back

AELIAN: ON THE NATURE OF ANIMALS

-   BOOK 3

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 2

[1] G   A Lion will accompany a Moor on his journey and will drink water from the same spring. And I am told that lions even resort to the houses of Moors when they fail to find any prey and are overtaken by the pangs of hunger. And if the master of the house happens to be there, he keeps the lion off and drives him away, pursuing him vigorously. If however he is out and his wife is left all alone, then with words that put the lion to shame she checks his approach, restrains him, and admonishes him to control himself and not to allow his hunger to incense him. The lion, it seems, understands the Moorish tongue; and the sense of the rebuke which the woman administers to the animal is (so they say) as follows. ' Are not you ashamed, you, a lion, the king of beasts, to come to my hut and to ask a woman to feed you, and do you, like some cripple, look to a woman's hands hoping that thanks to her pity and compassion you may get what you want ? - You who should be on your way to mountain haunts in pursuit of deer and antelopes and all other creatures that lions may eat without discredit. Whereas, like some sorry lap-dog, you are content to be fed by another.' Such are the spells she employs, whereupon the lion, as though his heart smote him and he were filled with shame, quietly and with downcast eyes moves off, overcome by the justice of her words.

Now if horses and hounds through being reared in their company understand and quail before the threats of men, I should not be surprised if Moors too, who are reared and brought up along with lions, are understood by these very animals. For the Moors profess to treat lion-cubs to the same kind of food, the same bed, and the same roof as their own children. Consequently there is nothing incredible or marvellous in lions understanding human speech as described above.

[2] G   Concerning the Libyan horse this is what I have learnt from accounts given by the Libyans. These horses are exceedingly swift and know little or nothing of fatigue; they are slim and not well-fleshed but are fitted to endure the scanty attention paid to them by their masters. At any rate the masters devote no care to them: they neither rub them down nor roll them nor clean their hooves nor comb their manes nor plait their forelocks nor wash them when tired, but as soon as they have completed the journey they intended they dismount and turn the horses loose to graze. Moreover the Libyans themselves are slim and dirty, like the horses which they ride. The Persians on the other hand are proud and delicate, and what is more, their horses are like them. One would say that both horse and master prided themselves on the size and beauty of their bodies and even on their finery and outward adornment.

And here is a point which occurs to me to note in connexion with hounds. The Cretan hound is nimble and can leap and is brought up to range the mountains. Moreover the Cretans show the same qualities, such is the common report. Among hounds the Molossian is the most high-spirited, for the men also of Molossia are hot-tempered. In Carmania too both men and hounds are said to be most savage and implacable.

[3] G   The following also are examples of the peculiarities of animal nature. Ctesias reports that neither the wild nor the domestic pig exists in India, and he says somewhere that Indian sheep have tails one cubit in width.

[4] G   The ants of India which guard the gold will not cross the river Campylinus. ** And the Issedonians ** who inhabit the same country as the ants . . . they are called, and so they are.

[5] G   If a tortoise eats part of a snake and thereafter some marjoram, it becomes immune from the poison which was bound to be quite fatal to it.

I have heard people say that the pigeon is of all birds the most temperate and restrained in its sexual relations. For pigeons never separate, neither the female bird unless by some mishap she is parted from her mate, nor the male unless he is widowed.

Partridges on the other hand are unrestrained in their indulgence. For that reason they destroy the eggs that have been laid, in order that the female birds may not be too busy with nursing their chicks to have time for sexual intercourse.

[6] G   When wolves swim across a river Nature has devised for them an original safeguard to prevent them from being forcibly carried away by the impact of the stream and has taught them how to escape from difficulties, and that with ease. Fastening their teeth in one another's tails they then breast the stream and swim across without harm or danger.

[7] G   It is said that Nature has not bestowed the power of braying upon she-Asses. Nature too has enabled hyenas to stop hounds from barking. The fragrance of perfumes causes death to vultures; hemlock is the bane of swans; Cyrus and Croesus learned how horses dread camels, so the story goes.

[8] G   When mares desert their foals and leave them, like orphans, before they are fully weaned, other mares take compassion on them and bring them up with their own foals.

