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

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Friends of Divus Augustus, contrived Experiments of Cruelty
by Means of this Creature. For he caused his Slaves that
were condemned to die, to be thrown into the Ponds where
his Mursense were kept : not because the Wild Beasts of the
Land were not sufficient to do this, but because in any other
Way of Proceeding he would not have been able to view a
Man plucked in Pieces all at once, and at his Leisure. It is
said, that if they taste Vinegar they are driven to Madness.
They have a very thin Skin ; and, on the contrary, Eels have
it thick : so that Verrius writeth, that Children under seven

1 The Myrus is a distinct species, Mur. myrus, LINN, and Cuv. The
Muraena was one of the petted objects of luxury of the Romans, and
therefore sedulously propagated in ponds. Went. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 139

Years of Age (Prcetextati} usually were whipped with Eels'
Skins, and on that Account were freed from all other

Of Flat Fishes.

OF Flat Fishes there is another Sort, which instead of a
Back-bone have a Cartilage : as the Raia, Pastinaca, Squa-
tina, and Torpedo : and also, those which the Greeks have
termed by the Names of the Bos Lamia, Acquila, and Rana.
In this Number are to be ranked the Squali (Sharks) also ;
although they are not flat. All this kind in general Aristotle
was the first to call in Greek Selache : we cannot distinguish
them by this Name, unless we are permitted to call them
Cartilaginous Fishes. But all the Sort of them that devour
Flesh are such ; and they feed as they lie supine, like as we
observed in the Dolphins. And whereas other Fishes cast
Spawn, this Class only, in the same manner as those
which we call Cete, 1 bring forth their Young alive ; with the
Exception, however, of that one which they call Rana.

1 The name of Cete is here mentioned as equivalent to Balaena for
the Whales, ch. 6 : but the mode in which they bear their young is very
different from that of the cartilaginous fishes, though both, or at least the
Sharks among the latter, are viviparous. The Whales are placental
animals, but all true fishes produce eggs, although in some instances they
are hatched within the body of the parent.

The fishes here mentioned are : Eaia, several species of Rays and
Skates ; Pastinaca, mentioned before, ch. 20 ; Squatina, Squalus squatina,
Linn., and Squatina vulgaris^ Cuv. ; the Monk, or Angel-fish ; and Tor-
pedo, ch. 16. The Bos is a gigantic species of Ray, Raia cephaloptera :
forming the genus Cephaloptera of Cuvier ; and Oppian (B. ii.) gives an
account of the great injury it does to the divers for coral, by clasping
them and preventing their ascent to the surface. Lamia is the White
Shark : Squalus carcharias of Linn., and Carcharias vulgaris, Cuv.
Acquila, Myliolatis aquila. Eagle Ray. Rana, Lophius piscatorius, Linn. :
Fishing Frog, or Angler. Wern. Club.

140 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

Of the Echeneis.

THERE is a very little Fish called Echeneis, 1 that keeps
ordinarily about Rocks. It is believed that if it adhere to
the Keel of a Ship it goeth the more slowly ; and from this
it took its Name : for the same Cause also it hath a bad
Reputation for its use in amatory Medicines, and in causing
Delay of Actions at Law and judicial Decisions. But both
these Offences are counterbalanced by one commendation : for
it restraineth Haemorrhage threatening Abortion in pregnant
Women, and holdeth the Child to the full Time of Birth.
Notwithstanding, it is not allowed to be eaten. Aristotle
thinketh that it hath Feet, as the Fins stand thick cne by

The Murex, Mutianus saith, is broader than the Purpura,
having a Mouth neither rough nor round, and with a Beak
not protruding in an Angle, but simple, the Shell on both
Sides turning itself inward. These Shells adhered to a Ship
conveying Messengers from Periander with Commission to
emasculate the Noblemen's Sons, and caused it to remain
still, although it was under Sail with a strong Gale. And
the Shells which accomplished this are Objects of Worship
in the Temple of Venus of the Gnidians.

