-   BOOK 5

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 4

[1] G   They say that the country about Parium ** and its neighbour Cyzicus are inhabited by birds black in appearance; from their shape you would say that they were hawks. But they do not touch flesh, are temperate in their appetite, and for them seeds are a sufficient meal. And when late autumn sets in, a flock of these birds (they call them Memnons) ** resort to the land round Ilium, making straight for the tomb of Memnon. And the people who still inhabit the Troad assert that there is a tomb there dedicated to Memnon the son of Eos {Dawn}; and since the actual dead body was borne through the air by his mother from the midst of the carnage to Susa (celebrated for this reason as ' Memnonian '), where it was awarded a becoming burial, the monument in the Troad is called after him to no purpose. And so year by year the birds named after the aforesaid hero arrive and separate themselves into hostile factions and fight violently until half their number are killed, when the victors depart and return whence they came. How this all comes to pass and for what reason, I have at the moment no leisure to speculate, nor yet to track down the mysteries of Nature. This however I will mention. The aforesaid birds engage in this contest around the tomb of the son of Eos and Tithonus year after year, whereas the Greeks held but one contest in honour of Pelias, ** of Amarynceus, and even of Patroclus, and of Achilles the adversary of Memnon.

[2] G   They say that the owl is not found at all in Crete, and moreover that if it is introduced from abroad it dies. So it seems that Euripides uncritically represented Polyeidus ** as seeing this bird and thereby conjecturing that he would discover the dead son of Minos. And I myself have ascertained that the Cretan histories, beside the facts already told, relate in verse and prose how Crete received from Zeus a boon  -  seeing that the island had nursed him and effected that famous concealment of him - namely that it should be free of all noxious creatures born to do harm, that it should neither produce them nor support them if introduced from abroad. And the island proves how potent this boon was, for it produces none of the aforesaid creatures. But if a man by way of trying and testing the extent of Zeus's favour imports one of these alien creatures, it has but to touch the soil and it dies. Accordingly snake-hunters from the neighbouring Libya use devices of this kind. These charmers of venomous reptiles tame a great number and bring them for people to wonder at, and with them they import a load of soil from Libya sufficient for their need. This they do by way of precaution, to prevent the snakes from meeting their death. With this object, when they arrive at the aforesaid island they do not put down their snakes until they have laid a bed of the imported soil. This done, they collect crowds and fill the unintelligent majority with amazement. Now as long as each snake remains coiled up and settled in its place, or rises up without however crossing the limit of its own native dust, so long it lives. If however it strays on to the alien soil which is strange and hostile to it, it dies, and naturally so. For if the will of Zeus did not fail of effect in the case of Thetis, and would not fail in the case of any other person, far less, I think, will it prove ineffectual when his own nurse is concerned.

[3] G   The river Indus is devoid of savage creatures; the only thing that is born in it is a worm, so they say, in appearance like those that are engendered in, and feed upon, timber. But these creatures attain to a length of as much as seven cubits, though one might find specimens both larger and smaller. Their bulk is such that a ten-year-old boy could hardly encircle it with his arms. A single tooth is attached to the upper jaw, another to the lower, and both are square and about eighteen inches long; and such is the strength of their teeth that they can crush with the greatest ease anything that they get between them, be it stone, be it animal, tame or wild. During the daytime they live at the bottom of the river, wallowing in the mud and slime; for that reason they are not to be seen. But at night they emerge on to the land, and whatever they encounter, whether horse or ox or ass, they crush and then drag down to their haunts and eat it in the river, devouring every member of the animal excepting its paunch. If however they are assailed by hunger during the day as well, and should a camel or an ox be drinking on the bank, they slide furtively up and seizing firmly upon its lips, haul it along with the utmost force and drag it by sheer strength into the water, where they feast upon it. Each one is covered with a hide two fingers thick. The following means have been devised for hunting and capturing them. Men let down a stout, strong hook attached to an iron chain, and to this they fasten a rope of white flax weighing a talent, and they wrap wool round both chain and rope to prevent the worm biting through them. On the hook they fix a lamb or a kid, and then let them sink in the river. As many as thirty men hold on to the rope and each of them has a javelin ready to hurl and a sword at his side. Wooden clubs are placed handy, should they need to deal blows, and these are of cornel-wood and very hard. Then when the worm is secured on the hook and has swallowed the bait, the men haul, and having captured it and killed it, hang it up in the sun for thirty days. From the body there drips a thick oil into earthenware vessels; and each worm yields up to ten cotylae . ** This oil they seal and bring to the Indian King; no one else is permitted to have so much as a drop. The rest of the carcase is of no use. Now the oil has this power: should you wish to burn a pile of wood and to scatter the embers, pour on a cotyle and you will set it alight without previously applying a spark. And if you want to burn a man or an animal, pour some oil over him and at once he is set on fire. With this, they say, the Indian King even takes cities that have risen against him; he does not wait for battering-rams or penthouses or any other siege-engines, for he burns them down and captures them. He fills earthen vessels, each holding one cotyle , with oil, seals them, and slings them from above against the gates. When the vessels touch the embrasures they are dashed into fragments; the oil oozes down; fire pours over the doors, and nothing can quench it. And it burns weapons and fighting men, so tremendous is its force. It is however allayed and put out if piles of rubbish are poured over it.

Such is the account given by Ctesias of Cnidus.

[4] G   The Porpoise is a creature like the dolphin, and it too has milk. Its colour is not black but resembles very deep blue. It breathes not through gills but through a blow-hole, for that is the name they give to its air-passage. The porpoise frequents Pontus and the sea round about, and rarely strays beyond its familiar haunts.

[5] G   When a hen has defeated a cock-bird in battle it gives itself airs from sheer delight and lets down wattles, not however to the same extent as cocks, although it does so and is filled with pride and struts more grandly.

[6] G   The Dolphin is believed to love its own kin, and here is the evidence. Aenus is a city in Thrace. Now it happened that a dolphin was captured and wounded, not indeed fatally, but the captive was still able to live. So when its blood flowed the dolphins which had not been caught saw this and came thronging into the harbour and leaping about and were plainly bent on some mischief. At this the people of Aenus took fright and let their captive go, and the dolphins, escorting as it might be some kinsman, departed.

But a human being will hardly attend or give a thought to a relative, be it man or woman, in misfortune.

