the Elder Pliny.

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

. (page 9 of 60)
Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 9 of 60)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of the same Humour grown together, but not so hard. Frost
is made of Dew frozen. In Winter Snows fall, and not Hail.
It haileth oftener in the Daytime than in the Night ; yet Hail
sooner melteth by far than Snow. Mists be not seen either
in Summer, or in very cold Weather. Dews shew not either
in Frost or in hot Seasons, neither when there is Wind ; but

1 A rainbow by night is so far from being rare, that it is only
the difference of climate that will explain why Aristotle and Pliny
speak so doubtfully about it. It is usually void of colour. Wern.

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 99

only after a calm and clear Night. Frosts dry up moisture ;
for when the Ice is thawed the like Proportion of Water is
not found.


Of the Shapes of Clouds.

A VARIETY of Colours and Shapes are seen in Clouds,
according as the Fire intermingled therein is either more or

Of the Properties of Weather in various Places.

MOREOVER there are many Properties of the Weather
peculiar to certain Places. The Nights in Africa be dewy in
Winter; in Italy, about Locri and the Lake Velinus, there is
not a Day but a Rainbow is seen. At Rhodes and Syracuse,
the Air is never so cloudy, but one Hour or other the Sun
shineth out. But such Things as these shall be related more
fitly in due Place. Thus much of the Air.

Of the Nature of the Earth.

THE Earth followeth next : unto which alone of all Parts
of the World, for her especial Benefits, we have given the
reverend Name of Mother 1 . For like as the Heaven is the

1 The earth was so commonly termed Mother by Greek and Roman
writers, in prose and verse, that it is unnecessary to refer to particular in-
stances. And it is not to be regarded as merely a poetic metaphor or
idle declamation, for it was their belief that the earliest origin of mankind
was from the ground, by an inherent property ; as explained by Lucre-
tius in his Second Book on the " Nature of Things : " so that each primi-
tive nation arose from its own soil. And even the renewal of the earth
with inhabitants after the flood, from the stones cast by Deucalion and
Pyrrha, was not popularly regarded as a fable ; although it is probable
that a mystical meaning was also supposed to be couched in the narrative.
But by Pliny this idea of maternity was extended more widely through
his adoption of the Pythagorean notion of the earth's being a living

100 History of Nature. [BooK 11.

(Mother) of God, even so is she of Men. She it is that
taketh us when we are coming into the World, nourisheth us
when we are new born : and once being come abroad, ever
sustaiueth us: and at the last, when we are rejected of all
the World besides, she embraceth us : then most of all, like
a kind Mother, she covereth us all over in her Bosom : by
no Merit more sacred than by it, wherewith she maketh us
sacred ! ; even bearing our Tombs and Titles, continuing our
Name, and extending our Memory against the Shortness of
our Age: whose last Power we, in our Anger, wish to be
heavy unto our Enemy 2 , and yet she is heavy to none; as if
we were ignorant that she alone is never angry with any
Man. Waters ascend into Clouds; they harden into Hail,
swell into Waves, and hasten headlong into Torrents. The
Air is thickened into Clouds, and rageth with Storms. But
She is bountiful, mild, and indulgent ; ready at all Times to
attend, as a Handmaid, upon the Good of Mortals. See
what she breeds being forced ! nay, what she yieldeth of her
own accord ! what odoriferous Smells, and pleasant Tastes !
what Juices, what soft Things, what Colours ! how faithfully
doth she repay, with Usury, that which was credited out unto
her ! Finally, what Things doth she nourish for our sake !
for hurtful Creatures, when the vital Breath was to blame in
giving them Life, she could not refuse to receive, after they

being; and as such, feeling and producing, by a kind of intelligence,
all the effects of pleasure or pain that can be ascribed to a sensitive being.
Wern. Club.

1 To few things were the ancients more sensitive than to the honour
or unhappiness of interment after death. In various parts of the sacred
Scriptures the exposure of the inanimate body is threatened as a dreadful
calamity ; as in the instance of Goliath to David (1 Sam. xvii. 44) ; and
its infliction was felt to be a reproach, by both Israelites and Philistines,
in the case of Saul (1 Sam. xxxi. 12, 13). The instance of Elpenor, in the
eleventh book of the " Odyssey," and of Antigone, in the celebrated
Greek play of " Sophocles," are proofs how strongly the same feeling
existed in Greece. An ancient law of the Romans said : " Where the
body is interred, let the spot be sacred." Wern. Club.

a " Sit tibi terra levis" was the earnestly expressed wish of the Romans
over the ashes of their friends ; and that it might lie heavy on their foes,
was an equally grave denunciation. Wern. Club.

