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

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are accustomed to devour what other Birds disgorge. The
Onocrotali 3 much resemble Swans, and they might be
thought to be not altogether different, but that they have
within their Throat another kind of Receptacle, into which
these insatiable Fowls gather all they can get, so wonderful
is its Capacity. Now when they have accomplished their
Ravening, they return it from thence by little and little into
their Mouth, from whence it is conveyed to the true Belly,
after the manner of a ruminating Creature. These Fowls are
sent from the parts of Gallia lying nearest the North Ocean.
In Hercinia, a thick Forest of Germany, we have heard that
there are unaccustomed kinds of Birds, with Feathers shin-
ing like Fire 4 by Night. In other respects, I have nothing to
say of them worth the Writing, except that they are of some
Excellency for being brought from far.

1 Fulica porphyrio, LINN. A species of Coot. Wern. Club.

2 Himantopus melanopterw, Cuv. Stilt Plover. Wern. Club.

3 Pelicanus onocrotolus, Cuv. Pelican. Wern. Club.

4 Gesner makes a supposition that these birds may be Garrulus
Bohemicus, LINN. The Bohemian Chatterer. Wern. Club.

236 History of Nature. [BOOK X.

The Names and Nature of many Birds.

OF Water- fowl, the Phalerides 1 in Seleucia of the Par-
thians, and also in Asia, are the most praised. Again, the
Phasianse 2 of Colchis, which have two Ears, consisting of
Feathers, which they set up and lay down : the Numidian
Fowls, in a part of Africa called Numiclia, as also throughout
Italy. Apicius, the deepest of all Gluttons, taught that the
Tongue of the Phoenicopterus, 3 was a most delicate piece of
Meat. The Attagen 4 of Ionia is very much commended.
When this Bird is taken, she becomes mute; but otherwise
she is vocal : and in old Time she was reputed a rare Bird.
But now they are caught in Gallia and Hispania, and also
among the Alps : where also are the Phalacracoraces, 5 which
were peculiar to the Balearic Islands : as the Pyrrhocorax 6
with the yellow Bill, was (supposed to breed only) among
the Alps; and the Lagopus, 7 a dainty Bird for the /Table.
This Name it took, because its Feet are covered with Hair
like the Hare's-foot : otherwise it is all over white, and of
the size of a Pigeon. Beyond the Ground you will hardly get
her to feed : neither will she be made tame while she lives :
and if killed, the Body presently putrifies. There is also
another of the same Name, which differs from Quails only in

1 Gallinula chloropus, Cuv. Water-hen ; but Belon supposes it one of
the larger Divers. Wern. Club.

2 Phasianus colchicus. Pheasant. Wern. Club.

3 P. ruber, LINN. Flamingo. Wern. Club.

4 There appears to be some doubt which species of Tetrao this was.
Cuvier supposes the Attagen of Aldrovandus to be the female of Tetrao
bonasza, LINN. ; but the true Attagen to be probably T. alchata, LINN., the
bird which Dr. Kitto has thought the Quail of the Israelites. Martial
speaks highly of its excellency at table :

" Inter sapores fertur alitum primus
lonicarum gustus Attagenarum." Xenia, lix.

5 P. carbo, Cuv. Cormorant. Wern. Club..

6 Fregilus graculw, Cuv. Cornish Chough. Wern. Club.

7 Tetrao lagopus, LINN. Ptarmigan. Wern. Club.

BOOK X.] History of Nature. 237

bigness; and with a Dipping of Saffron it is a very delicate
Food. M. Egnatius Calvinus, Prefect of the parts about the
Alps, reporteth, that he hath seen there the Ibis, a Bird
proper to the Land of Egypt.

Of new Birds, and such as are fabulous.

DURING the Civil Wars at Bebriacum, beyond the Po,
there came these new Birds (for so they are still called) into
Italy. They are a kind of Turdi, somewhat less than House-
pigeons (Columbse), pleasant to eat. The Balearic Islands
send us another Porphyrio, better than that before-named. 1
There also the Buzzard (Buteo), a kind of Hawk, is held as
excellent for the Table. Likewise the Vipio, for so they call
the lesser Crane. As for the Fowls called Pegasi, with
Heads like Horses'; and the Gryphae (Griffins), with long
Ears and a hooked Beak, I take them to be Fables : and yet
they say that the Pegasi are in Scythia, and the Gryphae
(Griffins) in Ethiopia. Moreover, I think the same of the
Tragopanades, which many affirm to be greater than the
Eagle, having crooked Horns on each side of the Head, of
the colour of Iron, and the Head only purple. Neither do
the Syrens obtain Faith, although Dino, the Father of
Clitarthus the celebrated Writer, affirms that they exist in
India: and that with their Singing they will lull People into
deep Sleep, and then tear them in Pieces. He that will
give Credit to these Things will not deny that Dragons, in
Truth, taught Melampus, by licking his Ears, to understand
the Language of Birds; or the Things that Democritas
telleth, who nameth the Birds, of whose Blood mingled
together there is engendered a Serpent ; which whoever
eateth shall know what Birds say one to another: and the
Things he telleth particularly of that one Bird, the Galerita : 2
although without these there is an immense Collection to


occupy Life about Auguries. Homer maketh mention of a
1 Chap. xlvi. a Alauda arvensis; Field Lark. Wern. Club.

