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Bill Thayer

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This text by

published in the Loeb Classical Library,
1934 (revised 1935)

is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
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 p513  Nemesianus
Fragments on Bird-Catching

Two Fragments on bird-catching
ascribed to Nemesianus


Gybertus Longolius (de Longueil, 1507‑1543), in a Dialogus de avibus printed at Cologne in 1544, is the authority for ascribing the two following fragments to Nemesianus. He records that they were surreptitiously copied by a young friend of his, Hieronymus Boragineus of Lübeck, from a poem De Aucupio by Nemesianus "in bibliotheca porcorum (sic) Salvatoris Bononiensis." This account is not  p514 free from suspicion, any more than certain points in the Latinity and prosody of the lines. Contemplaverit in l. 3 may be an archaistic return to the active form of the verb as used in early Latin; but the metrical quantity of notae which Longolius read in l. 13 and of gulae in the last line of all is unclassical, and the frequent elision of a long vowel (ll. 5, 6, 14 and 27) is noticeable. Teuffel considers the lines a late production, though they are usually printed along with the Cynegetica.

E. Baehrens' text, P. L. M. III pp203‑204.

J. P. Postgate's text, C. P. L. II p572.

(p513) [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I

. . . and the tetrax,1 which they have now begun to call tarax at Rome. It is far the silliest of birds; for although it has perched and was watched the snare laid for it, yet reckless of self it darts upon its own hurt. You, however, on finding the circles of the noose drawn tight, must hasten up and carry off your prey with its whirring wings. For it is quick to shake off the treacherous bonds of the neck when caught, deriding2 with hoarse cry the hunter's  p515 design and now in freedom delighting in the joy of peace. Near Peltinuma by the foot of the Apennine range it builds its nest where the sun presents himself to the outspread lands: at the neck it is very like ashes in colour, and its spotted back is marked with dark flecks in the fashion of a partridge. The guardian of the Tarpeian citadel3 is no larger in study, nor the bird that taught you, Palamedes, wing-like letters.4 Often have I seen a slave swaying beneath the unfair weight of a huge dish of such dainties,5 as he carries the collation which a consul or a new praetor has furnished for the circus at a fête.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] II

When the woodland everywhere is despoiled of its green honours, make straight for the deep forest, mounted on the snow-white housing of your steed. The snipe is an easy and agreeable prey. You will find it no larger in body than Venus' doves. It feeds close to the edge of embankments, by the wash of the water, hunting tiny worms, its favourite fare. But its pursuit thereof is rather with keen-scented nose than with the eyes, in which its sense is rather dull, too big for the body though they be. With the point of the beak driven into the ground it drags out the little worms which needs must follow, therewith rewarding an appetite cheap to satisfy.6

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 a black grouse. The bird is identified with the urogallus by Longolius. Pliny's form is tetras.

Thayer's Note: "Pliny's form" is a mystery. Our translators provide no citation; and I find no tetras (or tetrax or tarax) in any form anywhere in Pliny, either the most likely Elder or the marginally possible Younger; nor for that matter in Lewis & Short.

2 Subsannare, a late Latin verb, used by Tertullian, and in the Vulgate.

3 The geese of the Capitol saved it from surprise by the Gauls, in 390 B.C., Livy, V.XLVII.

4 Palamedes was said to have invented some of the Greek letters (Υ, Θ, Ξ, Φ, Χ) by observing the flight of cranes: cf. Martial, IX.XIII.7, XIII.LXXV; Ausonius, Idyll. XII (Technopaegnion de literis monosyllabis) 25; Plin. N.H. VII.192.

5 For the mazonomus (μαζονόμος) see Hor. Sat. II.VIII.86.

6 For the unclassical lengthening of gŭla, Wernsdorf cites as a parallel from Nemesianus' fellow-African Luxorius, quid festinus abis gula impellente, sacerdos?

Thayer's Note:

a For my money, Peltuinum is meant: a town in the Abruzzo, nicely described as "by the foot of the Apennine". Substantial ruins of it remain. Traces of the name also subsist in modern toponyms: the nearby church of S. Paolo ad Peltinum (sic), and the village of S. Stefano in Sessanio derives from Sextantium, possibly meaning "six miles from" Peltuinum. See critical note; where the actual reading of the manuscript, however, is not given.

Why this place for the bird, though, is not obvious: but if, as I too suspect, the fragment is another of the many spurious amusements of Renaissance scholars with a bit of time on their hands, it hardly matters.

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Page updated: 21 Mar 17