-   BOOK 16

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 15

[1] G   When a fisherman after Purple Shellfish catches one, not for human consumption but for dyeing wool, if the colour from it is to remain fast, indelible, and capable of producing the genuine tint unadulterated, then he smashes it, shell and all, with one blow of a stone. But if the blow is too light and the creature is left still alive, a second blow with the stone renders it useless for dyeing purposes. For the pain causes the fish to spend the dye which is absorbed into the mass of flesh or escapes in some other way. And this, they say, was known to Homer who says of those who die all at once that they are overtaken by the death of the Purple Shellfish: in his poem he sings in the well-known passage how

' Empurpled ** death and violent fate laid hold on him ' [Il. 5. 83 ] .

[2] G   I learn that in India there are parrots, and I have also mentioned them earlier on, ** but this seems a most fitting place to relate what I did not relate on the former occasion; I am told that there are three kinds, and all learn like children; and become talkative in the same way and speak like human beings. In the forests however they utter the notes of birds, and do not produce intelligible and distinct speech, but are unlearned and cannot talk as yet. There are also peacocks in India, larger than anywhere else, and doves with green plumage; ** anyone seeing them for the first time and not possessing a knowledge of birds would say that they were parrots not doves. But they have beaks and legs the same colour as those of partridges in Greece. And the cocks there are of immense size, and their combs are not scarlet like those of our country, but of variegated hue like flower-garlands. And their tail-feathers are not arched or curved in a circle but flat, and they trail them, just as peacocks do when not raising them aloft. And the wings of Indian cocks are golden with the dark gleam of an emerald.

[3] G   There is also in India another bird, the size of a starling, and it is of varied colouring, and if taught to utter human speech is more talkative and by nature more intelligent than the parrot. Yet it does not willingly endure to be kept by man, but in its yearning for liberty and its desire for its natural freedom it welcomes starvation in preference to captivity with its luxuries. And the Macedonians who settled in India in the cities founded by Alexander, the son of Philip, in Bucephala ** and the surrounding country; in Cyropolis ** and the rest, call the bird Cercion {mynah}. The name has its origin in the fact that it too wags its rump {cercos} as the wagtail does.

[4] G   I have heard that there is also in India a bird called the ' Adjutant.' It is three times the size of a bustard, and has a mouth of astonishing size and long legs. It also has an enormous crop resembling a wallet and an extremely harsh cry. While the rest of its plumage is of an ashen colour, the wing-tips are pale.

[5] G   I have heard also that the Indian Hoopoe is twice as big as the bird of our country and more beautiful in appearance. And as Homer says [Il. 4. 144] that the bit and trappings of a horse are laid up to be a Greek king's glory, so the hoopoe is the joy of the Indian King: he carries it on his hand and delights in it, gazing continually in wonder at its splendour and its natural beauty.

Now the Brahmins also relate a legend regarding this bird, and the legend they relate is as follows. A son was born to an Indian king and he had brothers who, when they were grown to manhood, became extremely lawless and violent. And they looked down upon their brother, as being the youngest, jeered at their father and mother, and showed no respect for their old age. Accordingly the parents refused to live with them,and departed into exile, the aged couple with their young son. There ensued a laborious journey for them; the parents' strength failed, and they died. The son however did not neglect them but split his head with a sword and buried them in himself. The Brahmins assert that the all-seeing Sun was so filled with admiration for this surpassing act of piety that he transformed the boy into a bird most beautiful to behold and endowed with length of days. And from his crown there sprang up a crest, as it were in commemoration of the events of his exile. The Athenians too tell some such wondrous tale in a myth regarding the lark, which Aristophanes, the writer of comedies, appears to me to have followed in his Birds [471-5] when he says

' No, for you were unlearned and no busybody and had not thumbed your Aesop, who used to say that the lark was the first of all birds to be born, before the earth, and that then its father fell sick and died. But there was no earth, and the corpse was laid out for five days, and the lark in straits and at its wits' end buried its father in its own head.'

So it seems that this fable from India, about a different bird indeed, yet spread to the Greeks as well. For the Brahmins maintain that it is long ages since the Indian Hoopoe, while still a human being and a child in years, did this to its parents.

[6] G   In India there is an animal somewhat like the land-crocodile ** in appearance. It is the size of a Melitean ** lapdog. The scales that cover it are so rough and of such close texture, that when flayed they perform the functions of a file. They will even cut through bronze and eat their way through iron. They call the creature Phattagē {pangolin}.

[7] G   The Sand-partridge occurs in the neighbourhood of Antioch in Pisidia and feeds on stones. It is smaller than the partridge and black in colour, but its beak is red. It is not to be domesticated like the partridge, nor does it grow tame, but continues wild all the time. It is not large, but is pleasanter to eat than the other, and its flesh seems somewhat firmer.

[8] G   The Indian Ocean produces sea-snakes with broad tails; the lakes also produce water-snakes of immense size. But apparently these snakes in the Ocean bite with teeth that are saw-like rather than poisonous.

