-   BOOK 17

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 16

[1] G   Alexander ** in his 'Voyage round the Red Sea' says that he has seen snakes forty cubits long, and a species of crab whose shell measured one foot across in all directions, with claws attached and projecting to an enormous length. But nobody has designs upon them, the reason being that they are said to be sacred to Poseidon. And they are consecrated to the god, so that, as offerings to him, they are free from harm and immune from attack.

[2] G   Cleitarchus in his work on India says that there are snakes sixteen cubits long. He also relates that there is another species of snake different in appearance from the rest, for it is a great deal shorter and its colour looks mottled as though it had been painted with pigments: some have stripes of bronze descending from the head to the tail, others look like silver, others again are stained red, and there are even some with a golden sheen. The same writer asserts that they give a terrible bite which kills very speedily.

[3] G   Nymphis in the ninth book of his History of the Ptolemies says that in the country of the Troglodytes ** there are vipers of surpassing size if compared with other vipers, for they measure as much as fifteen cubits. Moreover the tortoises have shells large enough to contain six Attic medimni. **

[4] G   The Prester ** also is a species of snake and if it bites, to begin with it makes men lethargic and quite incapable of bestirring themselves, and in the next place they gradually weaken and are unable to breathe. Further, the bite induces loss of memory, stops the flow from the bladder, and causes the hair to fall; then there ensues a choking which causes convulsions, and life ends in agonies.

[5] G   Phylarchus in his twelfth book gives the following account of the asps of Egypt. He says that they are treated with great respect, and as a result of this respect they become extremely gentle and tame. And so, being fed along with the children, they do no harm, but creep out of their lairs when called and come to the spot. And the way to call them is to snap one's fingers. Then the Egyptians give them presents in the way of friendship, for when they have finished their meal they soak barley in wine and honey and place it on the table off which they happen to have dined. Then they snap their fingers and summon 'the guests', so to call them. And the asps as at a signal assemble, creeping out from different quarters, and as they encircle the table, while the rest of their coils remain on the floor, they rear their heads up and lick the food; gently and by degrees they take their fill of the barley and eat it up. And if some need causes the Egyptians to rise during the night, they again snap their fingers: this is a signal for the asps to make way for them and to withdraw. So the snakes realise the difference between this sound and the other and the reason for it, and promptly retire and disappear, creeping into their holes and lairs. Accordingly the man who has got out of bed neither treads upon nor encounters any of them.

[6] G   The crocodile often attains to an immense length. At any, rate they say that in the reign of Psammitichus, King of Egypt, ** there appeared a crocodile twenty-five cubits long, and in the reign of Amasis ** there appeared one of twenty-six cubits and four palms. ** And I have heard that in the Gulf of Laconia there are sea-monsters of immense size; that is why according to some grammarians Homer speaks of ' Lacedaemon with its sea-monsters ' ** [Il. 2. 581, Od. 4. 1] . And round about Cythera there are said to be sea-monsters still larger. And it appears that their sinews are useful for the stringing of harps and other instruments, and even for engines of war. And in addition to those that I have mentioned before there occur in the Red Sea Scorpion-fish ** and gobies two and even three cubits long. And Amometus says that in Libya there is a certain city where the priests by their powerful spells draw crocodiles sixteen cubits long from a certain lake. And Theocles in his fourth book says that round about Syrtis there are sea-monsters larger than a trireme. And Onesicritus and Orthagoras say that round the coast of Gedrosia ** (this is no inconsiderable part of India) there are sea-monsters half a stade ** in length, and so powerful are they that, when they blow with their nostrils, they often hurl up a wave from the sea to such a height that ignorant and inexperienced people take it for a waterspout.

[7] G   Aristotle says in the eighth book of his History of Animals [HA 596 a 3 ( 8.9 )] that elephants eat nine Macedonian medimni ** of barley, and in addition six of barley-groats, or even seven if you give it them. And he also says that they drink fourteen Macedonian metretae ** of water, and again eight more in the afternoon. Elephants, he says, live for two hundred years, and there are some that even attain to three hundred.

The camel [Id. HA 595 b 31 ( 8.8 )] greatly dislikes clear, pure water for drinking, and regards muddy, dirty water as the pleasantest. Indeed if it comes to a stream or a lake, it does not bend down to drink until it has stirred up the slime with its feet and destroyed the beauty of the water. And if it goes unwatered, it can endure for as much as eight days. ** 

[8] G   In his writings about the Red Sea Pythagoras says that there is an animal that lives on the shores and is called Kēpos. ** And it is well-named {kēpos, garden}, for it is of many colours. When full-grown it is the size of an Eretrian hound. But I wish to return to the subject of its varied colouring and to describe it as he writes. Its head, its back, and its spine down as far as the tail are a pure red, though you may observe a sprinkling of golden hairs. But its face including the cheeks is white, and from there golden stripes descend as far as the neck. The lower portions down to its chest and its forefeet are all white ; its two breasts, which would fill your hand, are dark, but its belly is entirely white; its hind feet are black. As to the shape of its face, be sure you will not go wrong if you liken it to that of a baboon.

