Pliny's Naturalis Historia : Books 8-11
Extracts from Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia, about the sea, land and air
Velocissimum omnium animalium, non solum marinorum, est delphinus, ocior volucre, acrior telo.
The swiftest of all animals, not only those of the sea, is the dolphin. It is swifter than a bird and darts faster than a javelin.
Pro voce gemitus humano similis.
For a voice they have a moan like that of a human being.
Delphinus non homini tantum amicum animal, verum et musicae arti,
The dolphin is an animal that is not only friendly to mankind but is also a lover of music,
mulcetur symphoniae cantu, set praecipue hydrauli sono.
and it can be charmed by singing in harmony, but particularly by the sound of the water organ.
Maximum animal in Indico mari pristis et ballaena est, in Gallico oceano physeter, ingentis columnae modo se attollens altiorque navium velis diluviem quandam eructans.
The largest animals in the Indian Ocean are the shark and the whale; the largest in the Bay of Biscay is the sperm whale, which rears up like a vast pillar higher than a ship's rigging and belches out a short of deluge.
Ora ballaenae habent in frontibus ideoque summa aqua natantes in sublime nimbos efflant.
Whales have their mouths in their foreheads and consequently when swimming on the surface of the water they blow clouds of spray into the air.
Lolligo etiam volitat . . .. . . ambo autem, ubi sensere se adprehendi, effuso atramento, quod pro sanguine iis est, infuscata aqua absconduntur.
The cuttle fish even flies. Both sexes, on perceiving they are being caught hold of, pour out a dark fluid which these animals have instead of blood, so darkening the water and concealing themselves.
Cancris vita longa, pedes octoni, omnes in obliquum flexi. praeterea bina bracchia denticulatis forcipibus. superior pars in primoribus his movetur, inferiore inmobili. dexterum bracchium omnibus maius.
Crabs are long lived. They have eight feet, all curved crooked. They also have two claws and denticulated nippers. The upper part moves and the lower half is fixed. The right claw is the larger in every specimen.
Ranis sui generis vox.
Frogs have a special kind of voice.
Ranae quoque rubetae, quarum et in terra et in umore vita, plurimis refertae medicaminibus.
Also the bramble frog, which is amphibious in its habit, is replete with a number of drugs.
Insecta, ut intellegi possit, non videntur habere nervos nec ossa nec spinas nec cartilaginem nec pinguia nec carnes, habent autem oculos praeterque e sensibus et tactum atque gustatum, aliqua et odoratum, pauca et auditum.
Insects, so far as is perceptible, do not appear to possess sinews or bones, or spines or cartilage or fat or flesh. But they possess eyes and also of the other senses taste and touch, and some have smell as well, and a few hearing also.
Sed inter omnia ea principatus apibus.
But among all these species the chief place belongs to the bees.
Ratio operis mire divisi: statio ad portas more castrorum, quies in matutinum, donec una excitet gemino aut triplici bombo ut bucino aliquo. tunc universae provolant.
Their work is marvellously mapped out in the following manner. A guard is posted at the gates, after the manner of a camp. They sleep until dawn, until one bee wakes them up with a double or triple buzz as a sort of bugle call. Then they fly forth in a body.
Aliae flores adgerunt pedibus, alia aquam ore guttasque lanugine totius corporis.
Some bring home flowers in their feet and others water in their mouth, and drops clinging to the down all over their body.
Aculeum apibus dedit natura, ventri consertum ad unum ictum.
Nature has given bees a sting attached to the stomach, designed for a single blow.
Canum plura genera. Scrutatur vestigia atque persequitur.
There are several kinds of dogs. A dog traces and follows footprints.
The basilisk serpent.
Serpentes, cum occasio est, vinum praecipue adpetunt, cum alioqui exiguo indigeant potu.
Snakes are specially fond of wine when they have the chance, though otherwise they need little drink.
Sibilo omnis fugat serpentes.
