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AELIAN: ON THE NATURE OF ANIMALS

-   BOOK 1

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.


[Prologue] G   There is perhaps nothing extraordinary in the fact that man is wise and just, takes great care to provide for his own children, shows due consideration for his parents, seeks sustenance for himself, protects himself against plots, and possesses all the other gifts of nature which are his. For man has been endowed with speech, of all things the most precious, and has been granted reason, which is of the greatest help and use. Moreover, he knows how to reverence and worship the gods. But that dumb animals should by nature possess some good quality and should have many of man's amazing excellences assigned to them along with man, is indeed a remarkable fact. And to know accurately the special characteristics of each, and how living creatures also have been a source of interest no less than man, demands a trained intelligence and much learning. Now I am well aware of the labour that others have expended on this subject, yet I have collected all the materials that I could; I have clothed them in untechnical language, and am persuaded that my achievement is a treasure far from negligible. So if anyone considers them profitable, let him make use of them; anyone who does not consider them so may give them to his father to keep and attend to. For not all things give pleasure to all men, nor do all men consider all subjects worthy of study. Although I was born later than many accomplished writers of an earlier day, the accident of date ought not to deprive me of praise, if I too produce a learned work whose ampler research and whose choice of language make it deserving of serious attention.  

[1] G   There is a certain island called Diomedea, ** and it is the home of many Shearwaters. These, it is said, neither harm the barbarians nor go near them. If however a stranger from Greece puts in to port, the birds by some divine dispensation approach, extending their wings as though they were hands, to welcome and embrace the strangers. And if the Greeks stroke them, they do not fly away, but stay still and allow themselves to be touched; and if the men sit down, the birds fly on to their lap as though they had been invited to a meal. They are said to be the companions of Diomedes ** and to have taken part with him in the war against Ilium; though their original form was afterwards changed into that of birds, they nevertheless still preserve their Greek nature and their love of Greece.

[2] G   The Parrot Wrasse feeds upon seaweed and wrack, and is of all fishes the most lustful, and its insatiable desire for the female is the reason why it gets caught. Now skilful anglers are aware of this, and they set upon it in this way. Whenever they capture a female, they fasten a fine line of esparto to its lip and trail the fish alive through the sea, knowing as they do where the fish lie, their haunts, and where they assemble. They prepare a heavy leaden sinker round in shape and three fingers in length; a cord is passed through both ends, and it trails the captured fish after it. One of the men in the boat attaches to the side a weel with a wide mouth; the weel is then turned towards the captured wrasse and slightly weighted with a stone of appropriate size. Whereupon the male wrasses, like young men who have caught sight of a pretty girl, go in pursuit, mad with desire, each trying to outstrip the other and to reach her side and rub against her, just as love-sick men strive to kiss or tickle a girl or to play some other amorous trick. So then the man who is towing the female gently and slowly and planning to entrap his fish, draws the lovers (as you might call them) with the loved one straight towards the weel. As soon as they come level with the weel, the angler lets the lead weight drop into it, and as it falls in it drags the female down with it by the line. And as the male wrasses swim in with her, they are captured and pay the penalty for their erotic impulse.

[3] G   The Mullet is one of those fishes that live in pools and is believed to control its appetite and to lead a most temperate existence. For it never sets upon a living creature, but is naturally inclined to peaceful relations with all fish. If it comes across any dead fish, it makes its meal off that, but will not lay hold upon it until it has moved it with its tail: if the fish does not stir, it becomes the mullet's prey; but if it moves, the mullet withdraws.

[4] G   As loyal men and true fellow-soldiers come to one another's aid, so do the fish which men skilled in sea-fishing call Antkias; ** and their haunts are the sea. For instance, directly they are aware that a mate has been hooked, they swim up with all possible speed; then they set their back against him and by falling upon him and pushing with all their might try to stop him from being hauled in.

Parrot Wrasses too are doughty champions of their own kin. At any rate they rush forward and make haste to bite through the line in order to rescue the one that has been caught. And many a time have they cut the line and set him free, and they ask for no reward for life-saving. Many a time however they have not contrived to do this, but have failed in spite of having done all they could with the utmost zeal. And it has even happened, they say, that, when a Parrot Wrasse has fallen into the weel and has left his tail-part projecting, the others that are swimming around uncaught have fixed their teeth in him and have dragged their comrade out. If however his head was projecting, one of those outside offered his tail, which the captive grasped and followed. This, my fellow-men, is what these creatures do: their love is not taught, it is inborn.

[5] G   Of the fish known as the 'Gnawer' ** its name and, what is more, its mouth declare its nature. Its teeth grow in an unbroken line and are numerous and so strong as to bite through anything that comes their way. Therefore, when taken with a hook, it is the only fish that does not attempt to withdraw, but presses on in its eagerness to cut the line. Fishermen however counter this by a device: they have their hooks forged with a long shank. But the Gnawer, being a powerful jumper in its way, often leaps above the shank, and cutting the hair-line that is drawing it, swims away again to the places where fish haunt. 

It also gathers round it a shoal of its fellows and with them also makes an attack upon the dolphins. And if one chance to get separated from the rest, the Gnawers surround it and then set upon the creature furiously, knowing as they do that the dolphin is by no means insensible to their bites. For the Gnawers cling most tenaciously to it, while the dolphin leaps upwards and plunges; and it shows how it is being tormented by the pain, for the Gnawers that have fastened upon it are lifted out of the water with it as it leaps. And while the dolphin struggles to shake them loose and beat them off, they never relax their hold, but would eat it alive. Then however when each Gnawer has bitten away a piece, they go off with their mouthful, and the dolphin is thankful to swim away after having fed its uninvited guests (if one may so call them) to its own pain.

[6] G   I am told that a dog fell in love with Glaucē the harpist. Some however assert that it was not a dog but a ram, while others say it was a goose. And at Soli in Cilicia a dog loved a boy of the name of Xenophon; at Sparta another boy in the prime of life by reason of his beauty caused a jackdaw to fall sick of love.