[7] G   In Egypt, says Eudemus, a monkey was being pursued and cats were the pursuers. So the monkey fled as fast as he could and made straight for a tree. But the cats also ran up very swiftly, for they cling to the bark and can also climb trees. But as he was going to be caught, being one against many, he leapt from the trunk and with his paws seized the end of an overhanging branch high up and clung to it for a long while. And since the cats could no longer get at him, they descended to go after other prey. So the monkey was saved by his own considerable exertions, and it was to himself, as was proper, that he owed the reward for his rescue.

[8] G   Aristotle says ** that the soil of Astypalaea ** is unfriendly to snakes; just as, according to the same writer, Rhenea is to martens. No crow can go up on to the Acropolis at Athens. Say that Elis is the mother of mules, ** and you say what is false.

[9] G   There is an agreement between the people of Rhegium and of Locris ** that they shall have access to, and shall cultivate, one another's lands. But the cicadas of the two territories do not agree to this and are not of one and the same mind, for you will find the Locrian cicada is completely silent in Rhegium, and the cicada from Rhegium is absolutely voiceless among the Locrians. What the cause of such an exchange may be neither I nor anyone else, save an idle boaster, can say. Only to Nature, you men of Rhegium and of Locris, is it known. At any rate there is a river ** separating the territories of Rhegium and Locris, and the banks are not so much as a hundred feet apart; for all that the cicadas of neither side fly across it. And in Cephallenia there is a river which occasions both fertility and barrenness among cicadas.

[10] G   Bees when forsaken by their King, who is at once gentle and inoffensive and also stingless, give chase and pursue after the deserter from the post of rule. They track him down in some mysterious way and detect him by means of the smell he diffuses and bring him back to his kingdom of their own free will, indeed eagerly, for they admire his disposition. But the Athenians drove out Pisistratus, ** and the Syracusans Dionysius, ** and other states their rulers, since they were tyrants and broke the laws and could not exhibit the art of kingship which consists in loving one's fellow-men and protecting one's subjects.

[11] G   It is the concern of the King bee that his hive should be regulated in the following manner. To some bees he assigns the bringing of water, to others the fashioning of honeycombs within the hive, while a third lot must go abroad to gather food. But after a time they exchange duties in a precisely determined rotation. As to the King himself, it is enough for him to take thought and to legislate for the matters that I mentioned above after the manner of great rulers to whom philosophers like to ascribe simultaneously the qualities of a citizen and of a king. For the rest he lives at ease and abstains from physical labour. If however it is expedient for the bees to change their dwelling, then the ruler departs, and if he happens to be still young, he leads the way and the rest follow; if however he is elderly, he is carried on his way and conveyed by other bees.

At a signal bees retire to slumber. When it seems to be time to go to sleep the King commands one bee to give the signal for going to rest. And the bee obeys and gives the word, whereupon the bees that have been buzzing till then retire to bed. Now so long as the King survives, the swarm flourishes and all disorder is suppressed. The drones gladly remain at rest in their cells, the older bees dwell in their quarters apart, the young in theirs, the King by himself, and the larvae in their own place. Their food and their excrement are in separate places. But when the King dies, disorder and anarchy fill the place; the drones produce offspring in the cells of the bees; the general confusion no longer permits the swarm to thrive, and finally the bees perish for want of a ruler.

The bee leads a blameless life and would never touch animal food. It has no need of Pythagoras for counsellor, but flowers afford it food enough. It is in the highest degree temperate ; at any rate it abhors luxury and delicate living; witness the fact that it pursues and drives away a man who has perfumed himself, as if he were some enemy who has perpetrated actions past all remedy. It recognises too a man who comes from an unchaste bed, and him also it pursues, as though he were its bitterest foe. And bees are well-endowed with courage and are undaunted. For instance, there is not a single animal from which they flee; they are not mastered by cowardice but go to the attack. Towards those who do not trouble them or start to injure them or who do not approach the hive bent on mischief and with evil intent they show themselves peaceful and friendly; but against those who would injure them the fires of a truceless war, as the phrase goes, are kindled; and anyone who comes to plunder their honey is reckoned among their enemies. And they sting even wasps severely. And Aristotle records [HA 626 a 21 ( 9.39 )] how bees once finding a horseman ** near the hive attacked him violently and slew both him and his horse. And further, they fight with one another, and the stronger party defeats the weaker. But I learn that toads and frogs from pools, bee-eaters, and swallows defeat them, and frequently wasps do so too. Yet the victor achieves what you might call a Cadmean victory, ** for he comes off badly from their blows and stings, since the bees are armed with courage no less than with stings. But bees are not without a share of the wisdom of foresight, and Aristotle vouches for my statement [HA 626 b 12 ( 9.39 )] thus. Some bees came to a hive that was not theirs but a different one and proceeded to plunder the honey which did not belong to them. But the bees which were being despoiled of their labours nevertheless remained quiet and waited patiently to see what would happen. Then, when the beekeeper had killed the greater number of the enemy, the bees in the hive realised that they were in fact sufficient to sustain an equal combat and emerged to strike back, and the penalty which they exacted for the robbery left nothing to cavil at.

[12] G   Here is further evidence of the industry of bees. In the coldest countries from the time when the Pleiads have set ** until the spring equinox they continue at home and stay quiet in the hive, longing for the warmth and shunning the cold. But for the rest of the year they abhor indolence and repose and are good at hard labour. And you would never see a bee idling unless it were during the season when their limbs are numb with cold.

[13] G   Bees practise geometry and produce their graceful figures and beautiful conformations without any theory or rules of art, without what the learned call a' compass.' And when their numbers increase and the swarm thrives they send out colonies just as the largest and most populous cities do. Now the bee knows when there is rain that threatens to persist, and when there will be a gale. But if surprised by a wind, you will see every bee carrying a pebble between the tips of its feet by way of ballast. What the divine Plato says [Phaedr. 230 c, 259 b] of cicadas and their love of song and music one might equally say of the choir of bees. For instance, when they frolic and roam abroad, then the bee-keepers make a clashing sound, melodious and rhythmical, and the bees are attracted as by a Siren and come back again to their own haunts.

[14] G   (i). In the island of Gyarus ** Aristotle says [Mir. 832 a 22] that there are rats and that they actually eat iron ore. And Amyntas says that the rats of Teredon (this is in Babylonia) adopt the same food. **

(ii). I am told that on Latmus in Caria there are scorpions which inflict a fatal sting on their fellow- countrymen; strangers however they sting lightly and just enough to produce an itching sensation. This in my opinion is a boon bestowed upon visitors by Zeus, Protector of the Stranger.

