-   BOOK 15

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 14

[1] G   I have heard and can tell of a way of catching fish in Macedonia, and it is this. Between Beroea and Thessalonica there flows a river called the Astraeus. ** Now there are in it fishes of a speckled hue, but what the natives call them, it is better to enquire of the Macedonians. Now these fish feed upon the flies of the country which flit about the river and which are quite unlike flies elsewhere; they do not look like wasps, nor could one fairly describe this creature as comparable in shape with what are called Anthēdones {bumble-bees}, nor even with actual honey-bees, although they possess a distinctive feature of each of the aforesaid insects. Thus, they have the audacity of the fly; you might say they are the size of a bumble-bee, but their colour imitates that of a wasp, and they buzz like a honeybee. All the natives call them Hippūrus. ** These flies settle on the stream and seek the food that they like; they cannot however escape the observation of the fishes that swim below. So when a fish observes a Hippurus on the surface it swims up noiselessly under water for fear of disturbing the surface and to avoid scaring its prey. Then when close at hand in the fly's shadow it opens its jaws and swallows the fly, just as a wolf snatches a sheep from the flock, or as an eagle seizes a goose from the farmyard. Having done this it plunges beneath the ripple. Now although fishermen know of these happenings, they do not in fact make any use of these flies as baits for fish, because if the human hand touches them it destroys the natural bloom; their wings wither and the fish refuse to eat them, and for that reason will not go near them, because by some mysterious instinct they detest flies that have been caught. And so with the skill of anglers the men circumvent the fish by the following artful contrivance. They wrap the hook in scarlet wool, and to the wool they attach two feathers that grow beneath a cock's wattles and are the colour of wax. The fishing-rod is six feet long, and so is the line. So they let down this lure, and the fish attracted and excited by the colour, comes to meet it, and fancying from the beauty of the sight that he is going to have a wonderful banquet, opens wide his mouth, is entangled with the hook, and gains a bitter feast, for he is caught. **

[2] G   Ram-fishes, ** whose name has a wide circulation, although information about them is not very definite except in so far as displayed in works of art, spend the winter near the strait between Corsica and Sardinia and actually appear above water. And round about them swim dolphins of very great size. Now the male Ram-fish has a white band running round its forehead (you might describe it as the tiara of a Lysimachus ** or an Antigonus or of some other king of Macedon), but the female has curls, just as cocks have wattles, attached below its neck. Male and female alike pounce upon dead bodies and feed on them, indeed they even seize living men, and with the wave caused by their swimming, since they are large and of immense bulk, they even overturn vessels, such a storm do they unaided raise against them. And they even snatch men standing on the shore close at hand. The inhabitants of Corsica tell how, when a ship was wrecked in a storm, a man who was a very strong swimmer managed to swim over a wide expanse of sea and to secure a hold on some headland in their country; he climbed out and stood there, all fear banished, for he was now free from all perils, with no anxiety for his life, his own master. Now a Ram-fish which was swimming by caught sight of him as he stood, and inflamed with hunger turned about, arched its back, and with its tail drove a great mass of water forward, and then rose as the swelling wave lifted it, and in a moment was carried up on to the headland and like a hurricane; or whirlwind seized the man. So much for the Ram-fish's prey seized off Corsica.

Those who live on the shores of Ocean tell a fable of how the ancient kings of Atlantis, sprung from the seed of Poseidon, wore upon their head the bands from the male Ram-fish, as an emblem of their authority, while their wives, the queens, wore the curls of the females as a proof of theirs. Now this creature has exceedingly powerful nostrils and inhales a great quantity of breath, drawing to itself an immense amount of air; and it hunts seals in the following manner. Directly the seals realise that a Ram-fish is somewhere close at hand, bringing destruction upon them, they swim ashore with all possible speed and pass over the land and plunge into the shelter of rocky caverns. But the Ram-fish perceive that they have fled and give chase, and as they face the cave they know from the smell of flesh that their prey is within, and, as though by some all-powerful spell, with their nostrils they draw in the air that intervenes between themselves and the seal. But the seal avoids the attack of the monster's breath, as it might an arrow or a spear-point, and at first withdraws, but is finally dragged out of the cave by the overmastering pull and follows against its will, just as though it were bound fast with thongs or cords, and shrieking provides the Ram-fish with a meal.

Those who are skilled at exploring these matters assert that the hairs which grow from the nostrils of the Ram-fish serve many purposes.

[3] G   In the gulf of Vibo ** there are shoals of tunny past numbering, and some are, like hogs, solitary, and swim by themselves and are of very great size; others swim in couples or range together, as wolves do; others again swim in companies, just like herds of goats, ranging over wide feeding-grounds. But at the rising of the Dog-star and when the sun's rays are at their fiercest, they set out for the Euxine. And if the waves seem hot to them they swim interwoven with one another and by the contact of their bodies somehow contrive to get a certain amount of shade.

