back

AELIAN: ON THE NATURE OF ANIMALS

-   BOOK 14

Translated by A.F.Scholfield (1958), with some minor alterations. Click on the G symbols to go to the Greek text of each section. Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes. There is a list of contents beneath the translation.


Book 13

[1] G   In the Ionian Sea close to Epidamnus where the Taulantii live, there is an island ** and it is called ' Athena's Isle,' and fisher folk live there. There is also a lagoon in the island where shoals of tame mackerel are fed. And the fishermen throw in food to them and observe a treaty of peace with them; so the fish are free and immune from pursuit and attain to a great age; there are even ancient mackerel living there. Yet they do not feed without making any return, nor do they fail in gratitude for their food, but after they have been fed by the fishermen in the morning they too of their own accord go to join the pursuit, as though they were paying for their maintenance. And advancing beyond the harbour they set out to meet the strange mackerel. When they have encountered them as it were in a company or in line of battle, they swim up to them as being of the same family and the same kind, nor do the strangers flee from them, nor do the tame fish attempt to divert them but bear them company. Presently the tame fish surround the newcomers, and having encircled them, close their ranks and cut off the fish in their midst, amounting to a great number, and prevent them from escaping; they wait for their keepers and provide the fishermen with a feast in return for the satisfaction of their own appetites. For the fishermen arrive, catch the strangers, and perpetrate a massacre. But the tame fish return with all haste to the lagoon, dive into their lairs, and wait for their afternoon meal, which the fishermen bring, if they want allies and loyal friends as fellow-hunters. And this happens every day.

[2] G   Experienced fishermen teach us that if you give a man whose liver is out of order and who is afflicted with jaundice, the gall of a Parrot Wrasse, he will be cured.

[3] G   Fish are caught without weels or hooks or nets in the following manner. There are many bays in the sea which end in shallows, and one can walk in them. When, therefore, it is calm and the winds are at rest, skilled fishermen bring a number of people to the spot and then direct them to walk about and trample the sand, throwing all their weight on to the soles of their feet.  As a result deep footprints are left, and if they are preserved and the sand does not collapse and obliterate them, and if the water is not agitated by the wind, after a short interval the fishermen enter and in the trodden hollows and footprints capture flat fish asleep - flounders, turbot, plaice, ** torpedo-fish, and the like.

[4] G   I have spoken earlier on ** about the sea-urchin and I will now mention what more I have heard. It is also good for the stomach: it helps a man who has been suffering from loss of appetite and loathing every kind of food to regain his strength; it is also a diuretic, according to those who know about these things. And if you rub it on one who is suffering from the itch, it cures a man hitherto afflicted with the aforesaid disease. And if you burn a sea-urchin, shell and all, it cleanses suppurating wounds. If you burn a hedgehog and mingle the ashes with pitch and then rub them on those parts where the hair has fallen off, the fugitives (if I may be allowed the joke) will sprout again. If drunk with wine, it is good for the kidneys; it is also a cure for dropsy when drunk, as in fact I remarked before. Further, the liver of a hedgehog, if desiccated by the sun, is a cure for those who suffer from the disease known as elephantiasis.

[5] G   Those who are learned in these matters constantly assert that the tusks of the female elephant are more valuable than those of the male, and this is what they teach us. In Mauretania elephants are in the habit of dropping their tusks every tenth year, just as stags drop their horns, though with stags it is every year. Now these elephants prefer a level, well-watered country to any other, and they go down upon their knees and rest their tusks upon the ground in their passionate desire to shed their tusks. And they thrust with such force as finally to bury them in the ground. Next, with their feet they gently scrape and make smooth the spot that guards their treasure. Now the soil is extremely fertile and in a very short while sends up a crop of grass and effaces the evidence of what occurred for those who pass by. But those who track down these secreted objects and who have some knowledge of the elephants' designs, bring water in goatskins and disperse them, well filled, in different places, and themselves remain where they are. And one sleeps while another drinks a little, and I dare say that in the intervals of quaffing from his cup he sings to himself and remembers his sweetheart in his song. (Nor should I be surprised if a man tries to seduce some well-grown boy who is with him and is his companion in the quest, for the Moors are handsome, stalwart, and of manly aspect, and are devotees of the chase : and many a heart do they inflame too, while still boys, though they are so big). So then if those tusks have been buried nearby, by some mysterious and amazing spell they draw the aforesaid water out of the skins and leave them empty. Thereupon the men dig up the ground with mattocks and picks, and the spoil which they have tracked down without the aid of dogs is theirs. If however the skins remain filled in the place where the tusk-hunters laid them, they go off on a fresh quest and again bring the skins and the water, the instruments of the hunt which I have described.

[6] G   The elephant is even said to possess two hearts and to think double: one heart is the source of anger, the other of gentleness. In saying this I am following accounts given by the Moors. Moreover the same people constantly affirm the following, namely that there are lynxes, and that they are even more snub-nosed than the leopard, and that the tips of their ears are hairy. The Lynx has a wonderful spring and can maintain the most vigorous and overpowering grip on its catch. So it seems that Euripides bears witness to the unloveliness of this beast when he says somewhere [fr. 863 N]

' And he comes bearing upon his shoulders either the burden of a boar, or the mis-shapen lynx, a ravening brute ill-conceived.'

