Savagery of Classic Times
From the painting in the Louvre




WONDERS OF THE ANIMAL WORLD

Claudius Aelianus

CURE FOR A SICK LION

MICE ABANDON A DECAYING HOUSE

PATRIOTIC ORIGIN OF COCK-FIGHTS

SERPENTS GENERATED FROM MARROW

FIRE-BORN BIRDS

CONCERNING DRAGONS

THE SONG OF THE DYING SWAN

VULTURES

THE WEASEL'S PROTECTION AGAINST SERPENTS

THE LOVES AND HATES OF ANIMALS

THE HYENA

NATURAL PHILOSOPHY

Pliny The Elder

SWANS

THE HYENA IN MAGIC AND MEDICINE

OTHER MAGICAL CHARMS




WONDERS OF THE ANIMAL WORLD


By AELIAN

{Claudius Aelianus was born at Praeneste in Italy, in the latter part of the first century A.D. and taught rhetoric in Rome, under Hadrian. He preferred Greek to Latin and was a great reader of and fluent writer in the former language.}


CURE FOR A SICK LION

ONLY one thing will help a sick lion; but eating a monkey is a cure for his disease.

MICE ABANDON A DECAYING HOUSE

Of all animals, mice have certainly the greatest gifts of prophecy. For when a house has grown old and is about to fall, they perceive it first; and abandoning their holes and former ways of life, scamper off as fast as possible and change their domicile.

PATRIOTIC ORIGIN OF COCK-FIGHTS

After the victory over the Persians, the Athenians passed a law that cocks should have a contest in the public theater one day of each year. Whence the law took its rise, I will explain. When Themistocles led the city forces against the barbarians, he saw two cocks fighting; but he did not look idly on, but halted his troops and said to them: "Now these cocks are not enduring hardships for their country, nor for their country's gods, nor for the tombs of their ancestors, nor for honor, nor for freedom, nor for their children; but in order not to be worsted by another, and neither will yield to the other." With which words he heartened up the Athenians. And so, because this event was to them at that time a token of bravery, it was decreed to preserve its memory by like performances.

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SERPENTS GENERATED FROM MARROW

They say the putrefying marrow from the spine of a human corpse turns into a serpent and the reptile issues forth and crawls off alive, the most savage of beings from the tamest. But the rest of a good and noble man remains unchanged, and has peace for its reward; also the spirits of such men are praised and sung by the wise. The spines of bad men, however, breed like things after death. Now all this is a fable; or if it can fairly be credited, the recompense to a bad man it seems to me, would be having his corpse become the father of a serpent.

FIRE-BORN BIRDS

That human beings should be generated on mountains or in the air or the sea is no great wonder; for their substance and nurture and nature is the cause. But that there should be feathered creatures, called therefore the Fire-Born, generated from fire and living in it and, that they should thrive and fly about here and there - that is astonishing. This too is marvelous, that when they pass out of the fire, which is their home, and exchange it for the cold air, then they perish. But what is the cause of their being generated by fire and that the air gently dissolves them, others may tell.

CONCERNING DRAGONS

The land of Ethiopia has a good neighbor which it is to be envied, in that bathing-place of the gods which Homer sings of as Ocean. Now that land is the mother of the size of the largest dragons; for they have grown there to over three hundred feet. And they have no name by which they are called from birth, but style themse1ves, elephant-slayers; and these dragons fight up to extreme old age.

These accounts the Ethiopians have brought to me from thence. And the Phrygian accounts say that dragons are also produced in Phrygia, and grow to over a hundred feet; and that every day in midsummer, at time of full market, they creep out of their holes; and along the river called Rhyndacus they fix their coils on the ground, the rest of the body all erected, motionless, and their throats stretched out a little, but with their mouths agape; then these winged creatures draw breath as if luring victims by a magic bird-wheel. By this breathing, an inspiration rushes into their stomachs, prolonged by their wings; and this performance is carried, on by each separately till sunset. Then the dragons, hiding themselves, lie in ambush for the herds, and seize them going from the posture to the stables, not only inflicting vast damage, but often destroying the herdsmen as well; and so they have a meal of; ungrudging plenty.

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THE SONG OF THE DYING SWAN

The poets, and many independent accounts in verse, say that the swan is the minister of Apollo. What other gifts it has in music or song poetry, I do not know enough to say; but it is believed by the elders that, having sung its swan-song (as it is called), it then dies. If so, nature honors it above good and noble men; and naturally, since others bestow praise and lamentation upon men; but the swans, if they wish either the one or the other, must pay it to themselves.

VULTURES

The vulture is hostile to a corpse, and assailing it, eats it as if it were an enemy; and it watches the dying; and not only do the vultures follow the national armies, but it is a sure prophecy when they advance, because battle always makes corpses, and they know it.

And they say vultures are never born male, but all female; which the birds understanding, and fearing lack of children, act thus to secure the birth of offspring. They fly in the teeth of the south wind; and if the south wind is not blowing, they gape to the southeast wind, and the breath, rushing in, fills them, said they are in gestation three years.

