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

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Barn Owl. Wern. Club.

BOOK X.] History of Nature. 199

when Sext. Papellio Ister and L. Pcdanius were Consuls ; on
which Account, at the Nones of March, the City that Year
passed through a Lustration.

Of the Bird Incendiaria.

THE Bird Incendiaria is likewise inauspicious; and we
find in our Annals, that on account of it the City many a
Time hath been lustrated ; as when L. Cassias and C. Marius
were Consuls : in that very Year when, by Occasion of a Bubo
being seen, the Lustration also was performed. But what Bird
this is, neither do I know nor yet find in any Writer. Some
give this Interpretation of Incendiaria, that it is any Bird
which hath been seen carrying a Coal from any kind of
Altar. Others called this Bird Spinturnix ; but hitherto I
have not met with the Man who would say, that he knew
what Bird this should be.


Of the Clivina.

LIKEWISE the Bird named in old Time Clivina, which
some call Clarnatoria, and Labeo by the Name of Prohi-
bitoria, I perceive is as little known as the other. Nigidius
also maketh mention of a Bird called Subis, which breaks
the Eggs of Eagles.

Of unknown Birds.

IN the Tuscan Learning 1 there are many Birds drawn
which have not been seen for Ages. And it is surprising

1 Augury appears to have particularly flourished among the Tuscans,
and it was that portion of ancient religious practice which mixed itself
most with the habits of ordinary life ; so that no important step in life
could be taken without its authority, and no strange circumstance, more
particularly regarding birds, be noted without the professors of this art
being called upon to supply an interpretation and provide a ceremony for

200 History of Nature. [BooK X .

that they are now extinct, when those still continue in
Abundance which human Appetite consumes.

Of Nocturnal Birds.

OF Foreigners, one who is called Hylas is thought to
have written learnedly concerning Auguries. He reporteth

averting the omen. The science was divided into two portions : one of
which referred to the auspices, or the view of birds ; and the other, which
more especially bore the name of augury abavium garritu consisted
in attending to the sounds uttered by birds. The birds themselves that
afforded these prognostications were supposed to be moved ab anima
sua, by an inward action proceeding from the influence of Deity : those
which by their singing attracted the attention of the augurs, were termed
Oscines (Ch. xxix.) : a name which thus became a denomination for all
singing-birds : such as were supposed to signify that an action ought not
to be persevered in were called Prohibltorice (Ch. xiv.), and the word
obscene was simply descriptive of birds of ill omen, although the term
has been subsequently applied with another meaning. A journal of the
transactions of this college of religious naturalists was kept of the occur-
rence of every rare event, and the appearance of every strange bird,
coloured representations of which were drawn, for reference on any future
emergency. For the conveniency of official observation, a measured
space, termed Pomarium, round the walls of the city, and separating it
from the country, was kept free from buildings or enclosures ; and the
Palatine hill of Rome was in old time excluded from the city and the
Pornserium, because it was the resort of birds of ill omen. Spaces in the
sky were measured out by the official staff; and the birds themselves
were arranged in classes, to render the rules of prognostication more pre-
cise. An augur who entered into the spirit of his profession was neces-
sarily skilful in ornithology ; but those who were more speculative would
make additions to species or classes, whic'h the experience of others would
fail to confirm. The public terror was thus entirely in the power of the
augurs, for even a slight change of structure, discovered when the bird
was cut asunder for sacrifice, was deemed a portent : and there are proofs
that some among them might be induced to shape their reports in
a manner to suit private purposes. The opinion of Accius on augurs is
thus given :

" Nihil credo auguribus, qui aures verbis divitant

Alienas, suas ut auro locupletent domos."
Went. Club.

BOOK X .] History of Nature. 20 1

that the Noctua Bubo, the Pious l that pecketh Holes in
Trees, the Trogon 2 and the Comix come out of their Shells
with their Tails first; because through the Weight of their
Heads the Eggs are turned (with the wrong End down-
ward), and so the hinder part of their Bodies lieth next
under the Hen to cherish with her Heat.

Of the Noctua.

THE Contest of the Noctua with other Birds is with much
Skill; for when they are beset with a Multitude of them,
they lie upon their Backs, and resist with their Feet ; gather-
ing themselves into a narrow Compass, so as to cover their
whole Body with their Bill and Talons. The Accipiter, by a
peculiar Society of Nature, renders Assistance, and shareth
the War. Nigidius writeth, that the Noctua for sixty Days
in Winter keepeth close, and hath nine different Notes.

Of the Picus Martins.