But why he says ' ill-conceived ' is rather a question for the grammarians.

[7] G   Concerning the ostrich one may also mention the following facts. If you kill an ostrich and wash out its stomach it will be found to contain pebbles which the bird has swallowed and keeps in its gizzard and in time digests. And these pebbles are an aid to the human digestion; its sinews also and its fat are good for the human sinews.

Now the capture of this bird is effected by means of horses, for it runs in a circle keeping to the outer edge, but the horsemen intercept it by keeping on the inner side of the circle, and by wheeling in a narrower compass at length overtake it when it is exhausted with running. And here is another way to catch it. It builds itself a nest low down on the ground after scooping out the sand with its feet. The centre of the nest is hollow, but it builds up the lips all round and walls off the nest so that the lips may keep out the rain and prevent it from streaming into the nest and deluging the young at a tender age. It lays over eighty eggs, but does not hatch them simultaneously, nor do they all emerge to daylight at the same time, but while some have already been born, others are still acquiring consistency within the shell. Others again are being kept warm. When therefore the ostrich is so engaged, a man - not a witless person but one who has experience of this kind of hunting - who has seen her, fixes some sharp spears round the nest, planting them upright by the ferrule; and the iron shines. Then he withdraws and lies in wait to see the result. So the ostrich returns from her feeding-ground full of love for her chicks and yearning to be with them. And first of all she casts her eyes around, looking this way and that for fear someone should catch sight of her. And then overcome and stimulated by her longing, she spreads her wings like a sail and rushing at full speed leaps into her nest to die a most pitiful death entangled and impaled upon the spears. Then the hunter is at hand and seizes the young birds with their mother.

[8] G   There is an Italian city in the regions towards the west, and its name is Patavium. ** They say that the city was the work of Antenor the Trojan. He founded it, having escaped with his life from his home when he left his native land after the capture of Troy, because the Greeks had compassion on him, since he saved Menelaus who came with Odysseus as ambassador to treat about Helen, ** when Antimachus advised that they should be put to death. These were Antimachus's words :

' He had accepted the gold of Paris, splendid gifts,'

as Homer says [Il. 11. 124 ] . Well, there is another city not far away which they call Vicetia, ** and past it there flows a river of the name of Eretaenus: ** it traverses a considerable area and then falls into the Eridanus, to which it imparts its waters. Now in the Eretaenus there are eels of very great size and far fatter than those from any other place, and this is how they are caught. The fisherman sits upon a rock jutting out in some bay-like spot on the river where the stream widens out, or else upon a tree which a fierce wind has uprooted and thrown down close to the bank - the tree is beginning to rot and is no use for cutting up and burning. So the eel-fisher seats himself and taking the intestine of a freshly slaughtered lamb which measures some three or four cubits and has been thoroughly fattened, he lowers one end into the water, and keeps it turning in the eddies; the other end he holds in his hands, and a piece of reed, the length of a sword-handle, has been inserted into it. The food does not escape the notice of the eels, for they delight in this intestine. And the first eel approaches, stimulated by hunger and with open jaws, and fastening its curved, hook-like teeth, which are hard to disentangle, in the bait, continues to leap up in its efforts to drag it down. But when the fisherman realises from the agitation of the intestine that the eel is held fast, he puts the reed to which the intestine has been attached to his mouth and blows down it with all his might, inflating the intestine very considerably. And the downflow of breath distends and swells it. And so the air descends into the eel, fills its head, fills its windpipe, and stops the creature's breathing, And as the eel can neither breathe nor detach its teeth which are fixed in the intestine, it is suffocated, and is drawn up, a victim of the intestine, the blown air, and thirdly of the reed. Now this is a daily occurrence, and many are the eels caught by many a fisherman. This then is what I have to say of the habits peculiar to these fishes.

[9] G   We also know that the sea-lion ** is in some respects like the crayfish, though we see that the shape of its body is slimmer, with an added dash of dark blue colour; but it is sluggish though possessed of enormous claws resembling those of crabs. And it is said by the more experienced fishermen to have certain membranes attached to its shell, and beneath them are some portions of tender flesh which are called 'lobster-lard.' And these benefit mankind: they cleanse a muddy complexion, and if added to oil-of-roses and applied as an ointment, they contribute to a person's beauty and adornment. And I have also heard the following: that the Land-lion is terrified of the monstrous appearance of the sea-lion and cannot endure the smell of it. And how the same lion dreads a cock I have explained earlier on. ** They say also that if the sea-lion's shell be ground down and the powder cast into water, and the Land-lion drinks it, he becomes immune from troubles of the stomach. This then is what I have to say of the peculiarities of the sea-lion.

[10] G   The asses of Mauretania gallop at a very great speed, at least at the start they are extremely swift: they seem like a rushing wind or, I do declare, the very wings of a bird. But they quickly tire; their feet weary; their breath fails; they forget their speed; they stand chained to the spot and shed copious tears, not, I think, so much from any fear of impending death as on account of the weakness of their feet. And so the men leap from their horses and throw halters round the asses' necks, and each one securing an ass to his horse, leads the one he has caught like a prisoner of war.