[9] G   There is a certain creature which they call an Onocentaur, ** and anybody who has seen one would never have doubted that the race of Centaurs once existed, and that artificers did not falsify Nature, but that time produced even these creatures by blending dissimilar bodies into one. But whether, in fact they came into being and visited us at one and the same period, ** or whether rumour, more ductile than any wax and too credulous, fashioned, them and by some miraculous combination fused the halves of a horse and a man while endowing them with a single soul - let us pass them by. But this creature of which my discourse set out to speak, I have heard described as follows.  Its face is like that of a man and is surrounded by thick hair. Its neck below its face, and its chest are also those of a man, but its teats are swelling and stand out on the breast; its shoulders, arms, and forearms, its hands too ... chest down to the waist are also those of a man. But its spine, ribs, belly, and hind legs closely resemble those of an ass; likewise its colour is ashen, although beneath the flanks it inclines to white. The hands of this creature serve a double purpose, for when speed is necessary they run in front of the hind legs, and it can move quite as fast as other quadrupeds. Again, if it needs to pluck something, or to put it down, or to seize and hold it tight, what were feet become hands; it no longer walks but sits down. The creature has a violent temper. At any rate if captured it will not endure servitude and in its yearning for freedom declines all food and dies of starvation.

This also is the account given by Pythagoras and attested by Crates of Pergamum in Mysia.

[10] G   Boeotia is free of moles, and this animal does not burrow through at Lebadeia, and if by some chance moles are introduced from elsewhere they die. [But in the neighbourhood of Orchomenus ** they abound.]

In Libya there is an absence of wild swine and of stags. In the Euxine there are neither cephalopod mollusca nor testacea, except on rare occasions and in small numbers. And Dinon says that in Ethiopia there occur the one-horned birds, ** swine with four horns, ** and sheep destitute of wool but with the hair of camels.

[11] G   Those who are skilled at testing and investigating such matters assert that in Zacynthus ** people who are bitten by Malmignattes ** are not only assailed by all the symptoms that assail other victims elsewhere but by even more, for their entire body is infected with a torpor and a kind of trembling and a violent chill, and there follow vomitings which produce convulsions, and their member stands up. They have violent earache too, and the sole of either foot is painful. Moreover even those who touch them with their hands exhibit all the symptoms which I have enumerated. But it is startling to learn, and even more amazing to see, how. when some persons unbitten tread in the water in which the victims have washed, or simply bathe their feet in it (as of course frequently happens; indeed this has been brought about before now through the evil designs of enemies), they too suffer all the pains incurred by the victims of the bite.

[12] G   I learn that there is a species of toad which it is fatal to drink and dangerous to look at. It is fatal to drink if a man crushes a toad and then offers the blood to another to drink after he has with malicious intent poured it into wine Or such other beverages as accursed practitioners of these arts deem suitable for mixing with it. The draught brings not: a lingering but an instant death. To gaze at a toad is harmful in this way. If a man sees the beast and then looks intently at it, face to face, while it, following its nature, retaliates with a bold gaze and also breathes forth the breath which though natural to it has an adverse effect on the human skin, it turns the man pale, so that anyone who had not seen him but met him for the first time would say that he had seen a sick man. And the pallor lasts for a few days only and then disappears.

[13] G   The Stone-curlew, it seems, has this  gift, which assuredly is by no means to be despised. At any rate if a man who has become infected with jaundice gazes intently at it and it returns the gaze without flinching, as though it were moved by jealousy against the man, this retaliatory gaze heals the man of the aforesaid complaint.

[14] G   For my part I do not believe Eudoxus, but if others are persuaded by him, then they may believe Eudoxus when he says that after passing the Pillars of Heracles ** he saw upon some meres certain birds larger than oxen. That his statement fails to convince me I have already remarked. But what I have heard I do not suppress.

[15] G   Aristotle says [HA 541 a 27 ( 5.5 )] that when the female partridge gets to leeward of the male bird, by some mysterious process of nature she becomes impregnated. This bird builds its nest in seven days, and in seven days lays its eggs, and in the same number of days rears its chicks.

Timaeus, Heraclides, and Diocles the physician state that Toads have two livers, and that one of them is deadly, while the other is its natural rival, for it brings health.

[16] G   Theopompus says that at the season of the third ploughing and sowing ** the Veneti who live on the shores of the Adriatic despatch presents to the jackdaws, and these presents would be cakes of ground barley with honey and oil well and truly kneaded. The purpose of these presents is to placate the jackdaws and to declare a truce, so that they shall refrain from digging up and collecting here and there the fruits of Demeter sown in the soil. And Lycus confirms this adding further the following details ... ** scarlet thongs, and after setting them out they withdraw. And the clouds of jackdaws remain outside the boundaries, while two or three birds, selected like ambassadors from cities, are sent to take a good look and see how many presents there are. After their inspection they return and summon the birds, giving the call which is natural for them to utter and for the others to respond to. And the birds come in clouds, and if they eat the aforesaid presents, the Veneti know that there is a truce between them and the aforesaid birds. If however they ignore and scorn them as skimpy and refuse to eat them, the inhabitants are confident that a famine will be the price they have to pay for this rejection. For if the aforesaid birds remain unfed and, so to say, unbribed, they swoop upon the ploughlands and pillage in the most distressing way the greater part of what has been sown, digging up and tracking out the seeds in their anger.

