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

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lippum is a Country-seat in Campania, not far from Naples ;
where (as Anneus Seneca writeth) there died a Fish in the
Fish-ponds of C&sar, threescore Years 3 after it had been put

1 Aristotle gives the name of Mus, or the Mouse, to a freshwater
turtle ; some of which, of small size, are as active in the water as a mouse
on land. It is probable, therefore, that the Mus marinus is a small Sea-
turtle ; and the mice of the Nile (Ch. Iviii.), of the same natural family.
Seep. 136. Wern. Club.

2 Turbinated Shell-fish are hermaphrodite ; but it is believed that in
these, as in the others, self- impregnation is not possible. Wern. Club.

3 But what is this in comparison with a tike, of which Gesner gives
the following account ? " In the year of our Lord 1497, a Pike was caught
in a pond near Haylprun, an imperial city of Suevia, and fixed to the
skin of its gillcovers was a brass ring, of which we give the figure and
inscription : with the interpretation, as it was deciphered by John Dal-
burgus, bishop of Uvormaciensis : ' I am the first fish which, before all
others, was placed in this pond by the hand of the Governor of the World,
Frederic the Second, on the 5th day of October, (A.D.) 1230:' from
whence it was concluded that the fish had already lived 267 years ; and if
not caught, it appeared likely to have survived much longer." GESNER'S
"Nomenclator," &c. p. 316. Wern. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 175

in by Pollio Vedius : and there remained living still two
more of that Age, and of the same Kind. And since we
mention Fish-ponds, we should do well to write a little more
of them before we give over this Discourse of Creatures of
the Water.

Of Oyster-beds, and who first invented them.

THE first who invented Oyster-beds was Sergius Grata,
who made them at Bajanum, in the Time of L. Crassus the
Orator, before the Marsian War. And this he did, not for
his Appetite, but for Profit ; and by this Invention, and
others, he gathered great Revenues : for he it was that in-
vented the Hanging-baths, and so sold his Villa to better
Advantage. He was the first Man who pronounced the
Lucrine Oysters to be of the most excellent Taste : for the
same Kinds of Creatures of the Water in one Place are better
than in another : as the Lupus-fish in the River Tiber, be-
tween the two Bridges : the Rhomnus (Turbot) at Ravenna :
the Mursena in Sicily : the Elops at Rhodes, and in like
Manner of other Sorts of Fishes ; for I do not intend to give
a long Criticism on Cookery. At this Time the British
Shores were not employed to prepare them when Grata
ennobled those of the Lucrine Lake ; but afterwards it was
thought profitable to seek Oysters from Brundusium, in the
furthest Part of Italy. And to prevent Controversy between
opposite Tastes, it was of late devised that the Oysters,
which in the long Carriage from Brundusium were almost
famished, should be fed in the Lucrine Lake. A little before
this same Time, Licinius Murena invented Ponds for keeping
other Fishes ; and his Example was followed by Noblemen,
as Philippus and Hortensius. Lucullus cut through a Moun-
tain near Naples (for this Purpose), and let in an Arm of the
Sea into his Fish-ponds ; the Cost of which was greater than
that of the House which he had built. For this Reason
Pompey the Great gave him the Name of Xerxes Togatus.
The Fishes of that Pond, after his death, were sold for thirty
hundred thousand Sesterces (three millions of Sesterces).

176 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

Who invented Store-ponds for Murcence.

CAIUS HIRTIUS was the Man who, of himself, before
all others, thought of a Pond to keep Muraenae in. He it was
that lent Ccesar the Dictator, for his triumphal Suppers, six
hundred Muraenae in Numher, to be paid again ; for he
would not sell them for Money, nor exchange them for other
Merchandise. Although his Villa was of moderate size, yet
the Fish-ponds about it sold the House for four millions of
Sesterces. After this the Love of some one particular Fish
became general. The Orator Hortensius had a Pond at
Bauli, upon the Side that lieth toward Baeiae, in which was a
Muraena for which he felt such regard, that when it was
dead it is believed that he wept for it. 1 At the same Villa,
Antonia the wife of Drusus affixed Ear-rings to a Muraena
in which she delighted ; the Report of which caused some
People to wish to visit Bauli.