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 101

were sown in her ; and being once bred, to sustain them.
That they proved venomous the Fault was to be laid upon
the Parents that engendered them, and not to her. For she
entertaineth no more a Serpent l after it hath stung a Man :
nay, she requireth punishment for them that are slow and
negligent of themselves to seek it. She bringeth forth mecli-
cinable Herbs, and evermore produces Something good for
Man. Moreover, it may be believed, that in compassion to
us, she appointed Poisons 2 , that when we were weary of Life,
cursed Famine (most adverse of all others to the Merits of
the Earth) should not consume us with pining Consump-
tion ; that lofty Precipices should not dash our Bodies to
pieces ; nor the preposterous Punishment by the Halter dis-
tort our Necks, and stop that Breath which we seek to be rid
of: last of all, that we might not seek our Death in the Sea,
and so be Food for Fishes ; nor yet the Edge of the Sword
mangle our Body, and so inflict extreme Pain. It is, there-
fore, in Compassion to us that she hath brought forth that
by which, in one gentle and easy Draught, we might die
without any Hurt of our Body, and without diminishing one
Drop of our Blood : without grievous Pain, and like them
that be athirst: that being in this Manner dead, neither
Fowl of the Air, nor wild Beast, prey upon our Bodies, but

1 We have not met with any thing to support this strange opinion of
Pliny, unless the following from Sir T. Browne's " Vulgar Errors " may
be thought to do so : " Some veins of the earth, and also whole regions,
not only destroy the life of venomous creatures, but also prevent their
productions." Wern. Club.

2 It was among the most awful of the customs of the Heathen, that
suicide was resorted to by even the most excellent men, on very slight
occasions. Not only are there instances where diseases of no great
severity were regarded as authorising this last resource, but on the least
disappointment or failure of success in a public undertaking it was consi-
dered as a point of honour, and an instance of commendable courage ; of
which the case of the illustrious stoic Brutus, at Philippi, is an eminent
instance. Pliny seems not to have imagined that no substance in nature
is really a poison, and that the plants and minerals so denominated are
only injurious when wrongly or too powerfully administered ; their more
concentrated strength, when properly used, only rendering them the
better instruments of good. Wern. Club.

102 History of Nature. [BooK II.

that he should be reserved for the Earth, who perished by
himself and for himself: and, to confess the Truth, the Earth
had bred the Remedy of all Miseries, however we have
made it a Poison to our Life. For in the same Manner we
also employ Iron, which we cannot possibly be without. And
yet we should not do justly to complain, if she had brought
it forth to do hurt. Surely to this only Part of Nature we
are unthankful, as though she served not Man's Turn for all
Dainties ; not for Reproach to be misused. She is thrown
into the Sea, or to let in Arms of the Sea, eaten away with
Water. With Iron Tools, with Wood, Fire, Stone, Burthens
of Corn, she is tormented every Hour : and all this much
more for our Pleasures than to serve us with Food and
Necessaries. And yet these Misusages which she abideth
above, and in her outward Skin, may seem in some Sort
tolerable. But we pierce into her very Bowels in search of
Veins of Gold and Silver, Copper and Lead. And to seek
out Gems and some little Stones, we sink Pits deep in the
Ground. Thus we pluck the very Bowels from her to wear
on our Finger one Gem to fulfil our Pleasure, How many
Hands are worn with digging, that one Joint of our Finger
may shine ! Surely, if there were any infernal Spirits be-
neath, ere this Time these Mines (to feed Covetousness and
Luxury) would have brought them above Ground. Do we
wonder, then, if she hath brought forth some Things hurt-
ful ? But savage Beasts (I think) preserve her ; they keep
sacrilegious Hands from doing her Injury. Dig we not
amongst Dragons and Serpents ? and, together with Veins of
Gold, handle we not the Roots of poisonous Herbs ? Never-
theless, this Goddess we find the more appeased for all this
Misusage, because the End of all this Wealth tendeth to
Wickedness, to Murders, and Wars, and her whom we
drench with our Blood, we cover also with unburied Bones.
Which, nevertheless, as if she did reproach us for this Fury,
she herself covereth in the End, and hideth even the Wick-
edness of Mortals. Among other Imputations of an un-
thankful Mind, I may allege this also, that we be ignorant
of her Nature.

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 103

Of the Form of the Earth.