[17] G   Amyntas in the work which he entitles Stages says that in Caspian territory ** there are numerous herds of cattle and of horses and that they are past counting. And he adds the following statement: at certain changes of the seasons rats visit the land in countless hordes, and he adduces as evidence the fact that when the perennial rivers come roaring down, the rats have no hesitation in swimming them, and by fixing their teeth in one another's tails, acquire support and make an unbreakable chain for the crossing of the strait. And when they have swum across to the ploughlands they cut the crops at the foot, creep up all over the trees, make a meal off the fruits, and cut through the branches, for they are capable of eating up even these. And so the Caspii to protect themselves against these raids and the ruin caused by the rats, refrain from killing birds of prey, which in their turn come flying in clouds and snatch up the rats and by some natural instinct of their own avert famine from the Caspii.

The foxes in Caspian territory are so numerous that they not only constantly visit the sheepfolds in the country but actually come up into the towns. And a fox will appear in a house not, you may be sure, with any mischievous or thievish intent but as though it were tame. And they fawn and wag their tails just like lapdogs in our country. And the rats, which are a chronic plague to the Caspii, are as large as the ichneumons of Egypt. And they are savage, destructive, and have strong teeth, and are even able to cut and eat through iron. And the rats of Teredon ** in Babylonia are just the same, and the traders there bring their skins to the Persians, for they are soft and when sewn together make tunics that keep men warm. And these garments they call candytanes or 'clothes-presses' according to custom. And here is another amazing phenomenon about these rats. If a pregnant rat is caught and the foetus is removed, and after the dissection of the female the foetus in turn is opened, it too is found to contain a young rat.

[18] G   Here is another characteristic of the sting-ray which I have learnt. When a man sees it swimming below the surface, if he begins to dance in his fishing-boat and utters taunts and jibes, and moreover, should he chance to be a pipe-player, if he has his pipe as an attraction and will play a tune, the sting-ray is delighted (you know it has ears that are sensitive to music, so they say, and eyes that can appreciate dancing), and in answer to the spell floats gently to the surface. Meantime the fisherman continues to put forth all his enchantments as described, while some other hand manages the creel and draws up the fish. And what is, I think, the most extraordinary feature is that the fish is so beguiled that it is unaware that it has been caught.

[19] G   Eudoxus says that the eastern Galatians ** act as follows, and if anyone regards his account as credible, he may believe it; if not, let him pay no attention to it. When locusts invade their country in clouds and damage the crops, they put up certain prayers and offer sacrifices warranted to charm birds. ** And the birds lend an ear and come in a united host and destroy the locusts. If however some Galatian should capture one of the birds, his punishment as laid down by the laws of the land is death. But if he is pardoned and let off, this throws the birds into a passion, and to avenge the captured bird they do not deign to respond if they do happen to be invoked again.

[20] G    Aristotle says [HA 519 a 6 ( 3.12 ); Col. 798 a 27 ( 6 )] that a white swallow occurs in Samos, ** and that if one puts out its eyes, it immediately becomes blind, but that later on ' sight is restored and the eyes are enlightened ' [Soph. fr. 701 P] , and once again it can see, according to his account.

[21] G   I have heard that the Cinnamomus is a bird ; also that it fetches twigs of the tree that bears its name from the ends of the earth and builds nests in places which our historians, Herodotus [3. 111] and others, describe. And these birds seem to like constructing their couches and lodgings among sheer crags. Accordingly, those who are anxious to obtain these twigs shoot heavy arrows, that go with a tremendous whizz from a bowstring strained to the utmost, at the nests. And the nests are shattered and the twigs come tumbling down, and they are the celebrated Cinnamon.

[22] G   Let us make room for Cleitarchus also. He says that in India there occurs a bird with strongly amorous propensities and that it is called the Orion. ** Well now, let us depict it as he has described it. This ' Orion ' is the same size as the birds they call herons and its legs are red like theirs; its eyes are dark (in this respect it is unlike them), and Nature has taught it to make melody sweet as any bridal song with its alluring charms.

[23] G   Cleitarchus says that the Catreus, ** as it is called, is a native of India, and is a bird of magnificent beauty. It might be about the same size as a peacock ; the tips of its feathers are the colour of an emerald, and when it looks in another direction you cannot tell what its eyes are like. If however it looks you in the face, you will pronounce them to be vermilion all except the pupil, and this has a grey hue and a keen glance. And what is white in the eyes of all other birds is pale brown ** in the Catreus. And its head feathers are a blue-grey with saffron-coloured speckles sprinkled here and there. Its legs are an orange colour, and its note is as melodious and clear as the nightingale. Now the use of these birds for food is prohibited by the Indians, in order that spectators may feast their eyes upon them. At any rate there are to be seen in India birds entirely scarlet, the colour of the purest flame, and they fly in such multitudes that one would take them for clouds. Others however are mottled and it is not very easy to say what they look like, but for beauty and clarity of tone their singing is unsurpassed; they might be, if the expression is not too strong, Sirens, for these fabled maidens as celebrated by poets and portrayed by artists had wings.

[24] G   The swan's customary haunts are lakes, marshes, pools, and rivers with a ceaseless, gentle; tranquil flow. They are creatures of peace and attain to an old age that has no burdens for them, Their strength is redoubtable and that gives them confidence, but not to the, extent that they are the aggressors in an injury; against an aggressor they will defend themselves; and so they have no difficulty in getting the better of eagles when the latter venture to attack them. I have described earlier on ** how they do battle.