[15] G   Wasps also are subject to a King, but not, as men are, to a despot. Witness the fact that their Kings also are stingless. And their subjects have a law that they shall construct their combs for them. But although the rulers are twice the size of a subject, yet they are gentle and of a nature incapable of doing an injury either willingly or unwillingly. Who then would not detest the Dionysii of Sicily, ** Clearchus of Heracleia, Apollodorus the oppressor of Cassandreia, Nabis the scourge of Sparta, if they trusted in the sword, when the King wasps trust to their lack of sting and to their gentle nature ?

[16] G   This is what wasps that are armed with a sting are said to do. When they observe a dead viper they swoop upon it and draw poison into their sting. It is from this source, I fancy, that men have acquired that knowledge, and no good knowledge either. And Homer is witness to the fact when he says in the Odyssey [1. 261]

' Seeking a deadly drug, that he might have wherewithal to smear his bronze-tipped arrows.'

Or again, to be sure (if one can trust the story), just as Heracles dipped his arrows in the venom of the Hydra, so do wasps dip and sharpen their sting.

[17] G   Let not the fly lack the honour of a mention in this record of mine, for it too is Nature's handiwork.

The flies of Pisa at the season of the Olympic festival make peace, so to speak, both with visitors and with the local inhabitants. At any rate, despite the multitude of sacrifices, the quantity of blood shed and of flesh hung out, the flies disappear of their own free will and cross to the opposite bank of the Alpheius. And they appear to differ not a whit from the women there, except that their behaviour shows them to be more self-restrained than the women. For while women are excluded by the rules of training and of propriety at that season, the flies of their own free will abstain from the sacrifices and absent themselves while the ceremonies are in progress and during the recognised period of the Games. ' Then was the assembly ended ' [Hom. Il. 24. 1] and the flies come home, just like exiles whom a decree has allowed to return, and once again they stream into Elis.

[18] G   The Great Sea Perch is a marine creature, and if you were to catch and cut it up, you would not then and there see it dead, but it retains the power of movement, and for a considerable time. All through the winter it likes to remain at home in its caverns, and its favourite resorts are near the land.

[19] G   The Wolf does not dare to close with a bull and to meet it face to face; he is afraid of its horns and avoids their points. So he makes a feint of attacking the bull frontally; he does not however attack but gives the appearance of being about to try; and then when the bull makes a rush at him, the wolf slips aside and leaps on its back and clings with might and main, beast wrestling with beast. And the wolf overpowers it and by native cunning makes good his lack of strength.

[20] G   The Hake has its heart in its belly, as experts in these matters agree and inform us.

[21] G   The Peacock knows that it is the most beautiful of birds; it knows too wherein its beauty resides; it prides itself on this and is haughty, and gathers confidence from the plumes which are its ornament and which inspire strangers with terror. In summertime they afford it a covering of its own, not borrowed or alien. If, for instance, it wants to scare somebody it raises its tail-feathers and shakes them and emits a scream, and the bystanders are terrified, as though scared by the clang of a hoplite's armour. And it raises its head and nods most pompously, as though it were shaking a triple plume at one. When however it needs to cool itself it raises its feathers, inclines them in a forward direction and displays a natural shade from its own body, and wards off the fierceness of the sun's rays. But if there is a wind behind it, it gradually expands its feathers, and the breeze which streams through them, blowing gently and agreeably, enables the bird to cool itself. It knows when it has been praised, and as some handsome boy or lovely woman displays that feature which excels the rest, so does the peacock raise its feathers in orderly succession; and it resembles a flowery meadow or a picture made beautiful by the many hues of the paint, and painters must be prepared to sweat in order to represent its special characteristics. And it proves how ungrudgingly it exhibits itself by permitting bystanders to take their fill of gazing, as it turns itself about and industriously shows off the diversity of its plumage, displaying with the utmost pride an array surpassing the garments of the Medes and the embroideries of the Persians. It is said to have been brought to Greece from foreign lands. And since for a long while it was a rarity, it used to be exhibited to men of taste for a fee, and at Athens the owners used on the first day of each month to admit men and women to study them, and they made a profit by the spectacle. They used to value the cock and the hen at ten thousand drachmas, ** as Antiphon says in his speech against Erasistratus. ** For their maintenance a double establishment and custodians and keepers are needed. Hortensius the Roman was judged to have been the first man to slaughter a peacock for a banquet. But Alexander of Macedon was struck with amazement at the sight of these birds in India, and in his admiration of their beauty threatened the severest penalties for any man who slew one.

[22] G   When mice fall into cooling-vessels, since they cannot get out by swimming, they fasten their teeth into one another's tails, and then the first pulls the second and the second the third. In this way has Nature in her supreme wisdom taught them to combine and help one another.

[23] G   This is the way in which crocodiles lie in wait for those who draw water from the Nile: they cover themselves with driftwood and, spying through it, swim up beneath it. And the people come bringing earthen vessels or pitchers or jugs. Then, as men draw water, the creatures emerge from the driftwood, leap against the bank, and seizing them with overpowering force make a meal of them. So much for the innate wickedness and villainy of crocodiles.

[24] G   The hare dreads hounds, and so too does the fox. And hounds, I fancy, with their barking will rouse a boar from the thicket, and will bring a lion to bay, and pursue a stag. Yet there is not a single bird that cares anything for a hound, but there is peace between them. The bustard alone is afraid of hounds, the reason being that these birds are heavy and carry a burden of flesh about with them. Their wings do not easily lift them and carry them through the air, so they fly low along the ground, weighed down by their bulk. Hence they are frequently captured by hounds. And since they are aware of this, whenever they hear the bark of hounds, they run away into thickets and swamps, using these as a protection and escaping instant danger without difficulty.

[25] G   The human child is slow to recognise its parents: it is taught and, one might say, compelled to look at its father, to greet its mother, and to smile upon its relatives. Whereas Lambs from the day of their birth gambol about their dams and know what is strange and what is akin to them. They have no need to learn anything from their shepherds.

[26] G   The monkey is a most imitative creature, and any bodily action that you teach it, it acquires exactly, so as to be able to display its accomplishment. For instance, it will dance, once it has learnt, and if you teach it, will play the pipe. And I myself have even seen it holding the reins, laying on the whip, and driving a chariot. And once it has learnt whatever it may be, it would never disappoint its teacher. So versatile and so adaptable a thing is Nature.