[9] G   In India there are herds of wild horses and wild asses. Now they say that when the asses mount the mares, the latter remain passive and take pleasure in the act and produce mules of a red colour and extremely swift of foot, but that these mules are inpatient of the yoke and generally skittish. The people are said to catch them with foot-traps and then to take them to the King of the Prasii. If they are caught as two-year-olds they do not refuse to be broken in, but when older they are just as savage as fanged and carnivorous beasts.

[10] G   They say that among the Prasii in India there is a race of monkeys with human intelligence; ** in appearance they are as large as Hyrcanian hounds, and they are seen to possess a natural forelock; anyone who did not know the facts would say that these forelocks were artificial. The beard that grows beneath their chin is like that of a satyr; while the tail is as long as a lion's. The whole of their body is white except for the head and the tip of the tail, which are red. They are sober and naturally tame. They live in the forests and feed on wild produce. They visit the suburbs of Latage (this is a city in India) in great numbers and feed on the boiled rice which the king has served out to them, and this meal is prepared and laid out for them every day. And when they have eaten their fill, it is said that they withdraw again to their haunts in the forest in an orderly fashion without damaging anything that they come across.

[11] G   In India there is a herbivorous animal ** and it is twice the size of a horse. It has a very bushy tail, pitch-black in colour; the hairs of it are finer than those of man, and Indian women set great store by obtaining them, and in fact they braid them in and adorn themselves most beautifully, plaiting them in with their own hair. Each hair attains, a length of two cubits, and there spring perhaps as many as thirty from one root, like a tassel. Now this is of all animals the most timid, for if it is seen by somebody and realises that it is being looked at, it flees as fast as it can, the pace of its legs only exceeded by its eagerness to escape. It is hunted by horsemen with swift-footed hounds. But if it realises that it is going to be caught, it hides its tail in some thicket, faces about, and stands waiting for its pursuers and plucks up its courage, fancying that, since its tail is not visible, it will no longer seem worth pursuing. For it knows that its beauty resides in its tail. And yet on this point its fancies are idle, for a man shoots it with a poisoned arrow and having killed it will cut off its tail, the reward of the chase. And after flaying the body (for the hide also is serviceable) he leaves the dead carcase, because the Indians have no use for the flesh of these animals.

[12] G   It seems that in the Indian Ocean there are sea-monsters five times the size of the largest elephant. At any rate a single rib of a sea-monster measures as much as twenty cubits; it has a jaw of fifteen cubits; the fin beside each of the gills is seven cubits in width. The Trumpet Shells and Purple Shellfish of the Indian Ocean (are large enough) to contain easily a chous; further, the shells of sea-urchins have the same capacity. As for fishes, they are gigantic, especially the basse, the pelamyd, and the gilt-head. And I have heard that at the season when the rivers descend in violence owing to floods and spill themselves upon the land, the fish also are emptied over the fields and are borne hither and thither in shallow water. But when the rains which have over-filled the rivers cease, and the streams withdraw again and return to their natural courses, then fishes of as much as eight cubits long remain in low-lying, marshy, level spots, where what is known as 'fallow land' commonly has depressions. And the cultivators catch the fish which can only swim feebly, since they are not moving in deep water but on the surface, glad to snatch a bare existence from the shallow water.

[13] G   Indian fish have the following peculiarities. The skate there is as large as an Argolic shield; ** the prawns ** of India are even larger than crayfish. Now these prawns ascend the river Ganges from the sea and have claws of immense size and rough to the touch, whereas I learn that those that quit the Red Sea for the Indus have smooth spines, and the feelers attached to them are long and curly, but they have no claws.

[14] G   The River Turtle of India ** has a shell as large as a full-sized skiff. At any rate each one has a capacity of ten medimni ** of pulse. There are also land-tortoises, and these may be the size of the largest clods of earth which are turned up in deep ploughing, provided the soil is yielding and the plough goes deep and cuts a furrow without difficulty and brings up the clods. And they say; that these tortoises shed their covering. Now the ploughmen and all who work in the fields dig them out with mattocks and extract them as we extract caterpillars from plants which are worm-eaten. The flesh of tortoises is sweet and they are fat and by no means bitter like the turtles.

[15] G   In our country also there are intelligent animals, but they are few and not so numerous as in India. In that land, for example, are the elephant, the parrot, the Sphinx-ape, and the Satyrs, ** as they are called. The Indian ant ** too, it seems, is a clever creature. True, the ants of our country excavate their holes and burrow below ground and construct hidden lairs, as it were, by digging in the earth, and wear themselves out with their mysterious and secret mining operations, so to speak. But the ants of India construct little houses of material brought together, and these are not in low-lying, level country, which is easily flooded, but high up on rising ground. And there with indescribable skill they bore passages and what you might call Egyptian galleries or Cretan labyrinths and make a place for themselves, not straight ahead or easy to penetrate but out of the way past a maze of tunnels; and on the top they leave a single hole through which they themselves enter and bring into their storehouses all the seeds which they select. You see, they construct their caves high up in order to escape from inundations and floods from rivers. The result of this clever move is that they are living as it were in watch-towers or on islands at a time when all the land around their hillocks becomes a lake. Now these mounds, although merely heaped up, are so far from being dissolved and eaten away by an inundation that they are actually strengthened primarily by the morning dew, for they are, so to say, clothed beneath with a fine but strong coating of frost resulting from the dew; then at the base they are bound round with a bark-like coating of weeds from the river mud.

