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Of Sudden Blasts.

Now will we speak of sudden Blasts : which being raised
(as hath been said before) by Exhalations of the Earth, and
cast down again, in the meanwhile appear of many Fashions,
enclosed within a thin Course of Clouds. For such as be wan-
dering and rushing in Manner of Land-floods (as some Men
were of opinion, as we have shewed), bring forth Thunder
and Lightning. But if they come with a greater Force and
Violence, and cleave a dry Cloud asunder, they breed a
Storm, which of the Greeks is called Ecnephias: but if the
Breach be not great, so that the Wind be constrained to re-
volve in his Descent without Fire, that is to say, Lightning,
it makes a Whirlwind called Typhon, that is to say, the
vibrated Ecnephias. This snatches with it a Piece broken
out of a congealed cold Cloud, turning and rolling it round,
and with that Weight inaketh its own Fall more heavy, and
changeth from Place to Place with a vehement Whirling.
It is the greatest Danger that Sailors have, breaking not
only their Yards, but also wrecking the very Ships to twisted
Fragments : and yet a small Matter is the Remedy for it,
namely, the casting of Vinegar out against it as it cometh ;
which is of very cold Nature. The same Storm beating upon
a Thing is itself smitten back again with Violence, and
snatcheth up whatever it meeteth in the Way aloft into the
Sky, carrying it back, and swallowing it up on high. But if
it break out from a greater Hole of the said Cloud, by it so

1 This space of time came round at the beginning of every fifth year ;
at which period, originally, the census was taken, and the taxes fixed
until the recurrence of the same period. Wern. Club.

88 History of Nature. [BOOK II.

borne down, and yet not altogether so broad, as the above-
named Storm Procella doth, nor without a Crack, they call
this boisterous Wind Turbo, which overthroweth all that is near
it. The same, if it be more hot and catching Fire as it rageth,
is named Prester; burning and laying along whatsoever it


Other prodigious Kinds of Tempests.

No Typhon cometh from the North, nor any Ecnephias
with Snow, or while Snow lieth on the Ground. If this tem-
pestuous Wind when it broke the Cloud, burned fiercely,
having Fire of its own before, and catched it not afterward,
it is true Lightning; and diifereth from Prester only as Flame
from a Coal of Fire. Again, Prester spreadeth widely with a
Flash ; the other gathereth into a Globe with Violence. Vor-
tex differeth from Turben in flying back : and as much as a
Crash from a Crack. The Storm Procella differs from them
both in Breadth, and rather scattereth than breaketh the
Cloud. There riseth also a dark Mist, resembling a mon-
strous Beast ; and this is ever a terrible Cloud to Sailors.
Another, likewise, is called a Pillar 1 , when the Humour is so
thick and congealed that it standeth compact of itself. Of
the same Sort also is that Cloud which draweth Water to it,
as it were, into a long Pipe.

In what Lands Lightnings fall not.

IK Winter and Summer seldom are there any Lightnings,
because of contrary Causes : for in Winter the Air is con-
densed, and thickened with a deeper Course of Clouds : and all
the Exhalations from the Earth being chilled and frozen hard,
extinguish what fiery Vapour soever otherwise they receive :
which is the Reason that Scythia, and other frozen Countries

1 The Author clearly means what, in modern times, is denominated a
Water-spout : a phenomenon not uncommon in the Mediterranean Sea,
and in other warm climates ; but exceedingly rare, if at all occurring, in
northern regions. Wern. Club.

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 89

thereabout, are free from Lightnings. And Egypt 1 , likewise,
from a contrary Cause, is exempt from Lightnings, the Rea-
son being its excessive Heat : for the hot and dry Exhalations
of the Earth gather into very slender, thin, and weak Clouds.
But in the Spring and Autumn, Lightnings are more rife ;
because in both those Seasons the Causes as well of Summer
as Winter are corrupt. And this is the Reason that Light-
nings are common in Italy ; for the Air being more mov-
able, by Reason of a milder Winter and a cloudy Summer, is
always of the Temperature of Spring or Autumn. In those
Parts, also, of Italy, which lie off from the North, and in-
cline to Warmth (as, namely, in the Tract about Rome and
Campania), there is Lightning in Winter and Summer alike,
which happeneth in no other Part thereof.

Sundry Sorts of Lightnings, and Wonders thereof.

