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AELIAN: ON THE NATURE OF ANIMALS

-   BOOK 2

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 1

[1] G   When cranes are about to leave their Thracian haunts and the frosts of Thrace, they collect on the river Hebrus, ** and when each one has swallowed a stone by way of food and as ballast against the onslaught of winds, they prepare to emigrate and to set out for the Nile, longing for the warmth and for the food that is to be had there during the winter. And just when they are on the point of rising and moving off, the oldest crane goes round the entire flock thrice and then falls to the ground and breathes his last. So the others bury the dead body on the spot and fly straight to Egypt, traversing the widest seas on outstretched wing, never landing, never pausing to rest. And they fall in with the Egyptians as they are sowing their fields, and in the ploughlands they find, so to speak, a generous table, and though uninvited partake of the Egyptians' hospitality.

[2] G   That living creatures should be born upon the mountains, in the air, and in the sea, is no great marvel, since matter, food, and nature are the cause. But that there should spring from fire winged creatures which men call ' Fire-flies,' ** and that these should live and flourish in it, flying to and fro about it, is a startling fact. And what is more extraordinary, when these creatures stray outside the range of the heat to which they are accustomed and take in cold air, they at once perish. And why they should be born in the fire and die in the air others must explain.

[3] G   With other birds the hen is mounted by the cock, so they say; not so swallows: their manner of coupling is the reverse. Nature alone knows the reason for this. But the common explanation is that the hens are afraid of Tereus, ** and fear lest one day he steal secretly upon them and enact a fresh tragedy. Now in my opinion the most valuable gift that Nature has bestowed upon the swallow is this, that if it chance to be blinded with a brooch-pin, it regains its sight.

Why then do we continue to sing the praises of Teiresias, even though he was the wisest of men not only on earth but also in Hades, as Homer tells us [Od. 10. 493] ?

[4] G   There are creatures called Ephemera {'living only for a day'} ** that take their name from their span of life, for they are generated in wine, and when the vessel is opened they fly out, see the light, and die. Thus it is that Nature has permitted them to come to life, but has rescued them as soon as possible from life's evils, so that they are neither aware of their own misfortune nor are spectators of the misfortune of others.

[5] G   Men have, it is true, recovered after a long while from the bite of an asp, ** either by summoning excision to their aid or with the utmost fortitude enduring cautery, or they have in their plight prevented the poison from spreading by taking the necessary medicines.

The Basilisk measures but a span, yet at the sight of it the longest snake not after an interval but on the instant, at the mere impact of its breath, shrivels. And if a man has a stick in his hand and the Basilisk bites it, the owner of the rod dies.

[6] G   The dolphin's love of music and its affectionate nature are a constant theme, the former with the people of Corinth (with whom the Lesbians concur), the latter with the inhabitants of Ios. The Lesbians tell the story of Arion of Methymna; what happened in Ios with the beautiful boy and his swimming and the dolphin is told by the inhabitants of Ios.

A certain Byzantine, Leonidas by name, declares that while sailing past Aeolis he saw with his own eyes at the town called Poroselene ** a tame dolphin which lived in the harbour there and behaved towards the inhabitants as though they were personal friends. And further he declares that an aged couple fed this foster-child, offering it the most alluring baits. What is more, the old couple had a son who was brought up along with the dolphin, and the pair cared for the dolphin and their own son, and somehow by dint of being brought up together the boy and the fish gradually came without knowing it to love one another, and, as the oft-repeated tag has it, 'a super-reverent counter-love was cultivated' by the aforesaid. So then the dolphin came to love Poroselene as his native country and grew as fond of the harbour as of his own home, and what is more, he repaid those who had cared for him what they had spent on feeding him. And this was how he did it. When fully grown he had no need of being fed from the hand, but would now swim further out, and as he ranged abroad in his search for some quarry from the sea, would keep some to feed himself, and the rest he would bring to his 'relations'. And they were aware of this and were even glad to wait for the tribute which he brought. This then was one gain; another was as follows. As to the boy so to the dolphin his foster-parents gave a name, and the boy with the courage born of their common upbringing would stand upon some spot jutting into the sea and call the name, and as he called would use soothing words. Whereat the dolphin, whether he was racing with some oared ship, or plunging and leaping in scorn of all other fish that roamed in shoals about the spot, or was hunting under stress of hunger, would rise to the surface with all speed, like a ship that raises a great wave as it drives onward, and drawing near to his loved one would frolic and gambol at his side; at one moment would swim close by the boy, at another would seem to challenge him and even induce his favourite to race with him. And what was even more astounding, he would at times even decline the winner's place and actually swim second, as though presumably he was glad to be defeated.

These happenings were noised abroad, and those who sailed thither reckoned them among the excellent sights which the city had to show; and to the old people and to the boy they were a source of revenue.

