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AELIAN: ON THE NATURE OF ANIMALS

-   BOOK 4

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 3

[1] G   Partridges are the most incontinent of birds; that is the reason for their passionate love of the female birds and for their constant enslavement to lust. So those that rear fighting partridges, when they egg them on to battle with one another, make the female stand each by her mate, as they have found this to be a device for countering any cowardice or reluctance to fight. For the partridge that is defeated cannot endure to show himself either to his loved one or to his spouse. He will sooner die under the blows than turn away from his adversary and dare in his disgrace to look upon her whose good opinion he courts.

The Cretans also have taken this view regarding lovers. For I have heard that a Cretan lover, who had beside other qualities that of a fine soldier, had as his favourite a boy of good birth, conspicuous for his beauty, of manly spirit, excellently fitted by nature to imbibe the noblest principles, though on account of his youth he was not yet called to arms. (I have elsewhere ** given the name of the lover and of the beautiful boy.) Now the Cretans say that the young man did acts of valour in the fight, but when the enemy's massed line pressed him hard, he stumbled over a dead body that lay there and was thrown down. Whereupon one of the enemy who was nearest, in his eagerness was about to strike him in the back. But the man turned and exclaimed ' Do not deal me a shameful and cowardly blow, but strike me in front, in the breast, in order that my loved one may not judge me guilty of cowardice and refrain from laying out my dead body : he could not bear to go near one who so disgraces himself.'

There is nothing wonderful in a man being ashamed to appear a coward, but that a partridge should have some feeling of shame, this is a truly impressive gift of Nature. But Aristodemus the timid, ** and Cleonymus who threw away his shield, ** and Pisander the craven, ** had no reverence for their country or for their wives or for their children.

[2] G   At Eryx in Sicily there is a festival which not only the people of Eryx but everybody throughout the whole of Sicily as well call the Anagōgia {'Festival of the Embarkation'}. And the reason why the festival is so called is this: they say that during these days Aphrodite sets out thence for Libya. They adduce in support of their belief the following circumstance. There is there an immense multitude of pigeons. Now these disappear, and the people of Eryx assert that they have gone as an escort to the goddess, for they speak of pigeons as ' pets of Aphrodite,' and so everybody believes them to be. But after nine days one bird of conspicuous beauty is seen flying in from the sea which brings it from Libya: it is not like the other pigeons in a flock but is rose-coloured, just as Anacreon of Teos describes Aphrodite, styling her somewhere [fr. 2. 3 D] ' roseate.' And the bird might also be compared to gold, for this too is like the same goddess of whom Homer sings as' golden ' [Il. 5. 427 ] . And after the bird follow the other pigeons in clouds, and again there is a festal gathering for the people of Eryx, the Katagōgia {'Festival of the Return'}; the name is derived from the event.

[3] G   The wolf and the she-wolf feed together, likewise the horse and the mare; the lion and the lioness however do not, for the lioness and the lion do not follow the same track either hunting or when drinking. And the reason is that both derive confidence from their bodily strength, so that neither has need of the other, as older writers assert.

[4] G   Wolves are not easily delivered of their young, only after twelve days and twelve nights, for the people of Delos maintain that this was the length of time that it took Leto to travel from the Hyperboreans to Delos.

[5] G   Animals hostile to one another: the tortoise and the partridge; the stork and the corncrake to the sea-gull; the shearwater and the heron to the sea-mew. The Crested Lark feels enmity towards the goldfinch; the turtle-dove disagrees with the Pyrallis; ** the kite too and the raven are enemies; the Siren ** and the Circē **; the Circē and the falcon been found to be at variance not only in the matter of sex but in their nature.

The Sea-perch is the most lecherous of fishes. In Pheneus in Laconia ** one may hear tell of white ants.

[6] G   Men skilled in the breeding and care of horses agree that horses are most fond of marshy ground, meadows, and wind-swept spots. Hence we find Homer, who in my opinion had a remarkable knowledge of such matters, saying somewhere [Il. 20. 221]

' For him three thousand mares grazed along the water-meadow.'

And horse-keepers frequently testify to mares being impregnated by the wind, and to their galloping against the south or the north wind. And the same poet knew this when he said [Il. 20. 223]

' Of them was Boreas enamoured as they pastured.'

Aristotle too, borrowing (as I think) from him, said [HA 572 a 16 ( 6.18 )] that they rush away in frenzy straight in the face of the aforesaid winds.

[7] G   I am told that the King of the Scythians (his name I know but suppress, for I have nothing to gain by it) possessed a mare remarkable for every excellence which is expected of horses and for which they are displayed; and that he possessed also a foal of this same mare which surpassed all others in its excellence. Being unable to find either another worthy mate for the mare or another mare fit to be impregnated by the foal, he therefore put the two together for that purpose. They caressed each other in various ways and were friendly disposed, but refused to couple. So as the animals were too clever for the Scythian's scheme, he blindfolded both mare and foal with cloths, and they accomplished the act so contrary to law and morality. But when the pair realised what they had done, they atoned for their impious deed by death and threw themselves over a precipice.

[8] G   Eudemus records how a groom fell in love with a young mare, the finest of the herd, as it might have been a beautiful girl, the loveliest of all thereabouts. And at first he restrained himself, but finally dared to consummate a strange union. Now the mare had a foal, and a fine one, and when it saw what was happening it was pained, just as though its mother were being tyrannically treated by her master, and it leaped upon the man and killed him. And it even went so far as to watch where he was buried, went to the place, dug up the corpse, and outraged it by inflicting every kind of injury.