I have said earlier on that the horses of Libya are small in appearance but can gallop at very great speed. ** 

[11] G   It seems that of Libyan cattle there are multitudes past numbering, and those that are wild and roam at large are exceedingly swift. And it often happens that hunters in pursuit of one animal go astray and fall in with others, fresh and untired. Meantime the hunted animal has plunged into a thicket or a glen and vanished, and others appear, exactly like it, and deceive the sight of the hunter. And if he should start to pursue one of these, he and his horse as well will be the first to give up the chase, for though in course of time he will overtake an animal already weary, he will not overtake those just starting to run: his horse will tire before they do.

Every year these cattle are caught and slaughtered in great numbers, but their offspring take their place, and they are abundant. And they roam the land with their calves, the bulls along with the cows, some in calf, others with a calf lately born. If a man captures a calf while still young and does not slaughter it forthwith, he reaps a double advantage, because he captures the mother at the same time if he does what may fittingly be described here. He makes the calf fast with cord and then leaves it and withdraws. But the cow is wasted with yearning for her child and is goaded with ardent longing, and in her desire to release and carry it off attacks the bonds with her horns, hoping to fret them away and burst them. But whichever horn she inserts into the tangle of cord she is caught and held fast and remains by her calf, having failed on the one hand to release it, and on the other having entangled herself in bonds from which there is no escape. So then the hunter after removing the liver for his own use and cutting off the udder, which is still swollen, and flaying the hide, leaves the flesh for the birds and beasts to feed upon. But the calf he takes home entire, for it is extremely pleasant to eat, and also affords rennet which will curdle milk.

[12] G   The Weever resembles other fishes in all other parts of its body excepting its head, and that is like the python both in the size of its eyes (those of the python also are large) and in its jaws, which to some extent are shaped like the python's. It has scales too and they are rough, and if one handles them they feel not unlike the skin of the python. Sharp spines spring from its body, which contain poison and cause harm if one touches them.

[13] G   ... ** The Indian King by way of dessert eats the same things as, no doubt, the Greeks would desire to eat. But according to Indian accounts he feasts with the greatest relish upon a certain worm that is begotten in the date-palm, when fried; and they say that he derives such pleasure from the eating ...  And their accounts convince me. The following also are additions to his meals, the eggs of swans, of ostriches, and of geese. Now I find no fault with the others, but that he should plot against the offspring and destroy the eggs of swans, the servants of Apollo and, as the common report has it, the most tuneful of birds, is a thing, my dear Indians, that I cannot approve.

[14] G   I have a mind now to relate the following facts touching the gazelles and prickets of Libya. The gazelles are very swift-footed; for all that they cannot outrun the Libyan horses. They are also caught with nets. The belly is grey, and this colour extends upwards to their flanks; and on either side of the belly black stripes creep down their bodies. The rest of the body however is light- brown; the legs are long; the eyes black; the head is adorned with horns; the ears are very long. But the pricket, as poets call it, ' runs very swiftly, even as the hurricane '; in appearance it is red and very shaggy, but its tail is white; its eyes are the colour of dark blue dye; its ears are filled with very thick hair; its horns incline forwards and are graceful, so that the creature comes on and while inspiring fear, is a thing of beauty. ** Now this pricket does not display its speed only on land, but will plunge into a running river and cleave the stream by rowing, so to speak, with its hooves. And it loves to swim in a lake, and there, let me tell you, it obtains food and feasts upon the ever-flowering rush and galingale. So at the beginning of spring it empties its full belly; its udder drops and it suckles its young. 

[15] G   There is, I learn, a fish called Myrus, ** but from what source it has derived its name I cannot say. At any rate that is the name by which it is called. And they say that it is a sea-snake. Now if one takes out either of its eyes and wears it as an amulet, it cures a man of dry ophthalmia; but the Myrus, they say, grows a fresh eye. But you must let the fish go alive, otherwise you will preserve its eye to no purpose.

[16] G   The Wild Goats ** which tread the mountain heights of Libya are about the size of oxen, but their thighs, breasts, and necks are covered with long and very shaggy hair, and so too are their jaws. Their foreheads are curved and rounded; their eyes are yellow, and their legs stumpy. Their horns, united at the beginning, part asunder and grow aslant : for they are not straight like those of other mountain goats but turn downwards obliquely and extend as far as the shoulders. Consequently they are of considerable length. And these goats spring with ease from towering pinnacles - ' crags ' as pastoral and poetical folk like to call them - onto another height, for they are far better at leaping than all other kinds of goat. If, however, one should happen to fall owing to the spot which should receive it being beyond its reach, it has such a reserve of strength in its limbs that it remains uninjured on landing. At any rate not a thing does it break, even though it falls down a cleft rock, neither horn nor front of the skull. But these creatures are as strong and as resistant as the stone itself. Now it is on the actual ridges that most of them are caught, by means of nets, spears, and snares, and by the general skill of a huntsman, but especially by skill in hunting the goat. They are also caught in the plains, and there they cannot run strongly enough to escape. So even a man who is slow of foot will take them. And it seems that their hide and horns are serviceable. Thus, in the severest winters their hide keeps out the cold for herdsmen and woodcutters, while those famous horns of theirs are useful in summer time: for drawing water and drinking from a flowing stream or some bubbling spring, and help to quench thirst, for they allow you to drink at one draught not a drop less than the contents of the largest cups, until you have cooled your panting heat and quenched all the fire and flame.  And so if the inside is cleaned out by some skilled polisher of horns, either horn will easily contain as much as three measures.

