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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces some of the
Carmina Minora


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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From the Shorter Poems

 p181  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] IX (XLV)
The Porcupine.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I had heard the strange tale, Stymphalus, that the birds that haunted thy marshes let fall from them arrows of death in their flight, and for long I could not bring myself to believe this story of iron feathers. But proof is not wanting, and the well-known porcupine is warrant for the birds of Hercules.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] His long snout is like that of a swine. Stiff bristles like horns stand up from his forehead. Red and fierce are his fiery eyes. Under his bristly back are short legs like those of a small dog. Small as this animal is, nevertheless Nature has seen fit to dower him with a wonder­ful means of defence. All over the body grows a threatening thicket: a harvest of brightly coloured spears bristles up ready  p183 for battle. The roots of these weapons are white and are firmly fixed in the animal's skin. The quills are themselves parti-coloured with black bands and come to a stiff quill-like point, diminishing in diameter towards the tip which is smooth and sharp.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But his armoury is not fixed like that of the woodland hedgehog. He can take the offensive and also protect himself at a distance by the frequent discharge of these darts of his, hurling through the air the flying missiles which his own back supplies. At times like the flying Parthian he wounds his pursuers; at times he entrenches himself and strikes his foe by the discharge of a storm of these terrible weapons which bristle on his shoulders out of which they grow. He fights with his whole body, and his back, as it moves, emits a raucous sound. You would think it was the trumpet's note stirring an army to close with the foe and fight. Small is the animal but great the din. Besides his arms he displays cunning and a cold, calculated fury that never wastes its weapons but cautiously contents itself with threats, for he never expends a dart but in defence of his life. His aim is sure; the blow, such is his skill, unerring, nor can distance delude his range. The motion of his skin in the act of discharging ensures the speed, and accurately directs the flight, of the weapon.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Has human endeavour, with reason to guide it, ever done the like? Men rob of their horns the wild goats of Crete, then they force them to become pliant over the fire;​1 they use the guts of cattle to string their bows; they tip their arrows with iron and wing them with feathers. But here is a small animal whose arms are contained in his own body  p185 and who needs no external defence. He carries all his own arms; himself his own quiver, arrow, and bow. Alone he possesses all the resources of war.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But if all human activities as they grow have had their source in imitation we may see here the exemplar of combat by means of missiles. It is from him that the Cretans learned to shoot and the Parthians to strike while in flight. These did but follow the example of the animal that is armed with arrows.

 p193  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XVIII (LI)
Of French Mules.

Behold the docile children of fast-flowing Rhone that at their master's word come together and at that word disperse. See how they go this way or that according to the different cries he utters, and, guided only by his voice, take the path he would have them take. Though each unguided by the rein takes his own course and no collar presses upon their necks they obey as though harnessed and, insensible to fatigue, hear and follow the directions shouted by their barbarous master. Though far away from their owner they nevertheless respect his commands, obeying the word of the muleteer as it were a bridle. It is his voice that even at a distance gathers them together when scattered or scatters them when gathered together; this that checks their haste or quickens their dragging steps. Does he shout "left," they turn them to the left: does he alter his cry to "right," to the right they go. Slaves, yet without bonds, free, but without licence, they go unbridled but obedient. Covered with tawny pelts they haul along the rumbling carts, each cheerfully doing his fair share. Dost thou wonder that Orpheus tamed the wild beasts with his song when the words of a Gaul can guide these swift-footed mules?

 p203  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XXIV (LXXXIII)
The Lobster.

Long horns project from his head; fierce eyes stand out from his forehead; his back is protected by the armour of his self-grown shell. Nature herself has rendered his skin a sufficient defence, covering it with small, red, pointed spikes.

 p277  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XLIX (XLVI)
The Electric Ray.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Who has not heard of the invincible skill of the dread torpedo and of the powers that win it its name?

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Its body is soft and its motion slow. Scarcely does it mark the sand o'er which it crawls so sluggishly. But nature has armed its flanks with a numbing poison and mingled with its marrow chill to freeze all living creatures, hiding as it were its own winter in its heart. The fish seconds nature's efforts with its own guilefulness; knowing its own capabilities, it employs cunning, and trusting to its power of touch lies stretched full length among the seaweed and so attacks its prey. It stays motionless; all that have touched it lie benumbed. Then, when success has crowned its efforts, it springs up and greedily devours without fear the living limbs of its victim.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Should it carelessly swallow a piece of bait that hides a hook of bronze and feel the pull of the jagged barbs, it does not swim away nor seek to free itself by vainly biting at the line; but artfully approaches the dark line and, though a prisoner, forgets not its skill, emitting from its poisonous veins an effluence which spreads far and wide through the water. The poison's bane leaves the sea and creeps up the line; it will soon prove too much for the distant fisherman.  p279 The dread paralysing force rises above the water's level and climbing up the drooping line, passes down the jointed rod, and congeals, e'er he is even aware of it, the blood of the fisherman's victorious hand. He casts away his dangerous burden and lets go his rebel prey, returning home disarmed without his rod.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 In the making of bows.

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Page updated: 27 Jul 07