THERE are also some small Birds which have hooked
Claws, as the Picus ; which is distinguished by the Name of
Martius, and are of great Account in Auspices. They that
peck Holes in Trees, and climb in a pilfering Way like
Cats, are of this Race. They lie supine, and when they
strike with their Bills against the Bark, they know by the
Sound that there is Food within. These Birds alone bring
up their young ones in Excavations of Trees. And if a Shep-
herd wedge up their Holes, the Vulgar believe that they will
unstop it by the means of an Herb which they apply. Tre-
bius writeth, that if a Man drive a Spike or Wedge with all
his Might into the Tree in which this Bird hath its Nest,
when she settleth upon the Tree, it will instantly fly out
(with such a Force) that the Tree will give a Crack. In

1 P. Martius, the greater Woodpecker. Wcrn. Club.

2 Perhaps Trygon ; Columba tvj-tur, the Turtle-dove. Wern. Club.

202 History of Nature. [BooK X .

Latium these are the principal Birds in Auguries, from that
King 1 who gave them their Name. And one Presage of
theirs I cannot pass over : one of them alighted upon the
Head of L. Tubero, Praetor of the City, as he was distri-
buting Justice on the Judgment-seat in the Forum, and
there rested so gently, that it suffered him to take it with his
Hand. The Prophet answered, that if the Bird were let go
it would portend the Ruin of the Empire ; but if it were
killed, it denounced Death to the Praetor ; and he immediately
tore the Bird in pieces : nor was it long before the Prodigy
was fulfilled. There are also some of this Kind that feed
upon Mast, and many on Apples; but they do not live on
Flesh only, except the Milvus, which causes that Bird to be
mournful in Auguries.

Of Birds that have hooked Talons and Fingers.

THOSE which have crooked Claws do not assemble in
Flocks, but prey each one for itself. And almost all these
fly aloft except the Night-birds ; and the greater Sort espe-
cially. They are all of them great winged, little bodied, and
walk with Difficulty. They seldom perch upon Rocks, being
hindered by the bending inward of their Talons, it re-
maineth that we speak of the second Order of Birds, which
is divided into two Sorts : Oscines and Alites. For the
singing of the one Kind, and the Bigness of the other,
maketh the Distinction. Therefore they are treated of first
in Order.


Of the Pavo; 2 and who was the first that hilled them for


THE Class of the Pavo excels all the others, as well in
Form as in his Understanding and Glory. For when he is

1 Picus.

8 Meleagrix pano, LINN. ; Pavo criatatm, Peacock. Martial expresses
his regret that so beautiful a bird shouid be delivered over to the cruelty

BOOK X.] History of Nature. 203

praised lie spreadeth his Colours, which shine like precious
Stones, and which he most commonly turneth towards the Sun;
for so they shine with the most glittering Lustre. And at the
same Time also his Tail takes the Shape of a Shell, and Shades
are formed by the Reflexions of other Colours, which shine
the brighter when contrasted with the dark ; and he draws
the whole of his Feathers together into an Accumulation,
which it rejoiceth the Eyes to look at. When he hath lost
this Tail, which is at the turn of the Year, when Trees shed
their Leaves, until it grows again with the Flowers, as if
ashamed and lamenting, he seeketh retired Places. The
(Peacock) liveth twenty-five Years. At three Years of Age
he beginneth to pour forth his Colours. Authors say that
he is not only a vain-glorious Creature, but also as mali-
cious as the Goose is unassuming; for so have some of them
recorded their Remarks on these Birds : but they are not
satisfactory to me.

The first that killed a Peacock for the sake of Food was
the Orator Hortensius, in his solemn Supper when he was
consecrated Priest. And M. Aufidius Lurco was the first
that contrived to fatten them ; which was about the Time of
the last Pirates' War; by which Invention of his he obtained
a yearly Profit of 60,000 Sesterces. 1


Of Cocks ; and how they are emasculated. Also of a
Dunghill Cock that spoke.

NEXT, these our Sentinels by Night, and whom Nature hath
created to break Men of their Sleep, to arouse them to their
Work, have also a Sense of Glory. They know the Stars ;
and they distinguish the third Hour portions by their crowing.

of a cook (Xenia, 65); and Tiberius put a man to death for stealing a pea-
cock e viridariO) from a green-house. Long before this they were so
rare, and so much admired, as to be among the importations of Solomon
(1 Kings, ch. x). They appear to have been kept tame, even so early as
the time of Job (ch. xxxix). Wern. Club.
1 468 lib. 15 shil.