[25] G   Cleitarchus says that in India there are monkeys of a mottled hue and immense size. And in mountainous districts they are so numerous that, says Cleitarchus, Alexander, the son of Philip, and the army under his command also were quite terrified at the sight of their massed numbers, imagining that they saw an army marshalled and waiting in ambush for them. You see, the monkeys happened to be standing upright when they appeared. These creatures are not to be caught with nets or by means of hounds following a scent, however great their skill in hunting. But this monkey is ready to dance if it sees a man dancing; it is even willing to play the pipe if it could learn how to blow. Further, if it catches sight of someone putting on his shoes, it imitates the action; and if a man underlines his eyes with lamp-black, ** it is anxious to do this too. Accordingly in place of the aforesaid objects men put out hollow, heavy shoes made of lead, to which they attach a noose underneath, so that when the monkeys slip their feet into them they are caught in the snare and cannot escape. And as a bait for their eyes men put out bird-lime in place of lampblack. And an Indian after using a mirror in sight of the monkeys ... ** displaying not genuine mirrors but ones of a different kind, on to which they lace strong nooses. Such then is the apparatus which they employ. And so the monkeys come and gaze steadily, imitating what they have seen. And from the reflecting surface opposite their sight there is a surge of strongly gluey substance that gums up their eyelids, when they gaze intently into it. Then being unable to see, they are caught without any difficulty, for they are no longer able to escape.

Now touching monkeys both Indian and non-Indian I have written an account elsewhere, ** but the foregoing chapter contains facts that must assuredly interest any man of intelligence.

[26] G   I have no doubt that in India the lions are of the very largest, the reason being that this country is art excellent mother of other animals. And they are exceedingly wild and savage. The mane of these lions is black in appearance, and when it bristles and stands upright it inspires such fear as to unnerve a man. But if once they can be captured, they can be tamed, though not the largest of them. And they become gentle and are easily domesticated, so that they can be led by a rein to hunt prickets, deer, swine, bulls, and wild asses, for they are (so I have heard) clever at tracking by scent.

[27] G   It is said that in Libya there used to exist a race of men called, the Nomaei. They continued generally prosperous in a territory where the pastures were good and the land unquestionably rich, until finally they were wiped out when a vast horde of lions of the very largest size and of irresistible boldness attacked them. The whole race to a man was destroyed by the lions and perished utterly. A visitation by lions in a mass is something that no creature can withstand.

[28] G   Euphorion says in his Commentaries that in primeval times Samos was uninhabited, for there appeared in the island animals of gigantic size, which were savage and dangerous for a man to approach, and they were called Neades. Now these animals with their mere roar split the ground. So there is a proverbial saying current in Samos, ' He roars louder than the Neades.' And the same writer asserts that their huge bones are displayed even to this day.

[29] G   When the Indian King goes to battle against his enemies a hundred thousand elephants of war form the vanguard. And I learn that another three thousand of the largest and strongest bring up the rear, and these have been trained to overturn the enemies' walls by attacking them when the King gives the order; and they overturn them by the weight of their chest. Such is the account given by Ctesias, who writes that this is hearsay. But the same writer says that in Babylon he has seen date-palms completely uprooted by elephants in the same way, the animals falling upon them with all their force. This they do if their Indian trainer orders them to do so.

[30] G   Zenothemis says that a lake in Paeonia ** produces certain fish, and if these are given, while still gasping, to cattle, the cattle are glad to take their fill of them, as others do of fodder. But if the fish are dead the cattle refuse to touch them, so he says.

[31] G   I have heard that in Armenia there is a lofty rock which discharges a copious stream of water. And I am told that at the foot of the rock there is a square fountain, each side measuring half a stade, and the depth is three fathoms. I learn further that along with the aforesaid water there descend fish often a cubit long and even more, but sometimes less, though not much less. Some of them collapse half dead, others fall gasping and die a violent death. And report states that they are a deep black and unsightly to look at. And if man or beast eats of them, death follows immediately. Accordingly the Armenians, since their country is infested with numerous wild animals, collect these fish and dry them by the heat of the sun; they then mince them, after bandaging nose and mouth in order to prevent themselves from inhaling the odours given off by the fish in the process of being brayed, and so catching their death. Then after making the fish into meal they sprinkle it about in the districts that are most infested with wild beasts; they even have a custom of mixing figs with the meal. And this, is the way in which they destroy wild swine, gazelles, deer, bears, wild asses, and goats, and these too are wild. For these animals eat figs and meal. But they adopt a different device for killing lions, leopards, and wolves, which are carnivorous. They make a slit in the side of a tame sheep or goat deep enough to admit a hand, and sprinkle in some of that self-same meal, and deadly indeed is the bait which is set before the above-mentioned animals. And so whenever a lion or a leopard or a wolf or other savage beast comes across the body and tastes it, it dies immediately. The whole country of Armenia is in fact the nurse and mother of wild animals, especially the plainlands bordering the river. ** 

[32] G   I have heard that in the land of the Caspii there is a lake ** of very wide extent, and that in it there occur large fishes which are called Oxyrhynchi. ** Now the Caspii hunt them and after salting, pickling, and drying them, pack them on to camels and transport them to Ecbatana. And after removing the fat they make meal from these fish; with the oil, which is extremely rich and free from any evil smell, they anoint themselves; but the inwards they extract and boil, and therefrom they make a glue ** which can be of great service, for it holds all objects together firmly, and sticks to whatever it has been attached to, and is very clear. And it holds all objects which it binds and unites, so tight that even if soaked in water for as much as ten days it will not dissolve or come away. Moreover workers in ivory use it and produce most beautiful pieces.

