but
the true Pompilus is the Centrolophus Pompilus, Cuv. YARRELL'S British
Fishes, vol. i. The Black-fish. Wern. Club.

3 Pleuronectes solea. LINN. Solea vulgaris. Cuv. Rhombus is the
Turbot. Pleuronectes Rhombus. LINN. Phombus maximus. Cuv.
Wern. Club.



128 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

while Rhombi (Turbots) enter. Neither is the Sepia 1 there,
although the Loligo is found. Of such as live among Rocks,
theTurdus and Merula 2 are wanting, as also Shell-fish ; but
Oysters (Ostrese) are in Abundance : for all such Things
pass the Winter in the JSgean Sea. Of them that enter into
the Pontus, none stay there except the Trichise: 3 for I think
it good, in such Diversity of Fishes' Names, because the
same Fish is in many Countries called by different Denomi-
nations, to use the Greek Name for most of them. These
Fish alone go up the River Ister; and out of it they pass
again by Communications under the Ground into the
Adriatic Sea, and therefore they are seen coming down
thither, but never ascending out of that Sea. The Fishery
for Tunnies is from the Rising of the (Stars) Vergilise, 4 to the
Setting of Arcturus. All the Winter-time besides they lie
hid in the Gulfs at the Bottom, unless they are enticed
forth by some warm Season, or at the full Moon. They grow
so fat, that their Skins burst. The longest of their Life does
not exceed two Years. There is a little Creature in Shape
like a Scorpion, and as big as a Spider, which will pierce
with its sharp Sting under the Fin of the Tunny, and also
of the Sword-fish (Gladius), 5 (which many Times exceeds the
Size of the Dolphin), and put them to such Pain, that they
often are driven to spring into the Ships. Which they do
also at other Times, for fear of the Violence of other Fishes ;
and most of all, the Mullets 6 do so with such exceeding

1 Sepia. Wern. Club.

2 The various species of Wrass : the Labri of modern naturalists, who
have applied the first of these names to designate a genus of birds : both
the birds and fishes being characterised by spots on their scales or plumage.
Wern. Club.

3 A species of Clupea. Wern. Club.

4 In the beginning of May. Wern. Club.

5 Xiphius Gladius. LINN. Wern. Club.

6 Two kinds of fishes are termed Mullets in England : the Grey
Mullet (MugiT), and the Surmullet (Mullus). The former is the fish
here meant ; but although the Mugil is much in the habit of throwing
itself out of water, to escape from an obstruction, they rarely do it
through fear of other fishes ; and few fishes are less liable to the attacks
of parasites. Wern. Club.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 129

Swiftness, that they will fling themselves sometimes over
the Ships from one Side to the other.



CHAPTER XVI.
Of Presages by Fishes, and of their Diversity.

THERE are also in this Portion of Nature, Auguries:
there is Prescience even among Fishes. During the Sicilian
War, as Augustus walked along the Shore, a Fish leapt out
of the Sea and fell at his Feet; the Prophet (Vates) con-
cluding from this Circumstance, that although Sextus Pom-
peius was at that Time the adopted of Father Neptune (so
great was his naval Glory), yet those who had to this Time
held the Power of the Sea were about to fall below the
Feet of CcBsar.

Female Fishes are larger than the Males. And there are
some Sorts of them of which there are altogether no Males;
as the Erythini, 1 and the Chani : for they are taken always
heavy with Spawn.

Scaly Fishes for the most part swim in Schuls, each ac-
cording to its Kind. The Fishing is before the Sun is up;
for then Fishes are most liable to be deceived in their Sight.
If the Nights are bright, they see as well then as by Day.
They affirm it is good fishing twice in the same Gulf; for so
more are caught in the second Cast than by the first. Fishes
greatly delight in the Taste of Oil ; and next to this, in
gentle Showers ; and with these they become fat. For Reeds,

1 Erythini: more properly, Erythrini. Chani. Cuvier supposes
the former to be probably the Serranus scriba: the latter certainly is
Serranus cabrilla. The following quotation from the second edition of
Mr. Yarrell's "History of British Fishes" (vol. i. p. 13) will illustrate
the question, hitherto generally received in the affirmative, of the herma-
phroditism of these fishes : " Since the publication of the first edition of
this work, Mr. Couch has been kind enough to send me the roes of two
specimens of this Serranus (Cabrilla). These, on examination, contained
true ova only ; and Mr. Owen, of the College of Surgeons, whose micro-
scope was used on this occasion, agreed with me, that although these
organs were of small size, there was nothing equivocal either in the
structure or appearance." Wern. Club.