Juba long ago wrote about the ants of India; but this is all I have to say at present.

[16] G   In the country of the Ariani ** of India there is a Chasm of Pluto, and at the bottom there are certain mysterious galleries, hidden paths, and passages unseen of man, though they are in fact deep and extend a very long way. But how they came to be and how they were dug, neither the Indians can say nor have I been at the pains to discover. Now the Indians bring to the spot over thirty thousand beasts - sheep, goats, cattle, and horses. And everyone who has been scared by some dream or has encountered some omen divine or human, or who has seen some bird in an unfavourable quarter, casts into the Chasm what his personal means can afford by way of ransom for himself, sacrificing the life of an animal for his own life. And the victims are brought there without being hauled with ropes or otherwise compelled, and make the journey of their own free will owing to some mysterious attraction or spell. Then, as they stand on the brink, of their own accord they leap into the Chasm and are no more seen of the human eye once they have fallen into this mysterious and yawning Chasm of earth, while above are heard the lowing of cattle, the baa of sheep, the neighing of horses, and the bleating of goats. And anyone who walks over the surface of the land and comes to the spot and listens will hear the aforesaid animals for a very long while. And the confused sounds never cease, since every day the Indians send in animals for their own redemption. Now whether it is only the recent victims that are audible or some of the earlier ones also, I cannot say, but audible they are. So much for this singular trait in the animals of that country.

[17] G   It is commonly reported that in the Great Sea, ** as it is called, there is an island of immense area; and I have heard that its name is Taprobane. ** And I learn that this island is very long and high: its length is seven thousand stades and its width five thousand; ** it has no cities, only seven-hundred-and-fifty villages, and the dwellings where the, inhabitants lodge are made of wood and even of reeds.

Now in this sea turtles of immense size are hatched, and their shells are made into roofs, for a single shell measures fifteen cubits across, so that quite a number of persons can live underneath; and it keeps out the most fiery sun and affords a welcome shade; moreover it resists a downpour of rain, and, being stronger than any tiles, it shakes off pelting showers, while the inmates beneath listen to it being pounded, as though the water were descending upon a tiled roof. Yet they have no need to exchange old for new as you must with a broken tile, for the turtle's shell is hard and resembles a rock that has been hollowed out or the roof of a cavern vaulted by nature.

[18] G   Now this island which they call Taprobane in the Great Sea has groves of palm-trees wonderfully planted in lines, just as in luxurious parks shady trees are planted by those in charge ; it has also pasturing grounds for numerous elephants of the largest size. And these elephants of the island are more powerful and bigger than those of the mainland, and may be judged naturally cleverer in every way. And so the people build huge ships (for the island of course has dense forests) and transport the elephants to the mainland opposite, and having crossed, sell them to the King of the Calingae. ** But owing to the size of the island those who live in the middle of it do not even know the sea but live as though they were of the mainland and only learn by report of the sea that surrounds and encircles them. Whereas those that live near to the sea are ignorant of the way in which elephants are hunted and only know of it by hearsay : they devote themselves to catching fish and sea-monsters. For they assert that the sea which surrounds the circuit of their island breeds a multitude past numbering of fishes and monsters, and moreover that they have the heads of lions and leopards and wolves and rams, and, still more wonderful to relate, that there are some which have the forms of satyrs with the faces of women, and these have spines attached in place of hair. They tell of others too which have strange forms whose appearance not even men skilled in painting and in combining bodies of diverse shapes to make one marvel at the sight, could portray with accuracy or represent for all their artistic skill; for these creatures have immense and coiling tails, while for feet they have claws or fins. I learn too that they are amphibious ** and that at night they graze the fields, for they eat the grass as cattle and rooks do; they enjoy the ripe fruit of the date-palm and therefore shake the trees with their coils, which being supple and capable of embracing, they fling round them. So when the shower of dates has fallen because of this violent shaking, they feed upon it. And then as the night wanes and before it is clear daylight these creatures plunge into the ocean and disappear as the dawn begins to glow. They say that there are also numerous whales which lie in wait for the tunnies; they do not however come up on to the land. They also say that there are two kinds of dolphin, the one savage, sharp-toothed, and absolutely merciless and without pity towards fishermen, the other naturally gentle and tame. At any rate it gambols and swims around, and resembles a fawning puppy, and if you handle it, it will allow you to do so, and if you throw food to it, it will receive it gladly.