[17] G   Tortoises too are a product of Libya; they have a most cruel look, and they live in the mountains, and their shell is good for making lyres.

[18] G   When a mare gives birth, some say that a small piece of flesh is attached to the foal's forehead, others say to its loin, others again to its genitals, This piece the mare bites off and destroys; and it is called 'Mare's-frenzy'. It is because Nature has pity and compassion on horses that this occurs, for (they say) had this continued to be attached always to the foal, both horses and mares would be inflamed with a passion for uncontrolled mating. This may, if you like, be a gift bestowed by Poseidon or Athena, the god and the goddess of horses, upon these animals to insure that their race is perpetuated and does not perish through an insane indulgence. Now those who tend horses are fully aware of this and if they chance to need the aforesaid piece of flesh with the design of kindling the fires of Love in some person, they watch a pregnant mare, and directly she bears the foal they seize it, cut off the piece of flesh, and deposit it in a mare's hoof, ** for there alone will it be securely kept and stored away. As to the foal, they sacrifice it to the rising sun, for its mother refuses to suckle it any more now that it has lost its birth-token and no longer possesses the premise of her affection. For it is by eating that piece of flesh that the mother begins to love her offspring passionately. But any man who as a result of some plot tastes of that piece of flesh becomes possessed and consumed by an incontinent desire and cries aloud, and cannot be controlled from going after even the ugliest boys and grown women of repellent aspect. And he proclaims his affliction and tells those whom he meets how he is being driven mad. And his body pines and wastes away and his mind is agitated by erotic frenzy.

I have heard also this story of the bronze mare at Olympia: horses fall madly in love with it and long to mount it, and at the sight of it neigh amorously. Hidden away in the charmed bronze it contains the treacherous Mare's-frenzy, and through some secret contrivance of the artist the bronze works against living animals. For it could not possibly be so true to life that horses with their eyes open should be deceived and inflamed to that extent.

It may be that those who relate the story are speaking the truth, or it may be that they are not: I have only reported what I have heard.

[19] G   In Libya,there is said to be a lake of boiling water, and in this water they say that fishes exist and swim about, and that when food is thrown into the water they leap up to get it. But, I have also heard that if one casts these fish into cold water, they die.

[20] G   Those who are expert at fishing say that if one boils and dissolves in wine the stomach of the sea-horse and gives it to someone to drink, the wine becomes a poison abnormal in comparison with others. For the man who has tasted it is first of all seized with a most violent retching; next he is racked with a dry cough but brings up nothing at all; yet his upper stomach is enlarged and swells, while hot streams mount to his head and phlegm descends from his nose, emitting a fishy odour; his eyes turn bloodshot and fiery and the lids become puffy. He is possessed, they say, by a longing to vomit, but brings up nothing whatever. If however Nature prevails, the man escapes the threat of death but sinks gradually into a state of forgetfulness and insanity. But if the wine penetrates into his lower stomach, it is all over with him, and the victim inevitably dies. Those who survive, having drifted into insanity, are seized with a strong desire for water; they yearn to see water and to listen to it falling. This at any rate quiets them and lulls them to sleep. And, they like to spend their time either by ever-flowing rivers or near the sea-shore or by the side of springs or lakes, and though they do not at all desire to drink, they love to swim and to dip their feet and to wash their hands.

But there are those who maintain that it is not the actual stomach of the sea-horse which causes these sufferings, but that the creature feeds upon a certain kind of seaweed of extraordinary bitterness and that its essence is transferred to the sea-horse. Notwithstanding, the sea-horse has been found to be an efficient remedy thanks to the shrewdness of an aged fisherman who was versed in matters regarding the sea. There was an old fisherman of Crete and he had some young sons, also fishermen. Now it so happened that the old man caught some sea-horses along with other fish, and that the boys were bitten by a mad dog: when the first was bitten, the others who came to help him suffered the same fate. So they lay on the beach at Rhithymna ** in Crete (this is said to be a village), while the spectators sympathised with their plight and gave orders for the dog to be killed and its liver to be given to the boys to eat as an antidote to the poison. Others urged that they should be taken to the temple of Artemis of Rhocca and that the goddess should be implored to heal them. But the old man, without a sign of fear, without swerving from his purpose, allowed these advisers to make their recommendations, washed out the stomachs of the sea-horses, some of which he roasted and gave to the boys to apply, while others he pounded into a mixture of vinegar and honey, and then smeared on the wounds made by the bite, and so overcame the boys' madness by that longing for water which the sea-horses engendered in them. And in this way he cured his sons, though it took time.

[21] G   I have already said much regarding dog-fish in the sea. But River Dog-fish ** have the appearance of small dogs that live on land, and they even have hairy tails. And it is said that their blood, if poured into a mixture of water and vinegar, acts as an embrocation for swollen sinews. Their skin provides excellent shoes, and these too, they say, are good for the sinews.

[22] G   The river Tecinus ** (this is the name of a river in Italy) breeds the fish called the grayling. It attains to as much as a cubit in length, and in appearance is between the basse and the mullet. The odour of the fish when caught is something to astonish one, for it is not the least like the fishy odour of others, but you would say that you held in your hand some freshly plucked thyme; moreover it is sweet-scented and a man who did not notice the fish would fancy that the herb which is the bees' principal food (from which incidentally the fish 'thymallos' derives its name) was in your hand.

