Item of the Day: Plinie’s Naturall Historie (1601)

Full Title:

The Historie of the World. Commonly called, the Naturall Historie of C. PLINIUS SECUNDUS. Translated into English by Philemon Holland Doctor of Physicke. Printed in London by Adam Islip, 1601.

Excerpt from the Eighth Booke, Chap. XVI. “Of Lions.”

The Lions are then in their kind most strong and courageous, when the haire of their main or coller is so long, that it covereth both necke and shoulders. and this commeth to them at a certaine age, namely, to those that are engendered by Lions indeed. For such as have Pards to their sires, never have this ornament, no more than the Lionesse. These Lionesses are very letcherous, and this is the very cause that the Lions are so fell and cruell. This, Affricke knoweth best, and seeth most: and especially in time of a great drought, when for want of water, a number of wild beasts resort by troups to those few rivers that be there, and meet together. And hereupon it is, that so many strange shaped beasts, of a mixt and mungrell kind are there bred, whiles the males either perforce, or for pleasure, leape and cover the females of all sorts. From hence it is also, that the Greekes have this common proverbe, That Affricke evermore bringeth forth some new and strange thing or other. The Lion knoweth by sent and smell of the Pard, when the Lionesse his mate hath plaied false, and suffered her selfe to be covered by him: and presently with all his might and maine runneth upon her for to chastise and punish her. And therefore when the Lionesse hath done a fault that way, shee either goeth to a river, and washeth away the strong and ranke savour of the Pard, or els keepeth aloofe, and followeth the Lion farre off, that hee may not catch the said smell. I see it is a common received opinion, that the Lionesse bringeth forth young but once in her lie, for that her whelpes in her kinling; teare her belly with their nailes, and make themselves roume that way. Aristotle writeth otherwise, a man whom I cannot name, but with great honour and reverence, and whome in the historie and report of these matters I meane for the most part to follow. And in very truth king Alexander the great, of an ardent desire that he had to know the natures of all living creatures, gave this charge to Aristotle, a man singular and accomplished in all kind of science and learning, to search into this matter, and to set the same downe in writing: and to this effect commanded certaine thousands of men, one or other, throughout all the tract, as well of Asia as Greece, to give their attendance, & obey him: to wit, all Hunters, Faulconers, Fowlers, and Fishers, that lived by those professions. Item, all Forresters, Park-keepers, and Wariners: all such as had the keeping of heards and flockes of cattell: of bee-hives, fish-pooles, stewes, and ponds: as also those that kept up foule, tame or wild, in mew, those that fed poultrie in barton or coupe: to the end that he should be ignorant of nothing in this behalfe, but be advertised by them, according to his commission, of all things in the world. By his conference with them, he collected so much, as thereof he compiled those excellent bookes de Annimalibus, i. of Living creatures, to the number of almost fiftie. Which being couched by me in a narrow roume, and breefe Summarie, which the addition also of some things els which he never knew, I beseech the readers to take in good worth: and for the discoverie and knowledge of all Natures workes, which that most noble & famous king that ever was desired so earnestly to know, to make a short start abroad with mee, and in a breefe discourse by mine owne paines and diligence digested, to see all. To return now unto our former matter. That great Philosopher Aristotle therfore reporteth, that the Lionesse at her first litter bringeth forth five whelpes, and every yeare after, fewer by one: and when she commeth to bring but one alone, she giveth over, and becommeth barren. Her whelpes at the first are without shape, like small gobbets of flesh, no bigger than weasels. When they are sixe months old, they can hardly go; and for the two first, they stirre not a whit. Lions there be also in Europe (onely betweene the rivers Achelous and Nestus) and these verily be farre stronger than those of Affricke or Syria. Moreover, of Lions there be two kinds: the one short, well trussed and compact, with more crisp and curled maines, but these are timerous and but cowards to them that have long and plaine haire; for thsoe passe not for any wounds whatsoever. The Lions lift up a legge when they pisse, as dogges doe: and over and besides that, they have a strong and stinking breath, their very bodie also smelleth ranke. Seldome they drinke, and eat but each other day: and if at any time they feed till they be full, they will abstaine from meat three daies after. In their feeding, whatsoever they can swallow without chawing, down it goes whole: and if they find their gorge and stomack too full, and not able indeed to receive according to their greedie appetite, they thrust their pawes downe their throats and with their crooked clees fetch out some of it againe, to the end they should not be heavie and slow upon their fulnesse, if haply they be put to find their feet and flie. Mine author Aristotle saith moreover, that they live verie long: and he prooveth it by this argument, That many of them are found toothles for very age. Polybius who accompanied [Scipio] Æmylianus in his voyage of Affrick, reporteth of them, That when they be grown aged, they will prey upon a man: the reason is, because their strength will not hold out to pursue in chase other wild beasts. Then, they come about the cities and good towns of Affrick, lying in await for their prey, if any folk come abroad: & for that cause, he saith, that whiles he was with Scipio he saw some of them crucified & hanged up, to the end that upon the sight of them, other Lions should take example by them, and be skared from doing the like mischiefe. The Lion alone of all wild beasts is gentle to those that humble themselves unto him, and will not touch any such upon their submission, but spareth what creature soever lieth prostrate before him. As fell and furious as hee is otherwhiles, yet he dischargeth his rage upon men, before that he setteth upon women, and never preyeth upon babes unlesse it be for extreame hunger. They are verily persuaded in Libya, that they have a certaine understanding, when any man doth pray or entreat them for any thing. I have hard it reported for a truth, by a captive woman of Getulia (which being fled was brought home againe to her master) That shee had pacified the violent furie of many Lions within the woods and forrests, by faire language and gentle speech; and namely, that for to escape their rage, she hath been so hardie as to say, shee was a sillie woman, a banished fugitive, a sickely, feeble, and weake creature, an humble suiter and lowly supplicant unto him the noblest of all other living creatures, the soveraigne and commaunder of all the rest, and that shee was too base and not worthie that his glorious majestie should prey upon her. Many and divers opinions are currant, according to the sundrie occurrences that have hapned, or the inventions that mens wits have devised. As touching this matter, namely, that savage beasts are dulced and appeased by good words and faire speech: as also that fell serpents may bee trained and fetched out of their holes by charmes, yea and by certaine conjurations and menaces restrained and dept under for a punishment: but whether it be true or no, I see it is not yet by any man set downe and determined. To come againe to our Lions: the signe of their intent and disposition, is their taile; like as in horses, their ears: for these two marks and tokens, certainly hath Nature given to the most couragious beasts of all others, to know their affections by: for when the Lion stirreth not his taile, hee is in a good mood, gentle, mild, pleasantly disposed, and as if hee were willing to be plaied withall; but in that fit he is seldome seene: for lightly hee is alwaies angrie. At the first, when hee entreth into his choller, hee beateth the ground with his taile: when hee groweth into greater heats, he flappeth and jerketh his sides and flanks withall, as it were to quicken himselfe, and stirre up his angry humor. His maine strength lieth in his breast: hee maketh not a wound (whether it be by lash of taile, scratch of claw, or print of tooth) but the bloud that followeth, is black.

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Filed under 1600's, Explorations, Geography, Greek/Roman Translations, Hard Science, History, Natural Science, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

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