[27] G   Here are further examples of the peculiar and diverse natures of animals. Theopompus reports that in the country of the Bisaltae ** the hares have a double liver. According to Ister the Guinea-fowls of Leros are never injured by any bird of prey. Aristotle says ** that among the Neuri ** the oxen have their horns on their shoulders, and Agatharcides says that in Ethiopia the swine have horns. Sostratus asserts that all blackbirds on Cyllene ** are white. Alexander of Myndus says that in Pontus the flocks grow fat upon the bitterest wormwood. He states also that goats born on Mimas ** do not drink for six months; all they do is to look towards the sea with their mouths open and to drink in the breezes from that quarter. I learn that the goats of Illyria have a solid, not a cloven hoof. And Theophrastus [fr. 171. 2] has the most amazing statement that in Babylonia the fish frequently come out of the river and pasture on dry land.

[28] G   Now the Purple Coot, in addition to being extremely jealous, has, I believe, this peculiarity: they say that it is devoted to its own kin and loves the company of its mates. At any rate I have heard that a Purple Coot and a cock were reared in the same house, that they fed together, that they walked step for step, and that they dusted in the same spot. From these causes there sprang up a remarkable friendship between them. And one day on the occasion of a festival their master sacrificed the cock and made a feast with his household. But the Purple Coot, deprived of its companion and unable to endure the loneliness, starved itself to death.

[29] G   In Aegium, ** a city of Achaia, a good-looking boy, an Olenian ** by birth, of the name of Amphilochus, was loved by a goose. Theophrastus relates this [fr. 109 ] . The boy was kept under guard with exiles from Olenus in Aegium, and so the goose used to bring him presents. In Chios Glaucē, the harp-player, being a woman of extraordinary beauty, was adored by men, not that there is anything wonderful in that, but I am told that a ram and a goose also fell in love with her.

When geese cross the Taurus range they go in fear of the eagles; so each of them bites on a pebble to prevent it from uttering its cry, just as though they had gagged themselves, and so they cross in silence and by these means generally slip past the eagles. The goose, being of a very hot and fiery nature is fond of bathing and delights in swimming, and prefers very moist fare, grass, lettuce, and all other things that generate coolness in its body. But even if it is exhausted with hunger it will not eat a bay-leaf or touch a rose-laurel either willingly or against its will, for it knows that if it eats either of them it will die.

Yet men through their unbridled appetites are the victims of plots against their food and drink. At any rate countless numbers have swallowed some bane while drinking, like Alexander, ** or in food, like Claudius the Roman, ** and Britannicus, his son. ** And having fallen asleep from a dose of poison, they never rose again, some having drunk it deliberately, others because they were the victims of a plot.

[30] G   The Egyptian Goose owes its composite name {goose-fox} to the innate peculiarities of the two creatures. It has the appearance of a goose, but for its mischievousness it might most justly be compared to the fox. It is smaller than a goose but more courageous, and is a fierce fighter. For instance, it defends itself against an eagle, a cat, and all other animals that come against it.

[31] G   The following features are peculiar to the snake. The heart has its allotted place close to the throat, the gall in the intestines; its testicles are close to the tail; the eggs which it produces are long and soft; its poison is contained in the fangs.

[32] G   The Peacock (I have described the bird above) ** has these further innate peculiarities which are worth knowing. When three years old it begins to be pregnant and lays its eggs, and then starts to assume that many-coloured and beautiful plumage. But it does not brood upon its eggs immediately, but passes over two days. And the peacock, like other birds, may from time to time lay a wind-egg.

[33] G   When the Duck lays its eggs it lays them on land but close to a lake or shallow pool or some other watery, moist spot. And the duckling by some mysterious instinct knows that it is incapable both of flying high in the air and of remaining on land. For this reason it leaps into the water and can swim from the moment it is hatched; it has no need to learn but dives and comes up again with great skill as though it had already been taught for some time. But the eagle which they call the ' duck-killer ' swoops upon the duck as she swims, meaning to carry her off; but the duck dives and vanishes, and then after swimming under water, bobs up in another place. But the eagle is there also, and again the duck dives; and this happens again and again. Then one of two things follows: either the duck after a dive is drowned, or the eagle goes off after other prey; whereupon the duck, with nothing to fear, swims once more upon the surface.

[34] G   The Swan has this advantage over men in matters of the greatest moment, for it knows when the end of its life is at hand, and, what is more, in bearing its approach with cheerfulness, it has received from Nature the noblest of gifts. For it is confident that in death there is neither pain nor sorrow. But men are afraid of what they know not, and regard death as the greatest of all ills. Now the swan has so contented a spirit that at the very close of its life it sings and breaks out into a dirge, as it were, for itself. Even so does Euripides [fr. 311 N] sing of Bellerophon, prepared like a hero of high soul for death. For example, he has portrayed him addressing his soul thus:

' You were always reverent in life towards the gods; you gave succour to strangers; nor did you ever grow weary towards your friends .'

and so on. So then the swan too intones its own funeral chant, and either by hymns to the gods or by the rehearsal of its own praises it makes provision for its departure. Socrates also testifies [Pl. Phaedo 84 e] to the fact that it sings not from sorrow but rather from cheerfulness, for (he says) a man whose heart is vexed and sore has no leisure for song and melody.

Now death is not the only thing that the swan faces with courage : it is not afraid of a fight. But though it will not be the first to do an injury, any more than a sober, educated man would be, yet it will not retire and give way before an aggressor. While all other birds are on terms of peace with the swan, the eagle has frequently attacked it, as Aristotle says [HA 610 a 1, 615 b 1] , though it has never yet overcome it, but has always been defeated not only through the strength of the swan in battle but also because in defending itself the swan has justice on its side.

[35] G   The Heron is a great eater of oysters and swallows them when closed, ** as pelicans swallow mussels. And the heron warms the oysters a little in what is called its ' crop ' and retains them there. Under the influence of the heat the oysters open, and the heron becoming aware of this, disgorges the shells but retains the flesh; and it lives by consuming entire, thanks to a strong digestion, all that passes down into it.

