the Elder Pliny.

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

. (page 53 of 60)
Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 53 of 60)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


curved on themselves, like a Cornet. Of all these Sorts, the
Venerise swim on the Water, and expose their hollow Part
to gather the Wind : by which they sail upon the Surface of
the Ocean. The Pectens skip, and fly out of the Water ;
they also make a Boat of themselves.

CHAPTER XXXIV.
Of the Riches of the Sea.

BUT why do I recount these small Matters, when the
Degeneracy of Manners and Luxury proceedeth not from
any other Thing so much as from these Shell-fishes? For
now, of all the Things in Nature, nothing is so destructive as
the Sea, in so many Fashions, such Variety of Tables, such
different Tastes in Fishes ; which bear a Price according to
the Danger of obtaining them.

CHAPTER XXXV.
Of Pearls ; how and where they are found.

BUT what is this to those who consider the Purpurse, 1
Conchylise, and Pearls ? It was, therefore, but a little Matter
to bring the Seas into the Throat, unless Men and Women
might carry them about on their Hands, and Ears, Head,
and all over the Body. What hath the Sea to do with

1 See Chap, xxxvi.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 151

Apparel? What the Waves and Billows with the Fleece?
For this Element naturally doth not receive us unless we are
naked. And be it that there is so great a Fellowship with
it and our Bellies ; what Fellowship with the Back ? But
we are not contented to be fed with so many Perils, we must
be clad with them also. So throughout the whole Body,
that which is obtained with the utmost Hazard is most
regarded by the Mind of Man. The principal and summit
of all these Things, as regards the Price, 1 are Pearls. The
Indian Ocean sends the chief Supply : and they are searched
for amongst those many and terrible Beasts which we have
spoken of before ; 2 we must pass over so many Seas, through
so great an Extent of Countries, where the Heat of the Sun
is excessive : even the Indians themselves go to seek them
among the Islands, and even then meet with very few. The
greatest Plenty is found in Taprobane and Toidis, as hath
been said in our Review of the World : and likewise about
Perimula, a Promontory of India. But they are praised as
the most perfect, which are obtained about Arabia, within
the Persian Gulf of the Red Sea. The Origin and Mode of
breeding of this Shell differ not much from that of the
Shells of Oysters : for when the Season of the Year urgeth
them, they spread themselves with a Kind of Gaping, and
then are said to be filled with a prolific Dew, with which
they grow pregnant : and the Fruit of which these Shell-
fishes are delivered are these Pearls, according to the Qua-
lity of the Dew which they received. For if the Dew were
pure which went into them, the Pearls are white and bril-
liant ; if muddy, the Product likewise is foul : it is pale,
also, if the Weather were threatening at the Time of Con-
ception. Whereby, no doubt, it is plain that they have more
Affinity with the Sky than with the Sea : for, according as
the Morning is fair, they are clear ; or foul, if that was
cloudy. If they have Time to feed sufficiently, the Pearls,
also, will grow large ; but if there be Lightning, they close

1 At the opening of the 4th chapter of the 37th Book, our author tells
us that diamonds bear the highest price. Wern. Club.
3 Vide Chap. iii. Wern. Club.



152 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

their Shells, and, for want of Nourishment, diminish in size.
But if it Thunder, suddenly they shut their Shells through
Fear, and produce those which are called Physeinata, a
Kind resembling an empty Bladder blowed up with Wind,
without any Body ; and these are the Abortions of Shells.
Those which are sound are formed of many Skins, which
may not improperly be thought the solid Substance of the
Body; which they that are skilful cleanse them from. I
wonder that they so greatly rejoice in the Air; for with the
Sun they become red, and lose their Whiteness, just like the
Body of a Man. Therefore those Shells that keep in the
main Sea, and lie deeper than the Sunbeams can pierce to
them, have the finest Pearls. And even these become yellow
with Age, and dull with Wrinkles; so that the Lustre which
is so much sought for, only continued! during their Youth.
When they are old, they grow thick, and stick fast to the
Shells, so that they cannot be separated but with a File.
These have only one Face, and from that Side are round ;
for the back Part is flat ; for which Reason such are called
Tympania. We may see them growing together in these
Shells which serve to carry Ointments. 1 There is a Pearl
that, is soft when in the Water, but when taken out it pre-
sently hardeneth. When this Shell perceiveth the Hand,
it shutteth itself, and so covereth over her Riches, being
aware that it is for these she is sought after. But if the
Hand come in the Way of the Shell, it will be cut off by its
sharp Edge ; and the Punishment cannot be more just,
although she is armed with other Means of Revenge. For
they keep for the most Part about Rocks ; and if they are
in deep Water they are accompanied with Sea-dogs. And
yet all this will not keep them away from the Ears of the
Ladies. Some say that, like Bees, every Company of these
Shells has one Chief, distinguished for his Size and Age,