204 History of Nature. [BOOK X.

They go to roost with the Sim ; and at the fourth watch in
the Camp they call Men up to their Cares and Labour :
they will not suffer the Sun to steal upon us unwarned ; but
by their crowing they proclaim the corning Day, and they
foretel their crowing likewise, by clapping their Sides. They
are Rulers of their own Kind ; and in whatever House they
are, they exercise Sovereignty. This is gotten by fighting
one with another, as if they knew that naturally they had
Weapons given them on their Legs for this Purpose ; and
many Times there is no end until they kill one another. But
if one of them obtains the Palm, immediately he croweth for
his Victory, and makes it known that he is truly the Chief.
He that is beaten hideth himself in Silence ; but beareth his
Bondage with Reluctance. And the very common Sort, also,
are as proud ; marching with their Neck stretched upright,
and the Comb lifted aloft. And there is not a Bird besides
that so often looketh at the Sky, at the same Time erecting
his arched Tail ; and therefore it is, that they are a terror to
Lions, which of all wild Beasts are the most courageous.

Now of these Cocks, some are bred for nothing but Wars
and constant Battles ; and these Cocks have rendered illus-
trious the Countries from whence they come, as Ilhodus and
Tenagra ; in a second Place of Honour are esteemed those of
Melos and Chalcis ; so that to those Birds, for their Worth,
the Roman Purple affords much Honour. These are they
from which- the Tripudium solistimum 1 is observed. These rule
our Magistracy every Day ; and they open or shut their
Houses to them ; they urge forward or hold back the
Roman Rods ; they order or forbid the Battle, and were the
Auspices of all our Victories throughout the World ; and,

1 A kind of omen derived from the manner of their eating. It was
the business of the proper officers to watch this : of others, their mode of
walking ; of others, their voice and crowing; of others, their air and coun-
tenance ; and the principal of all attended to the appearance of their
entrails in sacrifice. As the cock was peculiarly an emblem of watchful-
ness, the augury derived from him was of particular importance in the
army; and cocks continued to be carried with armies in comparatively
modern times, professedly to proclaim the hours by their crowing, but
certainly through the lingering remains of ancient custom. Wer?i. Club.

BOOK X.] History of Nature. 205

more than all, these Birds govern the Government of all
Nations upon the Earth : acceptable to the Gods in Sacrifice
with the small Fibres of their inwards, as the best Victims.
Their crowing out of Order, and in the Evening, possesseth
a Portent; for by their crowing all Night long, they pre-
saged to the Boeotians that noble Victory over the Lacedas-
monians ; this Interpretation being offered, because that
Bird never croweth if he is overcome. If they are castrated
they cease to crow. And this Operation is practised upon
them in two Ways : either by burning their Loins with a hot
Iron, or by cauterising their Thighs beneath, and then pre-
sently applying to the Ulcer Potter's Chalk ; and thus they
will sooner grow fat. At Pergamus every Year there is an
Exhibition publicly afforded to the People, of Cocks, as of
Gladiators. We find in our Annals, that in the Territory of
Ariminum, when Marcus Lepidus and Quintus Catnlus were
Consuls, a Dung-hill Cock spoke ; and it was at the Villa of
Galerius. But this* only happened once, so far as I can


Of Geese: and who first ate the Liver of the Goose. Also of
the Fat of the Goose of Comagene.

THE Goose 1 likewise is very vigilant, as witness the
Capitol defended at that Time when, through the Silence of
the Dogs, all was betrayed. And therefore the first Thing
the Censors do, is to place Food for the Geese. Moreover,
they are said to be much given to Love ; for at Argos there
was a Goose that was enamoured of a fair Boy named
Olenus : as also of Glauce, who used to play on the Lute
(Cithara) before King Ptolemy: and it is reported that at
the same Time a Ram was in love with her. It may be
thought also that there is visible in this Creature some

1 Anas anser, LINN. The narrative of the preservation of the Capitol
from the attack of the Gauls, is found in all the Roman histories. But
Geese were held sacred long before this : perhaps as an emblem of watch-
fulness. Wern. Club.