THE first Thing that offereth itself to be considered, is
her Figure, in which by a general Consent we all agree.
For surely we utter nothing more commonly than the round
Ball 1 of the Earth ; and confess that it is a Globe enclosed
within two Poles. But yet the Form is not that of a perfect
Globe, considering so great Height of Mountains, and such
Extent of Plains; nevertheless, if the Compass thereof might
be taken by Lines, the End of those Lines would meet just
in Circuit, and prove the Figure to be an accurate Circle.
And this the very Consideration of natural Reason doth
convince, although there were not those Causes which we
alleged about the Heaven. For in it the hollow Convexity
declineth upon itself, and on every Side resteth upon the
Centre thereof, which is that of the Earth. But this being
solid and compact, ariseth as if it swelled, and is stretched
without. The Heaven inclineth toward the Centre, but the
Earth goeth from the Centre ; whilst the World, with con-
tinual Volubility and turning about it, driveth the huge
Globe thereof into the Form of a round Ball.

1 The Egyptian Cosmogony, as delivered by Diodorus Siculus, de-
scribes the earth as "rolled within itself, and turned continually;" although
a subsequent idea was founded on its being merely an extended surface,
where the earth was inclosed within a field of waters, which was again
encompassed with darkness and impenetrable mist. But after what
Pliny has said in this, and the immediately following chapters, on the
form of the earth, and the proofs he has given of its being a globe, it
seems surprising that a contrary opinion should have prevailed, even to
comparatively modern times; and especially among men accustomed to
regard every thing delivered by the ancients as unquestionably true. This
perversity can only be accounted for by having made a religious dogma
of the contrary idea, on the authority of some ill-understood passages of
Scripture. Wern. Club.

104 History of Nature. [BooK II.


Of the Antipodes, whether there be any such. Also of the
Roundness of Water.

THERE is here great Debate between learned Men ; and
contrariwise of the ignorant Multitude : for they hold, that
Men are overspread on all Parts upon the Earth, and stand
one against another, Foot to Foot : also that the Summit of
the Heaven is alike unto all : and in what Part soever Men
be, they still tread after the same Manner in the midst. But
the common Sort ask, How, then, it happeneth, that they
who are opposite against us, do not fall into Heaven ? as if
there were not a Reason also ready, That the Antipodes
again should wonder why we also fell not off? Now there is
Reason that cometh between, carrying a Probability with it,
even to the untaught Multitude, that in a Globe of the Earth,
with many Ascents, as if its Figure resembled a Nut of the
Pine Tree; yet, nevertheless, it may be well inhabited in
every Place. But what Good doth all this, when another
great Wonder ariseth ? namely, that itself hangeth, and
falleth not with us: as if the Power of that Spirit 1 especially
enclosed in the World were doubted: or that any Thing
could fall when Nature is repugnant thereto, and affordeth
no Place whither to fall : for as there is no Seat of Fire, but
in Fire ; of Water, but in Water ; of Air and Spirit, but in
Air ; even so there is no Room for Earth but in Earth, see-
ing all the Elements besides are ready to repel it from them.
Nevertheless, it is wonderful still how it should become a
Globe, considering so great Flatness of Plains and Seas. Of
which Opinion, Dicearchus (a Man of the first Rank in
Learning,) is a Favourer ; who, to satisfy the curious Inquiry
of Kings, had a Commission to take the Measure of Moun-
tains : of which he said that Pelion, the highest, was a Mile-
and-a-half high by the Plumb-line; and collected thereby,

1 What we now know to arise from the power of gravity, Pliny as-
cribes to the Anima Mundi, or vivifying effect of the soul of the world ;
with him, an answer to all difficulties. Wern. Club.

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 1 05

that its Proportion was Nothing in Comparison of the uni-
versal Rotundity of the Whole. But to me this was an
uncertain Guess of his, since I am not ignorant that certain
Tops of the Alps, for a long Tract, arise not under fifty Miles
in Height.