[7] G   Archelaus tells us that in Libya mules that have been wounded or which have succumbed from thirst are thrown out for dead in great numbers. And frequently a multitude of snakes of all kinds comes streaming up to eat their flesh, but whenever they hear the hiss of the Basilisk they disappear as swiftly as possible into their dens or beneath the sand, and hide; so the Basilisk on reaching the spot feasts in complete tranquillity. Then again with a hiss he is off, and thereafter as to the mules and to the feast which they provide,' he marks their place,' as the saying has it,' only by the stars.' ** 

[8] G   There are stories which reach us from Euboea of fisher-folk in those parts sharing their catch equally with the dolphins in those parts. And I am told that they fish in this way. The weather must be calm, and if it is, they attach to the prow of their boats some hollow braziers with fire burning in them, and one can see through them, so that while retaining the fire they do not conceal the light. They call them lanterns. Now the fish are afraid of the brightness and are dazzled by the glare, and some of them not knowing what is the purpose of the thing they see, draw near from a wish to discover what it is that frightens them. Then terror-stricken they either lie still in a mass close to some rock, quivering with fear, or are cast ashore as they are jostled along, and seem thunderstruck. Of course in that condition it is perfectly easy to harpoon them. So when the dolphins observe that the fishermen have lit their fire, they get ready to act, and while the men row softly the dolphins scare the fish on the outskirts and push them and prevent any escape. Accordingly the fish pressed on all sides and in some degree surrounded, realise that there is no escaping from the men that row and the dolphins that swim; so they remain where they are and are caught in great numbers. And the dolphins approach as though demanding the profits of their common labour due to them from this store of food. And the fishermen loyally and gratefully resign to their comrades in the chase their just portion - assuming that they wish them to come again, unsummoned and prompt, to their aid, for those toilers of the sea are convinced that if they omit to do this, they will make enemies of those who were once friends.

[9] G   A deer defeats a snake by an extraordinary gift that Nature has bestowed. And the fiercest snake lying in its den cannot escape, but the deer applies its nostrils to the spot where the venomous creature lurks, breathes into it with the utmost force, attracts it by the spell, as it were, of its breath, draws it forth against its will, and when it peeps out, begins to eat it. Especially in the winter does it do this.

Indeed it has even happened that a man has ground a deer's horn to powder and then has thrown the powder into fire, and that the mounting smoke has driven the snakes from all the neighbourhood: even the smell is to them unendurable.

[10] G   The Horse is generally speaking a proud creature, the reason being that his size, his speed, his tall neck, the suppleness of his limbs, and the clang of his hooves make him insolent and vain. But it is chiefly a mare with a long mane that is so full of airs and graces. For instance, she scorns to be covered by an ass, but is glad to mate with a horse, regarding herself as only fit for the greatest of her kind. Accordingly those who wish to have mules born, knowing this characteristic, clip the mare's mane in a haphazard fashion anyhow, and then put asses to her. Though ashamed at first, she admits her present ignoble mate. Sophocles also appears to mention this humiliation [fr. 659P ] . ** 

[11] G   Touching the sagacity of elephants I have spoken elsewhere; and further, I have spoken too of the manner of hunting them, mentioning but a few of the numerous facts recorded by others. For the present I intend to speak of their sense for music and their readiness to obey and their aptitude for learning things which are difficult even for mankind, to say nothing of so huge an animal and one hitherto so fierce to encounter. The movements of a chorus, the steps of a dance, how to march in time, how to enjoy the sound of flutes, how to distinguish different notes, when to slacken pace as permitted or when to quicken at command - all these things the elephant has learnt and knows how to do, and does accurately without making mistakes. Thus, while nature has created him to be the largest of animals, learning has rendered him the most gentle and docile. Now had I set out to write about the readiness to obey and to learn among elephants in India or in Ethiopia or in Libya, anyone might suppose that I was concocting some pretentious tale, that in fact I was on the strength of hearsay about the beast giving a completely false account of its nature. That is the last thing that a man in pursuit of knowledge and an ardent lover of the truth has any right to do. Instead I have preferred to state what I have myself seen and what others have recorded as having formerly occurred in Rome, treating summarily a few facts out of many, which nevertheless sufficiently demonstrate the peculiar nature of the beast.

The elephant when once tamed is the gentlest of creatures and is easily induced to do whatever one wants. Now keeping due eye on the time, I shall state the most important events first. Germanicus Caesar was about to give some shows for the Romans (he was the nephew ** of Tiberius). There were in Rome several full-grown male and female elephants, and there were calves born of them in the country; and when their limbs began to grow firm, a man who was clever at dealing with such beasts trained them and instructed them with uncanny and astounding dexterity. To begin with he introduced them in a quiet, gentle fashion to his instructions, supplying them with delicacies and the most appetising food, varied so as to allure and entice them into abandoning all trace of ferocity and into becoming renegades, that is tame and to some degree human. So what they learnt was not to go wild at the sound of flutes, not to be alarmed at the beating of drums, to be charmed by the pipe and to endure discordant notes, the beat of marching feet, and the singing of crowds. Moreover they were thoroughly trained not to be afraid of men in masses. And further their disciplining was manly in the following respects: they were not to get angry at the infliction of a blow, nor, when obliged to move some limb and to sway in time to dance or song, to burst into a rage, even though they had attained to such strength and courage. Now to refrain by instinct from misbehaving and from flouting the instruction given by a man is a virtue and a mark of nobility. When therefore the dancing- master had brought them to a high degree of proficiency, and they performed accurately what he had taught them, they did not disappoint the labour spent on their training (so they say) in the place where in due time the occasion demanded that they should display what they had been taught. Now this troupe was twelve in number, and they advanced in two groups from the right and the left sides of the theatre. They entered with a mincing gait, swaying their whole body in a delicate manner, and they were clothed in the flowered garments of dancers. And at no more than a word from the conductor they formed into line (so we are told)  - supposing that to have been their teacher's order. Then again they wheeled into a circle when he so ordered them, and if they had to deploy, that also they did. And then they sprinkled flowers to deck the floor, but with moderation and economy, and now and again they stamped, keeping time in a rhythmical dance.