206 History of Nature. [BooK X.

Sparks of Wisdom. For Lacydts the Philosopher is said to
have had one of them attached to him as a constant Com-
panion, which would never leave him Night or Day, neither
in the open Street, nor at the Baths. But our Countrymen
are wiser, who know how to make a Dainty of their Liver. 1
In those Geese that are crammed (the Liver) groweth ex-
ceedingly great; and when it is taken out it plumps up if it
is steeped in Milk and Mead. With good Cause, therefore, it
is in Controversy who first invented so great a Good : whe-
ther it was Scipio Metellus, a consular Man, or M. Sestius,
who in the same Age was a Roman Knight. Buc it is certain
that Messalinus Cotta, Son of Messala the Orator, found out
to broil the broad Feet of Geese, and with Cocks' Combs to
compose a Dish of Meat : for I will truly give every Man
his Due for the Praise of his Cookery. It is a wonderful
Thing of these Birds, that they should walk all the Way
from Morini to Rome. Those that were weary were brought
forward to the Forewent ; and so the rest, by crowding toge-
ther as they naturally do, drive these tired ones before them.
A second Revenue of such Geese as are white is their Down.
In some Places they are plucked twice a Year : and they are
clothed with Feathers again, and the nearer to the Flesh so
much the softer. But that which is brought out of Germany
is most esteemed. The Geese there are white, but of less
size ; and they are called Ganzse. 2 The Cost of these Fea-
thers is at five Denarii 3 a Pound ; and hence it is that so
many Charges are made against the Prefects of the auxiliary
Soldiers, that they send whole Cohorts from the Guard

1 Martial says, they caused the liver to grow to be as large as the
goose :

" Adspice quara turneat magno jecur ansere majus ! "

Palladius says, that for this purpose they were fed on pounded figs soaked
in water, and rolled into pellets : and that this treatment began when
they were thirty days old. They were also exposed to intense heat.
Wern. Club.

2 Some copies read Gantse ; a word this, perhaps, the origin of our
word Gander. Wern. Club.

3 3 shil. Id. ob.

BOOK X.] History of Nature. '207

Station to hunt Geese. And to this extent is Delicacy grown,
that without this Material even our Men are not able to bear
their Pillows.

To that part of Syria called Comagene, 1 we are beholden
for another Invention. The Grease of Geese with Cinnamon
is put into a brazen Pot, and covered over with abundance of
Snow, and they let it steep well infused in this cold Matter,
to use in that noble Medecine which from that Country is
called Conuiirenum.

Of the Geese kind are the Chenalopeces ; 2 and (than
which there is not a daintier Dish known in Britain) the
Chenerotes, 3 which are less than the wild Geese.

The Tetrao* have a shining Appearance, that looks be-
coming in their absolute Blackness ; and their Eyebrows are
red like Scarlet.

Another Kind there is of them, bigger than Vultures, 5
and in Colour much resembling them. And there is not a
Fowl, except the Ostrich, that weigheth more heavy than
they. For they grow to that size, that a Man can hardly
lift them from the Ground. These breed in the Alps and
the North Countries. If they are confined in an Aviarium,
they loose their Flavour : they die through Sullenness, by
holding in their Breath. Next to these are such as in
Spain are called the Avis Tarda, 6 and in Greece Otides :
but they are not approved as Food, for the Marrow in
their Bones, if let out, instantly produceth an insufferable

1 See B. xxix. ch. iii. Wern. Club.

2 Anas j?Egyptiaca, Cuv. Egyptian Goose. Wern. Club.

3 A word equivalent to Anser amiabiliti, and supposed to describe the
Anas Bernicla, LINN. Bernacle Goose. Wern. Club.

4 Tetrao Tetrix, LINN. Black Cock. Wern. Club.

5 Tetrao Urogallus, LINN. Caper Cailzie. Wern. Club.

6 Otis tarda, Great Bustard. Wern Club.

208 History of Nat are. [BooK X.


Of the Grus, 1 Ciconiaf Olorf some foreign Birds, and the
Coturnix and Glottis.

THE Nation of the Pigmies enjoys a Truce when (as we
have said before) the Cranes, who wage War with them, de-
part into other Countries. And if a Man consider from how
far they come, from the Levant Sea, it is an immense Extent.
When they set forward it is by general Consent. They fly high,
to have a good look out ; and they choose a Leader, whom
they follow. In the extremity of their Host there are some
disposed which utter Cries, and keep the Flock in orderly
Arrangement with their Voice ; and this they do by turns.
They maintain a Watch all the Night long, and the Sentinels
hold a little Stone* in their Foot, which by falling from it, if
they sleep, reproves them for their Negligence. All the rest
sleep, couching their Heads under their Wings; and they
stand sometimes upon one Foot, and sometimes on the other.
The Leader beareth his Neck aloft in the Air as he looks
forward, and giveth his Word what is to be done. These

1 Ardea grus, LINN. The Crane. For their hostility to the Pigmies,
see B. iv. Ch. xi. Wern. Club.

2 Ardea ciconia, LINN. The Stork. Wern. Club.

3 Anas olor, and A. cygnus, LINN. The wild and tame Swan.

The lamentable singing referred to by the author is often alluded to
by ancient writers ; but nothing of the sort has been witnessed by modern
observers. Wern. Club.