[33] G   There is a story that among the Caspii. there occurs a bird as large as the largest cockerels, of variegated hue, and gay with many colours. And it flies, so I hear, upside down with its legs extended upwards beneath its neck, seeming to sustain itself by these means; and it utters a note like that of a puppy ; and it flies not high up in the sky but along the ground, being unable to soar.

The following bird also is a Caspian, or rather an Indian, bird, for its generic type is spoken of both in the latter and in the former connection, and it may be the size of a goose. It has a broad but shallow head and long legs; its colour is variegated, for its back is beautified with purple markings while its belly beneath is the colour of the purest and most splendid scarlet, and its head and throat are both white. It makes a sound like a goat. **

[34] G   The goats of the Caspii are a pure white but grow no horns.; they are small and snub-nosed. Their camels are past numbering, and the largest are the size of the largest horses and have beautiful hair. For their hair is so fine that it can compare with Milesian wool for softness. Accordingly their priests and the wealthiest and most powerful of the Caspii clothe themselves in garments made from camels' hair.

[35] G   Antenor in his History of Crete says that by way of an attack ordained of heaven a swarm of bees, celebrated as copper-coloured, invaded the city of the people known as Rhaucii ** and planting their stings in them, inflicted the most grievous pain. So as the people were unable to endure the bees' attack they quitted their country and went to some other spot where through affection for their 'mother-city', to use the Cretan idiom, they founded a second Rhaucus, since, even though the god drove them from their home, they could not endure to part utterly with the name. And Antenor states that there are still vestiges of this species of bee on Mount Ida in Crete; they are not numerous, but they do still exist and are painful to encounter as the former were.

[36] G   The lion delights to eat the flesh of camels. Herodotus bears witness to this when he says [7. 125] that lions fell upon the camels of Xerxes which were carrying his provisions. But they did no damage to any other living beings, neither beast of burden nor man, so he says. But in his examination of the food of Thracian lions Herodotus shows little knowledge. The Arabians however, and all whose country is at once the mother and the nurse of lions, know these things. At any rate I should not be surprised if it were by some mysterious instinct that the lion, in spite of having never seen one before, delights to eat the flesh of a camel, if he chances to come across one. For a natural appetite kindles the desire for a specific food even in those who have never seen it before.

[37] G   Some men, sixteen in all, reaping beneath a blazing sun and oppressed with thirst, despatched one of their number to fetch water from a spring near by. So the man went off with his reaping sickle in his hand and the pail for drawing water over his shoulder. On arrival he found an eagle wrapped in the powerful grip of a snake. The eagle happened to have swooped upon it but failed to achieve its design and could not, as in Homer [Il. 12. 219] , carry their food to its young ones. Instead of that it fell into the serpent's coils and so far from killing was likely to be killed. So the husbandman knowing that the eagle was the messenger and minister of Zeus and knowing too that the snake was an evil brute, cut the beast in two with the aforesaid sickle and released the eagle from that inescapable grip that bound it. And yet all this was performed as a secondary purpose of the man's journey, and after drawing the water he returned, mixed it with the wine, and dispensed it to the company, whereupon they drained their cups at a single draught many times over at their luncheon. The man himself was intending to drink after the others, for he happened at that time to be rather their servant than their fellow at table. But when he raised the cup to his lips, the eagle which he had rescued and which, fortunately for him, was still lingering about the spot, to reward him for saving its life swooped upon the cup, dashed it from his hand, and spilt the drink. The man was annoyed, for he was indeed thirsty, and exclaimed ' So it is you' (for he recognised the bird), ' yet this is how you thank those who saved your life! I ask you, is this fair ? And how should a man hereafter want to do a good turn to another from respect for Zeus who marks and watches over kind actions? ' Such were his words and he felt parched. But turning round he saw the men who had drunk gasping and at the point of death. It seems, at a guess, that the snake had vomited into the spring and mingled the water with its poison. And so the eagle repaid its saviour by similarly saving his life.

Crates of Pergamum says that Stesichorus also sings of this in a poem which has not, I think, reached a wide public, and he has cited, in my opinion, a weighty witness from ancient times.