[19] G   The Sea-hare ** (I mean that which is found in the Great Sea ** ; the other kind in the other sea I have mentioned above) resembles the land animal in every respect except in its fur. For the fur of the land-hare seems smooth and is not hard to the touch. Whereas the sea-hare's fur is prickly and erect, and if one touches it one is stabbed. They say that it swims on the surface ripples of the sea and does not dive into the depths, and that it swims very fast. It is not easily caught alive, the reason being that it never falls into a net, nor yet will it approach the line and bait of a fishing-rod. When however this hare through sickness and inability to swim is cast up on shore, anyone who touches it with his hand dies if he is not treated. Moreover even if he touches this hare with a stick, he suffers the same fate thereby, just like those who touch a basilisk. But they say that there is a root which grows in the island by the Great Sea and that it is well-known to everybody, and is an antidote to fainting. At any rate if it is applied to the nose of the fainting man it revives him. But if he is not treated, his malady grows worse until the man dies. Such power, you see, has this hare to work destruction.

[20] G   In certain regions of India (I mean in the very heart of the country) they say that there are impassable mountains full of wild life, and that they contain just as many animals as our own country produces, only wild. For they say that even the sheep there are wild, the dogs too and the goats and the cattle, and that they roam at their own sweet will in freedom and uncontrolled by any herdsman. Indian historians assert that their numbers are past counting, and among the historians we must reckon the Brahmins, for they also agree in telling the same story.

And in these same regions there is said to exist a one-horned beast which they call Cartazonus. ** It is the size of a full-grown horse, has the mane of a horse, reddish hair, and is very swift of foot. Its feet are like those of the elephant, not articulated and it has the tail of a pig. Between its eyebrows it has a horn growing out; it is not smooth but has spirals of quite natural growth, and is black in colour! This horn is also said to be exceedingly sharp. And I am told that the creature has the most discordant and powerful voice of all animals. When other animals approach, it does not object but is gentle; with its own kind however it is inclined to be quarrelsome. And they say that not only do the males instinctively butt and fight one another, but that they display the same temper towards the females, and carry their contentiousness to such a length that it ends only in the death of their defeated rival. The fact is that strength resides in every part of the animal's body, and the power of its horn is invincible! It likes lonely grazing-grounds where it roams in solitude, but at the mating season, when it associates with the female, it becomes gentle and the two even graze side by side. Later when the season has passed and the female is pregnant, the male Cartazonus of India reverts to its savage and solitary state. They say that the foals when quite young are taken to the King of the Prasii and exhibit their strength one against another in the public shows, but nobody remembers a full-grown animal having been captured.

[21] G   When one has passed the mountains that border upon India there will come into view densely wooded glens on the inner side of the mountains, and the Indians call the region Colunda. And in these glens, they say, creatures resembling Satyrs roam at large; their whole body is shaggy and they have a horse's tail at their waist. And if left to themselves and not troubled, they live among the thickets and subsist off the trees, but whenever they hear the sound of huntsmen or the baying of dogs they run up to the mountain ridges with a speed that none can overtake, for they are inured to roaming the mountains. And from there they fight by rolling down rocks upon their assailants, and many are they that are caught and destroyed. These are the reasons why they are hard to capture, so they say that few indeed, and these at long intervals, are despatched to the Prasii, and of these few it was either sick animals or pregnant females that were despatched: the accident of their capture was due in the case of the males to their tardiness, in the case of the females to their being big-bellied.

[22] G   The Sciratae ** also are a people on the other side of India, and they are snub-nosed, and are permanently so either from having their noses dinted in tender infancy or because they are born like that. And in their country there occur snakes of enormous size, some of which seize and devour the flocks, while others suck out their blood, just as the goatsuckers do in Greece ** : the latter I know I have mentioned earlier on ** at the most appropriate place.

[23] G   Docility, it seems, is another characteristic of the horse ; witness the following account. I have heard that the inhabitants of Sybaris in Italy devoted an excessive amount of thought to delicate living; of other matters and pursuits they knew nothing, but spent their entire time in easy-going sloth and extravagance. To explain in detail all that went on in Sybaris would make a long story now; the following tale however attests their unsurpassed luxuriousness. Their horses had been trained to dance in time to the music of the pipe at their hour for banqueting. Accordingly the inhabitants of Croton knowing this (they were at war with Sybaris), had their trumpet - with its piercing note that summons to arms - silenced; they collected pipes and pipe-players, and when they were at close quarters and within a bowshot, the players struck up the dance-music. At the sound the horses of the people of Sybaris, imagining that they were in the midst of a wine-party, shook off their riders and began to leap about and dance. And they not only threw the ranks into confusion but also 'danced away' the war. **

[24] G   I have spoken earlier on of the horses which are called lycospades, ** and I will now describe some further characteristics of which I have heard. Their face is compact, short, and snub-nosed. They are said to be fond of the Greek people, to understand them by some mysterious means, and to maintain a natural friendship for them, so that if Greeks approach them, touch them, and pat them with the hollow of their hand, they do not resent it or shy away, but pass their days at their side as though they were tethered, and when the Greeks lie down to sleep they will sleep at their side. If however some foreigner approaches, then, just as hounds on the scent recognise animals by their tracks, so do these mares know the man's origin, and neigh and flee away as though they were afraid of some wild beast. But their delight is in familiar friends who give them fodder and generally tend them, and they are anxious to appear beautiful, especially in the eyes of their drivers. The proof of this is that when they go swimming they advance far into the lake or sea or spring in their eagerness to sleek their faces, so that nothing disfiguring or unlovely from the manger or from their journey may befoul their beauty. Fragrant unguents and the scent of perfumes are as dear to a lycospad horse as they are to a bride. And Homer testifies to the natural love which all horses have for unguents when he says [Il. 23. 280]

' For so mighty a charioteer and so gentle have they lost, who right often would pour upon their manes smooth oil when he had washed them in clear water.'