[7] G   Men say that the jackal is most friendly disposed to man, and whenever it happens to encounter a man, it gets out of his way as though from deference; but when it sees a man being injured by some other animal, it at once comes to his help.

[8] G   One Nicias unwittingly outdistanced his fellow huntsmen and fell into a charcoal-burners' furnace. But his hounds, which saw this happen, did not leave the spot, but at first remained whining and baying about the furnace, until at length, by just daring to bite the clothes of passers-by gently and cautiously, they tried to draw them to the scene of the mishap, as though the hounds were imploring the men to come to their master's help. One man at any rate seeing this, suspected what had occurred and followed. He found Nicias burned to death in the furnace, and from the remains he guessed the truth.

[9] G   The Drone, which is born among bees, hides itself among the combs during the day, but at night, when it observes that the bees are asleep, it invades their work and makes havoc in the hives. When the bees realise this (most of them are asleep, being thoroughly tired, though a few are lying in wait for the thief), directly they catch him they beat him, not violently, and thrust him out and cast him forth into exile. Yet even so the drone has not learnt his lesson, for he is naturally slothful and greedy - two bad qualities! So he secretes himself outside the combs and later, when the bees fly forth to their feeding-grounds, pushes his way in and does what is natural to him, cramming himself and plundering the bees' treasure of honey. But they on returning from their pasturage, directly they encounter him, no longer beat him with moderation nor merely put him to flight, but fall upon him vigorously and make an end of the thief. The punishment which he suffers none can censure: he pays for his gluttony and voracity with his life.

This is what bee-keepers say, and they convince me.

[10] G   Even among bees there are some which are lazy, though they do not resemble drones in their habits, for they neither damage the combs nor have designs upon the honey, but feed themselves on the flowers, flying abroad and accompanying the others. But though they have no skill in the making and the gathering of honey, at any rate they are not completely inactive, for some fetch water for their king and for their elders, while the elders themselves attend upon the king and have been set apart to form his bodyguard. Meanwhile others of them have this for their task: they carry the dead bees out of the hive. For it is essential that their honeycombs should be clean, and they will not tolerate a dead bee in the hive. Others again keep watch by night, and their duty is to guard the fabric of honeycombs as though it were some tiny city.

[11] G   A man may tell the age of bees in the following way. Those born in the current year are glistening and are the colour of olive oil; the older ones are rough to the eye and to the touch and appear wrinkled with age. They have however greater experience and skill, time having instructed them in the art of making honey. They have too the faculty of divination, so that they know in advance when rain and frost are coming. And whenever they reckon that either or both are on their way, they do not extend their flight very far, but fly round about their hives as though they would be close to the door. It is from these signs that bee-keepers augur the approach of stormy weather and warn the farmers. And yet bees are not so afraid of frost as they are of heavy rain and snow. Often they fly against the wind, carrying between their feet a small pebble of such size as is easy to carry when on the wing. This is a device which they use to ballast themselves against a contrary wind, and particularly so that the breeze may not deflect them from their path.

[12] G   Even among fishes there are many kinds which know how strong is Love, for that god, powerful as he is, has not ignored and disdained even the creatures that dwell below in the depths of the ocean. One at any rate that pays service to this god is the mullet, but not every species, only that to which men who have observed the different species of fish have given a name derived from its sharp snout. These, I am told, are caught in great numbers round about the Gulf of Achaia, and there are various ways of catching them. But the following method of capture proves how madly amorous they are.

A fisherman catches a female mullet and fastens it to a long rod or a cord (this too must be long); as he walks slowly along the sea-shore he draws the fish, swimming and gasping, after him. In his footsteps there follows one with a net, and this net-fisherman watches diligently to see what is going to happen and where. So the female mullet is towed along, and all the males that catch sight of her, like (one might say) licentious youths ogling a beautiful girl as she hurries by, come swimming up, mad with sexual desire. Thereupon the man with the net casts it and frequently has good luck, thanks to the urgent lust of the fish that approach. It is essential for the first fisherman's purpose that the captured female should be at her prime and well-fleshed, so that a greater number may be ardent after her and may take the bait which her enticing beauty offers. But should she be lean, most of them will scorn her and go away. Still, if any one of them is madly in love, he will not leave her, because he has been enslaved not by her beauty (that I will swear) but by his desire for sexual intercourse.

[13] G   It seems however that some fish are also models of continence. At any rate when the 'Etna-fish', ** as it is called, pairs with its mate as with a wife and achieves the married state, it does not touch another female; it needs no covenants to maintain its fidelity, no dowry; it even stands in no fear of an action for ill-usage, nor is Solon ** to it a name of dread. What noble laws, how worthy of veneration! - But man, the libertine, feels no scruple at disobeying them.

[14] G   The Wrasse has its haunts and resorts among the rocks and near cavernous burrows. The males all have many wives and cede the hollow places, as though they were women's chambers, to their brides. This refinement in their mating, and the propensity which they enjoy for having many wives one might describe as characteristic of barbarians who luxuriate in the pleasures of the bed, and (if one may jest on serious subjects) as living like the Medes and Persians. It is of all fishes the most jealous at all times, but especially when its wives are producing their young. (If by excessive use of these expressions I make my discourse too wanton, the facts of nature permit me to do things of that sort.) So the females which are actually facing the strain of birth-pangs remain quiet in their homes, while the male, after the manner of a husband, stays about the entrance to prevent any mischief from outside, being anxious for his offspring. For it seems that he loves even those that are yet unborn, and it is his fatherly concern that causes him these early fears; he even spends the whole day without touching food: his care sustains him. But as the afternoon grows late, he relinquishes his forced watch and seeks for food, which he does not fail to find. But of course each of the females within, whether in the act of giving birth or after it, finds a quantity of seaweed in the hollow places and about the rocks, and this is their meal.