[4] G   Demostratus, a man deeply versed in fishing lore and excellent at expounding it, says that there is a certain fish of great beauty and that it is called the ' Moon-fish '; ** it is small, dark blue in colour, and flat in shape. He says too that it has dorsal fins which it raises, but that they are soft and neither unyielding nor rough. These fins, whenever the fish dives, open out and form a half-circle and present to the eye the shape of a half-moon. This is what the fishermen of Cyprus say, but Demostratus adds that if this fish is caught when the moon is at the full, it too is at the full, and causes trees to expand if one brings it and attaches it to them. But when the moon is waning the fish pines and dies, and if applied to plants they too wither. And when wells are being dug, if, as the moon is waxing, you throw this fish into the water which you have found, it will flow continually and never fail; if however you do this when the moon is waning, the flow will cease. In the same way if you throw this same fish into a bubbling spring, you will henceforward either find it full of water or you will find the spot empty.

[5] G   I know that I have somewhere earlier on in this discourse ** described how tunny swim into and out of the Propontis. Just consider the cities along the Black Sea- Heracleia, Tius, ** and Amastris. Now the inhabitants of the whole of that country know exactly of the coming of the tunny, and at that season of the year ** the fish arrive, and much gear has been got ready to deal with them, boats and nets and a high lookout-place. This lookout-place is fixed on some beach and stands where there is a wide, uninterrupted view. It is no trouble to me to explain, and you who listen should be pleased to hear, how it is constructed. ** Two high pine-trunks held apart by wide balks of timber, are set up ; the latter are interwoven in the structure at short intervals and are of great assistance to the watchman in mounting to the top. Each of the boats has six young men, strong rowers, on either side. The nets are of considerable length; they are not too light and so far from being kept floating by corks are actually weighted with lead, and these fish swim into them in shoals. And when the spring begins to shine and the breezes are blowing softly and the air is bright and as it were smiling and the waves are at rest and the sea smooth, the watcher, whose mysterious skill and naturally sharp sight enable him to see the fish, announces to the fishermen the quarter from which they are coming: if on the one hand the men ought to spread their nets near the shore, he instructs them accordingly ; but if closer in, like a general he gives the signal, or like a conductor, the keynote. And frequently he will tell the total number of fish and not be off the mark. And this is what happens. When the company of tunnies makes for the open sea the man in the lookout who has an accurate knowledge of their ways shouts at the top of his voice telling the men to give chase in that direction and to row straight for the open sea. And the men after fastening to one of the pines supporting the lookout a very long rope attached to the nets, then proceed to row their boats in close order and in column, keeping near to one another, because, you see, the net is distributed between each boat. And the first boat drops its portion of the net and turns back; then the second does the same, then the third, and the fourth has to let go its portion. But the rowers in the fifth boat delay, for they must not let go yet. Then the others row in different directions and haul their part of the net, and then pause. Now the tunny are sluggish and incapable of any action that involves daring, and they remain huddled together and quite still. So the rowers, as though it were a captured city, take captive - as a poet might say - the population of fishes. And so, my Greek friends, the people of Eretria and Naxos know of these things by report, for they have learnt about this method of fishing all that Herodotus ** and others relate. What remains to be told of it you shall learn from others.

[6] G   When Tunny have been caught by fishermen of the Euxine (and I might add off Sicily also, for what else had Sophron in mind when he wrote his delightful Tunny-fisher ? Anyhow there are Tunny-fisheries in other places besides.) - when therefore they are safely enmeshed in the net, then is the time when everybody prays to Poseidon the Averter of Disaster. And as I ask myself the reason, I think it worthwhile to explain what induced them to attach the name ' Averter of Disaster ' to the god. They pray to the brother of Zeus, the Lord of the Sea, that neither swordfish nor dolphin may come as fellow-traveller with the shoal of Tunny. At any rate your noble sword-fish has many a time cut through the net and allowed the whole company to break through and go free. The dolphin also is the net's enemy, for it is skilful at gnawing its way out.

[7] G   During the springtime in India it rains liquid honey, and especially in the country of the Prasii; ** and it falls on the grass and on the leaves of reeds in the marshes, providing wonderful pasturage for cattle and sheep. And the animals feast off the food with the greatest delight, for the shepherds make a point of leading them to spots where this honeyed dew falls more plentifully and settles. And they in return feast their herdsmen, for the milk which the latter draw is of the utmost sweetness and they have no need to mix honey with it as the Greeks do.