[9] G   Crows are exceedingly faithful to each other, and when they enter into partnership they love one another intensely, and you would never see these creatures indulging freely in promiscuous intercourse. And those who are accurately informed about them assert that if one dies, the other remains in widowhood. I have heard too that men of old used actually at weddings to sing 'the crow' ** after the bridal song by way of pledging those who came together for the begetting of children to be of one mind. While those who observe the quarters from which birds come and their flight, declare that to hear a single crow is an evil omen at a wedding. Since the owl is an enemy of the crow and at night has designs upon the crow's eggs, the crow by day does the same to her, knowing that at that time the owl's sight is feeble.

[10] G   Nature has made the hedgehog prudent and experienced in providing for its own wants. Thus, since it needs food to last a whole year, and since every season does not yield produce, it rolls among fig-crates (they say), and such dried figs as are pierced  - a great number become fixed upon its prickles - it quietly removes, and after laying up a store, keeps them and can draw from its nest when it is impossible to obtain food out of doors. 

[11] G   It is a fact that the fiercest of animals will, when the need arises, lay aside their natural savagery and be peaceful and gently disposed towards those that can be of service to them. For instance, the crocodile swims with its jaws open; accordingly leeches fall into them and cause it pain. Knowing this it needs the Egyptian Plover as doctor. For when it is infested with leeches, it moves to the bank and opens its jaws to face the sun. Whereupon the Egyptian Plover inserts its beak and draws out the aforesaid creatures, while the crocodile endures this service and remains motionless. So the bird gets a feast of leeches, while the crocodile is benefited and reckons the fact that it has not injured it as the bird's fee.

[12] G   The inhabitants of Thessaly, of Illyria, and of Lemnos regard jackdaws as benefactors and have decreed that they be fed at the public expense, seeing that jackdaws make away with the eggs and destroy the young of the locusts which ruin the crops of the aforesaid people. The clouds of locusts are in fact considerably reduced and the season's produce of these people remains undamaged.

[13] G   Cranes have their birthplace in Thrace, which is the most wintry and the coldest region that I know of. Well, they love the country of their birth, but they love themselves too; so they devote part of their time to their ancestral haunts and part to their own preservation. In summer they remain in their country, but in mid-autumn they leave for Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia, appearing to know the map of the earth, the disposition of the winds, and the variations of the seasons. And after spending a winter like spring, when again conditions are becoming tolerably settled and the sky is calm, they return. To lead their flight they appoint those that have already had experience of the journey; these would naturally be the older birds, and they select others of the same age to bring up the rear, while the young ones are ranged in their midst. Having waited for a fair and favouring wind from behind, and using it as an escort to speed them forward, they then form their order of flight into an acute-angled triangle, in order that as they encounter the air they may cleave it with the least difficulty, and so hold on their way. This then is how cranes spend their summer and winter. (But mankind regards as marvellous the Persian king's comprehension of temperature, and talks about Susa and Ecbatana ** and the repeated stories of the Persian's journeyings to and fro.) When however the cranes observe an eagle bearing down upon them, they form a circle and in a bellying mass threaten him with attack; and he retires. Resting their bills upon each other's tail-feathers they form in a sense a continuous chain of flight, and sweeten their labour ** as they repose gently one upon another. And in some distant land . . . when they light upon some water-spring they rest for the night and sleep, while three or four mount guard for all the others; and in order to avoid falling asleep during their watch they stand on one leg, but with the other held up they clutch a stone firmly and securely in their claws. Their object is that, if they should inadvertently drop off to sleep, the stone should fall and wake them with the sound.

Now the stone which a crane swallows to give itself ballast is a touchstone for gold when regurgitated by the crane after it has, so to say, come to anchor and reached land.

[14] G   If a pilot observes on the high seas a flock of cranes turning and flying back, he realises that they have refrained from advancing further owing to the assault of a contrary wind. And taught, as you might say, by the birds he sails home again and preserves his vessel. So the pilot's art, being a lesson and a discipline first acquired by these birds, has been handed on to mankind.

[15] G   In cities pigeons congregate with human beings; they are extremely tame and swarm about one's feet; but in lonely places they flee away and cannot endure human beings. For it is crowds that give them courage, and they are well aware that they will be unmolested. Where however there are bird-catchers, nets, and schemes to take them, ' they dwell' no more ' without fear,' to quote what Euripides says [Ion 1198] of those same birds.