[15] G   A fisherman who is skilled in angling a Wrasse fastens a heavy piece of lead to his hook, wraps round it a large prawn, and drops the bait. And then he moves the line a little, rousing and egging on his prey to take the food, while the prawn by its movement conveys the impression that it intends to enter the wrasse's den. Now this the wrasse greatly resents, and therefore, as soon as he observes it, he longs, such is his fury, to demolish the object of his abhorrence, for he is not thinking of his appetite at the moment; and when he has crushed it, he moves off, considering it more honourable and more important that the watchman should not be caught napping than that he should be fed. But when he intends to eat any other creature that comes his way, he crushes it lightly and then lets it lie. As soon as he sees that it is dead, then at length he nibbles at it. But the female wrasses, so long as they see the male acting as their shield, so to say, 'remain within and with the care of their household' are occupied. If however the male disappears, they become distraught; their despondency leads them to venture forth, and then they are caught.

What have the poets to say to this - our poets who are for ever extolling Euadne, ** the daughter of Iphis, and Alcestis, ** the daughter of Pelias?

[16] G   Among fishes the 'Blue-grey' ** is a model father. He maintains a strenuous watch over his mate's offspring, to ensure that they are not attacked or injured. And all the while that they are swimming the sea happily and without fear he never relaxes his vigilance, and sometimes brings up the rear and sometimes does not, but swims by them now on this side now on that. And if any of his young is afraid, he opens his mouth and takes the baby in. Later, when its fear has passed, he disgorges the one that took refuge exactly as he received it, and it resumes its swimming.

[17] G   Directly the Dog-fish has produced its young, it has them swimming by its side, and there is no delay. But if any one of them is afraid, it slips back into its mother's womb. Later, when its fear has passed, it emerges, as though it were being born again.

[18] G   Men admire women for their devotion to their children, yet I observe that mothers whose sons or whose daughters have died, continued to live and in time forgot their sufferings, their grief having abated. But the female dolphin far surpasses all creatures in its devotion to its offspring. It produces two ...  And when a fisherman either wounds a young dolphin with his harpoon or strikes it with his barb ... The barb is pierced at the upper end, and a long line is fastened to it, while the barbs sink in and hold the fish. So long as the wounded dolphin still has any strength, the fisherman leaves the line slack, so that the fish may not break it by its violence, and so that he himself may not incur a double misfortune through the dolphin escaping with the barb and himself failing to catch anything. As soon as he perceives that the fish is tiring and is somewhat weakened by the wound, he gently brings his boat near and lands his catch. But the mother dolphin is not scared by what has occurred nor restrained by fear, but by a mysterious instinct follows in her yearning for her child. And though one confront her with terrors never so great, she is still undismayed, and will not endure to desert her young one which has come to a bloody end; indeed, it is even possible to strike her with the hand, so close does she come to the hunters, as though she would beat them off. And so it comes about that she is caught along with her offspring, though she could save herself and escape. But if both her offspring are by her, and if she realises that one has been wounded and is being hauled in, as I said above, she pursues the one that is unscathed and drives it away, lashing her tail and biting her little one with her mouth; and she makes a blowing sound as best she can, indistinct, but giving the signal to flee, which saves it. So the young dolphin escapes, while the mother remains until she is caught and dies along with the captive.

[19] G   The Horned Ray is born in the mud, and though at the time of birth it is very small, it grows from that size to be enormous. Its belly beneath is white; its back, its head, and its sides are a deep black; its mouth however is small, and its teeth -  when it opens its mouth, you cannot see them. Further, it is exceedingly long and flat. While on the one hand it feeds upon a great number of fish, yet its chief delight is to eat the flesh of man. It is conscious of its very small strength: only its great size gives it courage. Hence when it sees a man swimming or diving to catch something in the water, it rises and arching its body attacks him, pressing upon him from above with all its weight; and while causing terror to grip him, the Ray extends all its body over the wretched man like a roof and prevents him from reaching the surface and breathing. When therefore his breathing is arrested, the man naturally dies, and the Ray falls upon him and in the feast which it most greedily desires reaps the reward of its persistence.

[20] G   All other songsters sing sweetly and use their tongue to utter, as men do, but cicadas produce their incessant chatter from their loins. They feed upon dew, and from dawn until about midday remain silent. But when the sun enters upon his hottest period, they emit their characteristic clamour - industrious members of a chorus, you might call them  -  and from above the heads of shepherds and wayfarers and reapers their song descends. This love of singing Nature has bestowed upon the males, whereas the female cicada is mute and appears as silent as some shy maiden.

[21] G   Men say that it was the goddess Erganē who invented weaving and spinning, but it was Nature that trained the spider to weave. The practice of its craft is not due to any imitation, nor does it obtain spinning matter from any external source, but produces the threads from its own belly and then contrives snares for flimsy winged creatures, spreading them like nets; and it derives its nourishment from the same material that it extracts from its belly and weaves. It is so extremely industrious that not even the most dexterous women, skilled at elaborating wrought yarn, can be compared to it: its web is thinner than hair.

[22] G   Historians praise the Babylonians and Chaldaeans for their knowledge of the heavenly bodies. But ants, though they neither look upwards to the sky nor are able to count the days of the month on their fingers, nevertheless have been endowed by Nature with an extraordinary gift. Thus, on the first day of the month they stay at home indoors, never quitting their nest but remaining quietly within.

[23] G   The fish known as the Sargue has its home among rocks and hollows, which however have in them narrow clefts so that the rays of the sun can penetrate within and fill these fissures with light. For Sargues like all the light there is, but have an even greater craving for the sunbeams. They live in great numbers in the same place, and their usual haunts are the shallows of the sea, and they particularly like to be near the land. For some reason they have a strong affection for goats. At any rate if the shadow of one or two goats feeding by the sea-shore fall upon the water, they swim in eagerly and spring up as though for joy, and in their desire to touch the goats they leap out of the water, though they are not in a general way given to leaping. And even when swimming below the waves they are sensible of the goats' smell, and for delight in it press in to be near them. Now since they are thus love-sick, the object of their love is the means of their capture. Thus, a fisherman wraps himself in a goatskin which has been flayed with the horns. Stalking his prey, the hunter gets the sun behind him and then sprinkles on the water beneath which the aforesaid fish live, barley-groats soaked in broth of goats' flesh. And the Sargues, attracted by the aforesaid smell as though by some charm, approach and eat the barley- groats and are fascinated by the goatskin. And the man catches them in numbers with a stout hook and a line of white flax attached not to a reed but to a rod of cornel-wood. For it is essential to haul in the fish that has taken the bait very quickly so as to avoid disturbing the others. They are even to be caught by hand, if by gently stroking the spines, which they raise in self-protection, from the head downwards one can lay them, or by pressure draw the fish out of the rocks into which they thrust themselves to avoid being seen.