[8] G   The Pearl-oyster of India (I have spoken earlier on of the one in the Red Sea) ** is obtained in the following manner. There is a, city of which one Soras by name was ruler, a man of royal lineage, at the time when Eucratides was ruler of Bactria. ** And the name of the city is Perimula, ** and it is inhabited by Ichthyophagi {fish-eaters}. These men, it is said, set out from there with their nets and draw a ring of wide embrace round a great circle of the shore. The aforesaid stone is produced from a shell resembling a large trumpet-shell, and the Pearl-oysters swim in shoals and have leaders, just as bees, in their hives have ' kings,' as they are called. And I have heard that the ' leader ' too is conspicuous for his colour and his size. Now divers beneath the waters make it their special aim to capture him, for once he is caught they catch the entire shoal, since it is, so to say, left destitute and without a leader; for it remains motionless and ceases to advance, like a flock of sheep that by some mischance has lost its shepherd. But the leader makes good his escape and slips out with the utmost adroitness and takes the lead and rescues those that obey him. Those however that are caught the Ichthyophagi are said to pickle in jars. And when the flesh turns clammy and falls away, the precious stone is left behind. The best ones are those from India and from the Red Sea; but they are also found in the western ocean where the island of Britain is, though this kind has a more golden appearance, and a duller, duskier sheen. ** Juba asserts that they occur also in the strait leading to the Bosporus and are inferior to the British kind, and are not for a moment to be compared with those from India and the Red Sea. But the land-pearl ** of India is said not to have an independent origin but to be generated not from the ice formed by frost but from excavated rock-crystal.

[9] G   I am well aware that earlier on in my discourse I have spoken of cranes, the birds, but I claim to have heard of a sea-crane, ** a fish that lives in the sea of Corinth. Now this stretch of sea, where the Crane-fish has been tracked down, lies near the sea which approaches Attica on that side of the Isthmus that faces Athens. ** The fish reaches a length of perhaps fifteen feet reckoned accurately, but it is not (so I learn) as bulky as the largest eel. It has the head and mouth of the bird, and its scales ** you might say were the feathers of a crane. But it does not swim in the sinuous fashion of those fishes which are slim and long like eels. It is an exceedingly powerful jumper; at any rate it springs forward like an arrow shot from a bowstring ... Now the accounts from Epidaurus state that this creature is not the offspring of any fish, but that cranes fleeing from the frosts of Thrace and of the west generally, encounter the wind, and that the female birds are stimulated to mate, while the male birds are inflamed with desire and agitated with a passion to couple, which makes them want to mount the females. They however will not permit it, for they cannot bear the burden of coupling in mid-air, and so the males frustrated in their desire ejaculate semen. If they happen to be flying over land, the semen is spent to no purpose but is lost and wasted. If however they are flying over the ocean, then the sea takes up and preserves the embryo as though it were a treasure, and generates this creature, not destroying it as though it had entered some unfruitful, sterile womb. Here then of the two versions is the Epidaurian one fully set out, But the other version, whose origin I cannot tell, takes a different direction and does not agree with the former, but I shall mention it as well so that I may not appear to be ignorant of it. Demostratus, whom I also mentioned earlier on, says, ' I saw the fish and was filled with astonishment, and I was anxious to pickle it so that others might be able to see it. And so when the cooks got to work and. opened it up, with my own eyes I inspected its internal organs and observed spines on both sides, which met and turned their points towards one another; they were,' he says, ' triangular like the three-sided law-tablets, and imbedded in them was a liver of considerable length, and below that was a gall-bladder, with a long tube as in skin-bags. You would have said on seeing it that it was a damp bean-pod. So both gall-bladder and liver were extracted and the latter swelled up till it equalled the liver of the largest fish, whereas the gall-bladder, which happened somehow to have been placed on a stone, caused the stone to melt away and disappeared from sight.'

Here I conclude the two accounts.

[10] G   It is not irrelevant to our present study to describe the altogether singular manner in which Pelamyds ** are caught. Ten young men in the prime of strength embark in a boat, light and therefore capable of great speed, arranging themselves in equal numbers on either side; and after satisfying themselves with a good meal they each lay hold of an oar and roam this way and that. And one youth sits in the stern and lets down horse hair lines on either side of the vessel. To these other lines are fastened, and to all of them hooks are attached, and each hook carries a bait wrapped round with wool of Laconian purple, and further, to each hook is attached the feather of a sea-mew so as to be gently fluttered by the impact of the water. Now the Pelamyds in their eagerness for these objects come swimming up, and when the 'foretaster' ** has applied its mouth to them the rest approach and at the same moment the hooks are agitated as they pierce the fish. Meanwhile the men have stopped rowing and laid aside their oars and standing up draw up the lines with their plentiful catch, indeed even laden with fish. And when they tumble into the boat the evidence of a successful day's sport is manifest in the great number captured.

[11] G   I have heard that the Land-Marten was once a human being. It has also reached my hearing that ' Marten ' was its name then; that it was a dealer in spells and a sorcerer; that it was extremely, incontinent, and that it was afflicted with abnormal sexual desires. Nor has it escaped my notice that the anger of the goddess Hecate transformed it into this evil creature. - May the goddess be gracious to me: fables and their telling I leave to others. But it is clearly a most malicious animal: Martens set upon human corpses, leap upon them if they are unprotected, pluck out their eyes and swallow them. They say too that if the testicles of a Marten are hung on a woman either by treachery or with her consent, they prevent her from becoming a mother and make her refrain from the sexual act; if the inwards of a Marten are dressed in a certain way, which I leave to those skilled in these matters, and dropped with evil intent into wine, they break up (so they say) a friendship, and sunder relations hitherto harmonious. In reward for these activities let us leave spell-binders and sorcerers to our friend Ares ** to punish and judge.