VERY many Kinds of Lightning are set down by Authors.
Those that come dry burn not, but only disperse. They that
come moist do not burn, but blast and embrown. A third
Kind there is, which they call Bright and Clear; and that is
of a wonderful Nature, whereby Tuns are drawn dry, and
their Sides, Hoops, and Heads never touched, nor any other
Token thereof is left behind. Gold, Copper, and Silver 2 are

1 The circumstance that Egypt is naturally exempt from lightning,
must have greatly heightened the terrors of the Seventh Plague with
which God visited this land in the days of the Exodus. But though
very rare, thunder and lightning are not unknown in Egypt, at least
in modern times. Thevenot mentions a man who was killed by light-
ning at Cairo, when he was there ; but such a circumstance had never
been known before. Rain, and even hail, have also been seen; but
all these phenomena are less severe than in other countries. Wern.

2 The facts here mentioned must have appeared as unaccountable as
stupendous, before the modern discoveries of Franklin and others, relative
to the attractions of the electric fluid : the existence of which, as an agent
of Nature, was not dreamt of in the philosophy of Pliny and the ancient
observers. Wern. Club.

90 History of Nature. [BoOK II.

melted in the Bags, and the Bags themselves unscorcbed ;
and not even the Wax of the Seal defaced. Martia, a noble
Lady of Rome, being great with Child, was struck with
Lightning : the Child she went with was killed within her,
and she survived without any Harm. Among the Catiline
Prodigies it is found upon Record, that M. Herennius (a
Counsellor of the incorporate Town Pompeianum) was in a
fair and clear Day smitten with Lightning.

Of Observations touching Lightning.

IT is held in the Writings of the ancient Tuscans 1 , that
there be nine Gods that send forth Lightnings, and those
of eleven Sorts : for Jupiter (say they) casteth three at once.
The Romans have observed two of them, and no more; attri-
buting those in the Day-time to Jupiter, and those of the
Night to Summanus or Pluto. And these verily be more
rare, for the Cause before-named ; namely, the Coldness
of the Air above. In Etruria, they suppose that some
Lightnings break out of the Earth, which they call Infera,
or Infernal ; and such be made in Midwinter. And these
they take to be earthly, and of all most mischievous and exe-
crable : neither be those general and universal Lightnings,
nor proceeding from the Stars, but from a very near and
more troubled Cause. And this is an evident Argument
for Distinction, that all such as fall from the upper Sky strike
obliquely : but those which they call earthly, smite straight.
But the Reason why these are thought to issue from the
Earth is, because they fall from out of a Matter nearer to
the Earth ; forasmuch as they leave no Marks of a Stroke

1 This people was famed for the study of prognostications from natural
appearances : an art they had probably derived from Egypt or Assyria,
and which the neighbouring nations learned from them. It consisted in
minutely observing every unusual occurrence, and in deducing thence,
according to rules known only to the proper authorities, the will of the
gods, or the indications of a fixed necessity. This science is farther spoken
of in the seventh book. Wern. Club.

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 91

behind: which are occasioned by Force not from beneath,
but coming full against. Such as have searched more closely
into these Matters are of opinion that these Lightnings
come from the Planet Saturn, as the burning Lightning from
Mars; and with such Lightning was Volsinii (a very wealthy
City of the Tuscans), entirely burnt to Ashes. The Tuscans
call those Lightnings familiar which presage the Fortune
of some Race, and are significant during their whole Life ;
and such are they that come first to any Man, after he is
newly entered into his own Family. However, their Judg-
ment is, that these private Lightnings do not portend for
above ten Years : unless they happen either upon the Day of
first Marriage, or on a Birth-day. Public Lightnings be not
of Force above thirty Years, except they chance at the very
Time that Towns or Colonies be erected and planted.

Of calling out Lightnings.

IT appeareth upon Record in Chronicles, that by certain
Sacrifices and Prayers 1 , Lightnings may be either compelled

1 There are many proofs of imposture in these ancient ceremonies ; but
when modern science is able to produce some of the effects ascribed to
these Etrurian priests, it seems just to conclude that they may have pos-
sessed the secret of a method of drawing the electric fluid from the sky.
The danger attending a failure in the requisite proceedings, as in the case
of Tullius Hostilius, would necessarily confine the practice to an instructed
few ; whose credit for sanctity would, therefore, be highly exalted. Ovid,
in his third book of the " Fasti," obscurely intimates the acquaintance of
Numa with such arts :

" Jupiter hue veniet, valida perductus ab arte . . .

.... quid agant, quae carmina dicant,
Quoque trahant superis sedibus arte Jovem."

" To thee, by powerful art compelled,
Shall Jupiter approach . . .