[24] G   The male viper couples with the female by wrapping himself round her. And she allows her mate to do this without resenting it at all. When however they have finished their act of love, the bride in reward for his embraces repays her husband with a treacherous show of affection, for she fastens on his neck and bites it off, head and all. So he dies, while she conceives and becomes pregnant. But she produces not eggs but live young ones, which immediately act in accordance with their nature at its worst. At any rate they gnaw through their mother's belly and forthwith emerge and avenge their father.

What then, my dramatist friends, have your Oresteses ** and your Alcmaeons to say to this ?

[25] G   Should you this year set eyes on a male hyena, next year you will see the same creature as a female; conversely, if you see a female now, next time you will see a male. They share the attributes of both sexes and are both husband and wife, changing their sex year by year. So then it is not through extravagant tales but by actual facts that this animal has made Caeneus ** and Teiresias old-fashioned.

[26] G   As men fight for beautiful women, so do animals fight for their females, goats with goats, bulls with bulls, and rams with their rivals in love for sheep. Even the Black Sea-bream wax wanton for their females. They are born in what men call rough places, and are jealous, and one may see them fighting vigorously for their females. And they do not contend for several, in the way that Sargues do, but each for its own mate, just as Menelaus fought for his wife with Paris.

[27] G   The Octopus feeds first on one thing and then on another, for it is terribly greedy and for ever plotting some evil, the reason being that it is the most omnivorous of all sea-animals. The proof of this is that, should it fail to catch anything, it eats its own tentacles, and by filling its stomach so, finds a remedy for the lack of prey. Later it renews its missing limb, Nature seeming to provide this as a ready meal in times of famine.

[28] G   A horse's carcase is the breeding-place of wasps. For as the carcase rots, these creatures fly out of the marrow: the swiftest of animals begets winged offspring: the horse, wasps.

[29] G   The Owl is a wily creature and resembles a witch. And when captured, it begins by capturing its hunters. And so they carry it about like a pet or (I declare) like a charm on their shoulders. By night it keeps watch for them and with its call that sounds like some incantation it diffuses a subtle, soothing enchantment, thereby attracting birds to settle near it. And even in the daytime it dangles before the birds another kind of lure to make fools of them, putting on a different expression at different times; and all the birds are spell-bound and remain stupefied and seized with terror, and a mighty terror too, at these transformations.

[30] G   The Basse is a victim of the prawn and is inclined to be (if I may be allowed the jest) the greatest gourmet among fish. So being lake-dwellers they lie in wait for the lake prawns. These are of three kinds: the first are such as I have already mentioned; the second subsist on seaweed, while the third kind live on the rocks. Being incapable of self-defence against the basse, they prefer to die along with it. And I shall not hesitate to use the word ' stratagem' of them. For instance, directly they realise that they are being caught, these precious creatures adroitly turn outwards the projecting portion of their head, which resembles the beak of a trireme and is exceedingly sharp and has moreover notches in it like a saw, and spring and leap lightly and nimbly about. But the basse opens its mouth wide, and the flesh of its throat is tender. So the basse seizes the exhausted prawn and fancies that, it is going to make a meal of it. The prawn however in this ample space gambols about and dances in triumph, so to say, over the basse's throat. Then it plants its spikes in its unfortunate pursuer, whose inward parts are thereby lacerated, so that they swell up and discharge much blood and choke the basse, until in most novel fashion the slayer is himself slain.

[31] G   Strength of claws and sharpness of fangs make bears, wolves, leopards, and lions bold, whereas the Porcupine, which (I am told) has not these advantages, none the less has not been left by Nature destitute of weapons wherewith to defend itself. For instance, against those who would attack it with intent to harm it discharges the hairs on its body, like javelins, and raising the bristles on its back, frequently makes a good shot. And these hairs leap forth as though sped from a bowstring.

[32] G   Enmity and inborn hate are a truly terrible affliction and a cruel disease when once they have sunk deep into the heart even of brute beasts, and nothing can purge them away. For instance, the Moray loathes the octopus, and the octopus is the enemy of the crayfish, and to the Moray the crayfish is most hostile. The Moray with its sharp teeth cuts through the tentacles of the octopus, and then boring into its stomach does the same thing - and very properly, for the Moray swims, while the octopus is like some creeping thing. And even though it changes its colour to that of the rocks, even this artifice seems to avail it nothing, for the Moray is quick to perceive the creature's stratagem.

As to the crayfish, the octopuses strangle them with their grip, and when they have succeeded in killing them, they suck out their flesh. But against the Moray the crayfish raises its horns and with fury in them challenges it. Thereupon the Moray imprudently tries to bite the prickles which its adversary has thrust forward in self-defence. But the crayfish reaches out its claws like two hands, and clinging firmly to the Moray's throat on either side, never relaxes its hold, while the Moray in its distress writhes and transfixes itself on the points of the crayfish's shell; and as these are planted in it, it grows numb and gives up the struggle, finally sinking in exhaustion. And the crayfish makes a meal off its adversary.

[33] G   The fish known as the Moray lives in the sea, and when the net encircles it, it swims hither and thither, seeking with great cleverness some weak mesh or some rent in the net. And when it has found such a place, it slips through and swims free once again. And if one of them has this good fortune, all the others of its kind that have been caught along with it escape in the same way, as though taking their direction from a leader.

[34] G   Whenever fishermen who are skilled in these matters plan to catch a Cuttlefish, the fish on realising this emits the ink from its body, pours it over itself and envelops itself so as to be entirely invisible. The fisherman's sight is deceived: though the fish is within view, he does not see it. It was by veiling Aeneas in such a cloud that Poseidon tricked Achilles, according to Homer [Il. 20. 321- ] .