4 " The old grammarian, Johannes Tzetzer. has rendered this story
into Greek verse; and the historian Ammianus Marcellinus tells us,
that in imitation of the ingenuity of the Crane to insure vigilance, Alex-
ander the Great was accustomed to rest with a silver ball in his hand,
suspended over a b'rass basin, which, if he began to sleep, might fall and
awake him." " Habits of Birds," in Library of Entertaining Knowledge.
Wern. Club.

BOOK X.] History of Nature. 209

Cranes, when tamed, are very playful ; and they will, one by
one, dance round with an odd sort of Walk. It is certain
that when they are about to take flight over the Pontus,
they will fly first of all to the Straits between the two
Capes, Criu-Metophon and Caranibis, and then presently
they steady themselves with Ballast. When they have
passed the middle they fling away the Stones from their
Feet; and when they are come to the Continent they dis-
gorge the Sand from their Throat.

Cornelius Nepos, who died when Divus Augustus was
Sovereign, where he wrote, That a little before his Time
Men began to fatten the captured Thrushes, adds, That
Storks were held for a better Dish than Cranes. But now,
no Man will touch (a Stork) ; while the Crane is sought after
among the principal Delicacies. From whence these Storks
should come, or whither they return, is not yet known. No
doubt they come from remote Countries, and in the same
manner as the Cranes ; only that the Cranes are our Guests
in Winter, and the Storks in Summer. When they are
about to depart they assemble in a Place appointed, and
they form such a Company that not one of the Kind is left,
unless it be some one that is not at Liberty. They take their
Departure on the given Day, as if by an established Law.
Although it appeared that they were about to remove, yet
no Man hath seen the Flock as it went ; neither do we see
them come, but we know that they are come, and they do
the one and the other always by Night. And although they
fly away and return, yet they are supposed never to have
arrived anywhere but in the Night. There is a Place in the
open Plains of Asia, called Pithonos-Come, where they
assemble, and make a murmuring Noise among themselves,
and tear in Pieces that one which was the last to arrive; and
then they depart. It hath been noted, that after the Ides of
August they are not easily seen there.

Some affirm that Storks have no Tongues. So highly
are they respected for destroying Serpents, that in Thessaly
it was a capital Crime to kill a Stork, and by Law he is
punished the same as for slaying a Man.

VOL. in. p

210 History of Nature. [BooK X .

After the same manner Geese and Swans associate toge-
ther ; but they are seen in their Flight. They make Way
forcibly after the Manner of the Beaks of Ships, for by this
Means they more easily divide the Air than if they drove it
before them with a straight Front. The Flock is spread out
by Degrees, expanding itself like a Wedge behind, and so
affords a great Space to the Wind, which impels them. They
rest their Necks upon those that are before them, and as the
Leaders become weary they retire behind. Storks seek the
same Nest, and they support their aged Parents in return for
their Kindness.

Some say there is lamentable singing at the Death of
Swans, but untruly, as I suppose ; for, from some Experience,
these Birds devour one another's Flesh among themselves.

But this Discourse of those Fowls that make Voyages in
Flocks over Seas and Lands will not allow me to put off
speaking of lesser Birds also, which are of the same Nature;
for those before-named may seem to be induced to do so by
the size and strength of their Bodies. Quails, 1 therefore,
always come before the Cranes. It is a little Bird, and when
it comes to us, it belongs to the Ground rather than the Air.
The Manner of their flying is like the former ; not without
some Danger of the Sailors when they approach near to
Land. Because they often settle upon their Sails, which they
do always in the Night, and sink Vessels. Their Journey is
through established Resting-places. In the Southwind they
do not fly; because it is wet and heavy. And yet they
choose to be conveyed by the Wind, on Account of the
Weight of their Bodies arid their feeble Strength. Hence as
they fly their complaining expresses their Effort. Com-
monly, therefore, they fly with a North Wind, the Ortygo-
metra being the Leader. The first of them, as it approacheth

1 Tetrao coturnix, LINN. Some have supposed the Ortygometra (Mo-
ther of Quails) to be only a larger individual of this species ; others sup-
pose it the Rail, Eallus crcx. It is judged with some probability that not
this species, but the Katta (Tetrao alchala, LINN.) is the bird referred to,
under the name of Quail, in the Books of Moses, and by David, Ps. Ixxviii.
Wern, Club.

BOOK X.] History of Nature. 21 1

Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 57 of 60)