It routs all snakes with its hiss.
Aliis vis malo est.
Its effect on other animals is disastrous.
Animae leonis virus grave, ursi pestilens.
Lion's breath contains a severe poison and the bear's is pestilential.
Maximum est elephans proximumque humanis sensibus:
The largest land animal is the elephant, and it is the nearest to man in intelligence:
durissimum dorso tergus, ventri molle,
the hide of the back is extremely hard, but that of the belly is soft,
elephans citra nares ore ipso sternumento similem elidit sonum, per nares autem tubarum raucitati.
the elephant squeezes out a sound like a sneeze from its actual mouth, not through the nostrils, but through the nostrils it emits a harsh trumpet sound.
Mandunt ore, spirant et bibunt odoranturque haut inproprie appellata manu.
They eat with the mouth, but they breathe and drink and smell with the organ not unsuitably called their hand.
Germanici Caesaris munere gladiatorio quosdam etiam inconditos meatus edidere saltantium modo.
At the gladiatorial show given by Germanicus Caesar some even performed clumsy movements in figures, like dancers.
mirum et adversis quidem funibus subire, sed maxime regredi, utique pronis.
It is surprising that they can even climb ropes, but especially that they can come down them again.
Sequitur natura avium.
The next subject is the nature of birds.
Ex his quas novimus aquilae maximus honos, maxima et vis.
Of the birds known to us the eagle is the most honourable and also the strongest.
Vulturum praevalent nigri.
Of vultures the black are the strongest.
Nidificant in excelsissimis rupibus;
They make their nests on extremely lofty crags;
distinctio generum ex aviditate: alii non nisi e terra rapiunt avem, alii non nisi circa arbores volitantem, alii sedentem in sublimi, aliqui volantem in aperto.
the varieties of hawks are distinguished by their appetite for food: some only snatch a bird off the ground, others only one fluttering round a tree, others one that perches high in the branches, others one flying in the open.
Coccyx videtur ex accipitre fieri, tempore anni figuram mutans,
The cuckoo seems to be made by changing its shape out of a hawk at a certain time of the year,
procedit vere, occultatur caniculae ortu.
it comes out in spring and goes into hiding at the rising of the dog-star.
Bubo, funebris et maxime abominatus publicis praecipue auspiciis ... noctis monstrum, nec cantu aliquo vocalis, sed gemitu.
The eagle owl is a funereal bird, and is regarded as an extremely bad omen ... a weird creature of the night, its cry is not a musical note but a scream.
Sturnorum generi proprium catervatim volare et quodam pilae orbe circumagi, omnibus in medium agmen tendentibus.
It is a peculiarity of the starling kind that they fly in flocks and wheel round in a sort of circular ball, all making towards the centre of the flock.
Temporum magna differentia avibus: perennes, ut columbae, semenstres, ut hirundines, trimenstres, ut turdi, turtures, et quae, cum fetum eduxere, abeunt, ut galguli, upupae.
There is a great difference in the seasons of birds: some stay all the year round, eg pigeons, some for six months, eg swallows, some for three months, eg thrushes and turtle doves and those that migrate when they have reared their brood, such as woodpeckers and hoopoes.
Alia admiratio circa oscines. fere mutant colorem vocemque tempore anni.
There is another remarkable fact about song-birds: they usually change their colour and note with the season.
merula ex nigra rufescit, canit aestate, hieme balbutit, circa solstitium muta.
The blackbird changes from black to red; and it sings in the summer, and chirps in the winter, but in midsummer is silent.
Lusciniis diebus ac noctibus continuis XV garrulus sine intermissu cantus densante se frondium germine,
Nightingales pour out a ceaseless gush of song for 15 days and nights on end when the buds of the leaves are swelling,
plenus, gravis, acutus, creber, extentus, ubi visum est, vibrans, summus, medius, imus.
loud, low, bass, treble, with trills, with long notes, modulated when this seems good, soprano, mezzo, baritone.