[9] G   The majority of fishes are eager for sexual intercourse throughout the springtime, and withdraw for choice to the Black Sea, for it contains caverns and resting-places which are Nature's gift to fishes. Besides, its waters are free from the savage creatures which the sea breeds. Only dolphins roam there, and they are small and feeble. Moreover it is devoid of octopuses; it produces no crabs and does not breed lobsters : these are the bane of small fishes.

[10] G   I am informed that when the new moon begins to appear, Elephants by some natural and unexplained act of intelligence pluck fresh branches from the forest where they feed and then raise them aloft and look upwards at the goddess, waving the branches gently to and fro, as though they were offering her in a sense a suppliant's olive-branch in the hope that she will prove kindly and benevolent to them.

[11] G   I have heard that mares are the only animals which when pregnant allow the male to have intercourse with them. For mares are exceedingly lustful, and that is why strict censors call lecherous women ' mares.'

[12] G   Partridges while still in the egg and confined by the shell that has formed around them do not wait for their parents to hatch them out, but alone and unaided, like house-breakers, peck through the eggs, peep out, and then lever themselves up, and then after cracking the egg-shell begin at once to run. And if half the shell is clinging to their tail they shake it off and cast it from them; and they hunt for food and dart about at great speed.

[13] G   Partridges that utter clear, musical tones are confident in their vocal skill. So too the fighting birds which compete feel certain that when captured they will not be regarded as merely fit for sacrifice. And that is why when caught they struggle less against their pursuers in order to avoid capture. But the rest, and especially the partridges of Cirrha, conscious that they possess neither strength nor ability to sing, and knowing full well that if caught they will furnish a meal for their captors, do their utmost, prompted by some natural intelligence, to render themselves unfit for eating. And they abstain from other food which delights and fattens them and feed most eagerly upon garlic. Hence those who are already aware of these facts have willingly agreed that they should be immune from pursuit. Whereas a man who has not previously chanced to hunt them, if he catches and cooks them, has wasted his time and his pains over them, when he finds their flesh disgusting.

[14] G   The Marten is an evil creature, and an evil creature is the snake. And so when a marten means to fight with a snake, it chews some rue beforehand and then goes out boldly to battle, as though fortified and armed. The reason is that to a snake rue is utterly abhorrent.

[15] G   The wolf when gorged to satiety will not thereafter taste the least morsel. For his belly is distended, his tongue swells, his mouth is blocked, and he is gentle as a lamb to meet, and would have no designs on man or beast, even were he to walk through the middle of a flock. Gradually however and little by little his tongue shrinks and resumes its former shape, and he becomes once more a wolf.

[16] G   Cockerels all tread a newcomer to the flock, and tame partridges do the same to the latest arrival as yet untamed. And partridges even requite their own parents by decoying those that are free and wild, acting in this respect just like pigeons. Now this is the way in which the partridge draws them to him and displays the arts of a Siren to allure others. He stands uttering his cry, and his tune conveys a challenge, provoking the wild bird to fight; and he stands in ambush by the springe. Then the cock of the wild birds answers back and advances to do battle on behalf of his covey. So the tame bird withdraws, pretending to be afraid, while the other advances vaunting as though he were already victorious, is caught in the snare, and is captured. Now if it is a cock bird that falls into the trap, his companions attempt to bring help to the captive; but if it is a hen, one here and another there beats the captive for allowing her lust to bring her into slavery.

And here is a point that I will not omit, for it deserves attention. If the decoy-bird is a hen, the wild hens, in order to prevent the cock from falling into the trap, counter the challenge with their cries and rescue the cock that is about to be trapped, for he is glad to stay with those who are his mates and more numerous, seeming to be drawn by some spell that is in truth love.

[17] G   The Hedgehog too is believed to be one of the animals that show spite. Thus, when it is caught it immediately makes water on its skin, so rendering it unfit for use, though it is thought to serve many purposes. The Lynx too hides its urine, for when it hardens it turns to stone ** and is suitable for engraving, and is one of the aids to female adornment, so they say.

[18] G   If a lion eats a lion's-bane {leontophonos}, ** it dies. And insects are destroyed if one drops oil on them. And perfumes are the death of Vultures. Beetles you will extirpate if you scatter roses on them.

[19] G   The Hounds of India are, reckoned as wild animals; they are exceedingly strong and fierce- tempered, and are the largest dogs in the world. All other animals they despise; but an Indian hound will engage with a lion and resist its onslaught, barking against its roar and giving bite for bite. Only after much worrying and wounding of the lion is the hound finally overcome; and even a lion might be overcome by an Indian hound, for once it has bitten, the hound holds fast with might and main. And even if you take a sword and cut off a hound's leg, it has no thought, in spite of its pain, of relaxing its bite, but though its leg has been cut off, only when dead does it let go and lie still, forced by death to desist.

What more I have learned I will recount elsewhere. **

[20] G   Men and dogs are the only creatures that belch after they have eaten their fill. A man's heart is attached to his left breast, but in other creatures it is fixed in the centre of the thorax. Among birds of prey there is not one that drinks or makes water, or even gathers in flocks with others of its kind.