The easiest way to catch it is with a net; with a lure and hook you will not catch it, neither with, hog's fat nor with a gnat nor with a clam nor with the entrails of any other fish nor with the muscle, of a spiral-shell. It is only to be caught with a mosquito, ** a troublesome insect, man's enemy by day and by night with its sting and its buzzing: that will catch the aforesaid grayling, for this is the only bait that it delights in.

[23] G   At the foot of the Alps, facing the north wind; and beneath the Great Bear, live the people called ... **  They are a nation of horsemen. It is in that region, you know, that the largest of the rivers of Europe, the Ister, ** rises from only a few springs and moves in a direction facing the first assaults of the sun. Later, many rivers rise with one accord as though they were escorting him - for he is the King of the rivers of that country - and flow perpetually, and those who live on their banks know the name of each one. But as soon as they discharge into the Ister, the name which they had at their birth ceases to be used, they surrender it in his favour, all are called after him, and together pour their waters into the Euxine. And in that place are fish of different species, crow-fish, ** myllus, sturgeon, carp (these are black), and schall and wrasse (which are white), and besides these, perch and sword-fish. These last are suited to their name, witness the fact that the rest of their body is soft and harmless to the touch, that their teeth do not appear curved and sharp, that there are no spines springing erect from their back, as in the case of dolphins, ** or from their tail, but what surprises one to learn and to see is this: the jaw just below its nose, through which it breathes and through which the stream flows to the gills and falls out, is prolonged to a sharp point, is straight and increases gradually in length and in bulk ; it grows also as the fish grows into a monster and resembles the beak of a trireme. And the sword-fish makes straight for fishes, kills them, and then feeds on them, and with this same sword beats off the attacks of the largest sea-monsters. No smith has forged this weapon which grows upon the fish, and Nature has made it sharp. And so when these sword-fish have attained a considerable size they even attack ships. And there are some who boast that they have seen a Bithynian vessel drawn up on shore in order that the keel which was suffering from age might receive the necessary attention, and fixed to the keel they saw the head of a sword-fish. For the creature had planted the sword given it by Nature, in the vessel, and when it attempted to withdraw, the whole of its body was rent from the neck owing to the force of the ship's onrush, while the sword remained fixed just as it entered originally. So then this fish is caught both in the sea and in the Ister, and it delights both in salt water and in fresh streams.

[24] G   When the summer is at its hottest, sharks and other fish which are bold by nature approach the sea-shore and make straight for cliffs and run in under headlands where the current is strong and swim into narrow, deep straits. They forsake their haunts in the open seas and at this season neglect their feeding-ground there. Now a certain seaweed ** grows among deep reefs: it is about the size of a tamarisk and bears fruit resembling a poppy. At other seasons of the year the fruit is closed and is resistant and hard like a shell; it opens however after the summer solstice, like buds in rose-gardens. And the surrounding sheath protects the inside, encircling it like a barrier; it is a bright yellow colour, but the part beneath this covering is dark blue and flabby like a bladder with air in it, and is quite translucent, and from it there oozes a violent poison. By night this seaweed sends out a fiery ray and sparkles. And when the Dog-star is rising the evil power of the poison is even stronger. For that reason all fishermen have given it the name of Pancynium in the belief that it is the rising of the star that generates the poison. Now the sharks fall upon the flower which by night seems to be burning, rushing at this tamarisk of the sea as if it were treasure trove, and when the poison has drenched them, some being swallowed and some having penetrated through their gills, they die and at once float up to the surface.

Now those who are skilled at investigating such matters collect this poison which emanates from the aforesaid monsters, some of it from other parts of the creature's body and some from its mouth. This poison is second only to that of the land-peony, as it is called, which people have also named Cynospastus. The reason for this you will learn if I remember to tell it you. ** 

[25] G   The people of Mysia ** - not those who inhabit the Pergamum of Telephus, but you are to understand those who live by the Black Sea in the lower part and are neighbours of the Scythians whose inroads they check, and who are guardians of the aforesaid country on behalf of Rome. I am referring to those that live near Heracleia and the rivet Axius. ** It is there, you know, that the inhabitants tell the tale of Medea, daughter of Aeetes, whose impious hands dared to commit that outrage upon her brother Apsyrtus, ** for the Mysians harp on this evil report against the Colchian sorceress, besides the others that are current among the Greeks. - Well, this is the way in which these people hunt fish. An Istrian whose trade is fishing drives a pair of oxen near the bank of the Ister, but not because he has the least wish to plough, for, as the saying goes, ' an ox and a dolphin have nothing in common; ' so in the same way what friendship can there be between a fisherman's hands and a plough ? If however he has a pair of horses he uses horses. The man carries the yoke on his shoulders and comes to a spot where he thinks it suitable to sit down and where he believes he is well placed for fishing. One end of his rope, which is stout and thoroughly capable of standing a strain, he attaches to the middle of the yoke. He provides ample fodder for the oxen or the horses, and they eat their fill. And to the other end of the rope he attaches a strong hook which has been well sharpened, and on this he spits the lungs of a bull, and lets them down as food, and indeed its favourite food, for the sheatfish in the Ister, after fastening above the point where the rope secures the hook enough lead to prevent it from being dragged away, So directly the fish notices the bulls' meat he rushes to seize it. Then, finding what he wants, all at once with jaws agape he recklessly tugs at the deadly meal which has come to him. Next, this glutton, drawn on by his enjoyment, is impaled on the aforesaid hook before he knows it, and in his eagerness to escape the disaster that has befallen him he agitates and shakes the rope with all his might. So when the hunter is aware of this he is filled with joy; he leaps from his seat, abandons his labours in the river and his watery pursuits, and like an actor in a play changing his mask, sets his pair of oxen or horses in motion, and there ensues a trial of strength between the monster and the beasts of burden. For the creature bred in the Ister exerts a downward pull with all the strength at his command, while the pair of beasts pulling in the opposite direction makes the rope taut. But it avails the fish nothing: at any rate he is defeated in the tug-of-war, gives up, and is hauled ashore. A student of Homer might say that mules were hauling tree-trunks, as Homer sings [Il. 23. 110] in the celebrated tale of the funeral of Patroclus.  