There is also a fish called Marten {galē} : it is small and has nothing in common with those known as dog-fish {galeus}, for the latter are cartilaginous, live in the sea, attain to a considerable length, and resemble a dog. But the Marten-fish one might identify with the Hepatos, ** as it is called. This is a small fish and blinks its eyes ; the pupils are a dark blue colour. Its barbel is larger than that of the Hepatos; on the other hand it yields to the Chromis in this respect. I am told that the Marten lives among rocks, feeds on sea-weed, and that it too like the Land Marten eats the eyes of all bodies that it finds dead. Fishermen who practise sorcery after the manner of those that dwell on the continent of Asia, being evilly disposed and skilled in mischief, use it for the same purpose as men use the Land Marten. And since this species of fish is carnivorous, all men who spend their lives fishing and who explore the deepest recesses black their feet and the palms of their hands in an attempt to nullify the light that radiates from them, for men's limbs appear extremely bright in water and so attract these fish.

[12] G   Clams of the sea are of different kinds, for some of them are rough, others perfectly smooth; some you can crush by the mere pressure of the fingers, others you will hardly smash with a stone ; some are of a deep black colour, others, you might compare with silver, others again are clothed in a blend of the aforesaid colours. Their species differ and their habitats are very various, for some lie scattered in the sands of the sea-shore or rest at times in the mud, others lie low beneath the sea-moss, while others lay hold of reefs and cling to them with might and main. In the Istrian Sea, ** as it is called, these clams in summer time at the beginning of the harvesting season swim along together like a herd of cattle, floating lightly to the surface, although up to this time they have been too heavy and weighty to float upwards, but now they are no longer so. And they avoid the South wind and flee before the North, and cannot endure even the East wind, but their delight is in a waveless sea and when the pleasant and gentle breezes of the West wind blow. And so beneath their influence they quit their burrows, with their shells still closed and fast shut, and mount upwards from their recesses and, when the sea is waveless, swim around. And then they open their coverings and peep forth, like brides looking down from their private chambers or like rosebuds that, warmed a little, have peeped out of their flower-cups towards the sun's heat. And so little by little they gather courage and are glad to rest quietly while waiting for the friendly breeze; and one of their coverings the clams spread beneath them, the other they raise, and with the latter for sail and the former for skiff they float along. And in this way they move forward when the sea is calm and the weather fine; to see them from a distance you would say that it was a fleet of ships. If however they perceive some vessel approaching or some savage creature advancing or some monstrous fish swimming by, with one clash of their shells they fold up, sink in a mass, and are gone.

[13] G   The Haemorrhous or ' Blood-letter ' is a species of snake which lives and has its haunts chiefly among rocky hollows. Its body is one foot long, and its width tapers downwards from its broad head to its, tail. At one time it has a fiery hue, at another pitch-black, and on its head there bristle what look like horns. It crawls softly as it scrapes the scales of its belly along the ground, and its course is crooked. And so it makes a gentle rustling, which; shows how sluggish and how feeble it is. But when it bites it makes a puncture which immediately appears dark blue, and the victim suffers agonising pains in his stomach, while the belly discharges copious fluid. On the first night after, blood streams from the nose and throat and even from the ears: together, with a bile-like poison, and the bladder emits blood-stained water. Also if there are any old scars on the body they break open. But if a female Blood-letter darts poison as it strikes, the poison mounts to the gums, blood streams copiously from the finger-nails, and the teeth are forced out from the gums. This, they say, was the savage creature that Canobus, the helmsman of Menelaus, encountered in Egypt during the reign of Thonis; and when Helen realised how strong this venomous beast was she broke its spine and extracted the poison. But for what purpose she was eager to obtain this precious stuff I am unable to say. **

[14] G   The people of India bring to their king tigers that they have trained, tame panthers, ** four-horned antelopes, two kinds of oxen, the one swift of foot, the other exceedingly wild. From these oxen they contrive fly-whisks, and whereas the rest of their body is entirely black, their tails are dazzlingly white. They bring also pale-yellow doves which are said never to become domesticated, never to be tamed; those birds too which they ate accustomed to, call Cercorōnoi {mynahs}; ** and hounds of good pedigree (I have spoken of these above); ** and apes, some white, some the deepest black: the reddish ones, ** which are too fond of women, they do not introduce into their towns, but if they can contrive somehow to spring upon them, they put them to death, because they detest them as adulterers.