[21] G   There is in India a wild beast, powerful, daring, as big as the largest lion, of a red colour like cinnabar, shaggy like a dog, and in the language of India it is called Martichoras {Mantichore}. ** Its face however is not that of a wild beast but of a man, and it has three rows of teeth set in its upper jaw and three in the lower; these are exceedingly sharp and larger than the fangs of a hound. Its ears also resemble a man's, except that they are larger and shaggy; its eyes are blue-grey and they too are like a man's, but its feet and claws, you must know, are those of a lion. To the end of its tail is attached the sting of a scorpion, and this might be over a cubit in length; and the tail has stings at intervals on either side. But the tip of the tail gives a fatal sting to anyone who encounters it, and death is immediate. If one pursues the beast it lets fly its stings, like arrows, sideways, and it can shoot a great distance; and when it discharges its stings straight ahead it bends its tail back; if however it shoots in a backward direction, as the Sacae ** do, then it stretches its tail to its full extent. Any creature that the missile hits it kills; the elephant alone it does not kill. These stings which it shoots are a foot long and the thickness of a bulrush. Now Ctesias asserts (and he says that the Indians confirm his words) that in the places where those stings have been let fly others spring up, so that this evil produces a crop. And according to the same writer the Martichoras for choice devours human beings; indeed it will slaughter a great number; and it lies in wait not for a single man but would set upon two or even three men, and alone overcomes even that number. All other animals it defeats: the lion alone it can never bring down. That this creature takes special delight in gorging human flesh its very name testifies, for in the Greek language it means man-eater, and its name is derived from its activities. Like the stag it is extremely swift.  

Now the Indians hunt the young of these animals while they are still without stings in their tails, which they then crush with a stone to prevent them from growing stings. The sound of their voice is as near as possible that of a trumpet.

Ctesias declares that he has actually seen this animal in Persia (it had been brought from India as a present to the Persian King) - if Ctesias is to be regarded as a sufficient authority on such matters. At any rate after hearing of the peculiarities of this animal, one must pay heed to the historian of Cnidus.

[22] G   The Sea-scolopendra bursts, they say, when a man spits in its face.

[23] G   If one crushes the fruit of a Willow-tree and gives it to animals to drink, they suffer no injury at all, rather they thrive on it. But if a man drinks it, his semen loses its procreative strength. And I fancy that Homer had explored the secrets of nature when he wrote in his verses [Od. 10. 510] ' and willows that lose their fruit,' and that he was making a cryptic allusion to this. And if a man drink hemlock, he dies from the congealing and chilling of his blood, whereas a hog can gorge itself with hemlock and remain in good health.

[24] G   The Indians have difficulty in capturing a full-grown elephant. So they resort to the swamps by a river and then capture the young ones. For the elephant delights in moist places where the ground is soft, and loves the water, and prefers to pass his time in these haunts: he is, so to say, a creature of the swamps. So having caught them while tender and docile, they look after them, pandering to their appetites, grooming their bodies, and using soothing words - for the elephants understand the speech of the natives - and, in a word, they foster them like children and bestow care upon them, instructing them in various ways. And the baby elephants learn to obey.

[25] G   In the threshing season when the oxen move round the threshing-floor and the space is filled with sheaves, in order to prevent the oxen from eating the ears, the men smear their nostrils with dung  -  a device which they have hit upon and which serves them well. For this animal is so disgusted at the aforesaid smearing that it would not touch any food, even though it were assailed with the fiercest hunger.

[26] G   This is the way in which the Indians hunt hares and foxes: they have no need of hounds for the chase, but they catch the young of eagles, Ravens, and Kites also, rear them, and teach them how to hunt. This is their method of instruction: to a tame hare or to a domesticated fox they attach a piece of meat, and then let them run; and having sent the birds in pursuit, they allow them to pick off the meat. The birds give chase at full speed, and if they catch the hare or the fox, they have the meat as a reward for the capture: it is for them a highly attractive bait. When therefore they have perfected the birds' skill at hunting, the Indians let them loose after mountain hares and wild foxes. And the birds, in expectation of their accustomed feed, whenever one of these animals appears, fly after it, seize it in a trice, and bring it back to their masters, as Ctesias tells us. And from the same source we learn also that in place of the meat which has hitherto been attached, the entrails of the animals they have caught provide a meal.

[27] G   I have heard that the Indian animal the Gryphon is a quadruped like a lion; that it has claws of enormous strength and that they resemble those of a lion. Men commonly report that it is winged and that the feathers along its back are black, and those on its front are red, while the actual wings are neither but are white. And Ctesias records that its neck is variegated with feathers of a dark blue; that it has a beak like an eagle's, and a head too, just as artists portray it in pictures and sculpture. Its eyes, he says, are like fire. It builds its lair among the mountains, and although it is not possible to capture the full-grown animal, they do take the young ones. And the people of Bactria, who are neighbours of the Indians, say that the Gryphons guard the gold in those parts; that they dig it up and build their nests with it, and that the Indians carry off any that falls from them. The Indians however deny that they guard the aforesaid gold, for the Gryphons have no need of it (and if that is what they say, then I at any rate think that they speak the truth), but that they themselves come to collect the gold, while the Gryphons fearing for their young ones fight with the invaders. They engage too with other beasts and overcome them without difficulty, but they will not face the lion or the elephant. Accordingly the natives, dreading the strength of these animals, do not set out in quest of the gold by day, but arrive by night, for at that season they are less likely to be detected. Now the region where the Gryphons live and where the gold is mined is a dreary wilderness. And the seekers after the aforesaid substance arrive, a thousand or two strong, armed and bringing spades and sacks; and watching for a moonless night they begin to dig. Now if they contrive to elude the Gryphons they reap a double advantage, for they not only escape with their lives but they also take home their freight, and when those who have acquired a special skill in the smelting of gold have refined it, they possess immense wealth to requite them for the dangers described above. If however they are caught in the act, they are lost. And they return home, I am told, after an interval of three or four years.