That Damon therefore, that Spintharus, Aristoxenus, Philoxenus, and others should be experts in music and should be numbered among the few for their knowledge of it is certainly matter for wonder but by no means incredible or absurd. The reason is that man is a rational animal capable of understanding and logical thought. But that an inarticulate animal should comprehend rhythm and melody, should follow the movements of a tragic dance without a false step, fulfilling all that its lessons required of it - these are gifts bestowed by Nature, and each one is a singularity that fills one with amazement.

But what followed was enough to send the spectator wild with delight. On the sand of the theatre were placed mattresses of low couches, and on these in turn cushions, and over them embroidered coverlets, clear evidence of a house of great prosperity and ancestral wealth. And close at hand were set costly goblets and bowls of gold and of silver, and in them a large quantity of water; and beside them were placed tables of citrus wood and of ivory, of great magnificence, and they were laden with meat and bread enough to satisfy the stomachs of the most voracious animals. So as soon as the preparations were completed in all their abundance, the banqueters came on, six males and an equal number of females ; the former were clad in masculine garb, the latter in feminine; and they took their places in orderly fashion in pairs, a male and a female. And at a signal they reached forward their trunks modestly, as though they were hands, and ate with great decorum. And not one of them gave the impression of being a glutton nor yet of trying to forestall others or of being inclined to snatch too large a portion, as the Persian did who occurs in Xenophon the 'golden'. ** And when they wanted to drink, a bowl was placed by each one, from which they sucked up the water with their trunks and drank it in an orderly manner, and then proceeded to squirt the attendants ** in fun, not by way of insult.

Many similar stories have been recorded showing the astounding ingenuity of these animals. And I myself have seen one actually with its trunk writing Roman letters on a tablet in a straight line without any deviation. The only thing was that the instructor's hand was laid upon it, directing it to the shape of the letters until the animal had finished writing; and it looked intently down. You would have said that the animal's eyes had been taught and knew the letters.

[12] G   The Hare has certain innate characteristics. For one thing it sleeps with its eyelids open; for another it proclaims its age when it half shows certain apertures.  Also it carries some of its young half- formed in its womb, some it is in process of bearing, others it has already borne.

[13] G   All the large fishes, with the exception of the shark, require a leader, and are guided by its eyes. The leader is a small, slim fish with an elongated head, but its tail is narrow, according to the authorities on the subject. But whether Nature has conferred upon each large fish the aforesaid guide, or whether it associates with the large fish of its own free will out of friendliness, I am unable to say, but I prefer to believe that this is done under the compulsion of Nature, for this fish never swims by itself, but moves in front of the large fish's head and is its leader and, as it were, tiller. For instance, it foresees and takes previous notice of everything on behalf of the large fish; it forewarns it of everything by the tip of its tail, and by its contact signals to the fish, keeping it away from what is to be feared but leading it on to what will feed it. And by some invisible sign it warns the fish that its pursuers have designs upon it, and gives timely indication of those spots which a creature of its size ought not to approach, if it is not to be surrounded and perish utterly on some reef.

So then the first essential for the life of the largest of creatures is the smallest. And it seems that when the large fish becomes very fat it can no longer see nor hear, the vast bulk of its flesh being an obstacle to sight and to hearing. But the ' leader ' is never seen apart from the large fish; if however, with its responsibility for the services described above, it dies first, then the large fish is bound to die also.

[14] G   The Chameleon is not disposed to remain of one and the same colour for men to see and recognise, but it conceals itself by misleading and deceiving the eye of the beholder. Thus, if you come across one that appears black, it changes its semblance to green, as though it had changed its clothes; then again it assumes a bluish-grey tint and appears different, like an actor who puts on another mask or another garment. This being so, one might say that even Nature, though she does not boil anyone down nor apply drugs, like a Medea or a Circe, is also a sorceress.

[15] G   You must know that the Pilot-fish frequents the open sea and loves to dwell in the depths more than all others of which we have heard tell. But either it detests the land or the land detests the fish. Well, when vessels are cleaving the mid-ocean these Pilot- fish swim up as though they were in love with them and attend them like a bodyguard, circling this way and that as they gambol and leap. Now the passengers are of course totally unable to tell how far they are from land, and even the sailors themselves are frequently mistaken as to the true fact. The Pilot-fish however can tell from a long way off, like a keen-scented hound which immediately gets wind of the prey, and then they are no longer so captivated by the vessel as to stay at her side, but mass as at a signal and are off and away. Thereupon those in control of the vessel know that they must look around for land, not because they judge by beacons but because they have been instructed by the aforesaid fish.

[16] G   If at any time a flush or a pallor appears on a man's bare and hairless skin it causes no astonishment. But the animal known as Tarandus {elk?)} transforms itself hair and all, and can adopt such an infinite variety of colours as to bewilder the eye. It is a native of Scythia and in its [hide ?] ** and its size resembles a bull; and the Scythians cover their shields with its hide and consider it a good counter to a spear.