They say vultures do not build nests, however; but the lammergeiers which are intermediate between vultures and eagles, are not only males, but born black, and of them I hear that they construct nests. And vultures do not lay eggs, I believe, but travail with young; and I have heard that they are able to fly from birth.

THE WEASEL'S PROTECTION AGAINST SERPENTS

The weasel is a dangerous animal, and the serpent is also dangerous. Now whenever a weasel is to fight with a serpent, having first eaten some rue, and then animated itself for the fray, it stands up to it as if fortified and in armor. The reason is that rue is most hateful to serpents.

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THE LOVES AND HATES OF ANIMALS

It seems to me most shameful, fellow-beings, that animals have friendships for each other [and men have not], not merely those who herd together, nor those of the same species, but those who belong to no common race.

At any rate, sheep are friendly to goats, and pigeons to turtledoves; ringdoves and partridges have friendly dispositions to each other; we know of old that the kingfisher and the kerulos long for each other; the carrion crow and the heron bear friendship, and the cormorant and the jackdaw, and the falcon to the kite.

On the other hand, there is implacable bird-war, so to speak, waged between carrion crows and owls; kite and crow are also hostile; and turtledove to pigeon; and brant to sea-mew; again, the yellowbird to the turtledove; vultures and eagles, swans and dragons, and lions to bulls and antelopes. But the elephant and the dragon are most hateful to each other; and the ichnenmon to the serpent; and the titmouse to the ass, for when the ass brays it breaks the eggs of the titmouse, and the young come forth prematurely, and to succor the offspring, it attacks the asses on their sore spots and gnaws them.

The fox hates the falcon, the bull the crow, and the yellow wagtail the horse. An educated man who listens to nothing idly must know that the dolphin is the enemy of the whale, the sea bass of the mullet, lampreys to congers, and still others to others.

THE HYENA

The hyena, so Aristotle says, has a soporific power in its right paw, and creates a stupor by its touch alone. Anyway, it often enters stables when the attendant happens to be asleep, approaches stealthily, and puts its soporific paw, so to speak, to his nose; so that he can be dragged about and suffocated more and more, and seems to be insensible. And it roots up the ground with its head so as to make a hole large enough for him, and his throat appears supine and naked; then the hyena grasps him, and strangles him, and drags him to its hole. And it puts an end to dogs in the same way.

And whenever the moon is full, after it catches the radiance, it throws its shadow on the dogs, and silences them at once; and having thrown a spell on them as if by poison [magic], it drags them away silenced, and does whatever it pleases with them.

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NATURAL PHILOSOPHY


By PLINY THE ELDER

{Caius Plinius Secundus was born in North Italy, A.D. 23, of a wealthy and influential family. He was in the army from the age of twenty-three to twenty-nine nine; then practiced law unsuccessfully in Rome; shortly after he retired to his estates and spent his time in literary work during most of Nero's reign.}


SWANS

The flocks, forming a point, move along with great impetus, much indeed after the manner of our Liburnian beaked galleys; and it is by doing so that they are enabled to cleave the air more easily than if they presented to it a broad front. The flight gradually enlarges in the rear, much in the form of a wedge, presenting a vast surface to the breeze, as it impels them onward; those that follow place their necks on those that go before, while the leading birds, as they become weary, fall to the rear. It is stated that at the moment of the swan's death, it gives utterance to a mournful song; but this is an error, in my opinion, at least I have tested the truth of the story on several occasions. These birds will eat the flesh of one another.

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THE HYENA IN MAGIC AND MEDICINE

Many wonderful things are related of this animal; and strangest of all, that it imitates the human voice among the stalls of the shepherds; and while there, learns the name of some one of them, and then calls him away; and devours him.

It is said also that it can imitate a man vomiting, and that in this way, it attracts the dogs and then falls upon them. It is the only animal that digs up graves, in order to obtain the bodies of the dead.

The female is rarely caught; its eyes, it is said, are of a thousand various colors and changes of shade. It is said also that in coming in contact with its shadow, dogs will lose their voice; and that by certain magical influences, it can render any animal immovable around which it has walked three times.

But of all animals, it is the hyena that has been held in the highest admiration by the magicians, who have gone so far as to attribute to it certain magical virtues even, and the power of alluring human beings and depriving them of their senses.

Of its change of sex each year, and other monstrous peculiarities in its nature, we have spoken already; we will now proceed to describe the medicinal virtues that are ascribed to it.

The hyena, it is said, is particularly terrible to panthers; so much so, indeed, that they will not attempt to make the slightest resistance to it, and will never attack a man who has any portion of a hyena's skin about him. A thing truly marvelous to tell of, if the hides of these two animals are hung up facing one another, the hair will fall from off the panther's skin!

When the hyena flies before the hunter, it turns off on the right, and letting the man get before it, follows in his track; should it succeed in doing which, the man is sure to lose his senses and fall from his horse even. But if, on the other hand, it turns off to the left, it is a sign that the animal is losing strength, and that it will soon be taken. The easiest method, however, of taking it, they say, is for the hunter to tie his girdle with seven knots, and to make as many knots in the whip with which he guides his horse. In addition to all this, so full of quirks and subtleties are the vain conceits of the magicians, they recommend the hyena to be captured while the moon is passing through the sign of Gemini, and every hair of it to be preserved if possible.