VOL. III. K



130 History of Nature. [BoOK IX.

also, although naturally belonging to marshy Grounds, yet
do not attain their perfect Growth without Rain; and so
wherever Fish are kept continually in the same Water, un-
less Rain fall, they will die. All Fishes feel the Cold of a sharp
Winter ; but those especially which are thought to have a
Stone in their Head ; as the Lupus, 1 the Chromis, 2 Scienae, 3
and Pagri. 4 When there have been sharp Winters, many
are taken blind. And, therefore, during those Months they
lie hid in Caverns, as we have said some Land Creatures
do. For the most Part the Hippurus 5 and Coracinus 6 are
never caught in Winter ; except a few on particular Days :
and always of the same Sort. Also the Mursena, the Or-
phus, 7 Conger, 8 Perca, 9 and all Fishes that keep near Rocks.
It is said that the Torpedo, 10 Psitta, 11 and Solea, 12 conceal

1 Labrax lupus. Cuv. The Bass. See B. xxxii. c. 2. Wern. Club.

2 Cuvier says it is an unascertained fish with a Greek name ; but, on
the contrary, Ray (" Synopsis," p. 141) says that it is common in the
Mediterranean Sea. Wern. Club.

3 Scicena umbra. Cuv. Wern. Club.

4 Sparus pagrus. LINN. Pagrus vulgaris. Cuv. The Becker.
Wern. Club.

6 Coryphcena hippurus. LINN. But it is probable that the Hippuris
of Oppian is our Stone Bass, Polyprium cernium. Cuv. Wern. Club.

6 Cuvier says, it is his Chromis vulgaris^ the Sparus chromis of Linn.
Wern. Club.

7 This name has been referred to several very different fishes ; and
especially to the Rudd, Cyprinus Erythrophthalmus of Linn., Leuciscus E.
of Cuvier.

But the ancient authors represent it as a sea-fish ; though even then
their accounts apply to a variety of species. The true Orphus veterum of
Rondeletius is not the Pagrus Or/us of Cuvier ; and the only represent-
ation to which reference can be made occurs in a paper on the subject by
the Editor of this work in the first volume of the " Zoologist," p. 81. The
great rarity of this fish appears to have led to the errors of naturalists
concerning it. Wern. Club.

8 Murcena Conger. LINN. Conger vulgaris. Cuv. Wern. Club.

9 Perca marina of Linn., and Ray, who says it is common at Venice.
Wern. Club.

10 See also B. xxxii. c. 1. Raia Torpedo, Linn.; which is now divided
into two or three distinct species. Wern. Club.

11 Probably the Dab, Platessa limanda; but confounded with the
Plaice and Flounder. Wern. Club.

12 Solea vulgaris. Cuv. The Sole, Wern. Club.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 131

themselves through the Winter in the Ground ; that is to say,
in Depressions which they make in the bottom of the Sea.
Some again are impatient of Heat ; and therefore about the
hot Season of the Year, for sixty Days, they lie hid : as the
Glaucus, 1 Aselli, 2 and Auratae. 3 Of River Fishes, the Silurus
at the rising of the Dog-star is blasted ; and at other Times
is struck insensible by Lightning. And some think the like
happeneth in the Sea to the Cyprinus. 4 And beyond Doubt
the Sea is affected by the rising of this Star ; but most of all
this Influence appears in the Bosphorus. For then Sea-
weeds and Fishes float on the Surface, and every Thing is
cast up from the Bottom.

CHAPTER XVII.

Of the Mugil and other Fishes ; and that the same do not in
all Places please.

THE Habit of the Mugil 5 is ridiculous ; for when afraid,
they will hide their Head, and then believe that they are
entirely concealed. These Mugils nevertheless are so libidi-
nous, that in the Season of Increase, in Phoanice and the
Province of Narbonensis (Languedoc), if they take a Male
out of their Ponds, and draw a long Line through the Mouth
and Gills, and so tie it fast, and then put him into the Sea,
holding the other end of the Line, if they draw him back
again, the Females follow him to the Shore. And again in
Spawning Time, the Males thus follow a Female.