[35] G   Even brute beasts protect themselves against the eyes of sorcerers and wizards by some inexplicable and marvellous gift of Nature. For instance, I am told that as a charm against sorcery ring-doves nibble off the fine shoots of the bay-tree, and then insert them in their nests as a protection for their young. Kites take buck-thorn, falcons picris, ** while turtle-doves take the fruit ** of the iris, ravens the agnus-castus tree, but hoopoes maidenhair fern, which some call ' lovely hair'; the crow takes vervain, the shearwater ** ivy, the heron a crab, the partridge the hairy head of a reed, thrushes a sprig of myrtle. The lark protects itself with dog's-tooth grass; eagles take the stone which is called after them a๋tite {"eagle-stone"}. This stone is also said to be good for women in pregnancy, as a preventive of abortions.

[36] G   The fish known as Torpedo produces the effect implied in its name on whatever it touches and makes it ' torpid ' or numb. And the Sucking-fish clings to ships, and from its action we give it its name, Ship-holder.

While the Halcyon is sitting, the sea is still and the winds are at peace and amity. It lays its eggs about mid-winter; nevertheless, the sky is calm and brings fine weather, and it is at this season of the year that we enjoy 'halcyon days'. 

If a horse chance to tread on the footprint of a wolf, it is at once seized with numbness. If you throw the vertebra of a wolf beneath a four-horse team in motion, it will come to a stand as though frozen, owing to the horses having trodden upon the vertebra. If a lion put his paw upon the leaves of an ilex, he goes numb. a wolf, should he even come near the leaves of a squill. And that is why foxes throw these leaves into the dens of wolves, and with good reason, because their hostility is due to the wolves' designs upon them.

[37] G   Storks have a very clever device for warding off the bats that would damage their eggs: one touch from the bats turns them to wind-eggs and makes them infertile. Accordingly, this is the remedy they use to prevent this happening. They lay the leaves of a plane-tree upon their nests, and directly the bats come near the storks, they are benumbed and become incapable of doing harm. On swallows too Nature has bestowed a like gift: cockroaches ** injure their eggs. Therefore the mother-birds protect their chicks with celery leaves, and hence the cockroaches cannot reach them. If one throws some rue upon an octopus it remains immobile - so the story goes. If you touch a snake with a reed, it will after the first stroke remain still, and in the grip of numbness will lie quiet; if however you repeat the stroke a second or a third time, you at once revive its strength. The moray too, if struck once with a fennel wand, lies still the first time; but if struck several times, its anger is kindled. Fisherfolk assert that even octopuses come ashore if a sprig of olive is laid upon the beach.

It seems that the fat of an elephant is a remedy against the poisons of all savage creatures, and if a man rub some on his body, even though he encounter unarmed the very fiercest, he will escape unscathed.

[38] G   (i). The Elephant has a terror of a horned ram and of the squealing of a pig. It was by these means, they say, that the Romans put to flight the elephants of Pyrrhus of Epirus, and that the Romans won a glorious victory. This same animal is overcome by beauty in a woman and lays aside its temper, quite stunned by the lovely sight. And at Alexandria in Egypt, they say, an elephant was the rival of Aristophanes of Byzantium **  for the love of a woman who was engaged in making garlands. The elephant also loves every kind of fragrance and is fascinated by the scent of perfumes and of flowers.

(ii) If some thief or robber wants to silence dogs that are too fierce and to make them run away, he takes a brand from a funeral pyre (they say) and goes for them. The dogs are terrified. I have heard too this story: if a man shears a sheep that has been mauled by a wolf, and after working the wool makes himself a tunic, this will irritate him when he puts it on. 'He is weaving a gnawing itch for himself,' as the proverb has it. 

(iii) If a man wants to bring about a quarrel and contention at a dinner-party, he will by dropping into the wine a stone that a dog has bitten, vex his fellow-guests to the point of frenzy.

(iv) If a man sprinkle some perfume upon beetles, which are ill-smelling creatures, they cannot endure the sweet scent, but die. In the same way it is said that tanners, who live all their life in foul air, detest perfumes. And the Egyptians maintain that all snakes dread the feathers of the ibis.

[39] G   Those who have a thorough understanding of' the matter hunt Sting-rays, ** and it is chiefly in this way that their efforts are successful. They take their stand and dance and sing very sweetly. And the Sting-rays are soothed by the sound and are charmed by the dancing and draw nearer, while the men withdraw gently step by step to the spot where of course the snare is set for the wretched creatures, namely nets spread out. Then the Sting-rays fall into them and are caught, betrayed in the first instance by the dancing and singing.

[40] G   The Great Tunny, as it is called, is a monstrous fish and knows well what is best for it. This gift it has acquired by nature and not by art. For instance, when the hook has pierced it, it dives to the bottom and thrusts and dashes itself against the ground, striking its mouth in its effort to eject the hook. If that fails, it widens the wound and disgorges the instrument of pain and dashes away. Frequently however it fails in the attempt, and the fisherman draws up the reluctant creature and secures his catch.

[41] G   The Melanūrus is the most timid of fishes, and to its timidity fishermen bear witness, for it is not caught in weels nor does it go near them; but if by chance a dragnet encircles it, then it is caught without knowing it. And whenever the sea is fairly calm and smooth, these fish lie quiet down below upon the rocks or among the seaweed and cover themselves as best they can, trying to conceal their bodies. But if the weather is stormy, observing other fish diving to the depths out of the buffeting waves, they take courage and approach the shore, swim close to the rocks, and fancy that the foam floating overhead is sufficient protection while it conceals and overshadows them. And they know in some quite inexplicable way that for fishermen the sea is unnavigable on such a day or such a night, as it rages with the waves mounting to a terrifying height. It is in stormy weather that they gather their food, when the swell drags some off the rocks and sucks some from the shore. The Melanūruses feed off the foulest matter, such stuff as no other fish would readily take, unless it were utterly overcome by hunger. But in calm weather they have only the sand to ride on, and from there they get their food. But how they are captured another shall tell.