Trebius Niger saith that the Echeneis is a Foot long, and
five Fingers thick ; that it hinders the Progress of a Ship ;

1 The proper Echeneis is the E. remora. Linn.; but from its pos-
sessing similar, or even firmer powers of adhesion, though by a different
organ, it was confounded with the larger Lamprey, Petrornyzon marinus.
From allusion to the feet, Aristotle, as well as Gesner, who follows him,
appears to include in the same class a species of Cyclopterus ; of which
there is one that adheres with more facility, although with less firmness.
We cannot avoid believing that the popular impression concerning this
fish was often laid hold of as an excuse, in some of the instances where an
unpleasant task had been slowly performed or entirely counteracted. The
narrative of Antony's delay at the battle of Actium (see B. xxxii. c. 1 .)
will only excite a smile in those who consider the much more formidable
attraction that existed at the time. Wern. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 141

and, moreover, that it hath the Virtue, if preserved in Salt, of
drawing up Gold that is fallen into even a very deep Well,
if let down so as to touch it.

Of the Variety in the Nature of Fishes.

THE Maense 1 change their Colour; for these Fishes being
white in Winter, become black in Summer. Also the Phycis 2
is subject to Alteration ; being all the Year besides white,
but in the Spring speckled. This is the only Fish that
buildeth a Nest 3 with Sea-weed, and spawneth in this Nest.
The Hirundo 4 flieth: truly almost in the same manner as the
Bird so called. The Milvus doeth the same.


Of the Fish called the Lucerna, and the Draco Marinus
(Sea Dragon).

THERE is a Fish that cometh above the Water, called
Lucerna, 5 for the Resemblance it hath to a Light; for it
thrusteth forth its fiery Tongue out of the Mouth, and in
calm Nights giveth Light. There is Fish that raiseth Horns
above the Sea, almost a Foot and a half long ; which there-
fore took the Name Cornuta. 6 Again, the Draco Marinus

1 Sparus mcena. LINN. Mana vulgaris. Cuv. Wern. Club.

2 Cuvier says it was a Goby; perhaps Gobius niger, or G. capita.
Martial says,

" In Venice, where the joy of feasts is priz'd,

The Goby is the supper's chief." Wern. Club.

3 The particulars of British fishes which construct nests may be seen
in the Editor's "Illustrations of Instinct," c. 15. Wern. Club.

4 Exocoetus exiliens. Cuv. The Flying Fish. Milvus, trigla volitans.
LINN. Dactylopterus volitans. Cuv. The Flying Gurnard. Wern.

5 Trigla hirundo. LINN. The Tub-fish. Wern. Club.

6 Peristf.dion malarmat. Cuv. Mailed Gurnard. Draco marinus,
Trachinm draco. LINN. Wiever. Wern. Club.

142 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

(Sea Dragon) if caught and let loose upon the Sand, digs
for himself an Excavation with his Snout, with wonderful

Of Fishes destitute of Blood.

SOME Fishes are without Blood : 1 of which we will now
speak. Of them there are three Sorts. First, those which
are called Soft : secondly, such as are covered with thin
Crusts : and in the last Place, they that are enclosed within
hard Shells. The soft are reckoned the Loligo, Sepia, Poly-
pus, and the rest of that Sort. These have their Head between
their Feet and the Belly, and every one of them has eight
Feet. The Sepia and Loligo have each two Feet, very long
and rough ; by which they convey Meat to their Mouths :
and also stay themselves as with an Anchor against the
Waves. The rest of their Feet are Tendrils, with which they
catch their Prey.

Of the Loligo, 3 Sepia, 4 * Polypus, 5 and Nautilus?