The Preserves for Snails , 2 and who first invented them.

FULVIUS HIRPINUS was the first Inventor of Store-
preserves for Snails within the Territory of Tarquinii, a little
before the Civil War with Pompey the Great. And those
had their distinct Partitions for their several Sorts : so that

1 JElian (B. viii. ch. iv.), perhaps from hearsay, has jumbled these two
incidents into one ; but he has added a piece of wit, which renders it
worth transcribing. " The Romans celebrate the Muraena of Crassus,
which he adorned with ear-rings and precious stones, as if it had been a
beautiful girl. He also taught the fish to know his voice, and to swim to
him and take food from his hand. I have been informed that when this
fish died he wept for it, and gave it an honourable funeral. When on
some occasion Domitius said to him : * What a fool, Crassus, to weep for
the death of a Mura?na 1 ' To which he answered : * True, I wept the
death of an animal ; but that is more than any one saw you do at the
funerals of your three wives.'" Wern. Club.

2 See B. viii. ch. xxxix. Wern. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 177

the white, which came from the Parts about Reat, should
be kept by themselves : as also the Illyrian, which are
remarkable for size: and the African, which are the most
fruitful; and the Solitanae, which are the renowned. Nay,
he had a Contrivance to feed them with boiled Wine and
Wheat Meal, and other similar Things ; to the End that
Riot might be served plentifully with home-fed Snails. And
the Glory of this Art produced them at last of such Bigness,
that one of their Shells would contain fourscore (Measures
called) Quadrants, 1 according to M. Varro.

Of Land-fishes.

THEOPHRASTUS also telleth strange Wonders of some
kinds of Fishes : that about Babylon there are Places subject
to the Inundations of the Rivers, and in which the Water
standeth in Pits, and the Fish remain after the Waters
are returned within their Banks ; and that some of these
Fishes quit those Retreats to seek for Food, walking with
their Fins, and wagging their Tails as they go. And if any
pursue them they retreat into their Pits, and when in them,
stand opposed to them : that their Heads are like those of
the Rana marina, but the other Parts like the Gobius ; and
the Gills as in other Fishes. Also that about Heraclea and
Cromna, and the River Lycus, and in many Parts of Pontus,
there is one Kind that haunteth the utmost edges of the
Rivers, and maketh itself Holes in the Land, and liveth in
them, even when the Shore is dry, and the Rivers are
gathered into narrow Channels. Therefore they are digged
out; and that they are alive appears finally by the Motion of
their Bodies. Near the abovesaid Heraclea and the River
Lycus, when the Water is ebbed, there are Fishes bred from
the Eggs left in the Mud ; and these, in seeking their Food,

1 Three wine gallons and three quarts : for a Quadrans is three Cyathi,
i. e. the fourth part of a Sextarius, and a Sextarius is a wine pint and a half,
or eighteen ounces.

By quoting an author, Pliny sufficiently testifies that he had never
seen a shell of a snail (Calix) of such size. Wern. Club.


1 78 History of Nature. [BooK IX .

pant with their little Gills : which they do when they do not
want Water: and that is the Reason also why Eels live a long
Time after they are taken out of the Water. He affirmeth,
also, that the Eggs (of Fishes) lying upon the dry Land,
will come to their Maturity, as those of the Tortoises. Also,
that in the same Country of Pontus, there are taken Fishes
in the Ice, and Gobiones 1 especially, which do not show a
vital Motion, but by the Heat of the Cooking- Vessels. In
this some Reason may be given, although the Thing is won-
derful. The same Author reporteth, that in Paphlagonia
there are digged out of the Ground Land-fishes that are very
excellent as Food : but they are found in deep Furrows, in
such Places where no Waters settle. Himself wondereth
how they are produced without the help of Moisture. He
supposeth that there is in them a certain Force of Liquid in
Wells, as Fishes are found in some of them. Whatever it is,
surely it is less wonderful, considering how Moles live (a
Creature naturally keeping under Ground), unless, perhaps,
that these Fishes are of the same Nature with Earth-worms.