And Semonides describing how women are born and moulded after animals of all kinds, says that the horse's love of ornament and of perfumes is innate in some women also. These are his words [fr. 7. 57 Diehl]

' But another is born of a dainty, long-maned mare: she turns away from servile tasks and drudgery; she will never touch a mill or pick up a sieve or cast muck out of the house, nor, since she would escape the soot, will she sit by the oven. Only by constraint does she take a man to her bosom. And every day she washes off the dirt twice, sometimes thrice, and anoints herself with perfumes. And always she wears her deep tresses combed and shaded with flowers. Such a woman is fair to look upon for others, but to her husband a plague, unless he be a despot or sceptred lord who delights his heart with such ornaments.'

[25] G   Here, I think, are further characteristics of horses. In order that their horses may not panic, the Persians accustom them to noises and the clang of bronze, and sound them so that in war they may never be afraid of the rattle of full armour and the clash of swords upon shields. And they throw dummy corpses stuffed with straw beneath their feet in order that they may get used to trampling on corpses in war and may not through terror at some unnerving occurrence be useless in encountering men-at-arms. Nor did this escape the notice of Homer, as he himself shows. At any rate we learn in our childhood from the Iliad [10. 486] how the Thracian Rhesus and his companions with him were slain. This is the story we learn. The son of Tydeus ** slaughters the Thracians, while the son of Laertes ** draws the slain men away by the feet for fear lest the Thracian horses, being newcomers, get entangled among the dead bodies and panic, and through being unused to them may leap aside as though they were treading upon some terrifying objects. But once horses have learnt a thing, they will not forget what they have learnt, so clever are they at learning whatever is of any advantage! I have spoken earlier on ** of their capacity for affection and how far they will feel it.

[26] G   In frosty regions when the snow falls and the cold is at its worst the sheep have no gall (they are found to be in this condition when penned up and unable to get fresh fodder), but at the beginning of spring they go out to the pastures and become filled with gall. And this, they say, is a constant occurrence especially in the sheep of Scythia.

[27] G   Agatharcides asserts that there is in Libya a certain race of men who are called Psylli. So far as their general way of life is concerned they differ not a whit from other men, except that, compared with men of other nations, their bodies have an unusual and marvellous quality: they alone are uninjured by the numerous creatures that bite or strike. At any rate they do not feel either the bite of a snake or the prick of a spider which is fatal to others, or even the sting planted by a scorpion, and whenever one of these creatures comes near and touches a Psyllian and inhales the odour from him, it is as though it had tasted some drug, that brings on a drowsiness inducing insensibility, for it becomes quite weak and relaxed until the man has passed by. And their manner of proving that their children are either their own or bastards by testing them among reptiles, just as artisans test gold in the fire, I have described earlier on. **

[28] G   Callias in the tenth book of his History of Agathocles of Syracuse says that the Cerastes inflicts a terrible bite, for it kills dumb animals and human beings unless a Libyan belonging to the race of Psylli happens to be at hand. At any rate if a Psyllian comes in answer to a summons or is present by chance and sees that the victim is still only in slight pain, by simply spitting on the wound he alleviates the pain and conjures away the poison by his spittle! If however he finds the man in a sore plight and in intolerable suffering, he takes a large mouthful of water behind his teeth, and this same water with which he has rinsed his mouth he pours into a cup and gives to the stricken man to swallow. But if the poison is too strong even for this medicine, the Psyllian lies down naked beside the sick man also naked, and applying to him by friction the innate power of his own skin, renders the map free of the poison. And Nicander of Colophon should be sufficient witness to this when he says [fr. 32]

' I have, heard how the race of Psylli in Libya suffer not at all from the festering wounds inflicted by the creatures that are nurtured by Syrtis, mother of sands, and well-skilled are they to succour others also, when afflicted by their blows ; not working with medicinal roots, but from their own limbs, skin touching skin '

and so on.

[29] G   Empedocles, the natural philosopher, who of course also speaks about the characteristics of animals, says that there are some creatures of composite nature, differing in so far as they are two forms combined, but conjoined in a single body. These are his words: **

' Many creatures are begotten with two faces and two breasts : some born of a cow have the fore-parts of a man; others on the contrary spring up begotten of a man but with the head of a cow ; others again mingle the limbs of a man with those of a woman, being endowed with parts veiled in shadow.' **

[30] G   Callisthenes of Olynthus asserts that in Lycia the goats are shorn just as sheep are everywhere else, for they have such wonderfully thick, fine fleeces that one might say that their hair hung down in curls or ringlets. Moreover those who make tackle for ships use them for weaving ropes.