[36] G   There is a bird called Asterias {starling ?}, ** and in Egypt, if tamed, it understands human speech. And if anyone by way of insult calls it 'slave', it gets angry; and if anyone calls it 'skulker', it takes umbrage and is annoyed, as though it was being jeered at for its low birth and rebuked for its indolence.

[37] G   If a man with the juice of silphium on his hands seizes the torpedo, he avoids the pain which it inflicts. And should you attempt to draw the Great Weever from the sea with your right hand, it will not come but will fight vigorously. But if you haul it up with your left hand, it yields and is captured.

[38] G   From a statement of Charmis of Massilia I learn that the nightingale is fond of music, and even fond of fame. At any rate when it is singing to itself in lonely places, he says, its melody is simple and spontaneous. But in captivity when it has no lack of hearers it lifts up its voice, warbling and trilling its melting music. And Homer seems to me to hint as much when he says [Od. 19. 518]

' And as when the daughter of Pandareus, the greenwood nightingale, sings sweet at the first oncoming of spring, as she rests amid the thick leafage of the trees, and ever varying her note pours forth her full-throated music.'  

But there are those who write πολυδευκέα φωνήν, that is, ' variously imitating music,' just as ἀδευκέα signifies ' unadapted for imitating.'

[39] G   Democritus asserts that the lion alone among animals is born with its eyes open ** and from the hour of birth is already to some extent angry and ready to perform some spirited action. And others have observed that even when asleep the lion moves his tail, showing, as you might expect, that he is not altogether quiescent, and that, although sleep has enveloped and enfolded him, it has not subdued him as it does all other animals. The Egyptians, they say, claim to have observed in him something of this kind, asserting that the lion is superior to sleep and for ever awake. And I have ascertained that it is for this reason that they assign him to the sun, for, as you know, the sun is the most hard-working of the gods, being visible above the earth or pursuing his course beneath it without pause. And the Egyptians cite Homer as a witness when he speaks of the ' untiring sun ' [Il. 18. 239 ] . And in addition to his strength the lion shows intelligence. For instance, he has designs upon cattle and goes to their folds by night. Now Homer was aware of this when he said [Il. 11. 172] :

' Like cattle which a lion has scared, coming in the dead of night.'

And he strikes terror into them all by his strength, but seizes only one and devours it. And when he has gorged himself, he wishes to preserve the remains for another occasion, yet he is ashamed to stay and watch over them, as though he were afraid of starving from want of food. Accordingly with jaws agape he breathes upon them and trusts to his breath to guard them while he himself goes on his way. But when the other beasts arrive and realise to whom the remains upon the ground belong, they do not venture to touch them but go their way for fear of seeming to rob and diminish anything that belongs to their king. Now if the lion chances to be lucky and has good hunting, he forgets his former prize, disregards it as being stale, and goes away. Otherwise he returns to it as to a private store. And when he has eaten more than enough, he empties himself by lying quiet and abstaining from food, or alternatively he catches a monkey and eats some of it, voiding and emptying his belly by means of its flesh.

The lion is after all upright and one to

' defend himself against the man who should assail him first' [Hom. Il. 24. 369; Od. 16. 72 ] .

Thus, he faces his attacker and by lashing with his tail and winding it about his flanks rouses himself as though he were stimulating himself with a spur. And if a man shoot at him but miss him, he will defend himself by a fair return: he will scare the man but do him no harm. If he has been domesticated since the time when he was a cub, he is extremely gentle and agreeable to meet, and is fond of play, and will submit with good temper to any treatment to please his keeper. For instance, Hanno ** kept a lion to carry his baggage; a tame lion was the companion of Berenice ** and was no different from her maidservants: for example, it would softly wash her face with its tongue and smooth away her wrinkles; it would share her table and eat in a sober, orderly fashion just like a man. And Onomarchus, the Tyrant of Catana, and the son of Cleomenes ** both had lions with them as table-companions.

[40] G   They say that the leopard has a marvellous fragrance about it. To us it is imperceptible, though the leopard is aware of the advantage it possesses, and other animals besides share with it this knowledge and the leopard catches them in the following ' manner. When the leopard needs food it conceals itself in a dense thicket or in deep foliage and is invisible ; it only breathes. And so fawns and gazelles and wild goats and suchlike animals are drawn by the spell, as it were, of its fragrance and come close up. Whereat the leopard springs out and seizes its prey.

[41] G   I learn that ruminants have three ** stomachs, and their names, I gather, are κεκρύφαλον {the second stomach, reticulum}, ἐχῖνος {the third stomach, many-plies}, and ἥνυστρον {the fourth stomach, abomasum}.

Cuttle-fish and squids feed themselves with two ' probosces.' (There is no harm in so styling them: their use and their form induce one to do so.) And in stormy weather when there is broken surf, these creatures grip the rocks with their tentacles and cling fast as with anchors, and there they stay, safe from shock and sheltered from the waves. Later, when it grows calm, they let themselves go and are free again to swim about, having learnt what is by no means to be despised - how to avoid a storm and to escape from danger.

[42] G   If it is your wish to learn the names of bees, I would not grudge you the knowledge that I have acquired. Some are called 'captains', others 'sirens', **  some again 'workers', and others 'moulders'. And Nicander says [fr. 93] that the drones . . . And they say that all over Cappadocia the bees produce honey without combs, and the story goes that it is thick like oil. I am informed that at Trapezus in Pontus honey is obtained from box-trees, but that it has a heavy scent and drives healthy people out of their senses, but restores the frenzied to health. I learn that in Media ** honey drips from the trees, just as Euripides [Bacc. 714] says that on Cithaeron sweet drops flow from the boughs. In Thrace too I have heard that honey is produced from plants. On Myconos ** there are no bees, and moreover if imported from outside they die.

[43] G   Aristotle says [HA 552 b 20 ( 5.19 )] that on the banks of the river Hypanis ** there occurs a creature that goes by the name of 'day-fly,' ** because it is born in the morning twilight and dies when the sun begins to set.

[44] G   The Cuttle-fish has a poisonous bite and teeth that are concealed very deep within. It seems also that the Osmylus ** and the octopus are given to biting. And the octopus has a more powerful bite than the cuttle-fish, although it emits less poison.

[45] G   They say that the Wild Boar does not attack a man until he has whetted his tusks. And Homer testifies to this when he says [Il. 11. 416]

' Having whetted the white tusk between his curved jaws.'