[26] G   There is also in the Ister a bay of immense depth and like the sea in its wide compass. Moreover that this bay attains a considerable depth is sufficiently proved by the following fact: merchant vessels which cross the sea put in to this bay and, when the bay is angered by the winds that blow and lash it into waves and drive it mad, are just as afraid of it as they are of the sea. And there are also islands in it, and even creeks along the shore into which one can run for safety. There are besides, promontories and capes running out, on which the waves in their fury dash and burst whenever the river at its very fullest is, as it were, forced into a narrow space as it presses on to the sea. This commonly occurs when the third autumnal season **  is past and the winter season is setting in and the river is running in full flood. And as it rises the north wind urges it forward and causes it to descend in fury. And the stream carries down the ice if contains as though for an easy voyage. ** But the north wind opposes it with its violent and icy blasts : it does riot permit it to discharge into the sea what you might call its offspring, but causes it to overflow, resists it, and brings it to a halt; so the ice which is floating and checked sinks and solidifies to a great depth. In consequence the Ister's own water flows beneath, along what you might call hidden channels, while the newly acquired and alien surface resembles a plain, and at this season of the year the people thereabouts travel along it driving a pair or on horseback. Now the way in which that mischievous and crafty animal the fox tests and examines this river and the Strymon in Thrace to see if they are frozen, I have described earlier on. ** Well, the ice on the Ister freezes hard even round a merchant vessel on its way downstream and imprisons it: it is no use to spread the sails; the man at the prow looks no more ahead; the ship's captain cannot move the rudders to and fro; they are fixed fast, for the whole vessel is caught in the surrounding fetters and looks, I declare, not like any ship, for it is no longer beaten by the waves, but like some hill rising from a wide expanse of plain or for all the world like some lofty watch-tower. Thereupon the passengers and the sailors jump out and hurry down the river and fetch wagons and transfer the cargo on to what was lately the water. Then again when the winter season is over and the river begins to flow strongly they still carry their loads. But the ship remains stationary until the frost relaxes and the ice melts and is dissolved, and the merchant vessel, freed from its strange cable, is released.

At that season fishermen also take picks and hack through the ice wherever they feel inclined, and contrive a circular hole reaching down to the water. You would say that it was the mouth of a well or of a huge, very pot-bellied jar. Thereupon multitudes of fish wishing to escape from the ice which is pressing down upon them like a roof, and longing for the light, swim joyfully up to the opening that has been made, and come in crowds past numbering and jostle one another, and being in a confined hole are easily captured. And it is possible to catch carp and crow-fish in abundance and perch and the swordfish, though the last-named is not yet fully grown and is still without the frontal spike; sturgeon too, young and tender, for the large ones of mature age may be the size of the biggest tunny. The sturgeon is extremely fat along the: sides and the belly; you might say they were the dugs of a sow that was suckling its young. It has a rough skin and spear- makers actually polish their spear-shafts on it. Beneath the spinal marrow of this creature a supple, narrow membrane beginning at the middle of the head, runs down as far as the tail. Now if you let this dry in the sun you will obtain, should you wish it, a whip to drive a pair of horses with. For, it differs hardly at all from a leather thong. When however the fish has grown to its full size one would not see it emerging from the ice and falling into the hole, but either it slips beneath some all-sheltering rock or buries itself in deep sand and is only too glad to keep warm. And at that time it needs no vegetation, no other fish to eat, but prefers to remain inactive while the frost lasts, and is happy to be idle and consumes its own fat, just as octopuses also when unable to catch any prey nibble their own tentacles and feed off themselves. But when winter is over and spring is beginning and the Ister is flowing freely, it hates to be inactive and, swimming up to the surface, takes its fill of the foam on the water, and there is foam in abundance as the stream roars and boils in violent tumult. Then is the time when it is easily captured as the fishermen lie in wait for it and let down hook and line into the foam. The whiteness of the foam conceals the hook and the bright sheen of the bronze is invisible to the fish; hence, as it opens its jaws and, takes a heavy draught of the aforesaid food, it swallows the bait and meets its death from the very thing that before sustained it.