[16] G   When partridges are about to lay they make themselves what is called a ' threshing-floor ' {i.e. nest} out of dry twigs. It is plaited, hollow, and well- suited for sitting in. They pour in dust and construct as it were a soft bed; they enter and after screening themselves over with dry twigs so as to avoid being seen by birds of prey and by human hunters, they lay their eggs in complete tranquillity. Next, they do not entrust their eggs to the same place but to some other, emigrating ** as it were, because they are afraid that they may perhaps be detected. And when they hatch their young they impart heat to them, as they are callow, and warm them with their wings, enveloping them in their feathers, as it might be swaddling-clothes. They do not however wash them, but render them more sleek by putting dust on them.

If a partridge sees someone approaching with evil intent against itself and its young, it thereupon rolls about in front of the hunter's feet and fills him with the hope of seizing it as it moves this way and that. And the man bends down to catch his prey, but it eludes him. Meantime the young ones slip away and get some distance ahead. So when the partridge is aware of this, it takes courage and releases the bird-catcher from his fruitless occupation by flying off, leaving the man gaping. Then when the mother-bird is secure and advantageously placed, she calls her chicks, and they recognising her voice flutter towards her.

The partridge when about to lay her eggs endeavours to hide from her mate for fear that he may crush them, because he is lustful and tries to prevent the mother from devoting her time to rearing her young. So incontinent a creature is the partridge. When the females leave the males and brood their eggs, the male birds of set purpose provoke one another to anger and deal and receive the most violent blows; and the vanquished bird gets trodden, the victor performing unsparingly, until he in his turn is vanquished and is caught in like clutches.

[17] G   Euripides says [fr. 403 N] that jealousy is an accursed thing. It seems that there are certain animals in which this quality resides. For instance, the Gecko, according to Theophrastus [fr. 275] , when it has sloughed its skin, turns and makes away with it by swallowing it. It seems that the slough of this creature is a remedy for epilepsy. And the deer too, knowing that its right horn serves many purposes, goes so far as to bury it and secrete it out of jealousy lest anyone should benefit thereby. The mare also knows that with the birth of a foal she is producing love-spells; and that is why the moment the foal is born, the mare bites off the piece of flesh on its forehead. Men call it ' mare's-frenzy '. ** And wizards maintain that such things produce and excite impulses to unrestrained sexual intercourse and a lecherous passion. So the mare does not wish men to have any of this spell, as though she grudged them a boon beyond compare. And is it not so ?

[18] G   Leonidas of Byzantium asserts that there occurs in the Red Sea a fish ** of exactly the same size as a full-grown goby: it has neither eyes nor mouth after the manner of fishes, but grows gills and a kind of head, so far as one can guess, though its form is not perfectly developed. But lower down beneath its stomach is a slightly indented depression which emits the colour of an emerald; and this, they say, is both its eye and its mouth. But anyone who eats it has fished to his own undoing. And this is how he is destroyed: the man who has eaten it swells up; then his stomach bursts and he dies. But the fish itself when caught pays for it, for first, when it is out of the water, it swells, and if one touches it, it swells even more; while if one continues to handle it, it turns to corruption and becomes quite translucent, like a man with dropsy, and finally bursts. If however one is prepared to return it still alive to the sea, it swims on the surface like an inflated bladder. Leonidas says that in consequence of this property men call it the ' inflater.'

[19] G   The Seal, I am told, vomits up the curdled milk from its stomach so that epileptics may not be cured thereby. Upon my word the seal is indeed a malignant creature.

[20] G   Pelicans that live in rivers take in mussels and then swallow them, and when they have warmed them deep within the recesses of their belly, they disgorge them. Now the mussels open under the influence of the heat, just like the shells of things when cooked, and the pelicans scoop out the flesh and make a meal. So too Sea-mews, as Eudemus observes, lift snails into the air and carry them high up and then dash them violently upon the rocks.