[15] G   In India the Great King on one day in every year arranges contests not only for various creatures, as I have said elsewhere, ** but among them between dumb animals also, or at any rate for those which are born with horns. And these butt each other and struggle with an instinct truly astonishing until one is victorious, as in fact athletes do, using all their strength to win the highest prizes or to achieve glorious renown and a noble fame. But these dumb combatants are wild bulls, tame rams, and what are called mesoi ** and one-horned asses and hyainai. They say that this animal is smaller than a gazelle but far more spirited than a stag and that it vents its fury with its horns. And last of all there come forward elephants to the fight: they advance and wound one another to the death with their tusks, and frequently one comes off victor and kills its adversary; frequently also both die together.

[16] G   Theophrastus ** denies that the young of a viper eat through their mother's belly, as though they were breaking open a door (if I may be allowed the jest) or forcing an exit that had been blocked; but as the female is subjected to pressure and as its belly is (to use the language of Homer) ' straitened,' ** it is unable to hold out and so bursts. And his statement convinces me, for, you see, Pipe-fish too having no womb and being slim, go through the same process with their young, as I have explained somewhere earlier on. ** But I trust that Herodotus will not be angry with me if I reckon as fables all that he says [3. 109] regarding the birth of vipers.

[17] G   It seems that there is a certain natural association and kinship of a mysterious kind between the lion and the dolphin. It is not merely that one is king of land-animals and the other of fishes of the sea, but that when they advance to old age and begin to waste away, the lion takes a land-monkey by way of medicine while the dolphin searches for its equivalent in the sea: I have stated somewhere ** that the sea also contains a 'monkey', and this is beneficial to the dolphin, just as the land-monkey is to the lion.

[18] G   Among the creatures which I have not described and which are past numbering, is the Sēpedon, an evil reptile. Nicander says [Th. 320-33] that it is the same colour as the Blood-letter and is akin to it in appearance. This also he says: it seems to move more quickly, but conveys the impression of being smaller, for its path is crooked and tortuous, and it is chiefly for this reason that it deceives the spectator as to its real size. Now the wound which it inflicts is terrible: at any rate it spreads and festers and proves that the aforesaid creature is true to its name. At any rate the poison forces its way over the entire body with irresistible speed, and what is more, the hair turns clammy and perishes; the eyebrows and eyelashes fall away; darkness comes over the eyes and they are covered with white spots.

[19] G   The land-tortoise is a most lustful creature, at least the male is; the female however mates unwillingly. And Demostratus, a member; I may add, of the Roman Senate - not that this makes him a sufficient voucher, though in my opinion he attained the summit of knowledge in matters of fishing and was an admirable expounder of his knowledge; nor should I be surprised if he had made a study of some weightier subject and had dealt with the science of the soul. - This Demostratus admits that he does not know precisely whether there is any other reason for the female declining to copulate, but he claims to vouch for the following fact. The female couples only when looking towards the male, and when he has satisfied his desire he goes away, while the female is quite unable to turn over again owing to the bulk of her shell and because she has been pressed into the ground. And so she is abandoned by her mate to provide a meal for other animals and especially for eagles. This then, according to Demostratus, is what the females dread, and since their desires are moderate and they prefer life to pleasurable indulgence, the males are unable to coax them to the act. And so by some mysterious instinct the males cast an amorous spell that brings forgetfulness of all fear [Hom. Od. 4. 221] . It seems that the spells of a tortoise in loving mood are by no means songs, like the trifles which Theocritus, the composer of sportive pastoral poems, wrote, but a mysterious herb of which Demostratus admits that neither he nor anyone else knows the name. Apparently the males adorn themselves with this herb, and some mysterious ... At any rate if they hold this herb in their mouth there ensues the exact opposite to what I have described: the male becomes coy, but the female hitherto reluctant is now full of ardour and pursues him in a frenzied desire to mate; fear is banished and the females are not in the least afraid for their own safety.

[20] G   There is a region near to Thessalonica in Macedonia which goes by the name of Nibas. Now the cocks there lack their natural faculty of crowing and are absolutely silent. There is current a proverbial saying applied to things that are impossible, it is to this effect: ' You shall have such-and-such when Nibas crows.'

[21] G   When Alexander threw some parts of India into a commotion and took possession of others, he encountered among many other animals a serpent which lived in a cavern and was regarded as sacred by the Indians who paid it great and superstitious reverence. Accordingly Indians went to all lengths imploring Alexander to permit nobody to attack the serpent ; and he assented to their wish. Now as the army passed by the cavern and caused a noise, the serpent was aware of it. (It has, you know, the sharpest hearing and the keenest sight of all animals.) And it hissed and snorted so violently that all were terrified and confounded. It was reported to measure 70 cubits although it was not visible in all its length, for it only put its head out. At any rate its eyes are said to have been the size of a large, round Macedonian shield.

[22] G   Crows make it their business to worry eagles, but they despise the crows and leave them to fly at a lower level, while they themselves cleave the upper air on the swiftest of wings, not of course because they are afraid (how could anyone knowing well what the might of eagles is say such a thing!); it is rather from what I may call their own magnanimity that they allow those birds to go their miserable way down below.