[27] G   There is a plant of the name of Cynospastus ( it is also called Aglaophotis {peony}: I have remembered and wish to fulfil my obligations ** ) which by daytime passes unnoticed among the rest and is hardly visible, but at night it becomes visible and shines out like a star, for it is of a fiery nature and like a flame. Therefore men plant some mark near the roots and then go away, for if they did not do this they would be unable by day to remember either the colour or even the appearance of the plant. But when the night is over they come and see the mark which they left and recognise, it and are able to guess that this is the very plant that they need; for otherwise it is completely like the plants all round it, differing from them not one whit. But they themselves do not pull up this plant; if they did they would certainly regret it. Accordingly no one either digs round it or pulls it up, for (they say) the first man who in ignorance of its nature touched it, was destroyed by it shortly afterwards. And so they bring a strong dog that has not been fed for some days and is ravenously hungry and attach a strong cord to it, and round the stalk of the Peony at the bottom they fasten a noose securely from as far away as they can; then they put before the dog a large quantity of cooked meat, which exhales a savoury odour. And the dog, burning with hunger and tormented by the smell, rushes at the meat that has been placed before it and with its violent movement pulls up the plant, roots and all. But when the sun sees the roots the dog immediately dies, and they bury it on the spot, and after performing some mysterious rites and paying honour to the dead body of the dog as having died on their behalf, they then make bold to touch the aforesaid plant and carry it home. It is useful, they say, for many purposes ; for instance, it is said to cure the disease with which the moon is reputed to afflict men; ** also that affliction of the eyes in; which moisture floods them and then congeals and so robs them of their sight. ** 

[28] G   There is in the sea a shellfish with a spiral shell, small in size but of surpassing beauty, and it is born where the water is at its purest and upon rocks beneath the sea and on what are called sunken reefs. Its name is Nerites: two stories are in circulation touching this creature, and both have reached me; moreover the telling of a short tale in the middle of a lengthy history is simply giving the hearer a rest and sweetening the narrative. Hesiod sings [Th. 233] of how Doris the daughter of Oceanus bore fifty daughters to Nereus the sea-god, whom to this day we always hear of as truthful and unlying. Homer also mentions them in his poems [Il. 18. 38 ] . But they do not state that one son was born after all that number of daughters, though he is celebrated in mariners' tales. And they say that he was named Nerites and was the most beautiful of men and gods; also that Aphrodite delighted to be with Nerites in the sea and loved him. And when the fated time arrived, at which, at the bidding of the father of the gods, Aphrodite also had to be enrolled among the Olympians, I have heard that she ascended and wished to bring her companion and play-fellow. But the story goes that he refused, preferring life with his sisters and parents to Olympus. And then he was permitted to grow wings: this, I imagine, was a gift from Aphrodite. But even this favour he counted as nothing. And so the daughter of Zeus was moved to anger and transformed his shape into this shell, and of her own accord chose in his place for her attendant and servant Eros, who also was young and beautiful, and to him she gave the wings of Nerites.

But the other account proclaims that Poseidon was the lover of Nerites, and that Nerites returned his love, and that this was the origin of the celebrated Anteros ({mutual love}. And so, as I am told, for the rest the favourite spent his time with his lover, and moreover when Poseidon drove his chariot over the waves, all other great fishes as well as dolphins and tritons too, sprang up from their deep haunts and gambolled and danced around the chariot, only to be left utterly and far behind by the speed of his horses; only the boy favourite was his escort close at hand, and before them the waves sank to rest and the sea parted out of reverence to Poseidon, for the god willed that his beautiful favourite should not only be highly esteemed for other reasons but should also be pre-eminent at swimming. 

But the story relates that the Sun resented the boy's power of speed and transformed his body into the spiral shell as it now is: the cause of his anger I cannot tell, neither does the fable mention it. But if one may guess where there is nothing to go by, Poseidon and the Sun might be said to be rivals. And it may be that the Sun was vexed at the boy travelling about in the sea and wished that he should travel among the constellations instead of being counted among sea-monsters. Thus far the two fables; but may the gods be good to me, and for my part let me observe a religious silence regarding them. But if my fables have said anything overbold, the fault must be laid to their charge.

[29] G   At the spot : where the Tanarus ** and the Eridanus meet (the latter has achieved renown and fame, whereas the former is hardly known at all) an altogether peculiar manner of fishing is in vogue ; it has come to my knowledge through the poems of a man of Mytilene, an acquaintance of my own, and must not pass without a tribute in my narrative.

When the rivers have become ice-bound those who live in their neighbourhood plough and sow in the winter season, for it is their lot to possess a fertile land. Then at the beginning of spring while the aforesaid rivers are still immobile for the reason that I explained, the erstwhile farmers -  now fishermen - select some spot like a bay and with well-sharpened hatchets cut round it so that a circle of water, like a pond, appears. They do not however cut close to the bank as yet but leave the ice as it froze originally. So then they throw a wide net round the space which they have laid open, and round the net a stout rope. This net is drawn in by men standing on the shore, fishermen and others, and there are many who though they know nothing of the art, watch the fish being caught: they feel a certain fascination in it. But as the men are drawn in ** and approach the bank, then the fishermen on the dry land cut the ice there also, for they have an interest in the capture and try to prevent the fish from escaping. When this has been done as described, the net, full of fish, pushes the block of ice that has been cut round and draws it along with it, while the fishermen who are standing on the block look as if they were being carried along on a floating island. Such is the peculiar method of catching the fish there and quite unlike any other. And Homer will allow me to say that these men earn a double wage [Od. 10. 84] , one from the river and another from the land, since the same men are both sailors and farmers.