1 These boxes, made of beautifully -coloured shells, and ornamented
with rare pearls, for holding precious unguents, will remind the reader of
the alabaster box for the same purpose spoken of in the Gospels. From
what Pliny says of these alabaster boxes, they must have been turned
with a lathe. Wern. Club.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 153

like a Leader, and endued with wonderful Shrewdness, to
guard his Flock from Danger. These the Divers use their
Efforts to obtain ; for if they are caught the rest are scat-
tered, and are easily taken in the Nets. When thus obtained,
they are put into earthen Pots, and covered with Salt; and
when all the Flesh is consumed, certain Kernels within their
Bodies, that is, the Pearls themselves, fall down to the Bot-
tom. There is no Doubt but they will become worn, and
change their Colour, if they be not well looked to. Their
Reputation jconsisteth in their brilliant Whiteness, Size,
Roundness, Smoothness, and Weight : Qualities not readily
found, insomuch that it is impossible to find two perfectly
fitted together. And hence it is that our very elegant People
at Rome have given them this Name of Uniones. For the
Greeks have no such Terms for them : nor among the Bar-
barians, who discovered them, is there any other Name than
Margaritas. In the very Whiteness itself there is a great
Difference among them. That which is found in the Red
Sea is the clearer The Indian Pearl resembleth the Plates
of the Stone called Specularis ; but otherwise it excels all
others in Magnitude. The greatest Commendation of their
Colour is to be called Exalumiuatrse. They that are more
lengthened are commendable in their Degree. For those
that are elongated and pointed at the Top, and grow into a
full Globe at the Bottom, in the Shape of Alabaster Boxes,
are favoured with the Name of Elenchi. The Ladies take
great Pride to have these dangling from their Fingers,
and two or three pendent at their Ears. There is Luxury
conveyed in the Names they have devised for these, and
wanton Excess in what they carry about; for when they
knock one against another they call them Crotalia (Cym-
bals), as if they delighted to hear the Sound of their Pearls
rattling together. Now, also, poor People affect to wear
them ; and it is a Saying among them, that a fair Pearl is to
a Woman instead of a Lictor. 1 Nay, upon the Feet, also,

1 That is, they are a warrant of her rank, and so make way for her in
a crowd. Wern. Club.



154 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

they place them, not on the upper Portion of their Slippers,
but also over all their Sandals. For it is not enough to carry
Pearls about with them, but they must tread upon them, and
even walk among Pearls.

Pearls were accustomed to be found in our Seas, and
more abundantly about the Thracian Bosphorus ; but they
were small and ruddy in the Shells, which they call Myse : l
In Acarnania the Shell called Pinna 1 produceth them.
Whereby it appeareth that they are bred in more than one
Sort of Concha. King Juba, also, hath recorded, that on
the Arabian Coasts there is a Kind of Shell like a notched
Pecten, but rough, something like the Echinus ; and this
beareth Pearls in the Flesh like a Hailstone. But no such
Shells are brought to us. Neither in Acarnania are any
found of much Reputation, being of irregular Form, and of
a Marble Colour. There are better about Actium, but they
are small ; and so are they which are taken on the Sea
Coasts of Mauritania. Alexander Polyhistor and Sudines
are of Opinion that they will show Signs of Age, and lose
their Colour. That they are solid in their Substance, is
evident by this, that with no Fall will they break. But they
are not always found in the Middle of the Flesh, but some-
times in one Place, and sometimes in another. I have seen
them at the very Edges, as if they were going out of the
Shell ; and in some four, in others five together. Unto this
Day few have been known to weigh above half an Ounce
and a Scruple. In Britain it is certain that some are pro-
duced, but they are small and dim, of Colour : for Divus
Julius wished it to be understood that the Breastplate which
he dedicated to Venus Genetrix in her Temple, was made of
British Pearls.