[23] G   They say that the pilot-fish is sacred not only to Poseidon but is also beloved of the gods of Samothrace. ** At any rate a certain fisherman in the olden days was punished by this fish. The name of the fisherman was, according to the story, Epopeus, and he came from the island of Icarus ** and had a son. Now on one occasion after they had failed to find any fish Epopeus drew up his net with a catch consisting entirely of pilot-fish, off which he and his son made a meal. But not long after, avenging justice overtook him, for a sea-monster attacked his boat and swallowed Epopeus before the very eyes of his son.

And they also say that dolphins are the enemies of the pilot-fish, and they again do not escape unharmed when they eat one, for they immediately begin to writhe and go quite mad, and being incapable of remaining still are carried on to beaches, and when once they are cast ashore by the wave they furnish a meal to ' sea-crows ' ** [Hom. Od. 5, 66] and sea-mews. And Apollonius of Rhodes or of Naucratis says ** that the pilot-fish was once actually a human being and a ferryman. And Apollo fell in love with a, maiden and attempted to lie with her, but she escaped and came to Miletus and implored one Pompilus, a seaman, to conduct her across the strait. He agreed to do so, but Apollo appeared and seized the maiden; turned the ship into stone, and transformed Pompilus into this fish.

[24] G   The Indians devote much attention to fast-running oxen. And the King himself and many of the nobles make the speed of their oxen the subject of contest, and lay wagers in immense sums of gold and silver; and think no shame to compete with one another respecting these animals, indeed they couple them together and gamble on the race for victory. Now the horses run yoked together, while the oxen are harnessed alongside and one of them almost grazes the turning-post; they have to run 30 stades. The oxen run as fast as the horses and you could not tell which is the faster of the two, the ox or the horse. If, as sometimes happens, the King makes a wager with someone over his own oxen, so full of emulous zeal does he become that he himself follows in a chariot and urges on the driver. And the latter makes the horses quite bloody with his goad, but withholds his hand from the oxen, for they run without any goading. And feeling runs so high over this ox-racing that not only the rich and the owners but the spectators also contend for large stakes, just as in Homer [Il. 23. 473-93] Idomeneus of Crete and Ajax of Locris are represented contending.

There are also in India other oxen the size of the largest he-goats. These also are yoked together and run extremely fast, at any rate they are no less spirited than the horses of the Getae.

[25] G   It is reported that horses which drink from the river Cossinitus ** (it is in Thrace) become terribly savage. This river empties itself into the territory of Abdera and is swallowed up in the Lake of the Bistones. Here, you know, was once the palace of Diomedes the Thracian who owned those famous wild mares, one of the 'Labours' of Heracles. ** And they say that the same fate befalls horses that drink from the spring at Potniae. ** The place called Potniae, where the spring is, lies not far from Thebes. They say that the inhabitants of Oraea and Gedrosia ** give their horses fish for fodder, and I am told that the Celts feed both their cattle and their horses on fish. In their country, it is said, the horses actually flee from the scent of human beings and hasten to the more southerly parts of Europe, especially when the South Wind blows. And there are those who bear witness to the fact that the inhabitants of Macedonia and of Lydia also feed their horses on fish, and who assert that the sheep of Lydia and of Macedonia are fattened on the same diet. In Moesia while mares are in process of being covered some people play the pipe, accompanying the marriage of horses with nuptial music, as it were; and the mares are so enchanted by the melody that they very soon become pregnant and, what is more, produce beautiful foals. This too I have heard concerning horses. They say that when horses are older and advanced in years the offspring which they beget is feeble, having besides other defects poor legs. The age and life of horses men reckon as so many years: in the case of stallions, five and thirty ... ** But Aristotle the son of Nicomachus states [HA 545 b 20 (5.14)] that a horse lived for five and seventy years.

[26] G   In the second stage of a journey from Susa in Persia to Media there are said to be scorpions in multitudes, so that when the Persian King is going to pass that way he issues orders three days in advance that everybody is to hunt them, and bestows presents on the man who has caught the greatest number, For if this were not done, the region would be impassable, for ' beneath every stone ' and every clod ' there lurks a scorpion.' And they say that the inhabitants of Rhoeteium ** were driven out by centipedes, so great was the multitude that invaded them. They say too that in Cyrene there are species of mice which differ not only in colour but in form: some for instance have flat faces like martens, others again look like hedgehogs {echinoi), and these the natives call ' prickly mice ' {echineës}. ** And I have heard that in Egypt there are mice ** with only two legs, and that they grow to a great size, but their front legs they use as hands, for they are shorter than their hind legs. And they walk erect on their two legs, but when pursued they jump. This is what Theophrastus says [fr. 174. 8 ] .

[27] G   There is a story that the birds known as francolins when transported from Lydia to Egypt and let loose in the woods, at first uttered the note of a quail. Later on, owing to the river being confined in its hollow bed, a famine broke out and many of the inhabitants perished, whereupon these same birds never ceased to utter with a sound far clearer and more articulate than any child words meaning ' Three curses on the accursed.' And the same story tells how if they are captured and snared they not only refuse to be tamed but no longer even utter the notes which they did before: their servitude and confinement decree silence against them. If however they are let go and can unfold their wings at liberty and return to their own haunts, they again become vocal and recover both their voice and their freedom of speech together.