238 History of Nature. [BooK X.

kind of Birds called Scopes : l but I cannot readily conceive
in my Mind those satyrical Gesticulations of theirs when
they are perched, which so many talk of: neither are these
Birds known at the present Time. And therefore it is better
to write of those we certainly know.


Who first invented to cram Hens. Of Aviaries, and who first
invented them.

THE Inhabitants of Delos began the cramming of Hens.
And from thence arose that Plague of eating the Birds so
fat, as to be larded with their own Body. Among the old
Statutes ordained to repress inordinate Suppers, I find in
one Law made by C. Fannius, the Consul, eleven Years be-
fore the third Punic War, That no Man should place (on his
Table) more than one Hen, which should not be fattened ;
which Head or Injunction was afterwards taken from this
and inserted in all the other Laws. But a Bye-path was
found out to deceive the Meaning, by feeding the Barn-door
Fowls also with a Paste soaked in Milk, by which their
Flesh was rendered much more tender. It is not always
that Hens only are selected for fattening ; but they are only
thought well crammed when they are fat in the Skin about
the Neck. Afterwards the Skill of the Cooks began to look
to their Haunches ; and that they may be divided along the
Chine, and be extended from one Leg, so as to take up the
whole Sideboard. The Parthians also have taught our
Cooks their Fashions. And yet for all this fine dressing
out of Meat, there is nothing that wholly pleaseth ; for one
praises nothing but the Haunch, and in another Place the
Breast only is commended. The first that invented an
Aviary in which to shut up all kinds of Fowls, was M. Lenius

1 The Scops is described by ^Elian (B. xv. ch. xxviii.) as a very small-
eared owl, of a lead colour, with white spots. The ridiculous gesticu-
lations which were doubted by Pliny, are affirmed by ^Elian ; who says
that fowlers imitated them, and by so doing attracted its attention, and
succeeded in catching it. -Wern. Club.

BOOK X.] History of Nature. 239

Strabo, of the Equestrian order, at Brundusium. And by
his Example we began to confine Animals within Prisons ;^
to which Creatures Nature had assigned the wide Air.

Of jEsop's Platter.

BUT in this Relation the most distinguished is the
Platter of Clodius JEsopus, the Actor of Tragedies ; which
was valued at six hundred Sestertia. 1 In this he served up
all kind of Birds remarkable for Song or capable of human
Speech ; and they cost him six hundred Sesterces a-piece.
And it was no Pleasure that guided him in this, beyond the
Fact that he would eat the Imitators of Man : without any
Consideration that, in Truth, all his own rich Revenues had
been procured by his Tongue : a Father verily worthy of a
Son who, as we said before, devoured those Pearls. 2 And,
to speak the Truth, it is hard to judge which of the two
committed the greatest Baseness ; unless that it is less to
sup on the greatest Riches of Nature than on Men's


The Generation of Birds ; and besides Birds, what four-
footed Beasts lay Eggs.

THE Generation of Birds seemeth to be simple ; and yet
therein are to be found some wonderful Things. For four-
footed Animals also produce Eggs ; as Chamaeleons, Lizards,
and such as we named among Serpents. Of Fowls, those
that have hooked Claws are less fertile, and among these,
only the Cenchris layeth above four. Nature hath assigned
this to the Class of Fowls, that the Powerful should be less
fruitful than those which fly from the others. Struthio
Cameli (Ostriches), Gallinae (Hens), Perdices (Partridges),

1 600,000 sestertii, 150,000 denarii.
See B. ix. ch. xxxv. Wern. CM.

240 History of Nature. [BooK X .

and Sali, 1 are great layers. Their Embrace is performed two
Ways: for either the Female croucheth to the Ground, as do
the Hens ; or they stand up, as the Cranes. Of Eggs, some
are white, as those of Doves and Partridges; others are pale,
as those of Water-fowl : some spotted, as in the Turkey-
hens (Meleager), others, again, reddish ; as those of Phea-
sants (Phasiani), and Cenchrides.

All Birds' Eggs within the Shell are of two Colours. In
Water-fowls, the Yolk is more than the White, and the same
is more duskish than in others. The Eggs of Fishes are of
one Colour, and in them there is no White. Birds' Eggs are
brittle, by reason of the Heat : Serpents' Eggs are more
tough, because of the Cold : but those of Fishes are soft,
from the Liquid. Those of such Creatures as live in Water
are round : others are, for the most part, pointed at the top.
Birds lay their Eggs with the roundest End foremost : the
Shell being soft; but presently they harden according as the
Portions protrude. Horatius Flaccus is of opinion, that the
longer the Egg is, the better they taste. The rounder Eggs
produce Hens, the others yield Cocks. The Navel of the Egg
is beneath the top ; or it is a prominent Drop in the Shell.


The Propagation of Eggs : the Sitting of Birds, and their
manner of Embrace.

SOME Birds associate in breeding at all Times of the


Year, as the Barn-door Fowls ; and they lay with only the
Intermission of two Months in Mid-winter. Of those, Pul-
lets lay more than old Hens, but the Eggs are less, espe-
cially the first and last. So fruitful are they, that some of
them will lay threescore Eggs: some lay every Day; others,
twice a Day : and some will so over-lay, that they become
worn out, and die. The Hens called Hadrianae are ac-
counted best. Doves (Columbse) lay ten Times in the Year,
and sometimes eleven : and in Egypt they continue even in

1 What these are seems uncertain. Holland supposed them Linnets.
Wern. Club.








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