Among our Ancestors the Accipenser 6 was esteemed the
most noble of Fishes. He is the only Fish that hath the
Scales turned toward the Head ; he makes his Way against

1 Lichia glaucus. Cuv. Wern. Club.

2 The Haddock : Gadus ceglefinus. LINN. Morrhua JE. Cuv.
Wern. Club.

3 Gilt-head : Sparus auratus. LINN. Chrysophrys aurata. Cuv.
Wern. Club.

4 Naturalists agree in applying this name to a class of river or pond
fishes : the Bream and Carp. Wern. Club.

5 The Grey Mullet : Mugil cephalus. Cuv. Wern. Club.

6 The Sturgeon : Accipenser sturio. LINN. Wern. Club.



132 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

the Stream. Now he is in no Honour; which I wonder at,
considering he is so seldom to be found. Some call him
Elops. Afterwards, Cornelius JVepos and Laberias the comic
Poet have written, that the Lupus and Asellus obtained the
chief Credit. Of the Lupus, those that are the most com-
mended are those which are called Lanati, from the White-
ness and Tenderness of their Flesh. Of Aselli, there are two
Sorts : Callarige, 1 which are the less ; and Bacchi, which are
never taken but in deep Water, and therefore they are pre-
ferred to the former. But the Lupi that are caught in the
River are preferred to the others. The Scarus 2 hath now
assigned to it the chief Place ; and it is said to be the only
Fish that cheweth the Cud, and to live on Herbs and not
on other Fishes. It is chiefly found in the Carpathian Sea ;
and of its own accord never passeth the Promontory Lectos
in Troas. When Tiberius Claudius was Sovereign, Optatus^
his Freedman and Admiral of the Fleet, brought them out of
that Sea, and dispersed them between Ostia and the Coast
of Campania. Care was taken by strict Command, for
almost five Years, that if any were taken they should be
returned into the Sea. After this they were frequently found
along the Coast of Italy, whereas before they had not been
taken. And thus Gluttony hath supplied its Taste by sowing
Fish, and given a new Inhabitant to the Sea, to take away
our Wonder that foreign Birds are prepared at Rome. Next
to these Fishes, at least, the Table is served with a Kind of
Mustela, 3 which, wonderful to say, are bred in a Lake of

' It may be, that the name Callarias is synonymous with Asellus,
and therefore the Haddock ; but Linneus has given it to the Dorse : the
Bacchus is believed to be the Cod-fish, Gadm morrhua of Linneus ;
Morrhua vulgaris, Cuv. Baccata is still the name for this fish in Italy.-
-Wern. Club.

2 Scarus creticus. Cuv. See B. xxxii. c. 2. It became the fashion
to carry this fish alive to table, as the Surmullet also was, and for the
same reason that the guests might observe their changes of colour in the
act of dying. Those of the Surmullet are never restored as they existed
during life. Wern. Club.

3 Gadm fo/a.- LINN. Lota viilgans.Cuv. The Eelpont. Wern.
Club.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 1 33

Rboetia among the Alps, called Brigantius ; and yet they are
equal to those of the Sea. Of the other Fishes the Mullus 1
is the best, as well in Excellency and Favour as in Plenty ;
but they are only of moderate Size, for it is uncommon to
find them weigh above two Pounds : nor will they grow in
Store-Ponds. They are bred only in the North Sea; and
never in the nearest Coast of the West Ocean. Moreover, of
this Fish there are several Sorts. And they live on Sea-
weeds, Oysters, Mud, and the Flesh of other Fishes. They

1 Mullus surmuletus, and M. barbatus. LINN. Surmullet. Among
the Romans this fish was indispensable at tables which made any preten-
sions to fashion ; and at the same time it was the most costly of all their
dishes : so that it is referred to by the poets as a glaring example of the
extravagance that pervaded the city. When this first reached the weight
of two pounds, the ordinary price was its own weight in silver. Horace
mentions as enormous one which weighed three pounds; though this
does not exceed what the Editor has seen on the coast of Cornwall. Two,
which were caught nearly together, weighed two and two-and-a-quarter
pounds avoirdupois : the latter being precisely the weight of Horace's
fish of thirty -six ounces. Martial speaks of a Surmullet of four pounds ;
and Seneca relates a story of the avarice of Tiberius, who sent a mullet
weighing four-and-a-half pounds to market, where, perhaps to flatter the
emperor, two noblemen contended who should purchase it ; by which it
reached the price of 5000 sesterces. Juvenal, perhaps with exaggeration,
speaks of one that weighed six pounds. Suetonius states, that for three
of these fishes was paid at one time 30,000 sesterces; and Martial wrote
an epigram on one who sold a servant to raise the means of making
a sumptuous supper, at which the principal dish, and the one that swal-
lowed up the chief expense, was the enormous Surmullet above-men-
tioned. (B. x. Ep. 30.) Those who wished to ape the great, without
sufficient means, were obliged to be satisfied with half a mullet. " Mul-
lum dimidium, lapumque totum, mursenaeque latus " (Martial) : the
" side " of murasna being on the same scale of stinted luxury. When an
epicure was asked whether these prices were not absurd, he replied that
two morsels of the fish were worth the expense : the head and the liver.
The latter formed a delicious sauce ; but the head must have been valued
only because there was so little in it. Attempts were made to breed these
fishes in ponds ; but tiiey could not bear the confinement ; so that not
Only did they cease to grow in size, but not more than one or two in a
thousand continued alive.