[28] G   They say that men catch the Little Horned Owl also ** (mentioned in the Odyssey [5. 66] by Homer who says that it nests in great numbers round about the cavern of Calypso) by dancing. And dancers assert that a certain kind of dance is called after this bird, and if we are to believe them this dance has been called ' the Little Horned Owl.' And that anyone should caricature and imitate them in a playful way affords these birds the greatest pleasure. This is the origin of the word skōptein which we use, meaning 'to mock'. It is said that the Little Horned Owl is smaller than the Little Owl and that its colour resembles lead of the deepest hue, but its wings are said to have whitish speckles. And it displays two feathers rising from the brows on either temple. Callimachus [fr. 418 P] maintains that there are two kinds of Little Horned Owl, one kind is vocal, the; other doomed to silence; the latter is called skōps, the former aeiskōps. ** But Aristotle asserts that in Homer the word does not begin with a sigma (skōps), but that the birds are called simply kōpes. So those who prefix a sigma mistake the true spelling of the word and are mistaken as to Homer's judgment and knowledge of the bird. ** At all other seasons of the year the Little Horned Owl is not edible, but only when caught on one or two days in the late autumn, and then it is edible. These Skōpes differ from the Aeiskōpes in bulk, and bear some resemblance to a turtle-dove or a ring-dove.

[29] G   As to the race of Pygmies I have heard that they are governed in a manner peculiar to themselves, and that in fact owing to the failure of the male line a certain woman became queen and ruled over the Pygmies; her name was Gerana, and the Pygmies worshipped her as a god, paying her honours too august for a human being. The result was, they say, that she became so puffed up in her mind that she held the goddesses of no account. It was especially Hera, Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite that, she said, came nowhere near her in beauty. But she was not destined to escape the evil consequences of her diseased imagination. For in consequence of the anger of Hera she changed her original form into that of a most hideous bird and became the crane of today and wages war on the Pygmies ** because with their excessive honours they drove her to madness and to her destruction.

Book 16


(1)   Astraeum is the name of a town, but no river Astraeus is known; presumably the Axius is intended.    

(2)   This is one of the species Stratiomys, known as ' Soldier-flies.'    

(3)   This is the first clear mention of fishing with an artificial fly. But see 12. 43 note. Martial, over a hundred years before, had referred to the use of a fly (5. 18. 8 quis nescit | avidurn uorata decipi scarum musca ?), but it need not have been artificial.    

(4)   ' An unknown sea-monster ... From the second part of the story κριός has been conjectured to be ... perhaps ... the Killer Whale ' (Thompson, Gk. fishes).    

(5)   Lysimachus, c. 360-281 B.C., after the death of Alexander became ruler of Thrace and north-west Asia Minor, later of Thessaly and Macedonia.   Antigonus I, 4th cent. B.C., general of Alexander, whom he aspired to succeed as ruler of his empire. Defeated and killed at the Battle of Ipsus, 301 B.C.    

(6)   Vibo was the Roman name for the Greek city Hipponium, on the west coast of the Bruttii. The gulf went by various names, Hipponiates sinus, Sinus Terinaeus or Napetinus or Vibonensis.    

(7)   Unidentified.    

(8)   See 9.42.    

(9)   ' Tieum ' in the atlases of Droysen, Grundy, and Perthes.    

(10)   About mid-July ; see above, ch. 3.    

(11)   The text is defective and the translation provisional. Reading ἐκηκόν (conj. Post), translate ' it is capable of producing delight for the ears of you, etc.'    

(12)   Pisistratus, driven from Athens, took refuge in Eretria, where he was joined by Lygdamis of Naxos among many others. He was induced to make a surprise attack, upon the Athenians by the soothsayer Amphilytus, who delivered ah oracle in which Pisistratus saw himself as a tunny-fisher waiting the moment to haul in his net and capture the fish; see Hdt. 1.61-3.    

(13)   Prasiaea was reputed one of the richest and largest of the kingdoms of India. Its capital was Palibothra (mod. Patna) on the Ganges.    

(14)   See 10.13.

(15)   2nd cent. B.C.    

(16)   Island and town off the north-west coast of Ceylon.    

(17)   The Pearl-mussel, Unio margaritiferus, of the British Isles is found in fresh water, but the pearl it produces is smaller than the Orient pearl.    

(18)   The 'ground-pearl' is the outer pearly covering of Margarodes, one of the Coccidae; see A. D. Imms, Gen. textbook of Entomology (1942), 389; D. Sharp, Insects, 598 (Camb. Nat. Hist. 6). For other views see RE 14. 1682, art. ' Margarita.'    

(19)   Perhaps the Oar-fish,' Regalecus banksi ; but Gossen suggests Nemicthys scolopaceus.    