ALSO the Loligo flies, springing out of the Water as if
he were an Arrow ; and even Pectunculi do the same. The

1 Not without a circulating fluid, but destitute of red blood. Wern.

2 The Mollusks mentioned in this chapter are : Loligo : Sepia Loligo.
LiNN. Wern. Club.

3 Loligo vulgaris. Cuv., and perhaps, also, L. media. Common
Cuttle. Wern. Club.

4 Sepia officinalis. LINN, and Cuv. Bone Cuttle. Wern. Club.

5 Septa octopodia. LINN. Eledone vulgaris. Cuv. See B. xxxii.
c. 2. Wern. Club.

6 Argonauta Argo. LINN. The story of hoisting its membranous
sails to the wind is found to be an error : the use of these parts being to
clasp the sides of the shell as it swims. It was the Polypus chiefly that
was so highly prized as food by the Greeks, but it was necessary to bruise
it well before it was cooked. The Loligo was also employed in the same
manner ; as it is at this day. Wern. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 143

Males of the Sepia kind are mottled, and blacker, as well as
more firm, than the Female. If the Female be smitten with
a Trident, they will help her ; but if the Male be struck, she
flies. But both of them, when they perceive that they are
laid hold of, throw out a Quantity of Ink, which is in the
Place of Blood to them ; and when the Water is obscured
with it they hide themselves by means of it.

Of Polypi there are many Kinds. They that keep near
the Shore are bigger than those that haunt the Deep. All
of them employ their Arms in the manner of Feet and
Hands ; but the Tail, which is sharp and two-forked, serveth
them in their Coupling. The Polypi have a Pipe in their
Back, by which they throw out the Sea : and it they can
shift, one while to the right Side, and another to the left.
They swim obliquely on their Head, which is very hard by
being blown up while they are alive. Moreover, by hollow
Concavities, arranged along their Arms, they will adhere, as
it were by sucking, to any Thing ; which they hold so fast
(lying upward with their Bellies) that they cannot be
plucked from it. They never fasten on the Bottom; and
the greater they are, the less strong they are to hold any
Thing. Of all soft (Fishes) they alone go out of the Water to
dry Land, at least into some rough Place; for they cannot
abide those that are smooth. They devour the Flesh of Shell-
fishes, the Shells of which they break by the Compression of
their Tendrils ; and therefore the Place where they lie may
be detected by the Number of Shells that lie before their
Place. And though in other Respects it may be regarded as
a very senseless Creature, so that it will swim to a Man's
Hand, yet in what concerns its Family Affairs it possesses
Understanding: for all they can take they carry to their
Home ; and when they have eaten the Meat of the Tishes
they throw away the empty Shells, and watch to catch the
little Fishes that approach them. They change their Colour
to that of the Place where they are, and especially when
under the Influence of Fear. That they gnaw their own
Arms is a great Error; for they owe this Injury to the Con-
gers : but it is scarcely false that they will grow again, like

144 History of Nature. [BoOK IX.

the Tail of Adders and Lizards. But among the greatest
Wonders of Nature, is that Creature which by some is called
Nautilos, by others Pompilos. It comes to the Surface of
the Water upon its Back, so that it raiseth or heaveth itself
up by little and little ; and that it may swim with Ease, it
dischargeth all the Water through a Pipe, as if it were
unloaded by a Pump, After this, turning back the two fore-
most Arms, it stretcheth out between them a Membrane of
wonderful thinness ; which serve th it for a Sail in the Air,
whilst with the rest of its Arms it roweth under Water ; and
with the Tail in the midst it directeth its Course, as with an
Helm. Thus does it make its Way in the Deep with the
Imitation of a little Boat, and if any Thing alarm it with a
Draught of Water it sinks itself to the Bottom.


Of the Ozcena, the Nauplius, and Locustce.