[28] G   The head of a turtle, after it has been cut off, sees and closes its eyes if one brings one's hand near; and it would still bite if you brought your hand too near. It has eyes that flash a long way off, for the pupils are the purest white and very conspicuous, and when removed are set in gold and necklaces. ** For that reason they are greatly admired by women. These turtles, I learn, are natives of what is commonly called the Red Sea.

[29] G   The Cock, they say, at moonrise becomes possessed and jumps about. Never would a sunrise pass unnoticed by him, but at that hour he excels himself in crowing. And I learn that the cock is the favourite bird of Leto. The reason is, they say, that he was at her side when she was so happily brought to bed of twins. That is why to this very day a cock is at hand when women are in travail, and is believed somehow to promote an easy delivery.

If the hen dies the cock himself sits on the eggs and hatches his own eggs in silence, for then for some strange and inexplicable reason, I must say, he does not crow. I fancy that he is conscious that he is then doing the work of a female and not of a male.

A cock that has been defeated in battle and in a struggle with another will not crow, for his spirit is depressed and he hides himself in shame. On the other hand if he is victorious, he is proud and holds his head high and appears exultant. Here too is a most astonishing trait, I think. As he passes beneath a doorway, no matter how high, the cock lowers his head - a most pretentious action, done apparently to protect his comb.

[30] G   Jackdaws are devoted to their own species; and this it is that often causes their destruction. And it happens in this way. The man who intends to hunt jackdaws adopts the following plan. In the place where he knows that they feed and where he sees them gathering in flocks he arranges basins full of oil. Now the oil is transparent and the bird is inquisitive, and it comes and perches on the rim of the vessel, bends down, and sees its own reflexion, and supposing it to be another jackdaw, makes haste to go down to it. So it descends, flaps its wings, and scatters the oil all over itself. Being quite unable to fly up again the bird remains, so to speak, fettered, though neither net nor trap nor snare is there.

[31] G   The elephant has what some call protruding tusks, what others call horns. On each foot he has five toes; their growth is just visible although they are not separate; and that is why he is ill-adapted for swimming. His hind legs are shorter than his forelegs ; his paps are close to his armpits: he has a proboscis which is far more serviceable than a hand, and his tongue is short; his gall-bladder is said to be not near the liver but close to the intestines. I am informed that the duration of the elephant's pregnancy is two years, although others maintain that it is not so long, but only eighteen months. It bears a young one as big as a one-year-old calf, which pulls at the dug with its mouth. When it is possessed with a desire to copulate and is burning with passion, it will dash at a wall and overturn it, will bend palm- trees by butting its forehead against them, as rams do. It drinks water not when clear and pure but when it has dirtied and stirred it up a little. But it sleeps standing upright, for it finds the act of lying down and of rising troublesome. The elephant reaches its prime at the age of sixty, though its life extends to two hundred years. But it cannot endure cold.

[32] G   It is worthwhile learning the nature of the flocks that belong to the Indians. I have heard that their goats and their sheep are larger than the largest asses, and that each one gives birth to quadruplets; anyhow no goat or sheep in India would ever give birth to less than three at a time. The sheep have tails reaching down to their feet, while the goats have tails of such length as all but touch the ground. The shepherds cut off the tails of the ewes which are good for breeding so that the rams may mount them, and they press oil out of the fat contained in them. In the rams' tails also they make an incision and extract the fat and sew them up again. And the cut joins up once more and all traces of it disappear.

[33] G   Alexander of Myndus declares that the Chameleon annoys snakes and makes them go hungry in this way. Taking in its teeth a piece of wood, broad and solid, it turns about and goes to face its enemy. But the snake is unable to seize it as its jaws cannot compass the width of the wood; and so the snake goes without a meal as far as the Chameleon is concerned, for although it may bite the rest of its body it gains nothing, since the Chameleon has a solid hide and cares not at all for the fangs of the snake.

[34] G   The neck of a lion consists of a single bone and not of a number of vertebrae. And if a man cuts through the bones of a lion fire leaps forth. But they are devoid of marrow, nor are they hollow like tubes. There is no season of the year in which it abstains from coupling, and the lioness is pregnant for two months. Five times does she give birth, at the first birth to five cubs, at the second to four, after that to three, after that to two, and finally to one. The cubs when new-born are small and, like puppies, blind, ** and they begin to walk when they have completed two months from birth. But the account which says that they scratch through the womb is a fable. To encounter a lion when famished is dangerous, but when he has eaten his fill he is extremely gentle; they even say that at that time he is playful. A lion will never turn his back and flee, but withdraws, looking you straight in the face, and by degrees. But when he begins to age he visits folds and huts and spots where shepherds lodge in caves; which is to be expected, because he no longer has the spirit for hunting on the mountains. He has a horror of fire. Any lion that inclines to roundness and a compact figure, and that has too shaggy a mane, appears to be lacking in spirit and daring; whereas the beast that attains a good length and has a straight mane is regarded as bolder and fiercer. Possessing a ravenous appetite he will, they say, devour and swallow whole limbs. So when he has taken his fill of them he will often not eat for the space of three days until his former meal has been gradually absorbed and digested. He drinks but little.

[35] G   A domesticated ox will never forget the man who strikes and chastises him, but he remembers and takes his revenge even after a long interval. For being under the yoke and in a certain degree confined, he is like a prisoner and keeps still; but when he is let out he has often kicked and broken some limb of his herdsman; often too he has put passion into his horns and has fallen upon a man and killed him. After that he is gentle to others and goes quietly to the fold, for he is not savage towards those against whom he has no ground for anger.