And I learn that the boar fattens himself chiefly by not washing but spending his time wallowing in the mud, drinking the murky water, and revelling in the quiet and the darkness of his lair and in all the more inflating foods that can fill him up. And Homer appears to imply as much, for touching their wallowing and their fondness for the more muddy ponds . . . when he says [Od. 10. 243] ' hogs that make their bed upon the ground.' And that they fatten themselves upon murky water ... he says [Od. 13. 409]

' drinking black water, which fosters the rich fat on swine.'

And that they delight in darkness he proves in the following words [Od. 14. 533] :

' They slumbered beneath a hollow rock under shelter from Boreas.'

And he hints at the inflating quality of their food when he says [Od. 13. 409] that they eat ' the satisfying acorn.' Now Homer knowing that the boar grows thin and that his flesh wastes if he looks at the sow, has described [Od. 14. 13] the boars as sleeping in one place and the sows in another. In Salamis ** if a sow breaks in and grazes the corn when green or a field of waving corn, there is a law of the Salaminians that her teeth must be destroyed. And they say that the passage in Homer [Od. 18. 29] about ' a sow that consumes the crops ' refers to this. Others take a different view and assert that when a sow has tasted green corn its teeth are weakened.

[46] G   It would appear that Nature has provided grass as a remedy for the wounds of dogs. And if they are troubled with worms they get rid of them by eating 'standing' corn, as it is called. And when they need to empty both stomachs ** they are said to eat some grass, and as much of their food as remains undigested they vomit up, while the remainder is excreted. It is from this source that the Egyptians are said to have learnt the practice of taking purges. But partridges, storks, and ring-doves, when wounded are said to chew marjoram and then to spread it on their wounds and cure their body; and they have no need at all of man's healing art.

[47] G   In this matter I shall have no need of any witness from antiquity but shall narrate what I myself have seen and know.

A man captured a lizard of the excessively green and unusually large species, and with a point made of bronze he pierced and blinded the lizard. And after boring some very fine holes in a newly fashioned earthenware vessel so as to admit the air, but small enough to prevent the creature from escaping, he heaped some very moist earth into it and put the lizard inside together with a certain herb, of which he did not divulge the name, and an iron ring with a bezel of lignite engraved with the figure of a lizard. After stamping nine seals upon the vessel he then covered it up, removing one seal daily for nine days. And when he had destroyed the last seal of all he opened the vessel, and I myself saw the lizard having its sight and its eyes, which till then had been blinded, seeing perfectly well. And we released the lizard on the spot where it had been captured, and the man who had done these things asserted that that ring of his was good for the eyes.

[48] G   It fills me with shame, you human beings, to think of the friendly relations that subsist between animals, not only those that feed together nor even those of the same species, but even between those that have no connexion through a common origin. For instance, sheep are friends with goats; there is friendship between pigeon and turtle-dove; ringdoves and partridges entertain friendly feelings towards one another; we have long known that the Halcyon and the Ceryl desire each other; that the crow is friendly disposed towards the heron, and the sea-mew towards the Little Cormorant, as it is called, and the shearwater towards the kite. But there is war everlasting and without truce, so to say, between crows and owls. Enemies too are the kite and the raven, the Pyrallis and the turtle-dove, the Brenthus ** and the sea-mew, and again the greenfinch (?) and the turtle-dove, the Aegypius and the eagle, swans and water-snakes (?), ** and lions are the enemies of antelopes and bulls. The bitterest hate exists between the elephant and the python, ** between the asp and the ichneumon, between the Blue Tit and the ass, for directly the ass brays the Blue Tit's eggs are smashed and the young ones are spilt, still imperfect. And so to avenge its offspring the Blue Tit leaps upon the ass's sore places and feeds on them. The fox detests a falcon and the bull a raven, and the Buff-backed Heron the horse. And an educated man who attends to what he hears should know that the dolphin is at feud with the whale, the basse too with the mullet, and the moray with the Conger Eel, and so on.

[49] G   When bears have sniffed at hunters who have fallen on their face and knocked the breath out of themselves, they leave them for dead, and it seems that these creatures are disgusted by a dead body. Mice also hate those that die in their holes and lurking-places ; and a swallow too ejects a dead swallow from its nest. Ants also, thanks to the supreme wisdom of Nature, are careful to carry away dead bodies and to cleanse their nests, for it is characteristic of brute beasts that, when one of their own species and kind has died, they speedily remove it out of sight. And Ethiopian histories, which are untainted by the pretentious plausibility of the Greeks, tell us that if one elephant sees another lying dead, it will not pass by without drawing up some earth with its trunk and casting it upon the corpse, as though it were performing some sacred and mysterious rite on behalf of their common nature; and that to fail in this duty is to incur a curse. It is enough for it even to cast a branch upon the body; and with due respect paid to the common end of all things the elephant goes on its way.

And there has reached us also the following story. When elephants are dying of wounds, stricken either in battle or in hunting, they pick up any grass they may find or some of the dust at their feet, and looking upwards to the heaven, cast some of these objects in that direction and wail and cry aloud in indignation in their own language, as though they were calling the gods to witness how unjustly and how wrongfully they are suffering.

[50] G   (i). By the following cases also, I think, one may recognize traits peculiar to animals. For instance, we see domestic fowls that are reared at the feet of, and are acquainted with, horses, asses, cows, or camels, showing no fear of them. And if they are fed along with, say, a tame and gentle elephant, they are not afraid but even move about among those creatures. And cockerels even fly up on to their backs, such are their resulting courage and freedom from fear. But they are fluttered and terrified if a marten runs by. To the lowing of cattle or the braying of an ass they pay no attention; but a marten has but to chatter and they tremble. For geese, swans, and ostriches they care little or nothing, but are in terror of a hawk although it is very small. With its crowing a cock scares a lion and is fatal to a basilisk, and yet it cannot endure cats or kites. And pigeons are not afraid at the cry of eagles and vultures, but they are at the cry of falcons and of sea-eagles.

(ii). The lamb, the kid, and every foal directly it is born goes for its dam's teats and sucks the dugs until it is full. And the parent shows no concern but stands still. Whereas all animals with parted toes, wolves, hounds, lions, leopards, lie down to give their young suck.