.... And then they tell

What deeds, what powerful charms, the Man must use,
To draw the God compell'd from seats above."

The secret consisted in Numa's being a scholar of Pythagoras, and studying
" Quae sit rerum Natura."

Wern. Club.

92 History of Nature. [BooK II.

or obtained by Entreaty. There is an ancient Report in
Etruria, that such a Lightning was procured by Entreaty,
when there entered into the City Volsinii (after all the Terri-
tory about it was destroyed) a Monster, which they named
Volta. Also, that another was called forth by P or senna,
their King. Moreover, L. Piso (a Writer of good Credit)
reporteth in his first Book of Annals, that Numa before him
performed the same Act many a Time : and when Tullius
Hostilius would have imitated him (for that he observed not
all the Ceremonies accordingly), he was himself struck with
Lightning. And for this Purpose, we have sacred Groves,
Altars, and Sacrifices. And among the Jupiters surnamed
Statores, Tonantes, and Peretrii, we have heard that one
also was called Elicius. Men's Opinions are various con-
cerning this Point, and every Man according to his own
Liking. To believe that Nature may be compelled, is a very
audacious Opinion : but it is as senseless on the other Side
to make her Benefits of no effect ; considering that in the
Interpretation of Lightning, Science hath thus far proceeded
as to foretell when they will come at a prescribed Day : and
whether they will frustrate the Dangers pronounced, or
rather open other Destinies, which lie hidden in innumerable
public and private Experiments of both Kinds. And there-
fore (since it hath so pleased Nature) let some of these Things
be certain, others doubtful : some proved, and others con-
demned. As for us, we will not omit the Rest which in
these Matters are worth Remembrance.

General Rules of Lightning.

THAT the Lightning is seen before the Thunderclap is
heard, although they come indeed jointly together, is cer-
tain. And no Wonder, for Light is more rapid than Sound.
And yet Nature doth so modulate, that the Stroke and
Sound shall accord together. But when there is a Noise 1 ,

1 Ovid refers to this also, as the popular opinion. But silent lightning
in a clear sky was judged to be unaccountable, except as coming from the
gods. Hence Horace, though disposed to the doctrines of Epicurus, found

BOOK 1 1 .] History of Nature. 93

it is a Sign of the Lightning proceeding of some natural
Cause, and not sent by some God : and yet a Breath cometh
before the Thunderbolt : and hereupon it is, that every Thing
is shaken and blasted before it is smitten : neither is any
Man struck, who either saw the Lightning before, or heard
the Thunderclap. Those Lightnings that are on the left
Hand are supposed to be prosperous, for that the East is the
left Side of the World : but the Coming thereof is not so
much regarded as the Return : whether it be that the Fire
leap back after the Stroke given ; or whether after the Deed
done and Fire spent, the Spirit abovesaid retire back again.
In that respect the Tuscans have divided the Heaven into
sixteen Parts. The first is from the North to the Sun's
Rising in the Equinoctial Line : the second, to the Meridian
Line, or the South : the third, to the Sun-setting in the
Equinoctial : and the fourth taketh up all the Rest from the
said West to the North Star. These Quarters again they
have parted each into four Regions : of which eight from the
Sun-rising they called the Left ; and as many again from
the contrary Part, the Right. Those Lightnings are most
dreadful which from the Sun-setting reach into the North :
and therefore it is of much importance from whence Light-
nings come, and whither they go : the best Thing observed
in them, is when they return into the easterly Parts. And,
therefore, when they come from that principal Part of the
Sky, and return again into the same, it portends the highest
Good : and such was the Sign given (by report) to Sylla
the Dictator. In all other Parts of the World, they be less
fortunate or dreadful. They believe that there be Light-
nings, which to utter abroad is held unlawful ; as also is to
give Ear unto them, unless they be declared either to Parents
or to a Friend. How great is the Folly of this Observation
was found at Rome upon the blasting of Juno's Temple by
Scaurus, the Consul, who soon after was President of the
Senate. It lightneth without Thunder, more in the Night

his confidence staggered by this phenomenon ; and Suetonius informs us,
that it was viewed by Titus as a portent of evil to himself, just before his
death; and his spirits became proportionally depressed. Wern. Club.