[38] G   In the Caspian Sea, they say, there are islands in which there occur birds of different species, but one species has this peculiarity. It is said to be the size of a goose, though its legs resemble those of a crane. Its back is an intense scarlet, while its belly below is green. The neck is white and has saffron-coloured dots as it were sprinkled over it. It measures not less than two cubits; its head is narrow and long, its beak black, and its cry is like a frog's. **

[39] G   Megasthenes says that in the country of the Prasii (this is a part of India) there are monkeys as large as the largest hounds, and that they have tails five cubits long. They have also forelocks and thick, pendent beards. Their face is completely white, whereas their body is black, and they are tame and very fond of human beings, and they have not the naturally mischievous temperament of monkeys elsewhere. ** 

[40] G   In India there is, a region that lies about the river Astaboras ** in the country of the Rhizophagi {root-eaters} as they are called. About the time of the rising of the Dog-star mosquitoes, which appear in terrifying clouds such as to fill the sky, work widespread damage. It is about the lake called Aoratia ** (this too is in India, not far from the aforesaid river) that these insects, the mosquitoes, abound, and the district not only is but is called a desert. And the Indians who live round about give the following reason for it: the aforesaid district was not formerly or originally barren of human beings, but scorpions overran the country in numbers that defied resistance, and in addition there came a crop of certain spiders which they call ' four-jawed.' Now they say that these plagues tainted the air. For a time the inhabitants courageously held out against the invading plague and stood their ground energetically, but when resistance became utterly impossible and all their men-folk were destroyed, then at length, being at their wits' end how to defend themselves against the attack of the aforesaid visitants, they abandoned the country, and left their cherished and once most kindly fatherland a desert. Perhaps I shall not be wrong if I say that it was not even their 'motherland'. **

[41] G   The incursion of an army of field-mice, far from beneficial, I can assure you, drove certain people in Italy from their native country, and made them exiles, as a drought or frost or some other unseasonable event might have done, by shearing away the ears of corn and cutting through the roots. And a horde of sparrows invaded Media and drove out the inhabitants by ruining and destroying the seeds. And half-formed frogs fell in quantities from the sky causing the Autariatae ** to emigrate to some other place. Further, a tribe in Libya, whom I have mentioned earlier on, ** were compelled by an invasion of lions to quit their native country.

[42] G   In Babylonia there occur ants ** with the generative part of their body turned in a backward direction, contrary to its position in ants elsewhere. 

[43] G   The leopard of Caria and Lycia is not fierce-tempered, nor of a kind that can leap high, though its body is long. But when wounded with pikes and spears it offers resistance and does not readily yield to the steel, behaving as Homer describes [Il. 21. 577] :

' Yet though pierced with a spear she does not cease.' **

[44] G   A description of the shape and appearance of the rhinoceros would be stale three times over, for there are many Greeks and Romans who know it from having seen it. But there is no harm in describing the characteristics of its way of life. It has a horn at the end of its nose, hence its name. The tip of the horn is exceedingly sharp and its strength has been compared to iron. Moreover it whets it on rocks and will then attack an elephant in close combat, although in other respects it is no match for it because of the elephant's height and immense strength. And so the rhinoceros gets under its legs and gashes and rips up its belly from below with its horn, and in a short space the elephant collapses from loss of blood. Rhinoceros and elephant fight for possession of a feeding ground, and one may come across many an elephant that has met its death in the above manner. If however the rhinoceros is not quick enough to do as described but is crushed as it runs underneath, the elephant slings its trunk round it, holds it fast, drags it towards itself, falls upon it, and with its tusks hacks it to pieces as with axes. For even though the rhinoceros has a hide so strong that no arrow can pierce it, yet the might of its assailant is extremely powerful.

[45] G   It seems that those Ethiopian bulls which they call ' flesh-eaters ' are the most savage of animals. They are twice the size of bulls in Greece, and their speed is very great. Their hair is red, their eyes blue-grey, more so than the eyes of lions.  In normal times they move their horns as they do their ears, but when fighting they raise them, making them stand strongly up, and so do battle; and once raised in passion owing to some truly wonderful natural cause their horns do not go aslant. No spear, no arrow can wound them: iron, you see, does not penetrate their hide, for the bull raises its bristles and throws off the weapons showered upon it in vain. And it attacks herds of horses and also wild animals. Accordingly herdsmen who wish to protect their flocks dig deep concealed ditches and by these means ambush the bulls. And when they fall into these ditches they are choked with rage. Among the Troglodytes this is judged to be the king of beasts, and rightly so, for it possesses the courage of a lion, the speed of a horse, the strength of a bull, and is stronger than iron.

[46] G   Mnaseas in his work On Europe says that there is a temple to Heracles and to his spouse whom poets celebrate as the daughter of Hera. Now they say that in the precincts of these temples a large number of tame birds are kept, adding that these birds are cockerels and hens. They feed and consort together according to their sex, are fed at the public expense, and are consecrated to the aforesaid gods. The hens feed in the temple of Hebe while their mates feed in the temple of Heracles. And a never-failing channel of clear water flows between them. Now on the one hand not a single hen ever appears in the temple of Heracles. On the other hand at the season of mating the cockerels fly across the channel and after consorting with the hens return again to their own quarters at the side of the god whom they serve, cleansed by the water that separates the sexes. And so to begin with, as a natural result of this union eggs are laid; later on when the hens have warmed them and hatched the chicks, the cockerels carry off the male birds and rear them, while the hens make it their business to rear their daughters.