[21] G   Eudemus records how on Mount Pangaeus in Thrace a bear came upon a lion's lair which was unguarded and slew the lion's cubs, they being small and unable to protect themselves. But when the father and mother returned from hunting somewhere and saw their young ones slaughtered, they were naturally filled with grief, and set upon the bear. She in terror ran up a tree as fast as her legs could carry her and sat there trying to escape their fell design. But as they came there with the intention of wreaking vengeance upon the murderer, the lioness did not relax her watch but sat down beneath the tree-trunk, lying in wait and gazing upward with a look that meant blood. Meantime the lion in anguish and distraught with grief roamed the mountains and came upon a woodcutter. The man was terrified and dropped his axe, but the animal fawned upon him and reaching upwards greeted him as well as it could, stroking his face with its tongue. And the man took courage, while the lion, wrapping its tail around him, led him on and would not permit him to leave the axe but signified with its paw that he was to pick it up. But since the man failed to understand, the lion took it in its mouth and offered it to him; the man followed and the lion led him to the lair. As soon as the lioness saw him she too came up and began to fawn upon him with a piteous expression as she looked up at the bear. So the man grasped their meaning and guessing that they had been somehow injured by the bear, began to fell the tree with all the strength of his hands. And the tree was overturned and the bear brought down and the lions tore her to pieces. As for the man, the lion brought him back untouched and unscathed to the spot where it first met him and restored him to his original task of cutting wood.

[22] G   A battle between two animals of Egypt, the asp and the Ichneumon. ... The Ichneumon does not attack his adversary without deliberation or rashly, but like a man fortifying himself with all his weapons, rolls in the mud and covers himself with a hard coating, thereby obtaining, it seems, an adequate and impenetrable defence. But if he is at a loss for mud, he washes himself in water and plunges still wet into deep sand - a device which secures his protection in difficult circumstances - and goes forth to battle. But the tip of his nose, which is sensitive and somewhat exposed to the bite of the asp, he protects by bending back his tail, thereby blocking the approach to it. If however the asp can reach it, the snake kills its adversary; otherwise it plies its fangs against the mud in vain, while the Ichneumon on the other hand makes a sudden dash, seizes the asp by the neck, and strangles it. And the victory goes to the one that gets in first.

[23] G   When their parents have grown old, Storks tend them voluntarily and with studied care; yet there is no law of man that bids them do so; the cause of their actions is Nature. And the same birds love their offspring too. Here is the proof: when the full-grown bird is in want of food to give to its still unfledged and tender chicks, some accident having occasioned a shortage, the stork disgorges its food of yesterday and feeds its young. And I am told that herons do the same, and pelicans also.

I learn further that storks migrate along with cranes and all together avoid the winter. But when the season of frost is over and both storks and cranes return to their own homes, each kind recognises its own nests, as men do their own houses.

Alexander of Myndus asserts that when they reach old age they pass to the islands of Ocean and are transformed into human shape, and that this is a reward for their filial piety towards their parents, since, if I am not mistaken, the gods especially desire to hold up there if nowhere else a human model of piety and uprightness, for in no other country under the sun could such a race continue to exist. This is in my opinion no fairy-tale, otherwise what was Alexander's design in relating such marvels when he had nothing to gain from it ? Anyhow it would have ill become an intelligent man to sacrifice truth to falsehood, be the gain never so great, still less if he was going to fall into an opponent's grasp, from which act nothing whatsoever was to be gained.

[24] G   Whenever there is plenty of mud the swallow brings it in her claws and builds her nest. If however mud is lacking, as Aristotle says [HA 612 b 23 ( 9.7 )] , she soaks herself in water and plunging into dust befouls her feathers. Then when the mud has stuck to her all over, she scrapes it off by degrees with her beak and constructs her proposed dwelling. And as her young are tender and unfledged, she knows full well that if she lets them rest on bare twigs, they will suffer and be in pain. Accordingly she settles on the backs of sheep, plucks some wool, and with it makes their bed soft for her offspring.

[25] G   The mother swallow trains her young ones to be just by carefully distributing food in equal portions. So she does not bring one meal for all, because she is not able to do so, but brings small objects and a few at a time; she feeds the first-born first, after it the second, thirdly her third offspring, proceeding as far as the fifth in the same way; for the swallow neither conceives nor hatches more than five. She herself only consumes as much food as she can obtain in the nest, that is, anything that is dropped beside it. Her young are slow to open their eyes, in the same way as puppies. But she collects and brings a herb, ** and they by degrees gain their sight; then after remaining quiet for a while, when able to fly, they leave the nest to seek for food. Men long to possess this herb but have not yet obtained their desire.