[17] G   There is a fish whose province is the open sea, black in appearance, as long as an eel of moderate size, and deriving its name from what it does : with evil purpose it meets a vessel running at full speed before the wind, and fastening its teeth into the front of the prow, like a man vigorously curbing with bit and tightened rein an intractable and savage horse, it checks the vessel's onrush and holds it fast. In vain do the sails belly in the middle, to no purpose do the winds blow, and depression comes upon the passengers. But the sailors understand and realise what ails the ship; and it is from this action that the fish has acquired its name, for those who have had experience call it the Ship-holder. **

[18] G   In Homer skill in treating the wounded and persons in need of medicine goes back as far as the third generation of pupil and master. Thus Patroclus, son of Menoetius, is taught the healing art by Achilles, ** and Achilles, son of Peleus, is taught by Cheiron, son of Cronus. And heroes and children of the gods learnt about the nature of roots, the use of different herbs, the concocting of drugs, spells to reduce inflammations, the way to staunch blood, and everything else that they knew. And moreover there are discoveries which men of a later age have made. But that Nature really has no need of these ingenuities is proved by the case of the Elephant; for instance, when it is assailed with spears and a shower of arrows, it eats the flower of the olive ** or the actual oil, and then shakes off every missile that has pierced it and is sound and whole again.

[19] G   [And here is another strange feature peculiar to this animal.] ** The bear is unable to produce a cub, nor would anyone allow, on seeing its offspring immediately after birth, that it had borne a living thing. Yet the bear has been in labour, though the lump of nondescript flesh has no distinguishing mark, no form, and no shape. But the mother loves it and recognises it as her child, keeps it warm beneath her thighs, smooths it with her tongue, fashions it into limbs, and little by little brings it into shape; and when you see it you would say that this is a bear's cub.

[20] G   All bulls have inflexible and rigid horns, and this is why, just as a man puts passion into his weapons, so a bull puts passion into its horns. But the oxen of Erythrae can move their horns as they do their ears.

[21] G   The land of Ethiopia (the place where the gods bathe, celebrated by Homer under the name of Ocean, ** is an excellent and desirable neighbour), this land, I say, is the mother of the very largest serpents. For, you must know, they attain to a length of one hundred and eighty feet, and they are not called by the name of any species, but people say that they kill elephants, and these serpents rival the longest-lived animals. Thus far the accounts from Ethiopia. But according to accounts from Phrygia there are serpents in Phrygia too, and these grow to a length of sixty feet, and every day in midsummer some time after noon they creep out of their lairs. And on the banks of the river Rhyndacus ** while supporting part of their coils on the ground, they raise all the rest of their body and, steadily and silently extending their neck, open their mouth and attract birds by their breath, as it were by a spell. And the birds descend, feathers and all, into their stomach, drawn in by the serpents' breathing. And these singular practices they continue until sundown; next, the serpents hide and lie in wait for the flocks, and as they return to the sheepfolds from the pasture they fall upon them, and after a terrible slaughter they have frequently killed the herdsmen as well, thus obtaining a generous and abundant feast.

[22] G   Sprats are born of mud; they neither beget nor are begotten of one another, but when the mud in the sea becomes altogether slimy and thick and turns black, it is warmed by some inexplicable and life-giving principle, undergoes a transformation, and is changed into innumerable living creatures. The sprats are these creatures, resembling worms which are generated in mire and filth. And as soon as born, sprats are excellent swimmers, and they do it naturally. Then by some mysterious agency they are led to safe places where they will find shelter and protection, so that it will be possible for them to live. And their place of refuge is likely to be either some rock that rises to a great height or what are called ' baker's pots '; these would be rocks full of indentations which the waves have in time eaten away until they have become hollow. These then are the retreats to which Nature has pointed them so that they shall not be battered and demolished by the swell of the sea; for they have little strength and are powerless to resist the impact of the waves. They need no food, indeed it is enough for them to lick one another. The way to catch them is to use exceedingly fine thread with thin pieces from the warp of garments laced in. This device should be quite sufficient for catching and securing them, though for the capture of other fish it would be utterly inadequate.

[23] G   Should you strike a lizard with a stick and either on purpose or by accident cut it in two, neither of the two parts is killed, but each moves separately and by itself, and lives, both the one and the other trailing on two feet. Then when the parts meet - for the forepart frequently unites with the hinder - the two join up and coalesce after their separation. And the lizard, now one body, although a scar gives evidence of what it has suffered, yet runs about and maintains its former method of life exactly like one of its kind that has had no such experience.

[24] G   The poison of serpents is a thing to be dreaded, but that of the asp is far worse. Nor are remedies and antidotes easy to discover, however ingenious one may be at beguiling and dispelling acute pains. Yet after all there is in man also a certain mysterious poison, and this is how it has been discovered. If you capture a viper and grasp its neck very firmly and with a strong hand, and then open its mouth and spit into it, the spittle slides down into its belly and has so disastrous an effect upon it as to cause the viper to rot away. From this you see how foul can be the bite of one man to another and as dangerous as the bite of any beast.

[25] G   In the summertime when the harvest is in and the corn is being threshed on the threshing-floor, Ants assemble in companies, going in single file or two abreast - indeed they sometimes go three abreast - after quitting their homes and customary shelters. Then they pick out some of the barley and the wheat and all follow the same track. And some go to collect the grain, others carry the load, and they get out of each other's way with the utmost deference and consideration, especially those that are not laden for the benefit of those that are. Then they return to their dwellings and fill the pits in their store-chamber after boring through the middle of each grain. What falls out becomes the ant's meal at the time; what is left is infertile. This is a device on the part of these excellent and thrifty housekeepers to prevent the intact grain from putting out shoots and sprouting afresh when the rains have surrounded them, and to preserve themselves in that case from falling victims during the winter to want of food and to famine, and their zeal from being blunted. It is to Nature then that ants too owe these and other fortunate gifts.