[42] G   Among birds the eagle has the keenest sight. And Homer is aware of this and testifies to the fact in the story of Patroclus when he compares Menelaus to the bird [Il. 17. 674-] at the time when he was searching for Antilochus, that he might despatch him to Achilles as a messenger, unwelcome indeed but necessary, to announce the fate that had befallen his comrade, whom Achilles had sent out to battle but never welcomed home again for all his yearning. And the eagle is said to serve not himself alone but to be good for men's eyes as well. At any rate, if a man whose sight is dim mix an eagle's gall with Attic honey and rub it on his eyes, he will see and will acquire extremely keen sight.

[43] G   Among birds the nightingale has the clearest and most musical voice, and fills solitary places with its most lovely and thrilling note. Further, they say that its flesh is good for keeping one awake. But people who feast upon such food are evil and dreadfully foolish. And it is an evil attribute of food that it drives sleep away - sleep, the king of gods and men, as Homer says [Il. 14. 233 ] .

[44] G   The screaming of cranes brings on showers, so they say, while their brain possesses some kind of spell that leads women to grant sexual favours - if those who first observed the fact are sufficient guarantee.

[45] G   If a man burn the feathers of a vulture (so I am told), he will have no difficulty in inducing snakes to quit their dens and lurking-places.

The bird 'Woodpecker' derives its name from what it does. For it has a curved beak with which it pecks oak-trees, and deposits its young in them as in a nest; and it has no need at all of dry twigs woven together or of any building. Now if one inserts a stone and blocks up the entrance for the aforesaid bird, it guesses that there is a plot afoot, fetches some herb that is obnoxious to the stone, and places it against the stone. The latter in disgust and unable to endure the smell springs out, and once again the bird's caverned home lies open to it.

[46] G   The Four-toothed Sparus is not solitary nor does it endure loneliness and separation from its kind. These fish love to congregate together according to their age: the younger ones swim about in shoals, the maturer ones also keep together. And as the saying is true 'A friend must be of one's own age,' ** so these creatures delight to be where others of their kind are, like comrades and friends sharing the same pursuits and resorts. And these are the means they devise for evading their pursuers. Whenever an angler drops a bait for them they all gather round and forming a ring look at one another as though each were signalling to each not to approach and not to touch the bait that has been lowered. And those that have been posted for this purpose remain still. But a Sparus from some other, separate shoal arrives and swallows the bait, and gets the reward of its solitariness by being caught. So while he is being drawn up, the rest grow bolder as though they were not going to be taken, and so through their scorn (of danger) are caught.

[47] G   All through the summer the raven is afflicted with a parching thirst, and with his croaking (so they say) declares his punishment. And the reason they give is this. Being a servant he was sent out by Apollo to draw water. He came to a field of corn, tall but still green, and waited till it should ripen, as he wanted to nibble the wheat: to his master's orders he paid no heed. On that account in the driest season of the year he is punished with thirst. This looks like a fable, but let me repeat it out of reverence for the god.

[48] G   The Raven, they say, is a sacred bird and attends upon Apollo: that is why men agree that it is also of use in divination, and those who understand the positions of birds, their cries, and their flight whether on the left or on the right hand, are able to divine by its croaking.

I am also informed that raven's eggs turn the hair black. And it is essential for anyone who is dyeing his hair to keep olive oil in his mouth and his lips closed. Otherwise his teeth also turn black along with his hair, and they are hardly to be washed white again.

[49] G   The Bee-eater flies (so they say) in precisely the opposite way to all other birds, for they move forward in the direction in which they look, while the Bee-eater flies backwards. And I am astonished at the remarkable, incredible, and uncommon character of the motion with which this creature wings its way.

[50] G   Whenever the Moray is filled with amorous impulses it comes out of the sea on to land seeking eagerly for a mate, and a very evil mate. For it goes to a viper's den and the pair embrace. And they do say that the male viper also in its frenzied desire for copulation goes down to the sea, and just as a reveller with his flute knocks at the door, so the viper also with his hissing summons his loved one, and she emerges. Thus does Nature bring those that dwell far apart together in a mutual desire and to a common bed. 

[51] G   The spine of a dead man, they say, transforms the putrefying marrow into a snake. The brute emerges, and from the gentlest of beings crawls forth the fiercest. Now the remains of those that were fine and noble are at rest and their reward is peace, even as the soul also of such men has the rewards which wise men celebrate in their songs. But it is from the spine of evil-doers that such evil monsters are begotten even after life. The fact is, the whole story is either a fable, or if it is to be relied upon as true, then the corpse of a wicked man receives (so I think) the reward of his ways in becoming the progenitor of a snake.

[52] G   A Swallow is a sign that the best season of the year is at hand. And it is friendly to man and takes pleasure in sharing the same roof with this being. It comes uninvited, and when it pleases and sees fit, it departs. Men welcome it in accordance with the law of hospitality laid down by Homer [Od. 15. 72-4] , who bids us cherish a guest while he is with us and speed him on his way when he wishes to leave.

[53] G   The Goat has a certain advantage over other animals in the manner of taking breath, as the narratives of shepherds tell us, for it inhales through its ears as well as through its nostrils, and has a sharper perception than any other cloven-hoofed animal. The cause of this I am unable to tell; I have only told what I know. But if the goat also was a creation of Prometheus, what the intention of this contrivance was, I leave him to determine.

[54] G   They say that the bite of the viper and of other snakes is not without countering remedies. Some, I am told, are to be drunk, others are to be applied; spells too can mitigate poison injected by a sting. But the bite of the asp ** alone, I am told, cannot be cured and is beyond help. This creature truly deserves to be hated for being blessed with the power to injure. Yet a monster more abominable and harder to avoid even than the asp is a sorceress, such as (we are told) Medea and Circe were, for the poison from asps is the result of a bite, whereas sorceresses kill by a mere touch, so they say.