Of the Mice of the Nile.

BUT the Inundation of the Nile brings Credibility to
all these Matters ; for it exceedeth all other Wonders. For
when the Ground becometh again uncovered, little Mice are
found imperfectly formed from the generative Virtue of
Water and Earth : having one Part of their Body living,
but the rest of the Form no better than the Earth.

Of the Fish Anthias* and how it is taken.

I DO riot think it proper to omit that which I perceive
many have believed concerning the Fish Anthias. We have

1 Perhaps some fish resembling the Gudgeon. Wern. Club.

2 It appears from Oppian, B. i., that four different sorts of fish were
called by this name. The fish referred to by Pliny may be the Labrus
anthias, LINN., and Serranus anthias, Cuv. Wern. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 179

made mention of the Islands Chelidoniae in Asia, situated in
a Sea full of Rocks under the Promontory ; and here this
Fish is in Abundance; and they are rapidly taken in one
Manner. For the Fisherman goes in a small Boat for cer-
tain Days together, to a certain Distance in the Sea, with
his Garments of one Colour, at one Hour, and there he
casteth his Bait. But whatever is thrown from the Boat
becomes an Object of Suspicion to the intended Prey; and
what it feareth it, guards against ; until at length, after this
has been often practised, one Anthias, enticed by the Repe-
tition, seizeth the Bait. The Fisherman carefully notes this
one Fish as the Foundation of his Hope, and the Enticer of
others that will be caught. And that is no hard Matter for
him to do, because for some Days that Fish alone dares to
come to the Bait. At length he meets with some others,
and by little and little he is better accompanied, until in the
End he brings with him large Sculls, so that now the oldest
of them being so well accustomed to know the Fisherman,
they will snatch Meat out of his Hand. Then he thrusteth
forth an Hook with the Bait, somewhat beyond his Fin-
gers, and flieth upon them more truly than catcheth them,
with a short Snatch ; seizing them from the Shadow of the
Ship, in such a Manner as not to scare the others away.
It is important to Success that he should know the first
Enticer, that he may not take him. The Fisherman spareth
him, that he may fly to some other Flock. It is reported
that one contentious Fisherman, out of Ill-will, captured this
Captain-fish which led the rest into the Snare, for he was
well known : but when the Fisherman recognised him in the
Market in the Possession of a fellow-Fisherman, regarding
himself as wronged, he brought his Action for the Damage, so
that the other was condemned. Mutianus adds, that the Fine
was ten Pounds. The same Anthiae, if they see one of their
Fellows caught with a Hook, are reported to cut the Line with
the serrated sharp Spines which they have upon their Back ;
and that one which hangeth at it, stretcheth it out straight,
that it may be cut asunder more easily. But the Sargus, if
he find himself taken, rubs the Line against a Rock.

180 History of Nature. [BooK IX.

Of the Sea- Stars (Stella marines}.

BESIDES these, I see that some Authors, celebrated for
Wisdom, have made a Wonder at the Star in the Sea. 1 It is
of small size, fleshy within ; but without of a harder Sub-
stance. They say it is so fiery hot, that whatever it toucheth
in the Sea it burneth : and whatever Food it receiveth, it
immediately digesteth. What Proof there is of this I cannot
readily say. I would think that more worthy to be recorded
which hath daily Experience.

Of the Dactyli- and their wonderful Properties.