[26] G   Among birds Hoopoes are the most savage; and in my opinion it is due to the recollection of their former existence as human beings and more especially from their hatred of the female sex, ** that they build their nests in desolate regions and on high rocks; and to prevent human beings from getting near their young they smear their nests not with mud but with human excrement, and by dint of its disgusting and evil smell they repel and keep away the creature that is their enemy.

It happened that this bird had raised a family in the deserted part of a fortress, in the cleft of a stone that had split with age. So the guardian of the fortress, observing the young birds inside, smeared the hole over with mud. When the Hoopoe returned and saw itself excluded, it fetched a herb and applied it to the mud. The mud was dissolved; the bird reached its young, and then flew off to get food. So once again the man smeared the spot over, and the bird by means of the same herb opened the hole. And the same thing happened a third time. Therefore the guardian of the fortress, seeing what was done, himself gathered the herb and used it not for the same purpose; instead he laid open treasures that were none of his.

[27] G   The Peloponnese does not breed lions, and Homer (as you would expect) with his trained intelligence realising the fact, says in singing of Artemis and her hunting there that she passes over Taygetus ** and Erymanthus

' delighting in boars and swift-footed stags ' 

[Od. 6. 104 ] .

And since these mountains are destitute of lions he was quite right not to mention them.

[28] G   There occurs in the Red Sea a fish, and, so far as I know, the people there have given it the name of Perseus. And the Greeks call it so, and the Arabians in like manner with the Greeks. For they too call Perseus the son of Zeus, and it is after him that they declare the fish is named. Its size is that of the largest anthias; in appearance it is like a basse; its nose is somewhat hooked, and it is dappled with rings as it were of gold round its body, and these rings begin at the head at right angles to it and cease at the belly. It is armed with large teeth set close. It is said to surpass other fish in the strength and power of its body, neither is it wanting in courage. How to fish for it and how to catch it I have explained elsewhere. **

[29] G   The Pinna is a marine creature and belongs to the class of bivalves. It opens by parting the shells that enclose it, and extends a small piece of its flesh like a bait to fish that swim by. The crab however remains by its side, sharing its food and its feeding-ground. So when some fish comes swimming up, the crab gives the Pinna a gentle prick, whereat the Pinna opens its shell wider and admits the head of the approaching fish - for it lowers its head to feed - and eats it.

[30] G   It seems after all fitting that an educated man should be acquainted with these facts as well. The cuckoo is extremely clever and most adroit at devising ingenious solutions to difficulties. For the bird is conscious that it cannot brood and hatch eggs because of the cold nature of its bodily constitution, so they say. Therefore, when it lays its eggs, it neither builds itself a nest nor nurses its young, but watches until birds that have nestlings are flown and abroad, enters the strange lodging, and there lays its eggs. The rascal does not however assail the nests of all birds, only those of the lark, the ring-dove, the greenfinch, and the pappus, ** knowing as it does that these birds lay eggs resembling its own. And if the nests are empty, it will not go near them, but if they contain eggs, then it mixes its own with them. But if the eggs of the other bird are numerous, it rolls them out and destroys them and leaves its own behind, their resemblance making it impossible to know them apart and detect them. And the aforesaid birds hatch the eggs which are none of theirs. But when the cuckoo's young have grown strong and are conscious of their bastardy, they fly away and resort to their parent. For directly they are fledged they are recognised as alien and are grievously ill-treated.

The cuckoo is seen only at one season, and that the best, of the year. For it is actually visible from the beginning of spring until the rising of the Dog-star; ** after that it withdraws from the sight of man.

[31] G   The lion dreads a cock, and the Basilisk too, they say, goes in fear of the same bird: at the sight of one it shudders, and at the sound of its crowing it is seized with convulsions and dies. This is why travellers in Libya, which is the nurse of such monsters, in fear of the aforesaid Basilisk take with them a cock as companion and partner of their journey to protect themselves from so terrible an infliction.