I myself have seen Lollia Paulina, who was the Wife of
the Prince Caius, not when she was dressed in State, or for

1 Myse : Pinna : gaping Bivalves, still known to science by the same
names. The shell here compared to an Echinus may be Pecten echinatus;
but there are several Bivalves with spines projecting from their surface.
The Editor has obtained a jet black and perfectly round pearl from an
English Pinna: P. ingens. Wern. Club.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 155

some great Solemnity, but only to go to a betrothing Supper
of People of ordinary Rank ; at which Time she was covered
all over with Emeralds and Pearls, shining as they were
arranged in alternate Rows; over all her Head, the Wreaths
of her Hair, her Ears, Neck, Hands, and Fingers. The
Value of these Ornaments she rated at 400 hundred thousand
Sestertii ; l and offered to prove it immediately by her Books
of Accounts. Yet these Jewels were not the Gifts of the
prodigal Prince, but the Riches of her own Ancestors, that
is, the Product of the Spoiling of the Provinces. This is
the Issue of those Depredations ; this it was for which
M. Lollius was reproached through all the East for receiving
Presents from the Kings ; and being forbidden the Friend-
ship of C. Ccesar, Son of Augustus, he drank Poison, that
his Niece should be gazed at by Lamp-light as she was
covered with the Value of Jewels of 400 hundred thousand
Sestertii.

On the other Hand, let any Man reckon how much
Curius or Fabricius bore in their Triumphs ; let him imagine
what their Shows were: and on the other Side, make an
Estimate of Lollia, one only Woman, allied to the Emperor,
reclining ; would not he wish rather that they had been
pulled out of their Chariots than to have conquered only for
this ? And yet this is not the greatest Example of excessive
Prodigality.

There were two Pearls, the very largest that ever were
known in any Age, and they were possessed by Cleopatra,
the last Queen of Egypt ; having descended to her by means
of the Kings of the East. When Antony had feasted her
Day by Day very sumptuously, and under the Influence,
at one Time, of Pride and petulant Disdain, as a Royal
Harlot, after undervaluing his Expense and Provision, he
demanded how it was possible to go beyond this Magni-
ficence : she replied, that she would consume, in one Supper,
100 hundred thousand Sestertii. 2 Antony desired to learn
how that could be possible, but he thought it was not.

1 Forty, millions. 3 Ten millions.



1 56 History of Nature. [BooK IX .

Wagers were, therefore, laid ; and on the following Day,
when the Decision was to be made (for that a Day might
not be lost, Antony appointed the next succeeding one), she
provided a Supper, which was, on the whole, sumptuous ;
but Antony laughed at it, and required to see an Account of
the Particulars. But she said, that what had been served up
already was but the Over-measure, and affirmed still, that
she would in that Supper make up the full Sum ; and her-
self alone consume in this Supper 600 huudred thousand
Sestertii. 1 She then commanded the second Table to be
brought in. As soon as the Order was given, the Attendants
placed before her one only Vessel of Vinegar, 2 the Strength
and Sharpness of which wasted and dissolved the Pearls.
Now she wore at her Ears that most remarkable and truly
singular Work of Nature. Therefore, as Antony waited to
see what she was going to do, she took one of them from
her Ear, steeped it in the Vinegar, and when it was liquefied,
drank it. As she was about to do the like by the other,
L. Plancius, the Judge of that Wager, laid hold upon it
with his Hand, and pronounced that Antony had lost the
Wager : whereat the Man became very angry. The Fame
of this Pearl may go with its Fellow ; for after this Queen,
the Winner of so great a Wager, was taken Prisoner, the
other Pearl was cut in two, that the half of their Supper
might hang at the Ears of Venus, in the Pantheon, at
Rome. Still, however, these shall not bear away the Palm in

1 Sixty millions.

2 Cleopatra must have employed a stronger vinegar than that which
we now use for our tables, as the pearls, on account of their hardness and
their natural enamel, cannot be easily dissolved by a weak acid. Nature has
secured the teeth of animals against the effect of acids, by an enamel
covering of the like kind ; but if this enamel happen to be injured only
in one small place, the teeth soon spoil and rot. Cleopatra, perhaps,
broke and pounded the pearls ; and it is probable that she afterwards
diluted the vinegar with water, that she might be able to drink it ;
though it is the nature of the basis or calx to neutralise the acid, and so
render it imperceptible to the tongue. See BECKMAN'S Hist, of Inventions,
vol. ii. p. 1.

The pearl which Cleopatra swallowed is said to have been worth
80,729*. 3s. 4d. Wern. Club.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 157

this, but shall be deprived of the Glory of Luxury. For
before this, Ctodius, the Son of JEsop? the Tragedian, being
left by him Heir to very great Wealth, practised the same
with Pearls of great Price ; so that Antony needed not to be
over-proud of his Triumvirate, being almost equalled by a
Stage-player ; and that, too, when he was not urged to it by
a Wager, which was much more like a King. His Experi-
ment was the Glory of the Palate, for he wanted to try
what Taste Pearls had ; and as they pleased him wonder-
fully, because he would not be the only one who knew the
Taste, he gave to every Guest at his Table a Pearl to sup up
in like Mariner.