THE Dactyli are a kind of Shellfish ; and they derive
their Name from their Likeness to Men's Nails. The Nature
of this Fish is to shine in the Dark, when all other Light
is taken away. The more Moisture they have, the more
Light they give ; they shine in Men's Mouths as they chew
them: they shine in their Hands: on the Floor, and on their
Garments, if any Drops fall on them : so that it appeareth
to proceed from the very Nature of that Juice, which we so
wonder at in the Body.

Of the Enmity and Amity of Fishes between themselves.

THERE are wonderful Instances of Enmities and Agree-
ment. The Mugii and Lupus burn with mutual Hatred ;
likewise the Conger and Mursena: so that they gnaw off one
another's Tails. The Locusta is so afraid of the Polypus,

1 The various species of Star-fishes : Asteriadce. The ancients in-
dulged the idea that the sea contained a counterpart of every thing that
was to be found on the land or in the sky ; but to support this opinion,
they were contented with very loose analogies, or mere quibbles. Wern.

3 Pholades, and especially Ph. dactylus, LINN. Wern. Club.

BOOK IX.] History of Nature. 181

that if he spy him near, he immediately dieth. Locustae
tear the Conger : l the Congers again do the same to the
Polypus. Nigidius writeth, that the Lupus biteth off the
Mullet's Tail : and yet these Fishes in certain Months are
good Friends. But he saith that those Fishes live, although
their Tails are so gnawed off. On the other side, there are
Examples of Friendship among Fishes, besides those of
whose Society I have already written : as between the
Balsena, and the Musculus. 2 For whereas the (Balaena) hath
no use of his Eyes, by reason of the heavy Weight of his
Eyebrows that cover them, the other swimmeth before him,
and serveth him instead of Eyes, to show the Shallows, on
which his vast Bulk might be grounded.

From this we will proceed to speak of the Nature of

1 Locustae congrum, ex Arist. lib. vii. cap. ii. Histor. Animal.
8 However small their eyes, Whales are, in general, sharp of sight.
What the Musculus is, seems uncertain. Went. Club.














The Nature of Birds.

Of the Phoenix.

Of Eagles.

When the Roman Legions

began the Standard of the

Eagle, and other Ensigns.

Also with what Creatures

Eagles maintain fight.
A wonderful Case of an


Of Vultures.
Of the Bird Sangualis.
Of Falcons and Hawks.
Of the Cuckoo, which is killed

by Birds of its own Kind.
Of Kites.
A Division of Birds into their

Of unlucky or ominous Birds,

the Crow, the Raven, and the

Owl (Bubo).

Of the Bird that carrieth Fire.
Of the Bird Clivina.
Of many Birds unknown.
Of Birds that fly by Night.
Of Owlets.
Of the Woodpecker.
Of Birds which have Claws

and crooked Talons.
Of Peacocks : and who first

killed them for the Table.
Of Cocks : how they are cas-
trated : of a Dunghill Cock

that spoke.


22. Of Geese : who first devised a

Dish of the Goose-liver : the
Fat of Geese, called Coma-

23. Of Cranes, Storks, Swans,

strange Birds of foreign
Countries; of Quails, and
the Bird Glottis.

24. Of Swallows and Martins,

of Blackbirds, Thrushes, of
Starlings, Turtle-doves and

25. Of Birds that tarry with us all

the Year ; of Birds that con-
tinue half a Year only, and
others that remain but three

26. Strange Stories of Birds.

27. Of the Birds called Seleucides.

28. Of the Ibis.

29. What Birds will not abide in

some Places : which they are
that change Colour and
Voice: also of Nightingales.

30. Of Merls.

31. The Time wherein Birds breed.

32. Of the Birds Halcyons, the

navigable Days they show :
of the Gaviae and Mergi.

33. The Subtlety of Birds in

building their Nests : of the
common Swallow, the River
Martin, Argatilis : the Birds
Cinnamologi, and Partridges.

Contents of the Tenth Booh.