[32] G   Crete is exceedingly hostile to wolves and reptiles ; and I learn from Theophrastus ** that there are places on Macedonian Olympus where wolves do not go. Goats in Cephallenia go without drinking for six months. Among the Budini, ** they say, you will not see a white sheep: they are all black.

It seems that one peculiarity that distinguishes animals consists in this: some bite and inject poison from a fang, while others are given to striking, and having struck also inject a like deadly substance.

[33] G   The Libyan asp, I am told, blinds the sight of the man who faces its breath. But the other kind does not indeed blind but kills at once.

It is said that the cows of Epirus give a most copious supply of milk, and the goats of Scyros a far more generous yield than any other goats. And there are goats in Egypt that produce quintuplets, while most produce twins. The Nile is said to be the cause of this, as the water it provides is extremely fertile. For that reason shepherds who like fine flocks and devote much care to them have a device for drawing as much water as is possible from the Nile for their herds, especially for animals that are barren.

[34] G   They say that a horn was brought from the Indians to Ptolemy II, and it held three amphorae. ** Imagine an ox that could produce a horn of that size.

[35] G   You would never hear the same note from all partridges, but they vary. At Athens for instance those on the far side of the deme Corydallus emit one note, those on this side another. What names these notes have Theophrastus will tell us [fr. 181 ] . But in Boeotia and on the opposite shore of Euboea they have the same note and, as it were, the same language. In Cyrene the frogs are completely dumb; in Macedonia, the pigs; and there is also a kind of cicada that is dumb.

[36] G   There is a kind of spider which they call the ' Grape-spider,' either because it is dark and does in fact resemble a grape in a bunch - it has a somewhat spherical appearance - or for some other reason. It occurs in Libya and has short legs; it has a mouth in the middle of its belly, and can kill in a twinkling.

[37] G   In Seriphus you will never hear the frogs croaking at all. If however you transport them elsewhere, they emit a piercing and most harsh sound.

On mount Pierus in Thessaly there is a lake; it is not perennial but is created in winter by the waters which flow together into it. Now if one throws frogs into it they become silent, though vocal elsewhere. Touching the Seriphian frogs the people of Seriphus boast that Perseus arrived from his contest with the Gorgon after covering an immense distance, and being naturally fatigued rested by the lake side and lay down wishing to sleep. The frogs however worried the hero with their croaking and interrupted his slumbers. But Perseus prayed to his father to silence the frogs. His father gave ear and to gratify his son condemned the frogs there to everlasting silence. Theophrastus however upsets the story [fr. 186] and relieves the Seriphians of their imposture by asserting that it is the coldness of the water that causes the aforesaid frogs to be dumb.

[38] G   In moist places and where the air is excessively damp cocks do not crow, according to Theophrastus [fr. 187 ] . And the lake at Pheneus produces no fish. It is because Cicadas are constitutionally cold that, when warmed by the sun, they sing, says the same writer.

[39] G   It seems that the goatsucker is the most audacious of creatures, for it despises small birds but assails goats with the utmost violence, and more than that, it flies to their udders and sucks out the milk without any fear of vengeance from the goatherd, although it makes the basest return for being filled with milk, for it makes the dug ' blind' and staunches its flow.

[40] G   Many people sing the praises of the soil of Arete, the sister ** of Aristippus, as being taught by his mother. Aristotle says [HA 536 b 17 (4.9)] that he has with his own eyes seen the young of the nightingale being instructed by their mother how to sing. It seems that the nightingale passionately loves its freedom, and for that reason when a mature bird is caught and confined in a cage, it refrains from song and takes vengeance on the birdcatcher for its enslavement by silence. Consequently men who have had this experience let them go when they are older and do their best to catch the young.

[41] G   India produces horses with one horn, they say, and the same country fosters asses with a single horn. And from these horns they make drinking-vessels, and if anyone puts a deadly poison in them and a man drinks, the plot will do him no harm. For it seems that the horn both of the horse and of the ass is an antidote to the poison.

[42] G   The Purple Coot is the most beautiful and the most appropriately named of creatures, and it delights to dust itself, and it also bathes just as pigeons do. But it does not devote itself to the dusting-place or to the bath until it has walked a certain number of paces to satisfy itself. It cannot bear being seen feeding, and for that reason it retires and eats in concealment. It is violent in its jealousy and keeps a close watch on the mated female birds, and if it discovers the mistress of its house to be adulterous, it strangles itself. It does not fly high. Yet men take pleasure in it and tend it with care and consideration. And apparently it is either a pet in a sumptuous and opulent household, or else it is admitted into a temple and roams unconfined, moving about as a sacred creature within the precinct.