THE Ozsena 1 is a kind of Polypus, and it derives its Name
from the strong Smell of its Head ; from which Cause espe-
cially the Mursenae pursue it. The Polypi lie hid for two
Months, and do not live above two Years. They always die
of a Consumption : the Female sooner than the Males, and
ordinarily after they have brought forth their Young. I
cannot pass over the Reports of Trebius Niger, one of the
Retinue of L. Lucullus, Proconsul in Boetica, which he deli-
vered as collected by the latter concerning these Polypi :
that they are exceedingly greedy after Conchaj (Cockles,
Mussels, and such-like Shell-fishes) : and that they, as soon
as they feel themselves touched, shut their Shells, and so cut
off their Arms, and thus feed upon those which sought to
make a Prey of them. These Shell-fishes are without Sight,
and every other Sense, but those of tasting their Meat
and Sensibility to Danger. These Polypi lie in wait for
Cockles as they gape wide open, and put in a little Stone

1 Eledone moschatus. Cuv. Professor Edward Forbes says, it was
probably Eledone macrnpodia. Wern. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 145

between the Shells ; but not close to the Body of the Fish,
lest if it felt it, it might be thrown out again ; and thus they
carry on their Attacks in Security, so as to get out the
Flesh ; for although the Cockles close their Shells, it is in
vain, because of the Wedge between them : so great is the
Subtilty of Creatures which otherwise are very dull in their
Faculties ! Moreover, Trebius Niger affirmeth that there
is no other Creature so dangerous to destroy a Man in the
Water ; for it catcheth him fast in its Embrace, and sucks
him with the Cups, so that it exhausts him with the Num-
ber of its drawing Instruments, at such a Time as it has
obtained an Advantage over those which are shipwrecked,
or are engaged in diving. But if it be turned upside down,
its Strength is soon gone ; for then they stretch themselves
out on their Back. And truly also, all Creatures in the
Sea are attracted by their Smell, which is the Cause that
Fishermen besmear their Traps with them.

Other Things which this Author hath related may seem
rather like something monstrous ; for he affirmeth, that at
Carteia there was one which used to go from the Sea into
their open Cisterns, among their Ponds, and there rob them
of their salt Fish ; and this Thievery was so enormous and
long continued, that it gat itself the great Displeasure of
the Keepers. Fences were erected to stop the Passage, but
these it passed over by means of a Tree ; nor could it have
been taken but by the Sagacity of the Dogs : for as it was
returning one Night, they set upon it on all Sides, and so
raised the Keepers, who were affrighted at the strange
Sight. For, first of all, it was of unheard-of bigness; then
its Colour was covered over with the Pickle, and the Stink
was horrible. Who would have looked for a Polypus there,
or have known it in such a condition ? They thought they
had to encounter with some Monster : for with its terrible
Vapour it drove away the Dogs; and with the Ends of its
long Tendrils it would lash them ; sometimes with its
stronger Arms it knocked them, as with Clubs ; so that it
was with Difficulty they were able to kill it with several
three-pronged Spears. Its Head was shown to Lucullus, and


1-46 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

was as big as a Barrel that would contain fifteen Amphorae ;
and its Beards (for I quote the exact Words of Trebius^) a
Man could scarcely encompass with both his Arms; they were
full of Protuberances like Clubs, and thirty feet long. The
Cavities or Cups, and hollow Vessels, were like great
Basins ; and the Teeth were conspicuous for their size. The
Remains were preserved for a Wonder, and weighed seven
hundred Pounds. The same Author affirmeth that Sepiae
also, and the Loligo, have been cast upon that Shore, full as
big. Indeed, in our Sea, Loligines are taken of five Cubits
long, and Sepiae of two : and these do not live above two
Years. 1

Mutianus reporteth, that himself saw in Propontis ano-
ther kind, having the Likeness of one carrying a Ship : that
it was a Shell-fish, with a Keel like that of a Barge, with a
Poop turned inward ; the Prow with a Beak. Within this
lay hid the Nauplius, an Animal resembling a Sepia, only to
play with it for Company. And this was done in two Ways :
for when it is calm, the Passenger would put down its Feet,
and row as with Oars ; but if the Breeze invited, it would
stretch out the same to serve for a Rudder ; and then the
Cavity of the Shell would be spread to the Wind. So one of
them takes, a Pleasure to carry, and the other to direct; and
they unite to sink the Shell : though both are destitute of
Sense ; unless, indeed, Misfortune be intended to Man : a
sad Presage, as is well known to Sailors.