[55] G   There are three kinds of Sea-hound. ** The first is of enormous size and may be reckoned among the most daring of sea monsters. ** The others are of two kinds, they live in the mud and reach to a cubit in length. Those that are speckled one may call galeus {small shark}, and the rest, if you call them Spiny Dog-fish you will not go far wrong. Now the speckled ones have a softer skin and a flatter head, while the others, whose skin is hard and whose head tapers to a point, are distinguished from the rest by the whiteness of their skin. Moreover nature has provided them with spines, one on their crest, so to say, the other in the tail. And these spines are hard and resisting and emit a kind of poison. Of the small Dog-fish both kinds are caught in the ooze and mud, and the manner of catching them I may as well explain. By way of bait men let down a white fish out of which they have cut the backbone. Directly one of the Dog-fish is caught and hooked, all those that have seen him make a rush for him and follow him as he is drawn upwards, never stopping until they reach the boat. One might imagine that they do this out of envy, as though he had filched some piece of food from somewhere and all for himself. And it often happens that some of them actually leap into the boat and are caught of their own free will.

[56] G   The barb of the Sting-ray nothing can withstand. It wounds and kills instantly, and even those fishermen who have great knowledge of the sea dread its weapon. For no man can heal the wound, nor will the creature that inflicted it; that was a gift vouchsafed, most probably, to the ashen spear from mount Pelion alone. **

[57] G   The Cerastes is a small creature; it is a snake, and above its brow it has two horns, and these horns are like those of the snail, though unlike the snail's they are not soft. Now these snakes are the enemies of all other Libyans, but towards the Psylli, as they are called, they are gently disposed, for the Psylli are insensible to their bites and have no difficulty in curing those who have fallen victims to this venomous creature. Their method is this: if one of that tribe arrive, whether summoned or by chance, before the whole body is inflamed, and if he then rinse his mouth with water and wash the bitten man's hands and give him the water from both to drink, then the victim recovers and thereafter is free from all infection. And there is a story current among the Libyans that, if one of the Psylli suspects his wife and hates her on the ground that she has committed adultery; and if moreover he suspects that the child born from her is a bastard and no true member of his tribe, he then puts it to a very severe test: he fills a chest with Cerastae and drops the baby among them, just as a goldsmith places gold in the fire, and puts the infant to the proof by thus exposing him. And immediately the snakes surge up in anger and threaten the child with their native poison. But directly the infant touches them, they wilt, and then the Libyan knows that he is the father of no bastard but of one sprung of his own race. This tribe is said also to be the enemy of other noxious beasts and of malmignattes.

Well, if the Libyans are here romancing, I would have them know that it is not me but themselves that they are deceiving.

[58] G   The following creatures plot and make war against bees: the creatures known as titmice and their young, also wasps and swallows and snakes and spiders and [moths ?] . Bees are afraid of these, and so bee-keepers try to drive them away by using flea-bane as a fumigant or by placing or scattering poppies still green before the hives. Most of the aforesaid creatures dislike these things, but the way to catch wasps is as follows. You should hang up a cage in front of the wasps' nest and insert a little smelt or a small sprat and with them a minnow or a sardine. And the wasps, drawn by their natural greed and lured by the bait, fall into the cage in numbers, and once they are trapped, it is no longer possible for them to fly out again. Lizards also have designs upon bees, so too have Land-crocodiles. ** But a means has been devised of destroying them too, thus: soak some meal in hellebore, or pour upon it the sap of spurge or the juice of mallow and scatter it about in front of the hives. This is death to the aforesaid creatures, once they have tasted of it. If a bee-keeper drop the leaves of mullein or nuts ** into a pool, he will find it the simplest way of destroying tadpoles. But moths ** are destroyed at night-time by the placing of a strong light in front of the hives and vessels full of oil below the light. And the moths fly to the brightness and fall into the oil and are killed. Otherwise they would not be caught so very easily. But the titmice, once they have tasted the wine-steeped meal, become drowsy; then they fall over and lie quivering and can readily (?) be captured as they struggle to fly and are quite incapable of standing. But men refrain from killing the swallow out of respect for its music, though they might easily do so. They are content to hinder the swallow from attaching its nest below the hives.

Again, bees dislike all bad smells and perfume equally: they cannot endure foul odours nor do they welcome a luxurious fragrance, even as modest, refined girls abhor the former while despising the latter.

[59] G   The elder Cyrus, ** they say, was filled with pride at the palace in Persepolis which he himself had caused to be built; Darius ** likewise at the magnificence of his buildings at Susa, for he it was who contrived those far-famed dwelling-places. Cyrus the Second ** with his own royal hands and clothed in his habitual delicate garments and adorned with his beautiful jewels of great price, planted his Gardens in Lydia and prided himself on the fact before all the Greeks and even before Lysander the Spartan, when Lysander came to visit him in Lydia.

Historians celebrate these constructions, but the dwellings of bees which are far cleverer and exhibit a greater skill, of these they take not the slightest notice. And yet, while those monarchs wrought what they wrought through the affliction of multitudes, there never was any creature more gracious than the bee, just as there is none cleverer. The first things that they construct are the chambers of their kings, and they are spacious and above all the rest. Round them they put a barrier, as it were a wall or fence, thereby also enhancing the importance of the royal dwelling. And they divide themselves into three grades, and their dwellings accordingly into the same number. Thus, the eldest dwell nearest the royal palace, and the latest born dwell next to them, while those that are young and in the prime of life are outside the latter. In this way the eldest are the king's bodyguard, and the youthful ones are a protection to the latest born.

[60] G   According to one story the King bees are stingless; according to another they are born with stings of great strength and trenchant sharpness; and yet they never use them against a man nor against bees: the stings are a pretence, an empty scare, for it would be wrong for one who rules and directs such numbers to do an injury. And those who understand their ways bear witness to the fact that the other bees when in presence of their rulers withdraw their stings, as though shrinking and giving way before authority. And one might well be astonished at either of the aforesaid characteristics in these King bees: if they have no means of injuring, this is remarkable; if with all the means of injuring they do no injury, then this is far more to their credit.