[31] G   Ctesias in his account of India asserts that the people called Cynamolgi ** {dog-milkers} keep a great number of hounds as large as those of Hyrcania, and, in particular, that they are keen dog-breeders. The Cnidian writer gives the reasons as follows. From the summer solstice up to mid-winter herds of cattle come roaming; like a swarm of bees or a wasps' nest that has been disturbed these cattle are past numbering. And they are wild and aggressive and vent their fury with their horns in a terrible fashion. Being unable to check them by any other means the Cynamolgi let loose their hounds, which they always breed for this purpose, upon them, and the hounds overcome and destroy them without any difficulty. Thereupon the men select such portions of the flesh as they consider suitable for eating, the residue they set aside for the hounds and are glad indeed to give them a share, an offering as it were to benefactors. And during the season when these cattle are no longer on the move the Cynamolgi have the hounds to help them in their pursuit of other beasts. The bitches they milk ; hence their name, for they drink hounds' milk just as we drink that of sheep and goats.

[32] G   In his work on agriculture Aeschylides ** says that in Ceos each of the farmers owns but few sheep, the reason being that the soil of Ceos is exceedingly poor and has no pasture-land. So they throw tree-medick and fig-leaves and the fallen leaves of the olive to the flocks, also the husks of various kinds of pulse, and they even sow thistles among their crops, all of which afford excellent feeding for the sheep. And from them they obtain milk which when curdled produces the finest cheese. And the same writer says that it is called Cythnian and that it is sold at the rate of ninety drachmas a talent. ** And lambs also are produced that are of remarkable beauty and are sold not at the price of ordinary lambs but for a far more impressive figure.

[33] G   Phoenician histories state that the cows of that country are so tall that the milkers for all their great height have to stand or else need a stool to enable them to reach the teats. And among the Libyans who border upon India I learn that there are herds of cattle that graze moving backwards the reason being that Nature made an initial blunder or failed to pay attention, because their horns grow in front of their eyes and prevent them from seeing what lies immediately ahead, and so she obliges them to move backwards, and they lower their heads and crop the grass. Again, Aristotle says ** that among the Neuri ** the horns and ears of the cattle spring from the same source and are knit together. And the same writer says that in a certain place in Libya the goats have their teats attached to the chest. Let me add the following statement also from the son of Nicomachus: he says that among the Budini who live on the banks of the Cariscus ** a white sheep does not occur, they are all black.

[34] G   Nymphodorus says that Sardinia is an excellent mother of flocks. The goats which she nourishes are animals deserving admiration, for the natives clothe themselves in their skins and these afford them protection; and in the winter the skins keep them warm, and in the summer by some mysterious natural property keep them cool. The hair on the hides actually grows to the length of a cubit. And it seems that during frosty weather the wearer must turn the hairs of this garment inwards to the skin, but in summer outwards, if he wants to keep warm during the frost and not to be suffocated in the summer.

[35] G   What? Are we to leave the name of Orthagoras without a mention ? He says in his account of India that there is a village which has been given the name of Coÿtha, and that the herdsmen give dried fish as fodder to the goats of that country when in their pens.

[36] G   I have stated earlier on ** that the elephant dreads a pig; I now wish to tell what happened at Megara when the Megarians were besieged by Antigonus, ** and the story I have to tell is as follows. When the Macedonians were pressing them hard, they smeared some pigs with liquid pitch, set a light to them, and let them loose against the enemy. Goaded with pain and shrieking because of their burns, the pigs fell upon the troops of elephants, driving them mad and throwing them into terrible confusion. So the elephants broke ranks and were no longer tractable in spite of having been trained since they were small, either because elephants by some instinct hate and loathe pigs, or because they dread the shrill and discordant sound of their voices. In consequence those who train young elephants, being aware of this, keep pigs along with them, so it is said, in order that through herding together the elephants may get to fear them less.

[37] G   Among the people called Psylli in India (there are other Psylli in Libya also) the horses are no bigger than rams, the sheep look as small as lambs, while the asses, mules, cattle, and domestic animals of every kind are proportionately small. They say that neither the domestic nor the wild pig exists in India, and the Indians revolt at the idea of eating this animal: they would no more eat pork than they would human flesh.

[38] G   I have heard that in Metropolis ** near Ephesus there is a lake and near to it a cavern. Now this cave contains a host of snakes past numbering, and they say that their size is enormous and their bite terrible. The story goes that they emerge from the cave, crawl out as far as the lake near by, and swim about, but if they try to go further afield than the water they cannot, for while they are about to pass on to the land huge crabs lie in wait for them, and these raise their claws, seize, throttle, and kill the snakes. And so through fear of their enemy the snakes remain where they are, and the land for them is inaccessible, for they dread the vigilance of the crabs and the punishment which they inflict. And the people round about would long ago have been utterly destroyed, had not the aforesaid crabs by some mysterious instinct encircled the margin of the lake and by keeping off the snakes had ensured that all was peace thereabouts.