But this is it that the common People resist the most, if
they should be forced to believe that the Form of Water also
gathereth itself round at the Top. And yet there is Nothing
in the Nature of Things more evident to the Sight ; for the
Drops every where, not only as they hang, appear like little
round Balls ; but also if they light upon Dust, or rest upon
the Down of Leaves, we see them keep a perfect Roundness.
Also in Cups that are filled brimful, the middle Part in the
Top swelleth most. Which Things, considering the Thinness
of the Fluid, and its Softness settling upon itself, are sooner
found out by Reason than the Eye. And this is more won-
derful, that when Cups are filled to the full, if a very little
more Liquor be added, the overplus will run over all about :
but it falleth out the contrary, if you put in any solid
Weights, even if it were to the Weight of Twenty Denarii.
The Reason is, that Things received within, lift up the Li-
quor aloft to the Top, but poured upon the Tumour that
beareth aloft above the Edges, it must needs glide off. The
same is the Reason why the Land cannot be seen by them
that stand on the Deck of a Ship, but very plainly at the
same time from the Top of the Masts. Also as a Ship goeth
off from the Land, if any Thing that shineth be fastened on
the Top of the Mast, it seemeth to go down into the Sea by
little and little, until at last it is hidden entirely. Last of
all, the very Ocean, which we confess to be the utmost Bound
environing the whole Globe : by what other Figure could it
hold together, since there is no Bank beyond it to keep it
in? And this also cometh to be a Wonder how it happeneth,
although the Sea grow to be round, that the utmost Edge
thereof falleth not down ? Against which, if that the Seas
were plain, and of the Form they seem to be, the Greek
Philosophers, to their own great Joy and Glory, prove by
geometrical Demonstration, that it cannot possibly be that
the Water should fall. For seeing that Waters run naturally

106 History of Nature. [BOOK II.

from above to the lower Parts, and that all Men confess that
this is their Nature, and no Man doubteth that the Water of
the Sea hath always come on any Shore so far as the Sloping
would have suffered : doubtless it appeareth, that the lower
a Thing is, the nearer it is to the Centre ; and that all the
Lines which from thence are sent out to the next Waters, are
shorter than those which from the first Waters reach to the
utmost Extremity of the Sea. Hereupon the whole Water,
from every Part thereof, bendeth to the Centre, and there-
fore falleth not away, because it inclineth naturally to the
inner Parts. And this we must believe, that Nature, the
Work-mistress, framed it so : to the End that the Earth,
which being dry could not by itself, without some Moisture,
keep any Consistence ; and the Fluid, likewise, which could
not abide, unless the Earth upheld it, might mutually em-
brace one another ; the one opening all the Creeks, and the
other running wholly into the other, by the Means of secret
Veins within, without, and above, like Bands to clasp it ;
yea, and so break out at the Tops of the Hills : whither
being partly carried by a Spirit, and partly expressed by the
Weight of the Earth, it mounteth, as it were, in Pipes : and
so far is it from Danger of falling away, that it leapeth up
to the highest and loftiest Things. By which Reason it is
evident, why the Seas do not increase, although so many
Rivers daily run into them.

How the Water is united to the Earth.

THE Earth, therefore, in its whole Globe, is in the midst
thereof hemmed in with the Sea, that flows round about it.
And this needeth not to be sought out by Argument, for it is
known already by Experience.

Navigation upon the Sea and great Rivers.

FROM Gades and the Pillars of Hercules, the whole of the
West Sea is at this Day sailed over in the whole Compass of

BOOK 1 1 .] History of Nature. 107

Spain and France. But the North Ocean was for the most
Part discovered, under the Conduct of Divus Augustus
Casar 1 , who, with a Fleet, compassed Germany, and as far
as to the Cape of the Cimbrians : and from thence having
viewed the vast Sea, or taken Knowledge thereof by Report,
he passed to the Scythian Climate and those cold Coasts
abounding with too much Moisture. For which Cause tKere
is no likelihood, that in those Parts the Seas are at an End,
where the Power of Moisture predominates. And near it,
from the East, out of the Indian Sea, that whole Part under
the same Clime which bendeth toward the Caspian Sea, was
sailed throughout by the Macedonian Armies, when Seleucus
and Antiochus reigned, who commanded that Seleucida
and Antiochida should bear their Names. About the Caspian
Sea, also, many Coasts of the Ocean have been discovered ;
and by Piecemeal, rather than all at once, the North of one
Side or other hath been sailed or rowed over. But to put
all out of Conjecture, there is a great Argument collected by
the Palus Maeotis, whether it be a Gulf of that Ocean (as
many have believed) or an overflowing of the same, divided
from it by a narrow Piece of the Continent. In another Side
of Gades, from the same, West, a great Part of the South
Gulf, round about Mauritania, is at this Day sailed. And,
indeed, the greater Part of it, as well as of the East, also the
Victories of Alexander the Great encompassed on every Side,
as far as to the Arabian Gulf. Wherein, when Cams Ccesar
the son of Augustus warred in those Parts, the Marks are
reported to have been seen remaining from the Spaniards'
Shipwreck. Hanno, likewise, in the Time that the Power of
Carthage flourished, sailed round from Gades to the utmost
Bounds of Arabia 2 , and set down that Voyage in Writing :

1 This can only refer to an expedition, mentioned by Suetonius in his
life of the Emperor Claudius, of Drusus, the son of Livia ; who, while
commanding in the Rhetian and German wars, was the first of the Romans
that navigated the Northern Ocean. Wem. Club.