The fish mentioned at the beginning of the next chapter, as a mullet
of the Red Sea, must have been of another species, and even genus.
Wern. Club.



134 History of Nature. [BOOK IX.

are distinguished by two Beards on the lower Lip. The worst
of all this kind is called Lutarius. 1 And this Fish hath an-
other, named Sargus, which always beareth him Company ;
and while he is digging into the Mud, the Sargus devoureth
the Food that is raised up. Neither are those which keep
near the Shore in Favour. But these that are in highest
Regard taste like the (Shell-fish) Conchy Hum. Fenestella
thinks, that the Name Mullus was given them because their
Colour resembles that of the purplish-red Shoes. They
spawn three Times in the Year ; for so often their Young
are certainly seen. The principal Epicures say, that a Mul-
lus, when dying, changeth his Colour, which may be seen to
take a great Variety of Tints ; passing from pale by a Variety
of Mutations to glowing red all over his Scales, particularly
if it be looked at as he is held in a Glass. M. Apicius, who
was wonderful for every Ingenuity that belonged to Luxury,
thought it a most excellent Improvement to stifle them in
the Sauce of the Allies, for this Thing also hath found a Sur-
name. And he also incited them to contrive a Pickle made
from their Livers. For surely it is more easy to say this than
to set down who excelled in it. Asturius Celer, a Man of
consular Rank, showed his Prodigality in this Fish, for
when C. Caligula was Sovereign, he gave for one Mullet
eight thousand Sesterces : the Consideration of which car-
rieth far away my Mind to the Contemplation of those who,
in their Reproof of Luxury, complained that a Cook was
purchased at a greater Price than a Horse. For now a Cook
will cost as much as the Expense of a Triumph ; and Fishes
are as dear as Cooks. And no mortal Man is esteemed more
than he who hath the most Skill to waste the Goods and
consume the Property of his Lord.

1 Probably Trigla lineata : a fish which has much the habits of the
Mullus, and is often taken in the same net ; on which account, and some
resemblance of form, it was called by the older naturalists, Mullus imberbis.
Wern. Club.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 135

CHAPTER XVIII.
Of the Mullus, and Coracinus, Salpa, and Salmon.

LICINIUS MUTIANUS reporteth, that in the Red Sea a
Mullet was taken that weighed fourscore Pounds. What a
Price would he have brought in our Luxury if he had been
taken upon our Coasts near the City! Also this is the
Nature of Fish, that some obtain the Pre-eminency in one
Place, and some in another : as the Coracinus in Egypt :
at Gades, the Zeus, 1 which is also called Faber : about
Ebusus the Salpa, 2 which in other Places is counted base,
and which nowhere else are they able to cook unless it is
first well beaten with a Cudgel. In Aquitania the River
Salmon s is preferred to all Sea-fishes.

Of Fish, some have many Gills : some have them simple,
others double. At these Gills they discharge the Water
they take in at the Mouth. Hardness of the Scales is a
Mark that the Fish is old ; and yet all Fishes have not
Scales alike. There are two Lakes in Italy, at the Foot of
the Alps, named Larius and Verbanus,* in which there are
Fishes that every Year at the rising of the Stars Virgiliae,
have their Scales remarkable for the Thickness and the
Sharpness of their Points ; much like the Nails (or Tongues)
of the military Boots ; and never longer than about that
Month do they appear.

1 Zeus faber. LINN. Wern. Club.

5 Sparus salpa. LINN. Boops salpa. Cuv. Wern. Club.

3 Salmosalar. LINN. Wern. Club.

* Larius and Verbanus: now known as Lakes Major and Como. The
fish mentioned is the Cyprianus of Rondeletius : Cyprinus clavatus, sive
Pigus, of Ray's " Syn. Pis.," p. 115, a local variety of the common Carp :
Cyprinus carpio. Wern. Club.