Locustae 2 (being of that Kind which wanteth Blood) are
defended with a brittle Crust. For five Months they lie hid.

1 -/Elian relates some accounts of enormous Polypi : B. xii. c. 6. One
dragged into the sea an eagle that had attempted to seize it ; B. vii. c. 1 1 .
Wern. Club.

3 This seems a general name for long-tailed Crustaceans, including
the Lobsters and Crawfishes. But when applied to a distinct species, the
Carabos of the Greeks and Locusta of the Latins is the genus Palinurus,
Cuv., of which P. quadricomis was, probably, that which Tiberius em-
ployed to lacerate the face of the fisherman at Capri : its shell being
covered with prominent spines. Astacus (A. marinus) is the common
Lobster. Wern. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 147

The Crabs (Cancri 1 ) likewise, which at the same Time keep
close ; and both of them in the beginning of Spring cast
their old Coats in the manner of Snakes, and renew them
fresh. The others swim within the Water; but the Locustae
float aloft, in the manner of creeping Things. So long as
they feel no Fear they go straight forward, their Horns,
which naturally have a round Arming, being stretched out
towards the Sides ; but if they be in any Fear, these Horns
are erected, and they advance by passing from Side to Side.
With these Horns they contend with one another. Of all
Creatures this only hath no Solidity in its liquid Flesh,
unless it is boiled alive in scalding Water.

Of the Cancer, Echinus, and Echinometra.

LOCUSTS live in rocky Places; Crabs in those which
are soft. In Winter they seek after Shores exposed to
the Sunshine : but in Summer they retire into shady
Places in Gullies. All of this Family decline in the Win-
ter; but in Autumn and Spring they grow fat; and espe-
cially when the Moon is full, because by Night that Star is

1 A general name for the short-tailed crustaceans, which comprise the
crabs ; but individually Cancer pagurus, LINN. : The edible crab. The
other species are: Maja: Cancer squinado, LINN.; Maia Sq., Cuv.; some-
times seen on Greek coins, and supposed to be endowed with more wis-
dom than other crustaceans. It was sensible to the charms of music, and
jJElian says of the Pagurus (which, as expressing this crab, may include
this species), that fishermen employed the music of the Photingium to
allure them out of the water. Heracleoticus : Cancer granulatus, LINN. ;
Calappa granulata, Cuv.; Leones : Galafhcea rugosa, Cuv.; Hippce :
Cancer cursor, LINN. ; Ocypodb, Cuv. ; a species which comes on land by
day, and returns to the water at night. Belonius says, that its motions
are so swift, that a man cannot overtake it : it seems rather to fly than
run. Pinnotheres, Cuv., of two or three species : sometimes seen on Greek
coins, and apparently confounded by Pliny with Hermit Crabs : the
Paguri of Cuvier ; solely because both these sorts seek refuge in the
shells of Mollusks. Errors like this, which are common in ancient writers,
are proofs that they possessed very slight practical knowledge of Natural
History. Wern. Club.