34. Of House-doves.

35. Of Stock-doves.

36. Of Sparrows.

37. Of the Kestrel.

38. Of the Flight and Walk of


39. Of certain footless Martinets,
called Apodes.

40. Of Caprimulgi : also of Spoon-

bills, or Plateae.

41. The Ingenuity of Birds.

42. Of the Goldfinch, Parrot, and

Birds that will learn to speak.

43. The Understanding that Ra-

vens have.

44. Of the Birds of Diomedes.

45. Of Birds that will learn no-


46. The Manner how Birds drink.

47. Of Birds called Himantipodes,

and Onacrotali, and of other
strange Birds.

48. The Names of many Birds and

their Natures.

49. Of new Birds and such as are

supposed to be fabulous.

50. Who devised first to cram

Hens and Capons ; of Coops
to keep and feed Fowls, and
the first Inventor thereof.

51. Of ^sop's Dish.

52. The Generation of Birds, and

what four-footed Beasts lay
Eggs as well as Birds.

53. The Generation of Eggs, the

laying and sitting of them,
the Manner and Time of
Birds coupling.

54. The Accidents that befall

Breeding Birds, and the Re-

55. Auguries by Eggs.

56. What Hens are of the best



57. The Diseases incident to Hens,

and the Cure.

58. The Manner how Birds con-

ceive : what Number of Eggs
they lay, and how many they

59. Of Peacocks and Geese.

60. Of Herons and Bitterns. The

Way to preserve Eggs.

61. The only Bird that bringeth

forth her Young alive, and
feedeth the same with Milk.

62. The Conception of the Viper,

and how she is delivered of
her Young ; also what Land
Creatures lay Eggs.

63. The Generation of Land Crea-


64. The Variety of Propagation of

Land Animals,

65. The Young of Mice and Rats.

66. Whether the Marrow of a

Man's Back- bone will pro-
duce a Serpent.

67. Of the Salamander.

68. What Things are engendered

of those that were never
engendered ; and what Crea-
tures which, being engen-
dered themselves, breed not.

69. The Senses of Animals.

70. That Fishes both hear and


71. That the Sense of Feeling is

common to all living Crea-

72. What Creatures live on Poi-

sons, and eat Earth.

73. Of the Meat and Drink of some


74. What Creatures evermore dis-

agree : and which they are
that agree well together.

75. Of the Sleep of Animals.

184 Contents of thz Tenth Book.

This Book hath in it of Histories and Observations 904, gathered out of


Manilius, Cornelius Valerianus, the Public Records and Registers,
Umbricius surnamed Melior, Massurius Sabinus, Antistius Labeo, Trogus
Cremutius, M. Varro, Macer JEmylius, Melissus, Mutianus, Nepos, Fabius
Pictor, T. Lucretius, Cornelius Celsus, Horatius Desulo, Hysginus, Sar-
sennce, both Father and Son, Nigidius, and Manlius Sura.


Homer, Phcemonoes, Philemon, Boethius, who wrote a Treatise called
Ornithagonia, Hylas, who made a Discourse of Auguries, Aristotle, Theo-
phrastus, Callimachus, JEschylus, Hiero, Philometer, Archytas, Amphilo-
chus the Athenian, Anaxipolis the Thasian, Apollodorus of Lemnos,
Aristophanes the Milesian, Antigonus the Cymcean, Agathocles of Chios,
Apollonius of Pergamus, Aristander the Athenian, Bacchius the Milesian,
Bion of Soli, Chcereas the Athenian, Diodorus of Prycene, Dion the Colo-
phonian, Democritus, Diophanes of Niccea, Epigenes of Rhodes, Evagoras
of Thasos, Euphonius of Athens, King Juba, Androcion, who wrote of
Husbandry, and JEschrion, likewise who wrote thereof, Dionysius who
translated Mago, and Diophanes who reduced his Work into an Epitome,
Nicander, Onesicritus, Philarchus, and Hesiodus.