136 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

CHAPTER XIX.
Of the Exoccstus. 1

ARCADIA makes a Wonder of its Exocoetus; so called
because it leaveth the Water to sleep on dry Land. This
Fish is reported about the Clitorius to have a Voice, and
is without Gills. By some it is named Adonis. Also those
Creatures which are called Mures Marini 2 and Polypes and
Muraense leave the Water for the Land. Moreover, in the
Rivers of India there is a certain kind of Fish that doth so,
but it presently leapeth back again. For there is an evident
Reason why many Fishes pass into Rivers and Lakes ; it is
that they may with more Safety produce their Young where
the Water is not so rough, and there are no Enemies to
devour them. That these Creatures should have the Under-
standing thus to know the Causes, and observe the Changes
of Times, is the more wonderful, if we would only consider
how few Men there are aware that the best Season for fishing
is while the Sun passeth through the Sign Pisces.

CHAPTER XX.

An Arrangement of Fishes according to the Shape of their

Bodies.

OF Sea- Fishes some are flat, as Rhoinbi, Soleae, and
Passeres ; 3 and the latter differ from the Rhombi only in the
Position of their Bodies. In the Rhombus the right Side
turneth upward, and in the Passer the left. Others are long,
as the Muraena and Conger. On this Account they have
Distinctions formed by their Fins, which Nature hath given

1 Blennius cristatus, LINN.: but the same habit is common to the
B. pholis, or Shanny. Wern. Club.

2 Mures marini, or Sea-Mice ; some copies read MyrL The Mus of
Aristotle is a freshwater Turtle ; and probably these Mures marini are
some small sea Turtles. Wern. Club.

3 Platessa flesus, Cuv. Pleuronectes F. of Linn., but including also
the Plaice. Wern. Club.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 137

to Fish instead of Feet. None have above four; some have
two, some three, and others none. Only in the Lake Fucinus
there is a Fish, which in swimming useth eight Fins. All
Fishes that are long and slippery, as Eels and Congers, have
ordinarily two. Muraenae 1 have none, nor any Gills: all of
these Kinds act upon the Sea by bending their Bodies, as
Serpents on the Land. They creep also on dry Land ; and
therefore such are more retentive of Life. Also among flat
Fishes some have no Fins, as the Pastinaca ; 2 for their
Breadth serveth them sufficiently to swim with. And among
those which are denominated Soft, the Polypi have no Fins,
because their Feet stand them instead of Fins,

CHAPTER XXI.
Of Eels*

EELS live eight Years. And if the North Wind blows,
they continue without Water six Days ; but not so long in a
South Wind. Yet in Winter-time they cannot endure the
same Exposure in a small Quantity of Water ; nor if it be
muddy ; and therefore about the rising of the Star Virgilise
they are most abundantly taken, because the Rivers about
that Time are the most muddy. Their Feeding is by Night.
Of all Fish they alone do not float when dead.

CHAPTER XXII.
Of taking them in the Lake JBenacus.

THERE is a Lake in Italy called Benacus, in the Territory
of Verona, through which the River Mincius runneth : at
the Outlet of which every Year, about the Month of October,

1 The Mursena has a fin passing along the back to the extremity of
the body, where it is united to the anal, and forms a caudal fin, as in the
Eel. It has gills, also, with a perfect organization concealed within the
integument ; but the aperture is obscure. Wern. Club.

2 Raia pastinaca. LINN. Trygon P. Cuv. The Sting Ray or
Fireflair. Wern. Club.

* Murcena anguilla. LINN. Anguilla vulgaris. Cuv. Wern. Club.



138 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

when the Autumn Star (Arcturus) ariseth, whereby (as is
evident) the Lake is troubled with a Winter Storm, there are
found rolling among the Waves a wonderful Number of
Eels, entwined one with another into a Heap, so that in
the Receiving-places or Traps on this River, sometimes a
thousand of them may be found wrapped together in a single
Ball.

CHAPTER XXIII.
Of the Murcena.

THE Muraena spawneth at all Times of the Year, whereas
other Fishes shed their Spawn at one certain Season. The
Eggs grow very rapidly. The common People believe that
they creep out of the Water to the dry Land, and become
impregnated by Serpents. Aristotle calleth the Male or
Milter, Myrus. The Difference, that the Mursena is of a
Variety of Colours, and weak ; but the Myrus 1 is of a uniform
Colour, and strong, with Teeth projecting beyond his Mouth.
In the North Parts of Gallia all the Mursenee have on their
right Jaw seven Spots, distributed like the seven Stars about
the North Pole (Septentrio). These are of a golden Colour
so long as the Muraena is alive : but they are not seen after
it is dead. Vedius Pollio, a Roman Knight, and one of the



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