[51] G   Nature has made animals with an immense variety of voice and of speech,, as it were, even as she has men. For instance, the Scythian speaks one language, the Indian another; the Ethiopian has a natural language, so too have the Sacae; the language of Greece and that of Rome are different. And so it is with animals: each has a different way of producing the tone and the sound natural to its tongue. Thus, one roars, another lows, a third whinnies, another brays, yet another baas and bleats; while to some howling is customary, to others barking, and to another snarling. Screaming, whistling, hooting, singing, warbling, twittering, and countless other gifts of Nature are peculiar to different animals.

[52] G   In the Egyptian countryside asps have their holes by the Nile on either bank. Most of the time they stay round about their lurking-places and are as attached to them as human beings are to their own homes. But when in the summertime the river threatens to overflow, the aforesaid asps emigrate some thirty days beforehand to districts further away from the Nile and creep into bluffs above the river, and, what is more, bring their young with them: they have received from Nature this special gift of being able to foretell the annual visitation of a river so mighty and so active, and to guard against being overtaken and destroyed by it. And at the same season turtles and crabs and crocodiles transfer their eggs to spots which the river cannot touch or reach. Hence those who come across the eggs of the aforesaid creatures calculate to what extent the Nile will rise and irrigate their land.

[53] G   Hippopotamuses are nurslings of the Nile, and when the crops are ripe and the ears are yellow they do not forthwith begin to graze and eat them but pass along outside the crop and calculate what area will satisfy them; and then, having reckoned how much will be enough, they fall to, and as they fill themselves they withdraw backwards, keeping the river behind them. Now this move they have cleverly devised so that, should any farmers attack them in self-defence, they can run down into the water with complete ease, on the look-out for enemies in front of them but not looking behind them.

[54] G   In Mauretania leopards do not attack monkeys with force nor with all the strength and power at their command, the reason being that the monkeys do not face them but escape from them and run up trees and sit there on guard against the designs of the leopards. Yet it seems that after all the leopard is craftier than the monkey, for such designs and traps does it contrive for the monkeys. It comes to the place where a gathering of monkeys is seated, throws itself down beneath a tree, lies on the ground on its back, inflates its belly, relaxes its legs, closes both eyes, and even holds its breath, and lies there like one dead. And the monkeys looking down upon their most hated enemy, fancy it to be dead; and what they most fervently desire, that they believe. For all that, they do not as yet take courage but make an experiment, and the experiment is this : they send down one of their number whom they regard as the most fearless to test and to scrutinise the state of the leopard. So the monkey descends not altogether unafraid; but after running down a little way he turns back, fear causing him to retreat. And a second time he descends and having approached, withdraws; and a third time he returns and observes the leopard's eyes and examines it to see if it is breathing. But the leopard, by remaining motionless with the utmost self-control, inspires a gradual fearlessness in the monkey. And since it approaches and remains close by and takes no harm, the monkeys up aloft also now gather courage and run down from that particular tree and from all others that grow near by, and assembling in a mass encircle the leopard and dance round it. Then they leap upon it and turn somersaults on its body and by dancing in triumph a dance appropriate to monkeys, and by a variety of insults testify to the joy and delight they feel over the supposed corpse. But the leopard submits to all this until it realises that the monkeys are tired by their dancing and their insolence, when it leaps up unexpectedly and springs at them. And some it lacerates with its claws, others it tears to pieces with its teeth, and enjoys without stint the ample and sumptuous banquet provided by its enemies. It is Nature that bids the leopard endure with heroic fortitude, so that it may rise superior to the insults of its enemies, bearing up with the utmost patience and finding no need to say ' endure, my heart' [Hom. Od. 20. 18 ] . Indeed the son of Laertes was within an ace of revealing himself prematurely through being unable to tolerate the insults of the maidservants.

[55] G   In India elephants, when compelled by the natives to pull up some tree, roots and all, do not immediately attack it and begin the task, until they have shaken it and have tested it thoroughly to see whether in fact it can be overturned, or whether that is utterly impossible.

[56] G   The deer of Syria are born on the highest mountains, on Amanus, on Libanus, and on Carmel. And when they want to cross the sea the herd goes down to the beaches and waits until the wind drops; and as soon as they observe that there is a favourable and gentle breeze, then they brave the open sea. And they swim in single file, holding on to one another, the ones behind supporting their chins on the rumps of those in front ... ** takes the last place in the line, and resting itself upon the one next in front of it in the whole troop, brings up the rear. And they make for Cyprus in their longing for the meadows there, for they are said to be deep and to afford excellent pasture. The Cypriots indeed claim that they live in a fertile country, and venture to compare their arable land with that of Egypt. And there are deer from other countries too which show this same capacity for swimming. For example, the deer of Epirus swim across to Corcyra: the two countries face each other across a strait.

Book 6


(1)    Town at the western end of the S coast of the Propontis; Cyzicus is some 40 miles further east.    

(2)    Ruffs.    

(3)    King of Iolcus; his son Acastus paid him the honour of funeral games.   Amarynceus, according to a later legend, sent help to the Greeks against Troy; see Hom. Il. 23. 630.   For the funeral games of Patroclus see Hom. Il. 23.   The death of Achilles is referred to but not described in Hom. Od. 24. 37.    

(4)    Polyeidus (i.e. the much-knowing), son of Coeranus and descendant of Melampus, famous as seer and wonder-worker, divined through the presence of an owl that the body of Glaucus, the son of Minos, lay dead in a cask of honey and restored him to life. See Nauck TGF² p. 558.    

(5)    1 κοτύλη = about ½ pint.

(6)    The passage is not in his extant works ; fr. 315 (Rose Arist. pseudepigraphus, p. 331).    

(7)    Astypalaea and Rhenea are islands of the Cyclades.    

(8)    Cp. Hdt. 4. 30.    

(9)    The two towns lay some 35 miles apart in the 'toe' of Italy.    

(10)    The Caecinus according to Paus. 6.6.4 ; the Halex according to Strabo 6.260 and others.    

(11)    Tyrant of Athens 560 B.C., twice expelled but regained power and held it till his death, 527 B.C.    

(12)    See below, ch. 15 note.    

(13)    The ' horseman ' is an addition of Aelian's.    

(14)    Two explanations are given : (i) Cadmus slew a dragon set by Ares to guard a well. From its teeth sprang armed men who would have fallen upon Cadmus had he not prevailed upon them to kill one another, (ii) Eteocles the defender, and Polyneices the assailant of Thebes, the city founded by Cadmus, slew each other in battle. The Thebans were victorious but were later driven out by the descendants of the 'Seven against Thebes.'    

(15)    About the beginning of November.    