[36] G   Historians say that India is rich in drugs and remarkably prolific of medicinal plants, of which some save life and rescue from danger men who have been brought to death's door through the bites of noxious creatures (and there are many such in India); while other drugs are swift to kill and destroy; and to this class might be assigned the drug which comes from the Purple snake. Now this snake appears to be a span long; its colour is like the deepest purple, but its head they describe as white and not purple, and not just white, but whiter even than snow or milk. But this snake has no fangs and is found in the hottest regions of India, and though it is quite incapable of biting - for which reason you might pronounce it to be tame and gentle - yet if it vomits upon anyone (so I am told), be it man or animal, the entire limb inevitably putrefies. Therefore when caught men hang it up by the tail, and naturally it has its head hanging down, looking at the ground. And below the creature's mouth they place a bronze vessel, into which there ooze drops from its mouth; and the liquid sets and congeals, and if you saw it you would say that it was gum from an almond-tree. So when the snake is dead they remove the vessel and substitute another, also of bronze; and again from the dead body there flows a liquid serum which looks like water. This they leave for three days, and it too sets; but there will be a difference in colour between the two, for the latter is a deep black and the former the colour of amber. Now if you give a man a piece of this no bigger than a sesame seed, dropping it into his wine or his food, first he will be seized with convulsions of the utmost violence; next, his eyes squint and his brain dissolves and drips through his nostrils, and he dies a most pitiable death. And if he takes a smaller dose of the poison, there is no escape for him hereafter, for in time he dies. If however you administer some of the black matter which has flowed from the snake when dead, again a piece the size of a sesame seed, the man's body begins to suppurate, a wasting sickness overtakes him, and within a year he is carried off by consumption. But there are many whose lives have been prolonged for as much as two years, while little by little they died.

[37] G   Although the ostrich lays a number of eggs it does not hatch all of them but sets aside the sterile ones and sits upon those that are fertile; and from these it hatches its young, giving them the other, rejected eggs to eat. And if one chases the ostrich it does not venture to fly but spreads its wings and runs. And if it is in danger of being captured it slings the stones that come in its way backwards with its feet.

[38] G   Sparrows, conscious that their weakness is due to the small size of their bodies, build their nests upon those twigs of branches which are strong enough to support them, and so generally escape the machinations of bird-catchers who cannot climb the branch: it is too slender to bear them.

[39] G   Foxes pass all bounds in their mischievousness and trickery. When they observe a thriving wasps' nest they turn their back upon it and avoid the hole so as to protect themselves from being stung. But their tail, which is very bushy and long, they let down into the hole and shake up the wasps. And these fasten on the thick hairs. But when they are entangled in them the foxes beat their tail against a tree or fence or stone wall, and the wasps are killed by the blows. Then the foxes return to the same spot, collect the remaining wasps, and kill them as they did the first lot. When they know that they will have peace and be free from stings they put down their heads and eat up the combs, with nothing to disturb them and no need to look out for stings.

[40] G   A dog's skull has no suture. Running, they say, makes a dog more lustful. In old age a dog's teeth are blunt and turn black. He is so keen-scented that he will never touch the roasted flesh of a dog, be it bewitched by the subtlest and craftiest of rich sauces. Now there are three diseases which fall to the lot of a dog and no more - dog-quinsy, rabies, and gout - while mankind has an infinite number. Everything that is bitten by a mad dog dies. If a dog once gets gout you will rarely see him recover his strength. The life of a dog at its longest is fourteen years; so Argus, the dog of Odysseus, and the story about him [Od. 7. 291] look like a playful tale of Homer's.

[41] G   The following species of bird belongs to the very smallest of those in India. They build their nests on high mountains and among what are called ' rugged ' rocks. These tiny birds are the size of a partridge's egg, and you must know that they are orange-coloured. The Indians are accustomed to call the bird in their language dikairon, ** but the Greeks, so I am informed, dikaion. If a man take of its droppings a quantity the size of a millet-seed dissolved in his drink, he is dead by the evening. But his death is like a very pleasant and painless sleep, and such as poets are fond of describing as 'limb-relaxing ' and 'gentle.' For death too may be free from pain, and for that reason most welcome to those who desire it. The Indians accordingly do their utmost to obtain possession of it, for they regard it as in fact causing them to forget their troubles ' [Hom. Od. 4. 221 ] . And so the Indian King includes this also among the costly presents which he sends to the Persian King, who receives it and values it above all the rest and stores it away, to counteract and to remedy ills past curing, should necessity arise. But there is not another soul in Persia save the King and the King's mother who possesses it. So let us compare the Indian and Egyptian drug ** and see which of the two was to be preferred. On the one hand the Egyptian drug repelled and suppressed sorrow for a day, whereas the Indian drug caused a man to forget his troubles for ever. The former was the gift of a woman, the latter of a bird or else of Nature, which mysteriously releases men from a truly intolerable bondage through the aforesaid agency. And the Indians are fortunate in possessing it so that they can free themselves from this world's prison whenever they wish.

[42] G   The bird called ' Francolin' (Aristophanes mentions it in his comedy of the birds [249, etc. ]) proclaims and sings its own name as loudly as it can. And they say that Guinea-fowls {meleagrides}, as they are called, do the same and testify to their kinship with Meleager the son of Oeneus in the clearest tones. The legend goes that all the women who were related to the son of Oeneus dissolved into unassuageable tears and sorrow past bearing, and mourned for him and found no cure for their sorrow. So the gods in pity allowed them to change their shape into these birds; and the semblance and seed of their ancient grief have sunk into them so that to this day they raise a strain to Meleager and even sing of how they are his kin.

So then all who reverence the gods would never lay hands on one of these birds for the sake of food. And the reason of this is known to the inhabitants of the island of Leros ** and can be learned from other sources.