[39] G   Onesicritus of Astypalaea says that at the time of the expedition of Alexander, the son of Philip, there were in India two snakes kept by Abisares the Indian, and that one of them measured a hundred and forty cubits, the other eighty. He says also that Alexander had a great desire to see them.

Egyptian histories relate that in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus ** there were brought from Ethiopia to Alexandria two live snakes and that one of them was fourteen cubits long, the other thirteen; and in the time of Ptolemy Euergetes three were brought, one was nine cubits long, the second seven, and the third snake one cubit less. And the Egyptians assert that they were tended with great care in the temple of Asclepius. And the same people maintain that asps four cubits in length frequently occur. And so I have mentioned these facts in the course of discussing animal characteristics from a wish to demonstrate the length to which by nature they attain.

Now historians of Chios also assert that in that island near the mountain named Pelinnaeus in a wooded glen filled with tall trees there was a snake of gigantic size whose very hiss made the inhabitants of Chios shudder. None of the farmers, none of the herdsmen dared to approach the spot and observe its size, but they were confident simply from its hiss that the beast was a monster to strike one with consternation. Now the discovery how large in fact it was, was due to a miraculous and truly wonderful contrivance. A furious and violent wind assailed the trees in the glen and they were hurled one against the other, and the boughs crashed together with such force that they generated flames, and a huge fire was kindled which embraced the entire region and encircled the monster. It was cut off, and being unable to creep out was burned to death. And so when the place was stripped, all lay bare to view. And the inhabitants of Chios, freed now from their dread, came to see, and discovered the bones to be of gigantic size and the head terrifying. From these they were able to guess how large and how awful the brute was while still alive.

[40] G   There is a snake called the Sēps and it has this remarkable quality: it changes the colour of its body so as to match the places through which it passes. The four fangs of its lower jaw are hollow, and membrane-like veils cover them and conceal the hollows. Directly the creature has struck, it projects its poison through these ducts, ** which at once makes a festering wound and very soon causes death.

[41] G   Megasthenes states that in India there are winged scorpions of immense size and that they give a sting somewhat like the scorpions of Europe. He also says that there are snakes there with wings, and that their visitations occur not during the daytime but by night, and that they emit urine which at once produces a festering wound on anybody on which it may happen to drop. This is what Megasthenes says. Further, Polycleitus says that in the same country there are lizards of very great size and of many colours, and that their skins are wonderfully dappled with bright hues, and that they are extremely soft to the touch. And Aristotle says [HA 606 b 5 (8.28)] that there are lizards in Arabia two cubits long.

Pammenes in his work 'Concerning wild animals' says that in Egypt there are scorpions with wings and a double sting (this, he says, is not mere hearsay, but professes that it is his personal observation): there are also two-headed snakes which have two feet in the region of the tail. Further, Ctesias of Cnidus says that in the neighbourhood of Sittace ** in Persia there is a river called the Argades, and that it contains a great number of snakes whose bodies are entirely black except for the head, and this is white. There snakes attain to as much as six feet in length. By day they are not visible, for they swim under water, but at night they kill those who come either to draw water or to wash their clothes. And the victims are numerous, either because they need water when their supply fails, or because they were busy during the day-time and unable to wash their clothes then.

Book 17


(1)   So Aelian understood πορφύρεος; the proper meaning is 'onrushing'.    

(2)   See 13.18.    

(3)   ' An Indian Green Fruit-pigeon, such as Crocopus chlorpgaster' (Thompson, Gk. birds, s.v. Πελειάς).    

(4)   Founded by Alexander 326 B.C. on the river Jhelum (Hydaspes) after his victory over Porus and named after his horse Bucephalus.

(5)   Cyropolis, more commonly known as Cyresehata, was in Sogdiana. It was stormed and destroyed by Alexander, in 329 B.C. The name is probably the Graecised form of some Oriental name.    

(6)   See 1.58, note.    

(7)   Melitai island off the coast of Dalmatia.    

(8)   Keller (Ant. Tierw. 1. 9) identifies this monkey with the ' Hunuman, ' Semnopithecus entellus.    

(9)   The Yak , Bos poēphagus grunniens, is to be found on the Rupshu plateau in the south-east corner of Kashmir and in Sikkim; elsewhere only in Tibet.    

(10)   The Argolic shield was circular and about 3 ft. across.    

(11)   The Palaemon carcinus of the East Indies attains the size of a lobster,    

(12)   The turtles described here, in 16.17, and in 17.3, cannot be certainly identified.    

(13)   Medimnus - about 12 gallons.    

(14)   A kind of ape, perhaps the Gibbon.    

(15)   The Termite.    

(16)   Ariana comprehended, roughly speaking, most of the modern Persia, Afghanistan, and India as far as the river Indus.    

(17)   The Indian Ocean.    

(18)   Ceylon.    

(19)   7000 stades = about 789 miles; 5000 = about 568 miles. The actual length of Ceylon from North to South is 271 miles and the width 137 miles.    

(20)   Their territory lay along the east coast of India between the mouths of the Mahanadi and Godavari rivers, far north of Ceylon; but Aelian appears to regard it as in the same latitude as the island.    