2 The only fragment of the geographical knowledge of the Cartha-
ginians that has come down to our times is the " Periplus" of Hanno. It
is printed in Hudson's " Geographic Veteris Scriptores Graeciae," 4 vols.

108 History of Nature. [BooK II.

like as also Himilco, at the same Time, was sent out to dis-
cover the remote Coasts of Europe. Moreover, Cornelius
Nepos writeth, that in his Time a certain Eudoxus 1 , when he
fled from King Lathyrus, departed out of the Arabian Gulf,

8vo. Leipsic ; and has been investigated by three competent geographers.
First, by Bougainville, who conceives Hanno to have reached the Gulf of
Benin ; next, by Major Rennell, who carries his course only to a little
beyond Sierra Leone ; and lastly, by M. Gosselin, who insists upon termi-
nating it about the river Nun. According to these authorities, Pliny has
greatly extended the voyage of Hanno, when he says he reached the utmost
bounds of Arabia. Herodotus does not seem to have been informed of this
voyage of Hanno, he merely says (" Melpomene," xliii.) : " The Cartha-
ginians affirm, that they ascertained that Libya is surrounded by the sea."
Wern. Club.

1 Strabo has thrown some discredit on the voyage of Eudoxus to make
the circuit of Africa : but he does not seem to adduce any argument strong
enough to controvert the general belief of antiquity, that repeated at-
tempts were made by Eudoxus to explore the unknown coasts of the
African continent. He was a native of Cyzicus, and employed first by
Ptolemy Euergetes, and afterwards at his own instigation, in several
maritime expeditions. A digest of the narratives of Strabo respecting
these voyages of Eudoxus, may be seen in Murray's " Encyclopedia of
Geography," p. 14.

That the circumnavigation of Africa was really accomplished, even
prior to the time of Herodotus, we learn from " Melpomene," xlii. " For
Libya is clearly surrounded by the sea, except so much of it as borders on
Asia ; this, Neco, king of the Egyptians, was the first we know of to
demonstrate. That prince, having ceased his excavations for the canal
leading out of the Nile into the Arabian Gulf, despatched certain natives
of Phoenicia on shipboard, with orders to sail back through the Pillars
of Hercules, even into the North Sea, and so make good their return into
Egypt. The Phosnicians of consequence having departed out of the Ery-
threan Sea, proceeded on their voyage in the Southern Sea : when it was
autumn, they would push ashore, and sowing the land, whatever might
be the part of Libya they had reached, await the harvest time : having
reaped their corn, they used to continue their voyage : thus, after the
lapse of two years, having in the third doubled the Pillars of Hercules,
they came back into Egypt ; and stated what is not credible to me, but
may be so, perhaps, to some, that in their circumnavigation of Libya they
had the sun on the right. Thus was Libya first known to be surrounded
by the sea." LAURENT'S Herodotus.

" Herodotus," says Murray, " seems inclined to credit this information,
unless on the ground of one general statement, -<- that they had the sun

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 109

and held on his Course as far as Gades. And Ccelius Antipater,
long before him, reporteth, that he saw the Man who had
sailed from Spain to Ethiopia, in pursuit of Merchandise.
The same Nepos maketh Report concerning the compassing
about of the North, that unto Qu. Metellus Celer (Colleague
to-C. Afranius in the Consulship, but at that Time Proconsul
in Gaul) certain Indians were given by a King of the Sue-
vians 1 , who, as they sailed out of India, for Traffic, as Mer-

on the right ; which being the very thing that should have happened,
and disbelieved only through his ignorance, strongly fortifies our inclina-
tion to credit the story." Wern. Club.

1 At an early period the Phoenicians, and probably the Greeks, did
not scruple to entrap, and sell for slaves, strangers and others who had
never kindled their resentment. In the fourteenth book of the " Odys-
sey," Ulysses represents himself as having narrowly escaped a snare of this
kind; and as the whole narrative is an artful fiction, intended to have
the appearance of truth to an Ithacan peasant, the practice of kidnapping
slaves could not then have appeared incredible to any inhabitant of that
island :

" A false Phoenician, of insidious mind,
Versed in vile arts, and foe to humankind,
With semblance fair invites me to his home ;
I seized the proffer (ever fond to roam) :
Domestic in his faithless roof I stay'd,

Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 9 of 60)