[43] G   Here are more facts that I have learned touching ants. So indefatigable, so ready to work are they, without making excuses, without any base plea for release, without alleging reasons that are a cloak for indolence, that not even at night when the moon is full do they remain idle and take holiday, but stick to their occupation.

Look at you men - devising endless pretexts and excuses for idling! What need is there to detail and pour out the full number of these occasions? Proclaimed as holidays are the Dionysia, ** the Lenaea, the Festival of Pots, the Gephyrismoi {'Causeway Day'}: go to Sparta, and there are others: others again at Thebes: and an endless number in every city, some in a foreign, others in a Greek city.

[44] G   In Egypt the cats, the Ichneumons, the crocodiles, and moreover the hawks afford evidence that animal nature is not altogether intractable, but that when well-treated they are good at remembering kindness. They are caught by pandering to their appetites, and when this has rendered them tame they remain thereafter perfectly gentle: they would never set upon their benefactors once they have been freed from their congenital and natural temper. Man however, a creature endowed with reason, credited with understanding, gifted with a sense of honour, supposed capable of blushing, can become the bitter enemy of a friend and for some trifling and casual reason blurt out confidences to betray the very man who trusted him.   

[45] G   Eudemus has a story to fill one with amazement, and this is the story he tells. A young hunter who was able to spend his life among the wildest of animals, after they had been trained from the day when they were young cubs, had living with him and sharing each other's food a dog, a Bear, and a lion. And for a time, Eudemus says, they lived in peace and mutual amity. But it happened one day that the dog was playing with the Bear, fawning upon it and teasing it, when the Bear became unwontedly savage, fell upon the dog, and with its claws ripped the poor creature's belly open and tore him to pieces. The lion, says the writer, was indignant at what had occurred and seemed to detest the Bear's implacability and want of affection: it was smitten with grief for the dog as for a companion, and being filled with righteous anger, punished the Bear by treating it exactly as the Bear had treated the dog. Now Homer says [Od. 3.196]

' So good a thing it is that when a man dies a son should be left.'

And Nature seems to show that there is an advantage, my dear Homer, in leaving a friend behind to avenge one. Something of the same kind, we believe, occurred with Zenon and Cleanthes, if there is some truth in what we hear. ** 

[46] G   (i). In India are born insects ** about the size of beetles, and they are red. On seeing them for the first time you might compare them to vermilion. They have very long legs and are soft to the touch. They flourish on those trees which produce amber, and feed upon the fruit of the same. And the Indians hunt them and crush them and with their bodies dye their crimson cloaks and their tunics beneath and everything else that they wish to convert and stain to that colour. Garments of this description are even brought to the Persian king, and their beauty excites the admiration of the Persians, and indeed when set against their native garments far surpasses them and amazes people, according to Ctesias, because the colour is even stronger and more brilliant than the much-vaunted wares of Sardis.

(ii). And in the same part of India as the beetles, are born the ' Dog-heads,' as they are called - a name which they owe to their physical appearance and nature. For the rest they are of human shape and go about clothed in the skins of beasts; and they are upright and injure no man; and though they have no speech they howl; yet they understand the Indian language. Wild animals are their food, and they catch them with the utmost ease, for they are exceedingly swift of foot; and when they have caught them they kill and cook them, not over a fire but by exposing them to the sun's heat after they have shredded them into pieces. They also keep goats and sheep, and while their food is the flesh of wild beasts, their drink is the milk of the animals they keep. I have mentioned them along with brute beasts, as. is logical, for their speech is inarticulate, unintelligible, and not that of man.

[47] G   Golden Oriole ** is the name of a bird which declines to build its nest with anything but comfrey, as it is called. Comfrey is a root which is hard to find and hard to dig up. For bedding it lays down hairs and wool. Chlōris is the name given to the hen, but the cock-bird they call chlorion, and it is clever at getting a livelihood; it is quick to learn anything whatsoever, and will patiently endure the ordeal of learning when in captivity. In the winter season you will not see it abroad and free, but at the occurrence of the summer solstice, that is when it will appear. As soon as Arcturus has risen ** the bird returns to its native haunts whence it came to us.  

[48] G   When once a bull has been provoked to anger and is threatening violence with his horns and rushing on with irresistible speed, the herdsman cannot control him, fear cannot check him, nor anything else; only a man may bring him to a halt and stay his onrush if he tie a scarf round his own right knee and face the bull.

[49] G   The leopard has five toes on its fore-paws and four on its hind-paws. But the female is stronger than the male. If it unwittingly eats what is called ' leopard's-choke ' ** (this is a herb), it licks some human excrement and preserves its life.

[50] G   Horses, they say, have no lower eyelashes, so that Apelles ** of Ephesus incurred blame for ignoring this peculiarity in his picture of a horse. But others assert that it was not Apelles who was charged with this fault but Micon, a man of great skill in depicting this animal, although on this one point he made a mistake.

[51] G   They say that the gadfly is like a fly of the largest size; it is robust and compact and has a strong sting attached to its body and emits a buzzing sound. The horsefly on the other hand is like the dog-fly, as it is called, but though its buzz is louder than the gadfly its sting is smaller. **

[52] G   I have learned that in India are born Wild asses as big as horses. All their body is white except for the head, which approaches purple, while their eyes give off a dark blue colour. They have a horn on their forehead as much as a cubit and a half long; the lower part of the horn is white, the upper part is crimson, while the middle is jet-black. From these variegated horns, I am told, the Indians drink, but not all, only the most eminent Indians, and round them at intervals they lay rings of gold, as though they were decorating the beautiful arm of a statue with bracelets. And they say that a man who has drunk from this horn knows not, and is free from, incurable diseases: he will never be seized with convulsions nor with the sacred sickness, ** as it is called, nor be destroyed by poisons. Moreover if he has previously drunk some deadly stuff, he vomits it up and is restored to health.