94 History of Nature. [BoOK II.

than by Day. Of all Creatures, Man only it doth not always
kill ; the Rest it despatcheth instantly. This Honour we see
Nature hath given to him ; whereas many great Beasts sur-
pass him in Strength. All other Creatures smitten with
Lightning fall down upon the contrary Side ; Man only (un-
less he turn upon the Parts stricken) dieth not. Those that
are smitten from above upon the Head, sink down directly.
He that is struck watching, is found dead with his Eyes close
shut: but whoever is smitten sleeping, is found with his Eyes
open. A Man thus coming by his Death, may not by Law
be burned : Religion hath taught that he ought to be buried
in the Earth. No living Creature is set on Fire by Light-
ning, unless it is breathless first. The Wounds of them
that be smitten with Lightning are colder than all the Body


What Things are not Smitten with Lightning.

OF all those Things which grow out of the Earth, Light-
ning blasteth not the Bay-tree ; nor doth it enter at any Time
above five Feet deep into the Ground : and, therefore, Men
fearful of Lightning, suppose the deeper Caves to be the
most safe : or else Booths made of Skins of Beasts, which
they call Sea-Calves 1 ; for of all Creatures in the Sea, this
alone is not subject to the Stroke of Lightning : like as of
all Birds, the Eagle (which for this Cause is feigned to be
the Armour-bearer of Jupiter, for this Kind of Weapon). In
Italy, between Tarracina arid the Temple of Feronia, they
gave over in Time of War to build Towers ; for not one of
them escaped being overthrown with Lightning.

1 Seals (Phocae) are the creatures here intended ; and, probably, not
any particular species. Suetonius informs us, that Augustus Caesar, who
was greatly afraid of thunder, was accustomed to carry the skin of a seal
along with him, wherever he went. Tiberius always wore a crown of
bay-leaves on his head, with the same object. Wern. Club.

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 95


Of strange and prodigious Rain 1 , of Milk, Blood, Flesh,
Iron, Wool, Tiles, and Bricks.

BESIDES these Things in this lower Region under Hea-
ven, we find recorded on Monuments that it rained Milk
and Blood when M. Acilius and C. Porcius were Consuls.
And many Times beside it rained Flesh ; as, namely, whilst
L. Volumnius and Serv. Sulpitius were Consuls : and what
of it the Fowls of the Air carried not away, never putrified.
In like Manner, it rained Iron in Lucania, the Year before
that in which M. Crassus was slain by the Parthians; and

1 A coloured mist has been mentioned, in a note to chap, xxvii. Ruysch
mentions a flight of butterflies in 1543, which sprinkled the herbage, roofs
of houses, and human clothing, with drops of their dung, like blood. A
similar circumstance in England, recorded by Pennius, was supposed
to have presaged the plague. There are sufficient modern proofs that
living fishes, frogs, and other creatures or materials, have fallen in
showers : in the former instance, remote from the sea or any great river.
These things can only be explained by supposing them to have been first
taken up by some whirlwind, or sudden gust ; and it is not unlikely that
the ashes of a volcano were the materials of some of these showers. Ovid,
by poetic license, accumulates all the bad omens on record or in tradition,
hi the alarming prognostications of the death of Julius Caesar (" Meta-
morphoses," b. xv.) ; and it may be a principal reason why Pliny specifies
the times of these occurrences, to shew that Ovid's narrative is only a
poetic fiction.

The following translation of a paragraph in the " Museum Wormi-
anum" (p. 17, De Terris Miracvlusis), is a specimen of the manner in
which such extraordinary events were regarded, even at a very modern
date : " In the year 1619, when the preposterous fashion of neck-bands,
kerchiefs, and other female ornaments of linen, dyed of cerulean blue, in-
vaded Denmark, and in spite of the remonstrances of the ministers of
God obstinately persisted, by adding pride to luxury, Almighty God,
that he might by all means declare how abhorrent this sin was to him,
and recall mortals to repentance by a miracle, in many places of Scania
rained down abundantly a kind of earth of a blue colour, very similar
to a sort sold by the dealers in spices. A small quantity of this was
given to me at the time by my good friend, Dr. Fincking, professor
of medicine at Copenhagen, &c." It probably proceeded from Hecla.
Wern. Club.

96 History of Nature. [BooK II.

together with him all the Lucani his Soldiers, of whom there
were many in his Army. That which came down in this
Rain resembled in some sort Sponges : and the Aruspices
gave Warning to take Heed of Wounds from above. But in
the Year that L. Paulus and C. Marcellus were Consuls, it
rained Wool about the Castle Carissa, near to which, a Year
after, T. Annius Milo was slain. At the Time that the same
Mito pleaded his own Cause at the Bar, there fell a Rain of
Tiles and Bricks, as is related in the Records of that Year.


Of the Rustling of Armour, and the Sound of Trumpets heard
from Heaven.