They say, too, that the skin of the head is highly efficacious, if attached to a person suffering from headache; that the gall, applied to the forehead, is curative of ophthalmia and that if the gall is boiled down with three cyathi of Attic honey and one ounce of saffron, it will be a most effectual preservative against that disease, the same preparation being equally good for the dispersion of films on the eyes and cataract.

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If, again, this preparation is kept till it is old, it will be all the better for improving the sight, due care being taken to preserve it in a box of Cyprian copper; they assert also that it is good for the cure of argema, eruptions and excrescences of the eyes, and marks upon those organs. For diseases of the crystalline humors of the eyes, it is recommended to anoint them with the gravy of the hyena's liver roasted fresh, incorporated with clarified honey.

We learn also, from the same sources, that the teeth of the hyena are useful for the cure of toothache, the diseased tooth being either touched with them, or the animal's teeth being arranged in their regular order, and attached to the patient; that the shoulders of this animal are good for the cure of pains in the arms and shoulders.

The teeth, extracted from the left side of the jaw, and wrapped in the skin of a sheep or he goat, are an effectual cure for pains in the stomach; that the lights of the animal, taken with the food, are good for coeliac affections; that the lights, reduced to ashes and applied with oil, are also soothing to the stomach; that the marrow of the backbone, used with old oil and gall, is strengthening to the sinews.

The liver, tasted thrice just before the paroxysms, is good for quartan fevers; that the ashes of the vertebrae, applied in hyena's skin with the tongue and right foot of a sea-calf and a bull's gall, the whole boiled up together, are soothing for gout; that for the same disease hyena's gall is advantageously employed in combination with stone of Assos; that for cold shiverings, spasms, sudden fits of starting, and palpitations of the heart.

It is a good plan to eat some portion of a hyena's heart cooked, care being taken to reduce the rest to ashes, and to apply it with the brains of the animal to the part affected; that this last composition, or the gall applied alone, acts as a depilatory, the hairs being first plucked out which are wanted not to grow again; that by this method superfluous hairs of the eyelids may be removed.

The fumes of the burnt fat of this animal will put serpents to flight, they say; and the jawbone, pounded with anise and taken with the food, is a cure for shivering fits. A fumigation made therewith has the effect of an emmenagogue; and such are the frivolous and absurd conceits of the professors of the magic art, that they boldly assert that if a man attached to his arm a tooth from the right side of the upper jaw, he will never miss any object he may happen to aim at with a dart.

The palate, dried and warmed with Egyptian alum, is curative of bad odors and ulcers of the mouth, care being taken to renew the application three times. Dogs, they say, will never bark at persons who have a hyena's tongue in the shoe, beneath the sole of the foot. The left side of the brain, applied to the nostrils, is said to have a soothing effect upon all dangerous maladies either in men or beasts.

They say, too, that the skin of the forehead is a preservative against all fascinations; that the flesh of the neck, whether eaten or dried and taken in drink, is good for pains in the loins; that the sinews of the back and shoulders, used as a fumigation, are good for pains in the sinews; that the bristles of the snout, applied to a woman's lips, have all the effect of a philter; and that the liver, administered in drink, is curative of griping pains and urinary calculi.

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OTHER MAGICAL CHARMS

The following are some of the reveries of magic. A whetstone upon which iron tools have been frequently sharpened if put, without his being aware of it, beneath the pillow of a person sinking under the effects of poison, will make him give evidence and declare what poison has been administered, and at what time and place, though at the same time he will not disclose the author of the crime.

When a person has been struck by lightning, if the body is turned upon the side which has sustained the injury, he will instantly recover the power of speech - that is quite certain.

For the cure of inguinal tumors, some persons take the thrum of an old web, and after tying seven or nine knots in it, mentioning at each knot the name of some widow woman or other, attach it to the part affected.

To assuage the pain of a wound, they recommend the party to take a nail or any other substance that has been trodden under foot and to wear it, attached to the body' with the thrum of a web. To get rid of warts, some lie in a footpath with the face upwards, when the moon is twenty days old at least, and after fixing their gaze upon it, extend their arms above the head, and rub themselves with anything within their reach. If a person is extracting a corn at the moment that a star shoots, he will experience an immediate cure, they say.

By pouring vinegar upon the hinges of a door, a thick liniment is formed, which, applied to the forehead, will alleviate headache; an effect equally produced, we are told, by binding the temples with a halter with which a man has been hanged.

When a fishbone happens to stick in the throat, it will go down immediately if the person plunges his feet into cold water; but where the accident has happened with any other kind of bone the proper remedy is to apply to the head some fragments of bones taken from the same dish. In cases where bread has stuck in the throat, the best plan is to take some of the same bread, and insert it in both ears.

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HMO's of Ancient Rome?

"Make fast your door with bars of iron quite;
No architect can built a door so tight
But cat and paramour will get through in spite."

Appolodorus (Carystius)
300-260 BC




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