It is believed that asses, both the tame and the wild kind, all the world over and all other beasts with uncloven hoofs are without knucklebones and without gall in the liver; whereas those horned asses of India, Ctesias says, have knucklebones and are not without gall. Their knucklebones are said to be black, and if ground down are black inside as well. And these animals are far swifter than any ass or even than any horse or any deer. They begin to run, it is true, at a gentle pace, but gradually gather strength until to pursue them is, in the language of poetry, to chase the unattainable.

When the mother gives birth and leads her new-born colts about, the fathers herd with, and look after, them. And these asses frequent the most desolate plains in India. So when the Indians go to hunt them, the asses allow their colts, still tender and young, to pasture in their rear, while they themselves fight on their behalf and join battle with the horsemen and strike them with their horns. Now the strength of these horns is such that nothing can withstand their blows, but everything gives way and snaps or, it may be, is shattered and rendered useless. They have in the past even struck at the ribs of a horse, ripped it open, and disembowelled it. For that reason the horsemen dread coming to close quarters with them, since the penalty for so doing is a most lamentable death, and both they and their horses are killed. They can kick fearfully too. Moreover their bite goes so deep that they tear away everything that they have grasped. A full-grown ass one would never capture alive: they are shot with javelins and arrows, and when dead the Indians strip them of their horns, which, as I said, they decorate.

But the flesh of Indian asses is uneatable, the reason being that it is naturally exceedingly bitter.

[53] G   Eudemus declares that animals though devoid of reason have a natural instinct for numbers, even though untaught, and adduces as evidence this animal from Libya. Its name he does not mention, but what he says is this. Whatever it catches it divides into eleven portions; ten of these it eats, but the eleventh it leaves (it is worth considering for whose benefit, from what cause, and with what intent) as a kind of first-fruits or tithe, so to say. Hence one's amazement at this self-taught skill is justifiable: a brute beast understands 1,2, and the following numbers ; then think of all the instruction, all the whippings a human being needs if he is to learn these things well and truly - or often, if he is not to learn them.

[54] G   The Egyptians assert (and scholars do not lend an indifferent ear to what they say) that in a certain district of Egypt which they name after Heracles ** the son of Zeus, a good-looking boy, as Egyptian boys go, who herded geese, was beloved and even admired by a female asp. It would keep company with its favourite and warn him in a dream as he slept of the plots that another savage creature, its fellow you might say, was hatching against him: the male asp was attempting his life, being as it were jealous of the boy on account of its wedded bride. And the boy would listen and obey and be on his guard. Now Homer [Il. 19. 404] allowed a horse to speak, and Nature, who according to Euripides ' takes no account of laws ' [fr. 920 N] , did the same to an asp.

[55] G   I have heard that camels live for fifty years, but I have ascertained that those from Bactria live as much as twice that number. The males which are used in battle, the Bactrians castrate, thereby ridding them of their violent and intemperate disposition while preserving their strength. But in the case of the females they cauterize those parts which inflame them to lust.

[56] G   Eudemus asserts that a seal fell in love with a man whose habit was to dive for sponges, and that it would emerge from the sea and consort with him where there was a rocky cavern. Now this man was the ugliest of his fellows, but in the eyes of the seal the handsomest. Perhaps there is nothing to wonder at, for even human beings have frequently loved the less beautiful of their kind, being quite unaffected by the best-looking and paying no attention to them.

[57] G   Aristotle says ** that when a man has been bitten by a Water-snake he at once exhales a most foul odour, so much so that nobody can come near him. He says also that forgetfulness descends upon the bitten man and a thick mist upon his eyes, and that madness ensues and a violent trembling, and that after three days he dies.

[58] G   You must know that the Oenas {Rock-dove} is a bird and not, as some maintain, a vine. And Aristotle says [HA 544 b 6 ( 5.13 )] that it is larger than a ring-dove but smaller than a pigeon. In Sparta too, I hear, there are men called Oenadotherae {Rock-dove-catchers}.

The Circē may be said to differ from the falcon not only in sex but in its nature too.

[59] G   ' Blue-fowl' ** is its name; it is a bird; its ways are apart from man; it hates to linger in cities or to lodge in a house; it even avoids lingering in fields or where there are cottages and huts belonging to man; it likes desolate places and delights in mountain peaks and precipitous crags. It has no love even for the mainland or for pleasant islands, but for Scyros and any equally dreary, barren spot, generally destitute of human beings.

[60] G   Chaffinches, it seems, are cleverer than man at predicting the future. For instance, they can tell when winter is coming, and they take the most careful precautions against an impending snowfall, and for fear of being overtaken they flee to the woodlands where the thick foliage affords them, as you might say, an asylum.

Book 5



FOOTNOTES



(1)    Not in any surviving work of Aelian's.    

(2)    A Spartan who owing to sickness was absent from the battle of Thermopylae. Later, at Plataea, he wiped out his 'disgrace.' See Hdt. 7.229-32;   9.71.    

(3)    A frequent butt of Aristophanes.    

(4)    Athenian demagogue, end of 5th century B.C., lampooned by Comic poets for his bulk, his rapacity, and his cowardice. Helped to establish the rule of the Four Hundred.    

(5)    Perhaps a kind of pigeon.    

(6)    Probably the Serin-finch.    