Book 2



FOOTNOTES


(1)    Mod. San Domenico, one of the three 'Isole di Tremiti,' about 15 miles N of the 'spur' of Italy.    

(2)    King of Argos; settled later in Daunia, where he died and was buried in Diomedea.    

(3)    Unidentifed.    

(4)    Perhaps the fox-shark; see Thompson, Gk. fishes, s.vv ὰλώπηξ, τρώκτης .    

(5)    Unidentified.    

(6)    See 2.43 note.    

(7)    Euadne, wife of Capaneus, one of the 'Seven against Thebes.' He was slain by Zeus, and when his body was on the funeral pyre, Euadne leapt into the flames and perished at his side.    

(8)    Alcestis, wife of Admetus, undertook to die in place of her husband, but was rescued by Heracles from the clutches of Death.    

(9)    Not certainly identified.    

(10)    Orestes slew his mother Clytemnestra in revenge for her having slain his father Agamemnon.   Alcmaeon slew his mother Exiphyle who had brought about the death of his father Amphiaraus.    

(11)    Caeneus, originally a girl named Caenis, was changed by Poseidon into a man; after death he resumed his female form.   Teiresias likewise changed his sex twice, but the Hyena does this every year.    

(12)    The genus picris embraces a wide variety of plants; it may here signify ox-tongue or chicory or endive or Urospermum picroides.    

(13)    From Thphr. HP 3. 3. 4 - 'it appears that the buds of the poplar were mistaken for fruit,' Hort ad loc. So here perhaps καρπός should be understood as the bud of the iris.    

(14)    Ἄρπη ... prob. 'shearwater,' L-S ; but the meaning is quite uncertain, cp. 12.4.    

(15)    Σίλφη (rendered 'cockroach' in L-S) here probably signifies the dipterous insect Stenopteryx hirundinis. 'Most of the known Hippoboscidae live on birds and are apparently specially fond of the swallow tribe. They are all winged.' D. Sharp, Insects, 519 (Camb. Nat. Hist. 6).    

(16)    Aristophanes of Byzantium, 3rd/2nd cent. B.C., head of the library at Alexandria, famous as grammarian, literary and textual critic, especially in the field of Greek poetry. Wrote an epitome of natural history based upon Aristotle; it included 'paradoxa.'    

(17)    Cp. 17. 18; τρυγών must here stand for τ. θαλαττία.    

(18)    The full phrase is ἧλίξ ἥλικα τέρπει, cp. Pl. Phaedr. 240 c.    

(19)    The Egyptian cobra, Naia haie.    

(20)    The terms θαλάττιος κύων and γαλέος signify both dog-fish and shark.     

(21)    i.e. the shark.    

(22)    The spear of Achilles was made from an ash-tree on Mt Pelion (Hom. Il. 16. 143). Telephus, wounded by the spear, was afterwards cured by the rust from it.    

(23)    ' The "crocodile" is the Psammosaurus griseus, a land lizard, which reaches a size of 3 feet ' (How-Wells on Hdt. 4. 192).    

(24)    Perhaps some word has been lost indicating what kind of nut is intended.    

(25)    This may be the Wax-moth, which is found in bees' nests, its larvae eating the comb; or it may be one of the Hawk-moths (fam. Sphingidae) which enter the nests for honey.    

(26)    Cyrus I, founder of the Achaemenid Persian empire, 549-29 B.C.   The city and palace of Persepolis were burned by Alexander the Great.    

(27)    Darius, son of Hystaspes, King of Persia, 521-485 B.C., reputed founder of Susa, on the river Choaspes. It was a residence of the Persian kings during the springtime.    

(28)    Cyrus II, younger son of Darius II, c. 430-401 B.C., helped Lysander, the Spartan admiral, with sums of money, thereby ensuring the final victory of Sparta in the Peloponnesian war. The 'Gardens' were at Sardis.    




CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK

Prologue
1.1 The birds of Diomedes
1.2 The Parrot Wrasse
1.3 The mullet
1.4 The 'Anthias'. The Parrot Wrasse
1.5 The Gnawer and dolphins
1.6 Animals in love with human beings
1.7 The Jackal
1.8 Nicias and his hounds
1.9 The Drone
1.10 Servitors among bees
1.11 Bees, their ages and habits
1.12 The mullet, how caught
1.13 The 'Etna-fish,' its continence
1.14 The Wrasse, its paternal instincts
1.15 The Wrasse, how caught
1.16 The 'Blue-grey' fish and young
1.17 The Dog-fish and young
1.18 The dolphin and young
1.19 The Horned Ray
1.20 The Cicada
1.21 The Spider and its web
1.22 Ants observe a day of rest
1.23 The Sargue, how caught
1.24 Vipers and their mating
1.25 The Hyena
1.26 The Black Sea-bream
1.27 The octopus
1.28 Wasps, how generated
1.29 The owl
1.30 The Basse and the Prawn
1.31 The Porcupine
1.32 Mutual hostility of certain fishes
1.33 The Moray
1.34 The Cuttlefish
1.35 Birds use charms against sorcery
1.36 The Torpedo. The Halcyon. Causes of numbness
1.37 Protective and numbing powers of certain herbs
1.38 (i) The elephant, its love of beauty and perfumes (ii) Various irritants
1.39 The Sting-ray, how caught
1.40 The Great Tunny
1.41 The 'Melanurus'
1.42 The eagle, its keen sight
1.43 The Nightingale
1.44 Cranes bring rain
1.45 Vulture's feathers. The Woodpecker
1.46 The Four-toothed Sparus
1.47 The raven's thirst
1.48 The raven in divination; its eggs
1.49 The Bee-eater
1.50 The Moray and the viper
1.51 Snakes generated from marrow of evil-doers
1.52 The swallow
1.53 The goat, its breathing
1.54 Viper, Asp, etc., their bites
1.55 Sharks and Dog-fish
1.56 The Sting-ray
1.57 The Cerastes and the Psylli
1.58 The enemies of bees
1.59 A Bee-hive
1.60 The King bee



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