Fenestdla writeth, that after Alexandria was reduced to
Subjection, Pearls came into frequent and indiscriminate use
at Rome ; but that about the Time of Sylla they began first;
and those were but small ones, and mean. But this is a great
Error. For JElius Stilo reporteth, that in the Time of the
War with Jugurtha, the great Pearls, for the most Part, had
the Name of Uniones imposed on them.

And this is almost a perpetual Possession : it fulloweth
the Heir. When sold, they pass with Warranty, as any
Estate would do.*

Purpurae and Conchylia are found thrown about on every
Coast ; and yet to them the same Mother Luxury hath
assigned almost an equal Value with Pearls.

1 Horace, Lib. iii. Sat. 3 :

" An actor's son dissolved a wealthy pearl
(The precious ear-ring of his favourite girl),
In vinegar, and thus luxurious quaffed
A thousand solid talents at a draught.
Had he not equally his wisdom shown,
Into the sink or river were it thrown ? " FRANCIS.
Wern. Club.



158 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

CHAPTER XXXVI.
The Nature of the Purpura* and the Murex.

PURPURJE, for the most Part, live seven Years. They
lie hid for thirty Days about the rising of the Dog Star, like
the Murices. They collect together in the Spring, and with
rubbing one against another they spit a clammy Substance,
in the Manner of Wax. The Murices do the like. But that
Bloom which is so much in request for dyeing Garments the
Purpurse have in the midst of their Throat. Here is placed
a white Vein, containing a very little Fluid ; from whence
is derived that precious and bright Colour of deep red
(Nigrantis) Roses. The Rest of the Body yieldeth Nothing.
Fishermen endeavour to take them alive, for when they die
they cast up that Juice with their Life. Now the Tyrians,
when they obtain any great Purpurse, remove the Shell from
the Flesh ; but the lesser, they break in a Mill, and so at
last collect that Humour. This is the best in Asia ; but in
Africa, that in the (Island) Meninx, and the Coast of the
Ocean by Getulia ; and in Europe, that o^f Laconica. It is
for this the Roman Fasces and Axes make Way ; this is it
that stands for the Majesty of the Childhood; this maketh
the Distinction between the Senate and a Knight ; this is
summoned when they offer Sacrifice to pacify the Gods : this
giveth a Lustre to every Garment ; and in their triumphal
Procession it is interlaced with the Gold. It is thus that the
Madness after the Purpurse is to be excused. But how
should the Conchylia be so highly prized? What strong
Smell in the rank Colour, so harsh a Colour in the blue,
and resembling rather the angry Sea? But to come to the
particular Description. The Purpura hath a Tongue the
length of a Finger, so sharp and hard at the End that it
pierces into other Shell-fishes, and feeds on them. In fresh

1 This name included more than one species ; but more particularly it
is the Murex trunculus, Guv. Conchylia : a name for Bivalve shells in
general. The Buccinum may be our common Whelk. Wern. Clul.



BOOK I X .] History of Nature. 1 59

Water they die, and so also if they are plunged into a River;
otherwise, after they are taken, they will continue alive fifty
Days in their own slimy Humour. All Shell-fish grow very
rapidly, but Purpurse remarkably so ; for in one Year they
come to their full Size. Now if I should proceed no further,
Luxury would think itself defrauded, and condemn me for
Negligence. Therefore we will follow the Subject into the
Shops, that as every Man for the Necessity of this Life
knoweth the Price of Victuals, all who take Pleasure in
these Things may be well versed in the Costs of this their
Existence. These Shell-fishes that serve for purple Colours,
and the Conchylia, all consist of one Material : the Differ-
ence is only in the mixing. They are of two principal Sorts.
The Buccinum is a smaller Shell, resembling that Horn with
which Sound is uttered ; and from this it took its Name.
The round Orifice is cut in at the Edges. The other is
named Purpura, protrudes a long Snout like a Channel, and
within the Side of this Channel it is tubulated, to allow a
Passage for the Tongue. Besides this the Shell is studded as
far as to the Wreathe with sharp Spines, in about seven
Rows, placed in a Circle; which the Buccinum doth not
possess. But so many Circles as each of them has, so
many Years old they are. The Buccinum fastens to Nothing
besides Rocks, and therefore is gathered about rough
Places.

CHAPTER XXXVII.
How many Sorts there are.