[26] G   At no time does the eagle need water or long for a dusting-place; he is on the contrary superior to thirst and looks for no medicine for weariness from any outside source, but scorning water and repose he cleaves the atmosphere and gazes with piercing eye from the vast expanse of heaven on high. And at the mere sound of those rushing wings even that most intrepid of all creatures, the great serpent, dives at once into its den and is glad to disappear. And this is the way in which the eagle tests the legitimacy of his young ones. He plants them, while they are still tender and unfledged, facing the rays of the sun, and if one of them blinks, unable to endure the brightness of the rays, it is thrust out of the nest and banished from that hearth. If however it can face the sun quite unmoved, it is above suspicion and is enrolled among the legitimate offspring, since the celestial fire is an impartial and uncorrupt register of its origin.

[27] G   The Ostrich is covered with thick feathers, but its nature does not permit it to rise from the ground and mount aloft into the sky. Yet its speed is very great, and when it spreads its wings on either side, the wind meeting them causes them to belly like sails.

[28] G   Among birds the Bustard is, I am told, the most fond of horses. And the proof of this is that it scorns all other animals that live in field or glen, but that when it catches sight of a horse, it delights to fly up to it and to keep it company, just like men who are devoted to horses.

[29] G   When a fly falls into the water, though it is of all creatures the most daring, yet it can neither run upon the surface nor swim, and hence it drowns. If however you pick out the dead body, sprinkle ashes upon it, and place it in the sunshine, you will bring the fly to life again.

[30] G   If you want to add a cockerel, whether bought or presented, to your flock of domestic fowls, you must not release him nor let him loose at random and in a casual way; otherwise he will immediately desert and go back to his own kin and mates, however far away from them he be. So you must set upon him a guard and fetters more invisible than those of Hephaestus in Homer [Od. 8. 274- ] . What I prescribe is this. Place the table at which you eat, in the open, seize the cockerel, and when you have taken him three times round the aforesaid platform, then let him go free to wander with the fowls of the house. He will not go away any more than if he were chained up.

[31] G   The Salamander is not indeed one of those fire-born creatures like the so-called ' Fire-flies,' ** yet it is as bold as they and encounters the flame and is eager to fight it like an enemy. And the proof of this is as follows. Its haunts are among artisans and craftsmen who work at the forge. Now so long as their fire is at full blast and they have it to help their craft and to share their skill, they pay not the smallest attention to this animal. When however the fire goes out or languishes and the bellows blow in vain, then at once they know full well that the aforesaid creature is working against them. Accordingly they track it down and exact vengeance; and then the fire is lit, is easily coaxed up, and does not go out, provided it is kept fed with the usual material.

[32] G   The Swan is assigned by poets and many prose-writers as servant to Apollo, but in what other relation it stands to music and song I do not know. Yet the ancients believed that when it has sung what is called its 'swan-song', it dies. In that case Nature honours it more highly than it does noble and upright men, and rightly so, for while others praise and lament them, Swans praise or, if you will, lament themselves.

[33] G   Many writers tell us about the size of the crocodile both when fully grown and when first hatched, and further, about its tongue, and whether it moves its jaw and which jaw it closes upon the other. There are those too who have observed that this animal lays as many eggs as the days during which it sits upon them before hatching out its young. And I have myself heard that when a crocodile dies a scorpion is born from it; and they do say that it has a sting in its tail which is full of poison.

[34] G   If these facts are certain and beyond dispute, then let this story from India carry conviction. What I propose to tell has been brought from thence by report and is as follows. I have learnt from the son of Nicomachus [Arist. HA 616 a 6 (9.13)] that there is a bird named Cinnamon like the plant, and that the bird brings this plant, which is named after it, to the Indians, but that these people have no knowledge where and how the plant grows. **

[35] G   The Egyptians assert that a knowledge of enemas and intestinal purges is derived from no discovery of man's, but they commonly affirm that it was the Ibis that taught them this remedy. And how it instructed those who were the first to see it, some other shall tell. And I have also heard that it knows when the moon is waxing and when waning; and I cannot deny that I have learnt from some source that it diminishes or increases its food according as the goddess herself diminishes or increases.

[36] G   The Sting-ray in the sea has a far fiercer and more dangerous sting than all other creatures. The proof is that if you fix it in a flourishing tree that has grown to a great height, then without any delay, before any time has elapsed, the tree immediately withers. And if you allow the sting to scratch any living creature, you kill it at once.

[37] G   So long as the shrew-mouse proceeds as chance directs, it can live, and Nature is on friendly terms with it, unless it is overtaken by misfortune from some other quarter and is killed. When however it falls into a rut, it is caught, so to say, in quite invisible fetters and dies. The remedy for a man who has been bitten by a shrew-mouse is as follows. Take some sand from the wheel-track, sprinkle it on the bite, and it cures him immediately.