The Peacock on the contrary, which is a beautiful bird, is killed and eaten by voluptuaries. The feathers of this bird are a decoration, though its body is of little or no account. But I never heard of anyone killing a Purple Coot for a meal, not Callias ** nor Ctesippus the Athenians, not Lucullus nor Hortensius the Romans. I have named but a few out of many who were luxurious and insatiate in other ways but especially where their bellies were concerned.

[43] G   When the raven on reaching old age can no longer feed its young, it offers itself as their food; and they eat their father. And this is alleged to be the origin of the proverb which says ' A bad egg of a bad raven.'

[44] G   Ringdoves are celebrated as the most continent of birds. For instance, when once the male and the female have paired and are, so to say, of one mind to wed, they cling to one another and are continent, and neither bird would touch a strange bed. If however they cast amorous glances at other birds, the rest gather round them and the male is torn to pieces by those of his own sex, the female by the females. This then is the law of continence which extends to doves and remains unchanged, except that they do not put to death both birds: when they kill the male they take compassion on the female and leave her unharmed; and she goes about, a widow.

[45] G   Aristotle says [HA 613 a 1 ( 9.7 )] that male pigeons share the birth-pangs of the females, and if they wander from the nest the males will push and drive them in; and when they have laid their eggs the males will force them to brood them. But the male birds also keep the chicks warm and help the females to feed them, according to the same writer. And to prevent the chicks from being underfed the parents begin by giving them saline earth, so that when they have tasted it, they then readily eat the rest of their food. It would seem that there is a treaty of peace between pigeons and such others as are birds of prey, but they are said to live in fear of sea-eagles and falcons. But their method of dealing with hawks is a tale worth hearing. When the hawk, which is accustomed to soar high in the air, gives chase, the pigeons glide and sink lower and attempt to reduce their flight. When attacked however by some bird which by nature flies at a lower level than they, the pigeons mount up and travel through the sky, and flying overhead they have no fear, because the other cannot harry them from above.

[46] G   An Indian trainer finding a young white elephant took and reared it during its early years; he gradually tamed it and used to ride upon it and grew fond of his chattel, which returned his affection and recompensed him for his fostering care. Now the king of the Indians hearing of this, asked to be given the animal. But the trainer in his affection was jealous and even overcome with grief at the thought of another man being its master, and declined to give it up; and so, mounting the elephant, he went off into the desert. The king in his indignation despatched men to take the elephant away and at the same time to bring the Indian to judgment. When they arrived they attempted to apply force. So the man struck at them from his mount, and the beast helped to defend its master as he was being injured. Such was the beginning of the affair. But when the Indian was wounded and fell, the elephant bestrode its keeper after the manner of armed men covering a comrade with their shields, slew many of the attackers, and put the remainder to flight. Then, winding its trunk round its keeper, it raised him and brought him to its stable and stayed by his side, as one trusty friend might do to another, thus showing its kindly nature.

O wicked men, for ever busy (?) about the table and the clash of frying-pans and dancing to your lunch, but traitors in the hour of danger, in whose mouth the word ' Friendship ' is vain and of no effect.

[47] G   In the name of Zeus our father, permit me to ask the tragic dramatists and their predecessors, the inventors of fables, what they mean by showering such a flood of ignorance upon the son of Laļus ** who consummated that disastrous union with his mother; and upon Telephus ** who, without indeed attempting union, lay with his mother and would have done the same as Oedipus, had not a serpent sent by the gods kept them apart, when Nature allows unreasoning animals to perceive by mere contact the nature of this union, with no need for tokens nor for the presence of the man who exposed Oedipus on Cithaeron.

The camel, for instance, would never couple with its mother. Now the keeper of a herd of camels covered up a female as far as possible, hiding all but its parts, and then drove the son to its mother. The beast, all unwitting, in its eagerness to copulate, did the deed, then realised what it had done. It bit and trampled on the man who was the cause of its unlawful union, and kneeling on him put him to an agonising death, and then threw itself over a precipice.