PuRPUR2E have another Name, and are called Pelagiae.
There are many Sorts of them, which differ either in their
Situation or Food. The first is the Lutense, nourished by
rotten Mud : the Algense, the worst of all, feeding upon Sea-
weeds close to the Shore ; and the Taeniens^, which is better
than either of the former, and is gathered about the Borders
of the Sea called Tenci. And yet this Kind yieideth only a
light and diluted Colour. There are also some termed Cal-
culosae, from the Sea-gravel, which is wonderfully good for



160 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

Conchylia. And by far the best, the Purpurae dialutense,
that is, a Kind which is fed by various Kinds of Soil. Now
these Purpurae are taken with very small Snares, like Nets,
thrown into deep Water. Within these, for a Bait, are some
Shells, that will shut, and are ready to snap, as we may
see the Mituli. These, when half dead, are put back into
the Sea, when reviving and gaping for Water, the Purpurae
eagerly seek for them with their pointed Tongues, which
they thrust out and so annoy them : but the others, feeling
themselves pricked, presently shut their Shells together, and
compress those that bite them. Thus the Purpurae, through
their Greediness, are taken, hanging by their Tongues.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.
The Fishing -time for Pur puree.

THE best Time to take Purpurae is after the Dog-Star is
risen, or before the Spring. For, when they have borne
Young their Juice is waterish. But the Shops of the
Dyers do not know this, although their highest Skill turns
on this Point. When they are caught they extract the
Vein before-mentioned ; and they lay it in the necessary
Salt, in the Proportion of a Pint and half (of Salt) to every
Hundred-weight. It is right to soak it for about three Days,
for the newer the Colour is, so much is it stronger. They
heat it in Lead, and to every Amphora of Water 1 they put
one hundred and fifty Pounds of the Colour so prepared.
They boil it with a gentle Fire, and therefore the Pipe must
lead a good W T ay off from the Furnace. During this Time, the
Flesh being now and then skimmed off (for some of this can-
not be prevented from sticking to the Veins), for the most
Part about the tenth Day the Kettle is sufficiently pre-
pared ; and to make Trial of it, they dip into it a Fleece of
Wool that has been washed out of one Water into another :
and until their Wish is satisfied, they persist in trying the
Liquor. The red Colour is worse than that which is dark.

1 See Chap, xxxix. Wern. Club.



BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 161

The Wool absorbs the Colour in five Hours : then they card
it, and put it in again, until it hath drunk up all the colour-
ing Matter. The Buccinum maketh no good Colour of itself;
for it loses the Dye again. And, therefore, usually they join
to it the Pelagium ; which, to its too great Blackness, giveth
that Depth and Brightness which is sought for in Cloth dyed
in Grain. Thus by mixing the Force of both they raise one
another, or bind each other more closely. The amount of
the Preparation to each Pound of Wool is two hundred of
the Buccinum to a hundred and eleven Pelagian Purpurse.
In this Manner is made that rich Amethyst Colour. But the
Tyrians thoroughly dye the Wool in the Furnace of the
Pelagian Purpurae only, while not yet thoroughly prepared,
but still green ; and afterwards they change it into another,
where the Buccinum has been boiled. It is most highly
commended when it is as deep a red as congealed Blood ;
blackish at the first Sight, but when viewed between you
and the Light, it shows a shining Lustre. And hereupon it
is that Homer calleth Blood Purple.

CHAPTER XXXIX.
When they began at Rome to wear Purple.

I SEE that Purple hath been always used in Rome ; but
Romulus wore it in his royal Robe (only). It is well known
that Tullus Hostilius was the first of the Kings who, after he
had subdued the Hetruscans, put on the Toga Pretexta and
the Latus Clavus. JVepos Cornelius, who died under the
Reign of Divus Augustus, says: When I was a young Man,
the Violet Purple was in great Request, and a Pound of it
was sold for a hundred Denarii i 1 and not long after the
Tarentine red Purple. After this came the double-dyed
Tyrian Purple, which could not be bought for a thousand
Pounds of Denarii. 2 P. Lentulus Spinter, in his Curile
^Edileship, is reproached for having first worn it in his Robe.
But now (says Nepos}, who does not form the Hangings of

1 3 lib. 2 shil. 6d. sterl. * 31 lib. 5 shil.

VOL. III. M



162 History of Nature. [BoOK IX.

his Parlour with Purple ? Spinier was ^Edile in the seven
hundredth Year after the Foundation of the City, when Cicero
was Consul. This Purple was then called Dibapha, which
was twice dyed ; as being of magnificent Expense ; whereas
now almost all the genteel Purple Cloths are thus dyed. In
the Cloths dyed with the Conchylia the other Things are
the same, except that there is no Buccinum. Moreover, the
Broth is tempered with Water instead of the Excrement of
a Man's Drink; and only a half of the Preparations is
added. And thus is made that pale Tint so highly com-



Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 53 of 60)