[38] G   Here is another story relating to the Egyptian Ibis which I have heard. The bird is sacred to the moon. At any rate it hatches its eggs in the same number of days that the goddess takes to wax and to wane, and never leaves Egypt. The reason for this is that Egypt is the moistest of all countries and the moon is believed to be the moistest of all planets. Of its own free will the Ibis would never quit Egypt, and should some man lay hands upon it and forcibly export it, it will defend itself against its assailant and bring all his labour to nothing, for it will starve itself to death and render its captor's exertions vain. It walks quietly like a maiden, and one would never see it moving at anything faster than a foot's pace. The Black Ibis does not permit the winged serpents from Arabia to cross into Egypt, but fights to protect the land it loves, while the other kind encounters the serpents that come down the Nile when in flood and destroys them. Otherwise there would have been nothing to prevent the Egyptians from being killed by their coming.

[39] G   There is, I am told, a species of eagle to which men have given the name of 'Golden eagle', though others call it Asterias (starred). And it is seldom seen. Aristotle says ** that it hunts fawns, hares, cranes, and geese of the farmyard. It is believed to be the largest of eagles; at any rate men say that it attacks bulls with violence, and its method of attack they describe as follows. The bull is feeding with his head down, and the eagle alights upon his neck and with its beak delivers a rain of powerful blows. And the bull goes wild as though stung by a gadfly, and sets off to run as fast as he can go. So long as the land makes going easy the eagle bides its time, flying above him and watching. But directly it sees the bull near a precipice it makes an arch with its wings, covers the bull's eyes so that he cannot see what is before him, and down he goes with a fearful crash. Whereupon the eagle pounces, rips open his stomach, and has no difficulty in enjoying its prey to its heart's content. But the prey killed by some other creature it will not touch: rather it delights in its own labours and will not for one moment admit any other creature to share them. Later when it has gorged itself, it breathes over the rest of the carcase a foul and most ill-smelling air, leaving the remains unfit for any other animal to eat. What is more, Eagles build their nests far apart from one another so as to avoid quarrelling over their prey [and being a constant source of mutual hurt ].

[40] G   It seems that eagles are full of affection even towards their keepers; witness the eagle that belonged to Pyrrhus, which (they say) on the death of its master abstained from food and died too. And there was once an eagle reared by a private citizen which threw itself on to the pyre where its master's body was burning. Some say that it had been reared not by a man but by a woman. The eagle is apparently the most jealous guardian of its young. At any rate if it sees anyone approaching them, it does not allow him to depart unpunished, for it beats him with its wings and lacerates him with its talons; and the punishment it inflicts is moderate, for it does not use its beak.

[41] G   The Red Mullet is of all sea animals the most gluttonous and indisputably the most unrestrained in tasting everything it comes across. And some of them are known as ' roughs,' deriving their name from places where there are rough rocks full of holes and thick growths of seaweed in them, and where there is a bottom of mud or sand. A red mullet would eat the dead body of a man or of a fish, and its special delight is in filthy, ill-smelling food.

[42] G   Falcons are excellent at fowling and are in no way inferior to eagles; they are by nature the tamest of birds and the most attached to man; in size they are as large as eagles. And I am told that in Thrace they even join with men in the pursuit of marsh-fowl. And this is how they do it. The men spread their nets and keep still while the falcons fly over them and scare the fowl and drive them into the circle of nets. For this the Thracians allot a portion of their catch to the falcons and find them trusty friends ; if they do not do so, they at once deprive themselves of helpers. Now the full-grown falcon will fight both with a fox and with an eagle; with a vulture it frequently fights. But a falcon will never eat the heart, thereby presumably fulfilling some mystic rite. If a falcon sees the dead body of a man (so it is said), it always heaps earth upon the unburied corpse, though Solon ** laid no such injunction upon it, and will never touch the body. And it even refrains from drinking if a solitary man is engaged in leading off water into a channel, feeling sure that it will cause damage to the man who so labours if it purloins the water which he needs. But if several men are engaged in irrigating, it sees that the stream is abundant and takes its share from the loving-cup, so to speak, which they offer, and is glad to drink.

[43] G   There is a species of hawk known as the Kestrel which has no need whatever to drink. Another species is the Orites Hawk. Both species are remarkably addicted to the female bird and pursue it after the manner of lovesick men and never cease from the pursuit. But should the female chance to disappear without the male noticing it, he is overcome with grief and cries aloud and is like one in the depths of woe from love.

When hawks are troubled with their eyesight they go straight to some stone wall and pull up some wild lettuce and then holding it above their eyes allow the bitter, astringent juice to drip in; and this restores their health. And men say that doctors use this drug for the benefit of those whose sight is affected, and the remedy derives its name from these birds. ** And men do not refuse to be called the disciples of birds; rather they admit as much.

It is said that once upon a time a hawk at Delphi proved a man guilty of sacrilege by swooping upon him and striking his head. It is also believed that Hawks are bastards, if they be compared with the various kinds of eagles.

At the beginning of spring the hawks of Egypt select two from all their number and despatch them to reconnoitre certain desert islands off the coast of Libya. When they return they act as leaders to the rest in their flight. And their arrival is the occasion of rejoicing on the part of the Libyans at their sojourn, for they do no damage whatever. And having reached the islands which the original scouts decided were the most suitable for them, they there lay and hatch their eggs in complete security and peace; and they hunt sparrows and pigeons and rear their young in an abundance of food. Then when these have grown strong and are able to fly, they take the young birds with them back to Egypt as though they were going to their own homes, that is to their haunts in regions they have grown to know.