Book 15



FOOTNOTES


(1)    Seemingly unknown to geographers. There are, however, two lagoons, one 30 miles the other about 55 miles south of Epidamnus.    

(2)    Thompson has omitted στρουθός from his Glossary; L-S give ' flounder '; B. de Saint-Denis gives ' plaice.''     

(3)    See 7.33; 9.47.    

(4)    Modern Padua, about 20 miles inland from Venice.    

(5)    He tried to persuade the Trojans to give back Helen to Menelaus.    

(6)    Modern Vicenza, 22 miles to the north-west of Padua.    

(7)    Modern Retrone; below Vicenza it joins the Bacchiglione and together they flow into the sea at Venice. Aelian seems unaware that the Eridanus (Latin Padus, modern Po) is some 30 miles farther south and that the river Athesis (modern Adige) flows between the Bacchiglione and the Po.    

(8)    A kind of large lobster.    

(9)    See 3.31; 6.22.    

(10)    See 3.2.    

(11)    The first sentence is defective; the general sense was perhaps: 'There are countless details that I might relate touching the characteristics of animals.' (Gow.)    

(12)    With Toller's correction the sense will be ' so that it . .. is to be admired for its beauty.' Jac. compares Ael. VH 13.1 [Atalanta] δύο δέ εἶχεν ἐκπληκτικά, κάλλος ἄμαχον. καὶ συν τούτῳ καὶ φοβεῖν ἐδὑνατο.    

(13)    Perhaps the Muraena serpens, a larger relation of the Moray.    

(14)    The 'Udad', Ovis lervia.    

(15)    For horn as the only substance proof against poison, cp. 10.40, and see Frazer on Paus. 8. 18. 6.    

(16)    On the north coast and towards the western end of Crete.    

(17)    Gesner (Hist. anim.: de quadrup. vivip. (Francof. 1603), p. 683) explains this as meaning an otter.    

(18)    Modern Ticino, in the north-west of Italy.    

(19)    See W. Radeliffe, Fishing from the Earliest Times (Lond. 1921), pp. 185 ff.    

(20)    The name of the people is lost. Ptolemy (Geog. 2. 11. 6) mentions a people of the name of Οὐισποί, Vispi, who appear, to inhabit this region, and before οὔτω the word might well have fallen out. See G. B. Grundy's map Germania.    

(21)    Mod. Danube.    

(22)    Gossen identifies this with the Danube salmon, Salmo hucho.    

(23)    See Thompson, Gk. fishes, s.v. Δελφίς, p. 54 med.    

(24)    This has not been identified, but there is no known seaweed that is poisonous to fish, and much of Aelian's description appears to be fanciful.    

(25)    See below, ch. 27.    

(26)    I.e. Moesia Inferior, a region north of Thrace; cp. 2.53. ' Scythia Minor ' was the name given to the north-east portion which lay along the Black Sea.    

(27)    The Axius rises in Dardania, about 145 miles south-west of Moesia Inferior, and flows south-east into the Thermaic gulf.   Heraclea, whether 'Lyncestis' or 'Sintica', is in Macedonia, and the latter is on (or near) the Strymon. Aelian's geography is confused.     

(28)    Apsyrtus according to one story pursued Medea when she fled with Jason from Iolcos; according to another she took him with her - he was only a child; she murdered him and scattered his limbs in the path of Aeētēs in order to delay his pursuit.    

(29)    That is, φθινόπωρον.    

(30)    Or ' for a voyage of commerce '?    

(31)    See 6.24.    

(32)    See above, ch. 24.

(33)    Known as σεληνιασμός, epilepsy.    

(34)    I.e. cataract, ὑπόχυσις.    

(35)    Modern Tanaro; an important tributary of the Po, which it joins just below Valenza in Piedmont.    

(36)    I.e. the men standing on the island of ice, as explained in the following sentence.    




CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK

14.1 Tame Mackerel
14.2 A cure for jaundice
14.3 Fishing in shallow waters
14.4 Medicinal properties of the Sea-urchin and hedgehog
14.5 Hunting for elephants' tusks
14.6 The elephant. The Lynx
14.7 The Ostrich; method of capture
14.8 Eels in the Eretaenus
14.9 The Sea-lion
14.10 The Wild ass of Mauretania
14.11 The Wild cattle of Libya
14.12 The Weever
14.13 The Indian King, his food
14.14 The Gazelles of Libya
14.15 The 'Myrus', and its eye
14.16 The Ibex of Libya
14.17 The tortoise of Libya
14.18 'Mare's-frenzy'. Statue of Mare at Olympia
14.19 A boiling lake
14.20 The Sea-horse, its, poisonous nature
14.21 The Otter
14.22 The Grayling, how caught
14.23 The Ister and its fish. The Sword-fish
14.24 A deadly Seaweed
14.25 The Moesians and their fishing. The Sheat-fish
14.26 The Ister in winter. Ships ice-bound. Fishing in winter. The Sturgeon
14.27 The Peony, how plucked
14.28 The Nerites : two myths
14.29 Fishing in the Eridanus in winter



Attalus' home page   |   21.10.19   |   Any comments?