And here Oedipus was ill-advised in not killing himself but blinding his eyes; in not realising how to escape from his calamities when he might have made away with himself instead of cursing his house and his family; and finally in seeking by an irremediable calamity to remedy calamities already past.

Book 4



FOOTNOTES


(1)    Not identified.    

(2)    The Issedonians appear to have inhabited a region to the north-east of the Caspian Sea.    

(3)    Cp. Carm. pop. 31 (Diehl, Anth. lyr. Or.) and L-S s.v. ἐκκορέω).    

(4)    Identified with the modern Hamadan; it lay at the foot of Mt Orontes, some 200 miles north of Susa, and was a summer residence of the Achaemenid kings.    

(5)    Eur. Bacc. 66 κάματον εὐκάματον.    

(6)    Cp. Arist. HA 613 b 15 (9.8).    

(7)    See 14.18.    

(8)    Probably the Tetrodon or Globe-fish.    

(9)    Pliny (HN 8. 2 7 ; 25, 8) calls it chelidonia, i.e. Greater celandine.    

(10)    See 2.3 note.    

(11)    Mountain range to the west and south of Sparta.   Erymanthus: mountain on the borders of Achaia and Arcadia.    

(12)    Not in any surviving work.    

(13)    Unknown bird.    

(14)    About mid-July.    

(15)    There is no such statement in his extant remains.    

(16)    The Budini were a tribe living north of the Sea of Azov.    

(17)    About 26 gallons.    

(18)    Arete was the daughter, not the sister, of Aristippus, and her son was called after his grandfather.    

(19)    Callias : end of 5th cent. B.C., a wealthy and frivolous Athenian. Both Xenophon and Plato lay the scene of their Symposia at his house.   Ctesippus : pleasure-loving Athenian, defended by Demosthenes in his speech against Leptines; became a butt for Comie poets.   Lucullus : 1st cent. B.C., conqueror of Mithridates; his name became proverbial for wealth.   Hortensius : 1st cent. B.C., famous as an orator, the rival of Cicero, and possessor of immense wealth.    

(20)    Oedipus, after having unwittingly slain his father Laļus, married his widow Iocasta.    

(21)    Telephus, son of Heracles and Auge. According to one story Teuthras king of Mysia, unaware of their relationship, gave his daughter Auge in marriage to Telephus who was equally unaware.    




CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK

3.1 Lions of Mauretania
3.2 Horses of Libya. Hounds of Crete and elsewhere
3.3 India devoid of pigs
3.4 Ants of India
3.5 Tortoise and snake. The pigeon, its conjugal fidelity. The partridge, its amorous nature
3.6 Wolves cross a river
3.7 Animal antipathies
3.8 Mares and foals
3.9 The crow, its conjugal fidelity. Owl and crow
3.10 The hedgehog
3.11 The crocodile and Egyptian Plover
3.12 Jackdaws and Locusts
3.13 Cranes, their migration
3.14 Cranes give warning of storms
3.15 The pigeon
3.16 The partridge and its young
3.17 Jealousy in animals
3.18 The Inflater fish
3.19 The Seal
3.20 The Pelican. The Sea-mew
3.21 A Bear and lions
3.22 Ichneumon and asp
3.23 Storks, their mutual affection ; transformation into human beings
3.24 The swallow and its nest
3.25 The swallow and its young
3.26 The Hoopoe
3.27 No lions in Peloponnese
3.28 The Perseus fish
3.29 The Pinna
3.30 The Cuckoo
3.31 The cock feared by Basilisk and lion
3.32 Local peculiarities
3.33 The asp. Nile water promotes fertility in animals
3.34 A wonderful Horn
3.35 Partridges, their different notes
3.36 The Grape-spider
3.37 Frogs in Seriphus
3.38 Local peculiarities
3.39 The goatsucker
3.40 The Nightingale
3.41 The Unicorn's horn
3.42 The Purple Coot. The Peacock
3.43 The raven in old age
3.44 Ringdoves, their conjugal fidelity
3.45 Pigeons and young; and birds of prey
3.46 An elephant and its keeper
3.47 Examples of incest



Attalus' home page   |   12.02.19   |   Any comments?