[44] G   Rainbow Wrasses are nurslings of rocks, and their mouth is full of poison, and whatever fish they touch they render uneatable. Indeed if it should happen that fishermen, coming upon a half-eaten prawn and fancying that their catch is unsaleable, should taste it, they are assailed by convulsions and torments in their stomach. And the wrasses also molest those who dive and swim in pursuit of fish, falling upon them in great numbers and biting them, exactly like flies on land; so that one must either beat them off or be tormented by being eaten up. But while one is busy beating them off, there is no time to attend to one's work.

[45] G   The Sea-hare when eaten has often been the cause even of death; in any case it causes pains in the stomach. It is born in the mud and is not infrequently caught along with sprats. In appearance it is not unlike a snail without its shell.

[46] G   The Vulture is the dead body's enemy. At any rate it swoops upon it as though it were an adversary and devours it, and watches a man who is in the throes of death. Vultures even follow in the wake of armies in foreign parts, knowing by prophetic instinct that they are marching to war and that every battle provides corpses, as they have discovered.

It is said that no male vulture is ever born: all vultures are female. And the birds knowing this and fearing to be left childless, take measures to produce them as follows. They fly against the south wind. If however the wind is not from the south, they open their beaks to the east wind, and the inrush of air impregnates them, and their period of gestation lasts for three years. But the vulture is said never to make a nest. The Aegypius ** however, which is on the border-line between the vulture and the eagle, is both male and female, and is black in colour, and I am told that their nests are pointed out. But I have been informed that vultures do not lay eggs, but that in their birth-pangs they produce chicks, and that these are feathered from birth I have also heard.

[47] G   There is no limit to the robberies of the kite. If they can manage pieces of meat on sale in the market, they pounce upon them and carry them off; on the other hand they will not touch sacrifices offered to Zeus. But the Mountain Kite ** pounces upon birds and pecks out their eyes.

[48] G   The Ravens in Egypt which live beside the Nile at first appear to be begging of the people sailing on the river, soliciting to be given something. And if they are given, they stop begging; but if their solicitations fail, they fly in a mass and perch on the sailyards of the ship and proceed to eat the ropes and to cut the cords.

But the ravens of Libya, when men through fear of thirst draw water and fill their vessels and place them on the roof so that the fresh air may keep the water from putrefying, the ravens, I say, help themselves to drink by bending over and inserting their beaks as far as they will go. And when the water gets too low they gather pebbles in their mouth and claws and drop them into the earthenware vessel. Now the pebbles are borne down by their weight and sink, while the water owing to their pressure rises. So the ravens by a most ingenious contrivance get their drink; they know by some mysterious instinct that one space will not contain two bodies.

[49] G   Aristotle asserts [HA 618 b 11 (9.31)] that ravens know the difference between a prosperous and a barren country, and in one that produces all things in plenty they move about in flocks and great numbers, but in a barren and unfruitful country in pairs. As to their young ones, when fully grown, every raven banishes them from its nest. For that reason they seek their food for themselves and neglect to care for their parents.

[50] G   Among fishes the Goby, the Weever, and the Flying Gurnard emit poison when they prick one; not that they are deadly; whereas the Sting-ray with its barb kills on the spot. And Leonidas of Byzantium tells how a man who knew nothing of fishes and could not distinguish them, stole a sting-ray from a fishing-net - the poor fellow must have taken it for a flounder - , took it and put it in his bosom and walked off as though he had found something good, some spoil whose sale would be profitable to him. But the sting-ray hurt by the pressure, struck and pierced him with its sting, causing the wretched thief's bowels to gush out. And there the thief lay dead beside the sting-ray, clear evidence of what he had done in his ignorance.

[51] G   Of the raven you might say that it has a spirit no less daring than the eagle, for it even attacks animals, and not the smallest either, but asses and bulls. It settles on their neck and pecks them, and in many cases it actually gouges out their eyes. And it fights with that vigorous bird the merlin, and whenever it sees it fighting with a fox, it comes to the fox's rescue, for it is on friendly terms with the animal.

The raven must really be the most clamorous of birds and have the largest variety of tones, for it can be taught to speak like a human being. For playful moods it has one voice, for serious moods another, and if it is delivering answers from the gods, then its voice assumes a devout and prophetic tone.

Ravens know that in summer they suffer from looseness of the bowels; for that reason they are careful to abstain from moist food.

[52] G   Aristotle tells us [HA 489 b 1 ( 1.5 )] that some animals are viviparous, others oviparous, that others again produce grubs. The viviparous are man and all other creatures that have hair, and among marine animals the cetaceans. And of these some have a blow-hole but no gills, like the dolphin and the whale.

[53] G   In Moesia ** the oxen draw loads and are hornless. And I maintain that it is not due to the cold that herds are to be seen without horns, but that it is due to the peculiar nature of the oxen. And the proof is to hand, for even in Scythia there are oxen not destitute of the glory of horns. And I have learnt from one who records the fact in his history that there are even bees in Scythia and that they do not mind the cold at all. And what is more, the Scythians bring and sell to the Moesians honey, which is no alien produce but native, and honeycombs of their own country.

If I contradict Herodotus [5.10] , I hope he will not be angry with me, for the man who reported these things vowed that he was presenting the results of his own enquiry and not merely repeating what he had heard and what we could not verify.

[54] G   I learn that of saltwater fishes the Parrot Wrasse alone regurgitates its food and eats it afterwards, as sheep do, which are said to chew the cud.

[55] G   The shark brings forth its young through its mouth in the sea and takes them back again and then disgorges them by the same channel alive and unharmed.