IN the Time of the Cimbrian Wars, we have been told
that Armour was heard to rustle, and the Trumpet to sound,
out of Heaven. And this happened very often, both before
and after those Wars. But in the third Consulship of
Marius, the Amerines and Tudertes saw Men in Arms in the
Sky 1 , rushing one against another, from the East and West ;
and those of the West were discomfited. That the very
Firmament itself should be on Fire is no Wonder, for often
it hath been seen when Clouds have caught any great deal
of Fire.


Of Stones falling from the Sky*.

THE Greeks greatly celebrate Anaxagoras Clazomenius,
who, by the Learning that he had in Astronomy, foretold in

1 This was probably the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights; a
phenomenon rarely seen so far to the South. It is, perhaps, the same
that is referred to by Josephus, in his narrative of the terrors sent by
God before the fatal siege of Jerusalem. The account of what was seen
in the county of Cumberland, immediately preceding the invasion of
England by the Pretender, will shew how nearly aerial appearances may
approach to realities. Wern. Club.

2 For a long time the fall from the sky, of what are denominated
Meteorolites, was deemed too preposterous to be believed ; but since the

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 97

the second Year of the Seventy-eighth Olympiad, what Time
a Stone would fall from the Sun : and the same happened
accordingly, in the Daytime, in a Part of Thracia, near the
River .ZEgos ; which Stone is shewed at this Day as big as a
Wain-load, carrying a burnt Colour : at which Time a Comet
also burned by Night. Which if any Man believe that it
was fore-signified, he must needs also confess, that this fore-
telling by Anaxagoras was more miraculous than the Thing
itself: and that it destroyed the Knowledge of Nature's
Works, and confounds all Things, if we should believe that
either the Sun were a Stone, or that ever any Stone were in
it. But, that Stones fall often, no Man will make any doubt-
In the public Place of Exercise in Abydos, there is one at
this Day upon the same Cause preserved, and held in great
Reverence : it is but of small size, yet it is reported to be the
same that Anaxagoras foretold to be about to fall in the
midst of the Earth. There is one revered also at Cassandria,
which was called Potidsea, a Colony from thence deducted.
I myself have seen another in the Territory of the Vocantians,
which was brought thither but a little before.

Of the Rainbow.

THOSE which we call Rainbows, are seen often without any
Wonder, or betokening Portent : for they foretel not so much

facts are no longer doubted, the instances recorded by Pliny become
valuable evidences of their antiquity. A still more ancient instance is
found in the Book of Joshua, x. 11, where, in the conquest of Canaan,
the Lord threw down great stones from heaven on the enemy, and dis-
comfited them. The miraculous nature of this last transaction does not
remove it from the class of natural occurrences ; for Nature itself is only
an instrument in the hands of its Creator. With regard to the prognos-
tication of Anaxagoras, it can only be taken to signify the high reputation
of this philosopber ; which led the public to believe that they could not
attribute too much to his insight into the occurrences of Nature. There
is reason to suppose that some of the images which were said to have fallen
down from Jupiter (Acts of the Apostles, xix. 35) were derived from tbis
source. Wern. Club.

98 History of Nature. [BooK 1 1 .

as rainy or fair Days, in a Manner that we can trust them.
But it is manifest that the Sunbeams striking upon an hollow
Cloud, when their Edge is repelled, are beaten back against
the Sun : and thus ariseth a Variety of Colours by the Mix-
ture of Clouds, Air, and fiery Light. Certainly, they never
are known but opposite to the Sun ; nor at any Time other-
wise than in Form of a Semicircle ; nor yet in the Night
Season, although Aristotle saith 1 there was a Rainbow seen
by Night : however he confesseth, that it could not possibly
be but at the full of the Moon. They happen for the most
Part in Winter, chiefly from the Autumnal Equinox, as the
Days decrease. But as Days grow longer after the Spring
Equinox, they be not seen, no more than about the Summer
Solstice, when the Days are longest. But in Bruma, that is
to say, when they be shortest, they appear often. The same
appear aloft when the Sun is low ; and below, when he is
aloft. Also, they be of narrower Compass when the Sun
either riseth or setteth, but their Body spreadeth broad : and
at Noon they are narrower, but wider in Circumference. In
Summer they be not seen about Noon, but after the Autumnal
Equinox at all hours ; and never more than two at once.
The Rest of the same Nature, I see few Men do make any
doubt of.

Of Hail , Snow, Frost, Mist, and Dew.

HAIL is formed of Rain, congealed into Ice : and Snow

Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 8 of 60)