The Nature of Birds.

followeth that we should speak of the Nature of
Birds, of which the greatest are the Ostriches. 1
They almost approach to the Nature of Beasts,
and inhabit Africa or Ethiopia. They are higher
than a Man sitting on Horseback ; and they are
also swifter than a Horse : their Wings being
only given them to help them in running ; for otherwise
they do not fly, nor do they even rise from the Ground.
They have Hoofs like Deer, and with them they fight ; for
as they are cloven, they serve to catch up Stones, which
with their Legs they hurl back in their Flight against those
that chase them. It is a Wonder in their Nature, that
whatever they eat, although it is without choice, they digest.
But their Stupidity is not less remarkable ; for, high as the
rest of their Body is, if they hide their Head and Neck in a
Bush, they think themselves altogether concealed. The

1 Struihio camelus. Wern. Club.

1 86 History of Nature. [BooK X.

Advantages obtained from them are their Eggs, which are
so big, that some use them for Vessels ; and their Feathers
adorn the Crests and Helmets of Soldiers.

Of the Phoenix. 1

THE Birds of Ethiopia and India are for the most part
of a variety of Colours, and such as can hardly be described :
but the Phoenix of Arabia is more noble than all others. I

1 The Phoenix is one of the most renowned of the fabulous creatures
of antiquity. The first detailed description and history of this bird that
we meet with is in Herodotus (Lib. ii. cap. Ixxiii.), whose story is sub-
stantially the same as what was afterwards, though with various embel-
lishments, repeated and believed for more than a thousand years.

The passage in which Tacitus notices the Phoenix is very remarkable,
and deserves to be quoted at length, as being the most authentic account
of it that has been preserved, and also as showing that so cautious and
accurate a man as he is always considered to be, entertained no kind of
doubt as to its real existence, and its periodical appearance in Egypt.

" A.U c. 787, A.B. 34. Paulus Fabius and Lucius Vitellius succeeded
to the consulship. In the course of the year the miraculous bird, known
to the world by the name of the Phoenix, after disappearing for a series
of ages, revisited Egypt. A phenomenon so very extraordinary could
not fail to produce abundance of speculation. The learning of Egypt was
displayed, and Greece exhausted her ingenuity. The facts, about which
there seems to be a concurrence of opinions, with other circumstances, in
their nature doubtful yet worthy of notice, will not be unwelcome to the
reader. That the Phoenix is sacred to the sun, and differs from the rest
of the feathered species in the form of its head, and the tincture of its
plumage, are points settled by the naturalists. Of its longevity the
accounts are various. The common persuasion is, that it lives five
hundred years, though by some writers the date is extended to four-
teen hundred and sixty- one. The several eras when the Phoenix has
been seen are fixed by tradition. The first, we are told, was in the reign
of Sesostris ; the second in that of Amasis ; and in the period when
Ptolemy, the third of the Macedonian race, was seated on the throne of
Egypt, another Phoenix directed his flight towards Heliopolis, attended
by a group of various birds, all attracted by the novelty, and gazing with
wonder at so beautiful an appearance. For the truth of this account we
do not presume to answer. The facts lie too remote ; and, covered as
they are with the mists of antiquity, all further argument is suspended.

ROOK X.] History of Nature. 1 87

can scarcely tell whether it be false or no, that there is never
more than one of them in the whole World, and that it is
very rarely seen, ft is said to be of the size of an Eagle :
as bright as Gold about the Neck; the rest of the Body
purple : the Tail azure blue, with Feathers distinguished by
being of a Rose-colour ; and the Head and Face adorned
with a Crest of Feathers on the top. Manilius, the noble
Senator, excellently well versed in most kinds of Learning,
by his own unassisted Efforts was the first and most diligent

From the reign of Ptolemy to Tiberius, the intermediate space is not
quite two hundred and fifty years. From that circumstance it has been
inferred by many that the last Phoenix was neither of the genuine kind,

Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 55 of 60)