[Epilogue] G   All that my own application, reflection, and labour to augment my knowledge, all that the advance of understanding in these studies (as eminent scholars vied with each other in acquainting themselves with these matters) have traced out and discovered - all this I have now set down to the best of my ability. I have not through idleness omitted anything that I have learnt, as though animals, void of reason and of speech, were beneath my notice and to be despised, but here as elsewhere I have been fired by that love of knowledge which in me is inherent and innate. I am well aware that among those who keep a sharp look-out for money, or who are keen in the pursuit of honours and influence and all that brings reputation, there are some who will blame me for devoting my leisure to these studies, when I might have given myself airs and appeared in palaces and attained to considerable wealth. I however occupy myself with foxes and lizards and beetles and snakes and lions, with the habits of the leopard, the affectionate nature of the stork, the melodiousness of the nightingale, the sagacity of the elephant, and the shapes of fishes and the migrations of cranes and the various species of serpents, and so on - everything which in this account of mine has been carefully got together and observed. But it is no pleasure to me to be numbered among your rich men and to be compared with them. But if I exert myself and desire somehow to count myself one of that company to which learned poets, and men clever at detecting and probing the secrets of nature, and writers who have attained the greatest experience, claim to belong, it is obvious that my own counsel is better than the judgment of those men. For I would rather attain to expert knowledge in at least one branch than to the splendid riches and possessions of your wealthiest men. So enough of this for the present.

I am aware too that some will express disapproval because I have not in my discourse kept each creature separate by itself, and have not said in its own place all that is to be said about each, but have mixed the various kinds like a varied pattern in the course of describing a great number, at one point dropping the narrative about such-and-such animals, at another going back and stringing together other facts about their nature. Now in the first place, speaking for myself, I am no slave to another's judgment and will: I maintain that it is not my duty to follow another's lead wherever it may take me. And in the second place, since I was aiming to attract through the variety of my reading matter, and since I flee from the tedium arising from monotony, I felt that I ought to weave the tissue of this narrative of mine so as to resemble a meadow or a chaplet beautiful with its many colours, the many creatures, as it were, contributing their flowers. And although hunters regard the finding of even one animal as a piece of luck, I maintain that there is nothing splendid in finding the tracks or capturing the bodies of such a multitude of animals, whereas to track down the faculties which nature has seen fit to bestow upon them - that is splendid.

What have they to say to this, your Cephaluses and Hippolytuses, ** and all the others so skilful in the chase upon the wild mountains, or again, among those who were skilled in fishing, Metrodorus of Byzantium, or his son Leonidas, or Demostratus, or any others who were past masters at the catching of fish ? And there were many such, god knows! Painters too: the picture of a horse consummately drawn fills them with pride, as it did Aglaophon; ** or the picture of a fawn, as it did Apelles; or his statue of a calf, as it did Myron; ** or take any other work of art. But when one man displays and brings forth to the light of day his researches into the habits, the forms, the sagacity, the shrewdness, the justice, the temperance, the bravery, the affection, the filial piety of such a great number of animals, he cannot fail to claim immediate respect. Having reached this point in my discourse I am distressed that while praising the filial piety of unreasoning animals, I have to accuse men of the reverse. I shall not here enlarge on this subject, but this much I have every right to add - indeed I mentioned this point at the beginning of this treatise: it is not fair to censure me for repeating what all, or at any rate most, writers have said already. After all I could not create other animals, though I have given evidence that I have known a great many. Yet I have in fact mentioned certain characteristics which no other writer who has attempted the work on my scale has mentioned. But I prize truth in all spheres, most of all in this, and critics who handle me without malice will realise the quality of my work, the labour it cost, the dignity of its style and composition, and the propriety of the words and phrases employed.

Table of Contents


(1)    This 'Alexander' has not certainly been identified with Alexander of Myndus, although Wellmann (Hermes 26. 565) shows reasons for regarding them as one and the same.    

(2)    The Red Sea coasts of Egypt and of Arabia.    

(3)    See note at 16.14    

(4)    In 6.51 identified with the Dipsas; what its modern equivalent may be, is impossible to say.    

(5)    7th century B.C.    

(6)    6th century B.C.    

(7)    A palm = about 3 inches.    

(8)    So Aelian understood κητωέσσαν, now generally taken to mean ' full of ravines.'    

(9)    Not to be identified with the Bullhead or Sculpin, (Scorpaena sp.), Thompson, Gk. fishes, p. 246.    

(10)    See 15.25 note.    

(11)    Stade = 600 feet.    

(12)    Medimnus, see 16.14 note.    

(13)    Metretes = about 8˝ gallons.    

(14)    Aelian has doubled Aristotle's number.    

(15)    Or Kębos; the spelling varies. It is a long-tailed monkey.    

(16)    A tailless ape, identified by Gossen (§ 241) with the Gorilla; more probably the Chimpanzee.    

(17)    That is, they were a temporary phenomenon, did not propagate their kind, and soon became extinct.    

(18)    Orchomenus was in Boeotia, about 5 miles north-east of Lebadea.    

(19)    The Hornbill.    

(20)    Perhaps the Warthog is intended, its four prominent tusks being mistaken for horns.    

(21)    Island off west coast of Peloponnese.    

(22)    A kind of spider, small, black, and spotted with red; its bite is poisonous and may even be fatal.    

(23)    Straits of Gibraltar.    

(24)    The ' third ploughing ' began early in September; the fourth shortly before the equinox when the soil was ribbed for the reception of the seed. Sowing began at the autumnal equinox (Sept. 22), or more usually after the setting of the Pleiades (Oct. 23); see Smith, Dict. Antiqu, 1. 60, 62, art. 'Agricultura,'    

(25)    'The sense of the missing words was perhaps: ' They mark the boundaries of their fields with scarlet thongs.'    