(21)   Aelian is apparently describing the Dugong, Halicore dugong, which is a large, herbivorous, seal-like mammal of the Indian Ocean ; see O. Keller, Ant. Tierwelt 1. 414.    

(22)   Not the 'Sea-hare' of 2. 45 and 9. 51; this seems to be ' one of the spiny Globe-fishes (Diodon) ' (Thompson, Gk. fishes)    

(23)   See above, ch. 17.

(24)   ' Cartazonus ' may be presumed to be a corruption of some Indian word. In Sanskrit 'the one-horned animal' is the Rhinoceros; Khadga and Khadgin = rhinoceros. A fuller form was Khadgadanta, whence came the Persian Kargadan. The Greek καρτάζωνος may have replaced some such Indian-Prakrit. word. See H. W. Bailey, Zoroastrian problems, 110, and bull. of School of Or. & Afr. Studies 10 (1940-42) 899; P. Edgerton, Buddhist hybrid Sanskrit dict. 202; E. Sachau, Alberuni's India, 1. 204,, and Indo-europ. Studien (Abh. Berl. Ak. Wiss. 1888), p. 18; O. Shepard, Lore of the Unicorn, 36.    

(25)   A primitive race of Pygmies, long-haired and with a lights coloured skin, living in the north and north-east of India.    

(26)   This is a complete fiction; see Thompson, Gk. birds, s.v. αἰγοθήλας.    

(27)   See 3.39.    

(28)   Sybaris was annihilated by the people of Croton, 510 B.C. Efforts to re-found it were unsuccessful.    

(29)   A breed of horses from the south of Italy. Aelian has not mentioned them before, though they share some of the characteristics mentioned in 11.36.    

(30)   Diomedes.    

(31)   Odysseus.    

(32)   See 6.44.    

(33)   See 1.57.    

(34)   The lines are from his poem Περί Φύσεως, fr. 61, Diels Vorsok. 1.334 .    

(35)   σκιεροΐς : both text and interpretation are uncertain.    

(36)   A tribe in Ethiopia.    

(37)   All that is known of him is that his work was in at least three books; see Athen. 14. 650 d.    

(38)   That is, 3 7s. 6d. for 74 lb. avoirdupois, the drachma being reckoned at 9d.    

(39)   Not in any extant work; the nearest approach to these two statements is to be found (for the cattle) in HA 517 a 28 ( 2.9 )and - for the goats - 500 a 15 ( 2.1 ). See frr. 313, 314 (Rose,p. 331).    

(40)   A Slav people who in the 6th century B.C. settled in the region about modern Kiev.    

(41)   Unidentified.    

(42)   See 1.38; 8.28.    

(43)   It was Antigonus (not Antipater) who besieged and took Megara; see 11.14.   The story of the pigs is given by Polyaenus, 4.6.3.    

(44)   Metropolis lay on the road between Ephesus and Smyrna somewhat nearer to the former.    

(45)   Ptolemy Philadelphus, 308-246 B.C. ; Ptolemy Euergetes, 182-116 B.C.    

(46)   The fangs of the asp are similarly described in 9.4 ; cp. Nic. Th. 182-5. See W. Morel in Philol. 83. 361.    

(47)   Sittace, town on the Tigris, at the north end of the province of Babylonia. The Argades has not been identified.    


16.1 The Purple Shellfish
16.2 Birds of India
16.3 The Mynah
16.4 The Adjutant stork
16.5 The Hoopoe of India. A Brahmani myth
16.6 The Pangolin
16.7 The Sand-partridge.
16.8 Water-snakes of India
16.9 The Indian Mule
16.10 Monkevs of Prasiaea
16.11 The Yak
16.12 Fishes of India
16.13 The Skate and the Prawn of India
16.14 The turtle and the tortoise of India
16.15 The ants of India
16.16 The Chasm of Pluto
16.17 The island of Taprobane. The turtle of the Indian Ocean
16.18 The elephants of: Taprobane ; its sea-monsters
16.19 The Sea-hare of the Indian Ocean
16.20 Wild animals of India. The 'Cartazonus'
16.21 Satyr-like creatures: in India
16.22 The Sciratae. Snakes of their country
16.23 The people of Sybaris and their horses
16.24 The 'Lycospad' horse
16.25 The horse trained for battle
16.26 The sheep in cold weather
16.27 The Psylli and noxious creatures
16.28 The Psylli and snake-bites
16.29 Different natures combined
16.30 The goats of Lycia
16.31 The Cynamolgi and their dogs
16.32 The sheep of Ceos
16.33 The cattle and sheep of various countries
16.34 The goats of Sardinia
16.35 Fish as food for goats
16.36 Elephants routed by pigs
16.37 The Psylli of India and their horses, etc.
16.38 Snakes and crabs at Metropolis
16.39 Monstrous snakes in India, in Ethiopia. A snake in Chios
16.40 The 'Seps' snake
16.41 Winged scorpions and snakes, and Lizards of India
16.42 Winged scorpions; two-headed snakes ; river-snakes in Persia

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