(20)   In other words ' in the Saronic gulf.'    

(21)   Or, if λάφια (Thompson, Gk. fishes, s.v. Γερανός) is read, ' crest.'    

(22)   'Usually a small Tunny; and then either the young of the common tunny, or one of the lesser species... [The word] seems to be used especially of the tunny of the Black Sea ' (Thompson, Gk. fishes).    

(23)   The title of an official at Athens who on the eve of the Apaturia tasted the food provided for the public feast to see if it was satisfactory.    

(24)   Cp. Ael. VH 5. 18 : cases of poisoning, came before the court of the Areopagus.    

(25)   Unidentified; see 9.38 note.    

(26)   That part of the Euxine that lies off Istrus, south of the mouths of the Danube.    

(27)   It seems impossible to identify this snake; see Gow-Scholfield on Nicander, Th. 282-319.    

(28)   ' Panther' and ' leopard' are synonymous terms, although in 7. 47 Aelian appears to distinguish them. Perhaps render ' snow-leopard ' or ' ounce.'    

(29)   κερκορῶνος conjecturally identified with κερκίων, the Indian mynah; though κέρκο- would suggest one of the handsome long-tailed Jays ' (Thompson, Gk. birds).    

(30)   See 4.19; 8.1.    

(31)   The Orang-utan (Gossen 241).    

(32)   See 15.24.    

(33)   Mesoi and hyainai have not been identified, and editors regard the words as corrupt.    

(34)   Not in any extant work.    

(35)   E.g. Il. 14. 34.    

(36)   See 9.60.    

(37)   See 12.27.    

(38)   The Cabeiri, who were later confused with the Dioscuri.    

(39)   Icaria, an island of the Sporades off the south-west coast of Asia Minor.    

(40)   The 'Little Manx Shearwater'. Wellmann sees in these words a reminiscence of Pancrates, epic poet, 2nd century A.D.; whom Athenaeus (7. 283), cites as his authority for this same story; see Hermes 26. 523.    

(41)   See Powell, Coll. Alex. p. 6. The story was related by Apollonius in his poem Κτίσις Ναυκράτεως, but it is thought unlikely that he was born or lived at Naucratis.    

(42)   The Compsantus of Hdt. 7. 109.    

(43)   The capture of the mares of Diomedes, King of the Bistones, was the 8th Labour imposed by Eurystheus upon Heracles; they ate human flesh,but after eating their master, whom Heracles had slain, became tame.    

(44)   Village in Boeotia, famed as the home of the mythical Glaucus, who was torn to pieces by his mares. It lay about 1 mile south-west of Thebes.    

(45)   Oraea (or Orae), a town on the eastern border of Gedrosia, a region corresponding, more or less to the modern Makran and extending from the Gulf of Oman to the River Indus.    

(46)   Some words must have been lost here, corresponding to Aristotle's ἡ δὲ θήλεια πλείω τῶν τετταράκόντα, ' in the case of Mares, more than forty.'    

(47)   Town in the Troad on the Hellespont.    

(48)   This is the Mus cahirinus of the genus Acomys, allied both to the rat and the mouse.    

(49)   Aelian is referring to the Jerboa.    

(50)   ' Also,' i.e. as well as the Sting-ray; cp. 1.39.    

(51)   ' All-the-year-round owl'; see Arist. HA 617 b 31 ( 9.28 ), and D. W. Thompson's note in his English translation. The σκώψ is a migrant.    

(52)   The statement does not occur in any surviving work of Aristotle, nor is the form κῶπες found in our manuscripts of Homer, though Eustathius (1523. 59, 1524. 6) says that at Od. 5. 66 τινὲς κῶπας γράφουσι δίχα τοῦ ς. On this passage see Wellmann in Hermes 51. 2.    

(53)   Cp. Milton PL 1. 575 That small infantry | Warred on by cranes.    


15.1 Fly-fishing in Macedonia
15.2 The Bam-fish
15.3 The Tunny
15.4 The Moon-fish
15.5 Tunny-fishing in the Euxine
15.6 Tunny-fishers and Poseidon
15.7 Honey-dew in India
15.8 Pearl-fishing in the Indian Ocean
15.9 The Crane-fish
15.10 The Pelamyd
15.11 The Marten. The Marten-fish
15.12 The Clam
15.13 The 'Haemorrhous' snake. The tale of Canobus and Helen
15.14 Animals presented to the Indian King
15.15 Animal contests in India
15.16 The viper and its young. The Pipe-fish
15.17 Lion and dolphin compared
15.18 The 'Sepedon' snake
15.19 The tortoise, male and female
15.20 The cock in Nibas
15.21 A monstrous snake
15.22 Crow and eagle
15.23 The Pilot-fish
15.24 Racing oxen
15.25 Horses affected by certain waters; fed on fish ; affected by music ; their age
15.26 Scorpions in Persia. The Acomys. The Jerboa
15.27 The Francolin
15.28 The Little Horned owl
15.29 The Pygmies and their Queen

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