(26)    Thei region lying below the south end of the Caucasus through which the river Cyrus flows and is joined not far from its mouth by the Araxes; it corresponds to the modern Transcaucasian province of Azerbaijan.    

(27)    Coastal town at the north-west end of the Persian Gulf.    

(28)    Galatia, province in the centre of Asia Minor.    

(29)    The birds in question are σελευκίδες, Rose-coloured Pastors ; cp. Plin. HN. 10. 75.    

(30)    Aristotle mentions white swallows, but Samos is not named in either passage, nor is anything said about the blinding and restoration of its sight. See fr. 524 (Rose, p. 520).    

(31)    Otherwise unknown, and fabulous.    

(32)    Probably the 'Manâl pheasant.'    

(33)    See W.Beebe, Monog. of the Phasianidae, I. 113ff.    

(34)    See 5.34.    

(35)    Cp. Alexis fr. 98.16. The kohl of modern India is a mixture of lamp-black and castor oil.    

(36)    The text is defective; to fill the gap one might conjecture something on these lines: ' [withdraws, leaving behind him an object resembling it. By such means the Indians attract the creatures,] though what they display are not genuine, etc.'    

(37)    See 5.26; 7.21; 6.10; 17.39.    

(38)    Mountainous district to the north of Macedonia. The lake is unknown.    

(39)    The river Cyrus flows through the whole length of the Armenian plain.    

(40)    The Caspian Sea.    

(41)    ' Evidently a Sturgeon,' Thompson, Gk. fishes. This is not identical with the Nile fish of 10.46.    

(42)    Isinglass.    

(43)    These two birds have not been identified; they may even be legendary.    

(44)    Of the two cities called 'Rhaucus' in Crete one may have lain between Cnossus and Gortyna, while the later foundation was on the eastern slopes of Mt Ida.    

(45)    This ' reads like an imaginative account of the Flamingo ' (Thompson, Gk. birds, p. 131).    

(46)    This is perhaps the Presbytis johni   Fisch., Gossen § 239.    

(47)    The Astaboras (mod. Atbara) rises about Lat. 12, in Abyssinia, and flows north to join the Nile. Aelian appears to regard India as embracing north-east Africa.    

(48)    Perhaps Lake Tana, not far from the sources of the river Atbara.    

(49)    Cp. Plato, Rep. 573 D.    

(50)    A tribe in Mysia.    

(51)    17.27.    

(52)    These are fabulous.    

(53)    Add 'from her courage', αλκῆς in 1. 578.    

(54)    Cephalus and Hippolytus are examples drawn from mythology ; Cephalus with his dog Laelaps, which no quarry could escape, joined in the pursuit of the Teumessian Vixen, which none could catch. Dog and Vixen were changed into stone by Zeus.   Hippolytus, son of Theseus and Hippolyte, and a votary of the virgin Artemis, spent his days hunting; see Euripides' Hippolytus.    

(55)    Aglaophon, of Thasos, painter, early in 5th century B.C.; father of Polygnotus and Aristophon; was the first to depict Nike as winged.    

(56)    Myron, famous sculptor, of the first half of the 5th century B.C.; worked chiefly in bronze. His Discobolus and Athena & Marsyas survive in copies.    


17.1 Monstrous snakes and crabs
17.2 Snakes of India
17.3 Monstrous vipers and tortoises
17.4 The 'Prester' snake
17.5 The asp of Egypt
17.6 The crocodile. Sea-monsters
17.7 The elephant. The camel
17.8 The 'Kepos' monkey
17.9 The 'Onocentaura' ape
17.10 The Mole in Boeotia. Peculiarities of Libya, the Euxine, Ethiopia
17.11 The Malmignatte
17.12 A poisonous Toad
17.13 The Stone-curlew
17.14 Gigantic birds
17.15 The hen partridge. The Toad's two livers
17.16 The Veneti and Jackdaws
17.17 The Caspii; their land invaded by Rats. The fox in Caspia. The Rats of Teredon
17.18 The Sting-ray and music
17.19 The Locust in Galatia
17.20 A White swallow
17.21 The Cinnamon bird
17.22 The 'Orion'
17.23 The 'Catreus'
17.24 The swan
17.25 An Indian monkey ; its capacity for imitation; how caught
17.26 The Indian lion
17.27 The Nomaei and lions
17.28 The Neades of Samos
17.29 Indian elephants of war
17.30 Fish as cattle-fodder
17.31 A poisonous fish in Armenia
17.32 The 'Oxyrhynchus' of the Caspian Sea
17.33 A Caspian bird. An Indian bird
17.34 The goats and camels of the Caspii
17.35 The Rhaucii expelled by bees
17.36 Lion and camels
17.37 An eagle's gratitude
17.38 A bird from the Caspian Sea
17.39 Monkeys of Prasiaea
17.40 Population expelled by Mosquitoes, Scorpions, and Spiders
17.41 A plague of Field-mice, of Sparrows, of frogs, of lions
17.42 Ants of Babylonia
17.43 The leopard of Caria
17.44 The Rhinoceros; a fight with an elephant
17.45 The flesh-eating bulls of Ethiopia
17.46 Cockerels and Hens in the temples of Heracles and Hebe

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