148 History of Nature. [Boon IX.

mitigated by the warm Light. Of Crabs there are many
kinds : as Carabi, Astaci, Majae, Paguri, Heracleotici,
Leones, and others that are less esteemed. The Carabi
differ from other Crabs in the Tail. In Phoenicia there is a
kind called Hippoe, which are so swifr, that it is impossible
to overtake them. Crabs live long : they have eight Feet,
all turned obliquely : the Female hath the Fore-foot double,
the Male single. Moreover, two of their Arms have toothed
Pincers. The upper Part of these Fore-claws is moveable ;
the lower Part doth not move. The right Ann in all is the
larger. When they come in Sculls together, sometimes
they are not able to pass the Mouth of the Pontus ; for
which Reason they return and fetch a Compass, so that the
beaten Way may be seen. The least of all these kind of
Crabs is called Pinnotheres 1 ; and on this Account it is the
most exposed to Injury. But it possesses the Wisdom to
hide itself within the Shells of empty Oysters ; and as it
groweth bigger, it changes its Quarters to larger ones.
Crabs, when they are afraid, will run backward as fast as
they went forward. They fight with one another, and then
butt with their Horns like Rams. They are a Remedy
against the Stings of Serpents. It is reported, that while the
Sun is passing the Sign Cancer, the Bodies of dead Crabs
that lie on the dry Land are turned into Scorpions. Of the
same Class are the Echini ; 2 which have Spines instead of
Feet. Their Manner of going is to roll themselves round;
and, therefore, many Times they are found with their Spines
rubbed off. Of the same Sort are those which are called
Echinometrse, which have the longest Spines and the
smallest Cases. Neither are they alt of the same glassy
Colour; for those produced about Torone are white, and have

1 Or Pinnoteres.

a Professor Edward Forbes believes the species intended by Pliny to
be E. limdusj and Echinometra, Echinus esculentus. But in regard to
the latter there is some doubt. Ruysch represents it as having a small
cup and long spines. One that is elongated, with soft, weak spines, is
Amphidelus Mediterraneus ; and a little species with long spines, Cidaris
histrix. What Pliny calls eggs are the ovaries, the only eatable parts.
Wern. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 149

small Spines. They have all of them five Eggs, which are
bitter. Their Mouths stand in the Middle of their Bodies,
directed towards the Earth. It is said that they foretell the
raging of the Sea : for they labour to gather Stones, by the
Weight of which to fix themselves from being rolled over:
for they dread to have their Spines worn off by being
tossed about ; and when the Sailors have seen this, they
immediately moor their Ships with many Anchors.

Of Cochlea. 1

IN the same Rank are the Cochleae, both of the Land
and Water ; which stretch themselves out of their Habi-
tation, and extend or withdraw two Horns. They have no
Eyes ; and therefore they feel the Way before them with
the little Horns.


Of the Pecten* the Murex, and other Kinds of Shell-fishes

THE Pectens in the Sea are considered of the same
Race. They also lie hid in the Times of great Heats, and
also in great Cold. They have Nails, which shine as if with
Fire in the Dark: even in the Mouth of those that are
eating, them. Murices have a stronger Shell; as also the
Kinds of Conches, in which is a great Variety of Nature's

1 Turbinated shells, as snails and periwinkles. It is strange that
Pliny should deny them eyes, when these organs are so plainly situated
at the ends of the peduncles on the land species, and at their base in those
of the sea. Wern. Club.

2 Pecten : then as now the genus of Scallops, but not precisely limited
to the modern sorts. Conchas are supposed to be the beautiful family of
Cowries, Cypraea?, and Olivse. It is not improbable, also, that other shells,
having no other natural connexion with these than beauty of form or
colouring, were comprised in the same name ; and the habits ascribed to
the Veneriae are much like those of a turbinated shell, the Janthina
fragilis : although it may be a Cowry, the Concha venerea of the old
naturalists. Wern. Club.

150 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

Play : so many different Colours, such diversity of Forms :
flat, hollow, long, moon-shaped, rounded into a Globe, cut
into half a Globe, rising up on the Back, smooth, rough,
toothed, ridged, the Top bent into a Wreath, the Border
projecting into a Point, spread out externally, rolled back
within : then, again, with distinct Bands, hairy, curled,
channelled, formed like a Comb, waved with Plaits like
Tiles, having Cells like Network, spread out straight, or
oblique ; some are thickly compact, others stretched forth,
or crooked; bound round into a short Knot, all their Sides
united together : some open, adapted to give a Clap; others

Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 52 of 60)