(7)    The Circe has not been identified.

(8)    Pheneus was in Arcadia. Venmans, citing Paus. 3.26. 2 , 3 , conjectures Pephnus, a place in Laconia at the north-east corner of the Messenian Gulf. It was also the name of a rocky islet at the mouth of the Pamisus; see Frazer on Paus. loc. cit. The ' white ants ' are fabulous.    

(9)    The stone known as λυγγούριον was perhaps amber. The word was derived from λύγξ and οὖρον.    

(10)    In [Arist.] Mir. 845 a 28 it appears as a Syrian animal that was supposed to poison lions; to hunters who killed, cooked, and ate it it was equally fatal; cp. Plin. NH 8. 136. But L-S regard it as an insect.    

(11)    See 8.1.    

(12)    The English form is mantichore. The word is derived from the Persian mardhhora = ' man-slayer'; perhaps a man-eating tiger.    

(13)    Iranian nomads inhabiting the country south-east of the Sea of Aral between the rivers Jaxartes and Oxus. They contributed a contingent to the Persian army.    

(14)    χελώνια, tortoise-stone; an unknown gem. Cp. Plin. HN 37.10.    

(15)    See 5.39.    

(16)    ' The " bird " was the Dung-beetle, Scarabaeus sacer  the " dung" was probably ... a resinous preparation of Indian hemp ' (Thompson, Gk. birds, s.v.).    

(17)    In Hom. Od. 4. 219-32, Helen mixes a drug, thought to have been opium in some form, in the wine of Telemachus to make him forget his sorrow for his father.    

(18)    Leros, off the coast of Caria, contained a shrine of Artemis Parthenos, and there according to the legend the women were transformed.    

(19)    Greater or City Dionysia held about March 28-April 2; Lesser or Country Dionysia, about December 19-22; Lenaea, at the end of January; Χὑτροι, feast in honour of the departed, about March 4; all these at Athens.   Γεφυρισμός : those who took part in the Eleusinia, in March, indulged in abusive repartee as they passed along the Sacred Way between Athens and Eleusis.    

(20)    Cleanthes succeeded his master Zenon as head of the Stoic school at Athens, 263 B.C.    

(21)    This is the Tachardia lacca of India and South Asia, an insect allied to the cochineal and kermes insects. It exudes a resinous secretion (on to the twigs of certain trees, esp. those of the species Ficus) which is lac. The crimson dye is the red fluid in the ovary of the female.    

(22)    Aelian has confused the habits of two different birds: it is the Greenfinch, the χλωρίς of Arist. HA 615 b 32 ( 9.13 ), that builds its nest of comfrey, etc. But Aelian uses the word to signify the Golden Oriole, a migratory bird, which the Greenfinch is not.    

(23)    The morning rising of Arcturus in the region of Rome is on September 20.    

(24)    Aconite.    

(25)    Apelles, the most renowned of Greek painters, contemporary of Alexander the Great.   Micon, fl. middle of 5th cent. B.C. at Athens, famous as painter and sculptor.    

(26)    Cp. 6.37, and see Stud. ital. di fil. class. 12. 441.    

(27)    Epilepsy.    

(28)    Nomos Heracleotes in Middle Egypt, of which the capital was Heracleopolis.    

(29)    Not in any extant work. Wellmann (Hermes 26. 334) would substitute the name of Apollodorus for that of Aristotle, which he regards as a slip on the part of Aelian. Cp. Nic. Th. 425.    

(30)    Perhaps the 'Syrian Nuthatch.'    




CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK

4.1 The partridge. Cretan lovers
4.2 The pigeons of Aphrodite at Eryx
4.3 Lion and Lioness
4.4 The wolf
4.5 Animal enmities
4.6 The horse
4.7 Example of animal incest
4.8 Groom in love with Mare
4.9 Fish in the mating season
4.10 Elephants worship the Moon
4.11 The Mare
4.12 The partridge, its young
4.13 The partridge : three kinds
4.14 Marten and snake
4.15 The wolf, when full-fed
4.16 The partridge as decoy
4.17 The hedgehog. The Lynx
4.18 Objects poisonous to certain animals
4.19 The Indian hound
4.20 Peculiarities of various creatures
4.21 The Mantichore
4.22 The power of human spittle
4.23 The Willow. The Hemlock
4.24 The taming of elephants
4.25 Oxen treading out the corn
4.26 Falconry in India
4.27 The Gryphons and the gold of Bactria
4.28 The turtle and its eyes
4.29 The cock and its crowing
4.30 The Jackdaw
4.31 The elephant, its anatomy and habits
4.32 The goats and sheep of India
4.33 The Chameleon and snakes
4.34 The lion
4.35 The ox and its memory
4.36 The Purple snake of India
4.37 The Ostrich
4.38 The Sparrow
4.39 The fox and wasps
4.40 The dog
4.41 The 'Dikairon'
4.42 The Francolin. The Guinea-fowl
4.43 The ant. Greek festivals
4.44 Animals remember kind actions
4.45 The story of a lion, a Bear, and a dog
4.46 (i) The Lac insect (ii) The Dog-heads
4.47 The Golden Oriole
4.48 How to check an angry bull
4.49 The leopard
4.50 The horse, its eyelashes
4.51 The Gadfly. The Horse-fly
4.52 The Wild ass of India
4.53 A calculating animal
4.54 Asp in love with a Goose-herd
4.55 The camel of Bactria
4.56 Seal in love with a Diver
4.57 The Water-snake, its bite
4.58 The Rock-dove. The 'Circe'
4.59 The Blue -fowl
4.60 The Chaffinch



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