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Bill Thayer

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Aelian: De Natura Animalium

The Text on LacusCurtius

Although Aelian was a Roman, he preferred to write in Greek, and the original text of the De Natura Animalium is in that language. It is so difficult, however, to put Greek on the Web with uniform results across the various browsers and platforms, that if you are one of the few who read Greek, I like to think you have access to TLG, and on this site, widening the audience for the work, I provide only a translation.

I know of no English translation in the public domain, though, so I've transcribed the Latin translation by Friedrich Jacobs in the Frommann edition, Jena, 1832. I must reiterate that there is no particular virtue or antiquity in this Latin: it is not the original, it is a modern translation done at a time when Latin seemed a reasonably universal language; if the translation had been undertaken today with the same desire to reach the widest possible audience, it would have been in English.

In 2011 an English-language book appeared on the market, assembled by photographer and travel writer Gregory McNamee and titled [Aelian's] On the Nature of Animals: it isn't the complete work, but a selection of the more entertaining passages. ▸ I regret, however, that for a few months a printed source induced me to believe, and state here, that it was not translated from the Greek, but "from the Latin": Mr. McNamee kindly writes me that on the contrary he worked from the Greek text.

As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if successful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

The transcription is being minutely proofread. In the table of contents below, the Books that I have completely proofread are shown on blue backgrounds; any red backgrounds indicate that the proofreading is still incomplete. The header bar at the top of each webpage will remind you with the same color scheme. In either case of course, should you spot an error, please do report it. I expect to be thru proofreading sometime in 2012.

The Author

We know next to nothing about Aelian; for the details and theories, you will have to wait yet a bit longer until I put Jacobs' preface onsite — this is the page to watch for the link — but the main thing for now is not to confuse him with the Aelian who wrote the Τακτικὴ Θεωρία, some one hundred years earlier: he is usually referred to as Aelianus Tacticus; to my knowledge he is not online anywhere.

Latin translation

Chapter Numbering, Local Links

Each Chapter is marked by a local link according to a consistent scheme; you can therefore link directly to any passage. Similarly, for citation purposes, the original print pagination is indicated by local links in the sourcecode.

[image ALT: A photograph of the head of a giraffe. On this site, it serves as the icon for the works of Aelian, a Roman author who wrote about animals.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is based on my own photo of a Chicago giraffe; Aelian, and most of classical Antiquity, calls the animal a camelopard.

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Site updated: 21 Jul 12