(16)    One of the Cyclades, some 40 miles south-east-east of Attica.    

(17)    Cp. 17.17.    

(18)    Dionysius the elder, c. 430-367 B.C., elected general and ruler of Syracuse, extended his power over Sicily and parts of Magna Graecia; represented as a tyrant of the worst kind.   Dionysius the younger succeeded his father, 367 B.C. Ejected from Sicily, he made himself tyrant of Locris - and deserved the title. He recovered Syracuse by treachery but was again expelled in 345 B.C., by Timoleon.   Clearchus by championing the cause of the people against the nobles of Heracleia obtained the tyranny. After a reign of 12 years marked by signal cruelty he was murdered, 353 B.C.   Apollodorus, tyrant of Cassandreia, 3rd century B.C., became a byword for cruelty; conquered and executed by Antigonus Gonatas.   Nabis usurped the kingship of Sparta, which he exercised with the utmost savagery; defeated by Philopoemen and Flamininus in his efforts to regain lost territory; finally murdered, 192 B.C.    

(19)    About £375.    

(20)    The speech is lost, but see Athen. 9. 397 C, D.    

(21)    Macedonian tribe living on the west coast of the gulf of the Strymon.    

(22)    Not in any surviving work; fr. 313 (Rose p. 331).    

(23)    Tribe living between the rivers Boug and Dnieper.    

(24)    Mountain in north Arcadia.    

(25)    Mountain on coast of Ionia, west of Smyrna.    

(26)    Aegium, one of the principal cities of Achaia, stood on the coast near the west end of the Corinthian gulf. It was the regular meeting-place of the Achaean League.    

(27)    Olenus was a small town on the north-west coast of Achaia, near the mouth of the Pirus. The reference to 'exiles from Olenus' is obscure; it may signify an effort on the part of the Achaean League to ensure peace among the 12 cities of Achaia. As the League was broken up by Alexander, the event must have occurred earlier.    

(28)    Alexander died (323 B.C.) of a fever aggravated by excessive drinking.    

(29)    Roman Emperor, A.D. 41-54, poisoned by his wife Agrippina.    

(30)    Poisoned by order of Nero, A.D. 55.    

(31)    See 5.21.    

(32)    ' This is no Heron but some other bird ' (Thompson, Gk. birds, s.v.).    

(33)    Thompson (Gk. birds, s.v. ἀστερίας) records Bittern, as a common but unsatisfactory interpretation, but offers no other.    

(34)    See 4.34.    

(35)    Hanno, Carthaginian general, 3rd century B.C. Cp. Plut, Mor. 799 E.    

(36)    Which of the various queens named Berenice is here referred to, is uncertain; if the queen of Ptolemy III, she lived c. 273-226 B.C.    

(37)    Nothing more is known of these persons.    

(38)    Cp. Arist. HA 507 b 1 ( 2.17 ); Aelian has omitted to mention the κοιλία μεγάλη, big stomach or paunch.    

(39)    Thompson on Arist. HA 623 b 11 ( 9.39 ) takes ' siren ' to be ' some species of the solitary wasp, e.g. Eumenes, Synagris, etc.'    

(40)    Aelian is copying [Arist.] Mir. 831 b 26 where the MSS read Λυδία .    

(41)    One of the Cyclades.    

(42)    Mod. Boug.    

(43)    ' A May-fly, probably ... the large Ephemera longicauda Oliv.' (Thompson on Arist. loc. cit.).    

(44)    ' A kind of octopus with an unpleasant musky smell: Eledone moschata ' (Thompson, Gk, fishes),    

(45)    The chief city in Cyprus. Eustathius on Hom. Od. 18. 29 says that there was a law in Cyprus permitting landowners to remove the teeth of any pig that they found foraging among their crops. So Irus threatens to knock out the teeth of Odysseus, disguised and unknown, whom he regards as an interloper in the palace in Ithaca.    

(46)    The expression is used loosely to denote the stomach proper and the intestines, for the dog has but one stomach.    

(47)    Unknown water-bird. Perhaps the 'Avocet', Gossen §187.    

(48)    See Arist. HA 602 b 25 ( 8.20 ).    

(49)    Lit. ' dragon.'    

(50)    Some words have been lost; following Jacobs's suggested filling of the lacuna we may translate : ' When the one that has been leading hitherto begins to tire, it drops back to the end of the file, and, etc.'    


5.1 The Ruff, the bird of Memnon
5.2 Crete hostile to owls and snakes
5.3 A monstrous snake in the Indus
5.4 The Porpoise
5.5 The victorious Hen
5.6 A captured dolphin
5.7 Monkey and Cats
5.8 Places hostile to certain animals
5.9 The Cicadas of Locris and Rhegium
5.10 Bees and their King
5.11 The King bee. Character of the bee
5.12 The bee, its industry
5.13 The bee, its skill, its colonies; as weather-prophet ; its love of song
5.14 (i) Rats in Gyarus and Teredon (ii) Scorpions on Mt Latmus
5.15 The King wasp
5.16 The wasp and its poison
5.17 The Fly
5.18 The Great Sea-perch
5.19 Wolf and bull
5.20 The Hake
5.21 The Peacock
5.22 Mouse saved from drowning
5.23 The crocodile
5.24 The Bustard
5.25 The Lamb
5.26 The monkey
5.27 Peculiarities of certain animals
5.28 The Purple Coot
5.29 Geese in love with human beings. Geese and eagles
5.30 The Egyptian Goose
5.31 Anatomy of the snake
5.32 The Peacock
5.33 The Duck
5.34 The swan and death
5.35 The Heron and Oysters
5.36 The 'Asterias'
5.37 The Torpedo. The Great Weever
5.38 The Nightingale
5.39 The lion
5.40 The leopard
5.41 Ruminants and their stomachs. The Cuttle-fish
5.42 Bees : various kinds.
5.43 The 'Day-fly'
5.44 The Cuttle-fish
5.45 The Wild Boar
5.46 Nature's medicines for animals
5.47 A Lizard regains its lost sight
5.48 Animal friendships and enmities
5.49 Animals' dislike of dead bodies
5.50 (i) Confidence and fear in animals (ii) Animals suckling their young
5.51 Various sounds made by animals
5.52 Reptiles foretell the Nile's rise
5.53 The Hippopotamus
5.54 Leopard and monkeys
5.55 The elephant
5.56 Deer crossing the sea

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