[56] G   The liver of the mouse has the most astounding and unexpected habit of growing a lobe day by day as the moon waxes, up to the middle of the month. Then again in proportion as the month declines, so the lobe gradually dwindles until it loses its shape and disappears into the body.

And I am told that when it hails in the Thebaid, mice are to be seen on the earth, and one part of them is still mud while the other is already flesh. And I myself on a journey from Neapolis to Dicaearchia ** encountered a shower of frogs, and the forepart of them was crawling, supported by two feet, while the other part trailed behind, still formless, seeming to consist of some moist substance.

[57] G   Oxen are after all the most serviceable creatures. At sharing the farmer's labours, at carrying loads of various kinds, at filling the milk-pail - at all these things the ox is excellent. He graces the altars, gladdens festivals, and provides a solemn banquet. And even when dead the ox is a splendid creature deserving our praise. At any rate bees are begotten of his carcase - bees, the most industrious of creatures, which afford the best and sweetest of fruits that man has, namely honey.

Book 3



FOOTNOTES


(1)    Mod. Maritza.    

(2)    Lit. 'fire-born' ; these are not what are now called 'fire- flies,' and are unknown to modern science.    

(3)    Tereus married Procne and later, nnder false pretences, her sister Philomela. To punish him Procne slew their son Itys and then fled with her sister. When pursued by Tereus all three were changed into birds, Tereus into a hoopoe (or hawk), Procne a swallow, Philomela into a nightingale.    

(4)    Perhaps the ' Vinegar-fly,' belonging to the genus Drosophila.    

(5)    But see 1.54.    

(6)    Poroselene, island and town, the largest of the Hecatonnesi lying between Lesbos and Asia Minor.    

(7)    I.e. he never returns; cp. Jebb on Soph. OT 795.

(8)    See 11.18.    

(9)    Or rather, the adopted son.    

(10)    Xen. An. 7. 3. 23; Arystas was however an Arcadian, not a Persian.   'Golden,' cf. Diog. La. 10. 8 Πλάτωνα χρυσοῦν, Lucr. 3. 12 [Epicuri] aurea dicta.    

(11)    Or ' each other ' ?    

(12)    Perhaps ' coats,' i.e. summer and winter coats of hair.    

(13)    This is the Sucking-fish or Remora; see Thompson, Gk. fishes, p. 70.

(14)    Hom. Il. 11. 831.    

(15)    ' Unde Ael. florem oleae duxerit, nescio ' (Schneider).    

(16)    If these words belong here, the order of the chapters has been confused : ch. 19 should follow one on Bears.    

(17)    Hom. Il. 1. 423.    

(18)    The Rhyndacus rises in Mt Olympus in Mysia and flows north into the Propontis.    

(19)    See 2.2.    

(20)    See 17.21    

(21)    The passage is not to be found in his extant works.    

(22)    Solon, of Athens, c. 640-c. 560 B.C., reformed the laws and constitution.    

(23)    A certain species with short, round leaves was known as Hieracion, for the reason stated; cp. Plin. HN 20. 60.    

(24)    Perhaps the Lämmergeier.    

(25)    See 1.35 note.    

(26)    Moesia (Gk. Μυσία), bounded on the north by the Danube, on the south by the Balkan mountains, corresponded (roughly speaking) to the northern half of the modern Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.    

(27)    The original Greek name of Puteoli.    




CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK

2.1 Cranes, their migration
2.2 'Fire-flies'
2.3 The swallow
2.4 'Ephemera'
2.5 The asp. The Basilisk
2.6 Dolphin and boy at Poroselene
2.7 The Basilisk
2.8 Dolphins help fishermen
2.9 Deer and snakes
2.10 Mating of Mare and ass
2.11 Performing elephants
2.12 The hare
2.13 Fishes and their leaders
2.14 The Chameleon
2.15 The Pilot-fish
2.16 The 'Tarandus'
2.17 The Sucking-fish
2.18 Medicine in the Heroic Age. Elephants and their wounds
2.19 The Bear and its cub
2.20 Oxen of Erythrae
2.21 Snakes of Ethiopia and Phrygia
2.22 The Sprat
2.23 The Lizard, its vitality
2.24 The asp. Human spittle
2.25 Ants store grain
2.26 The eagle and nestlings
2.27 The Ostrich
2.28 The Bustard and horses
2.29 The Fly
2.30 The cockerel, and how to keep him
2.31 The Salamander
2.32 The swan and its song
2.33 The crocodile
2.34 The Cinnamon bird
2.35 The Ibis and clysters
2.36 The Sting-ray
2.37 The Shrew-mouse
2.38 The Ibis
2.39 The Golden eagle
2.40 The eagle and its keepers
2.41 The Red mullet
2.42 The Falcon
2.43 The Kestrel. Hawks and their eyesight. Hawks of Egypt
2.44 The Rainbow Wrasse
2.45 The Sea-hare
2.46 The Vulture. The 'Aegypius'
2.47 The Kite
2.48 Ravens of Egypt, of Libya
2.49 The raven and its young
2.50 Poisonous fishes
2.51 The raven, its daring, voice, and diet
2.52 Viviparous animals
2.53 Hornless cattle. Bees in Scythia
2.54 The Parrot Wrasse
2.55 The Shark
2.56 The mouse and its liver. A shower of mice, of frogs
2.57 The ox, man's benefactor



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