Philostratus on Vipers
A note to Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book III, chapter 16

Philostratus, or Apollonius, has a number of observations relevant to the vipers' mode of birth and of rearing her children. From Charles Blount's (1680) translation of Philostratus Vita Apollonii:

Book I, Chap. XVI, pp. 87-88

They had not travel'd above twenty Furlongs, before they light on a Lyoneß slain in hunting; the Beast was of so vast a proportion, as they had never seen before. There was a great Outcry of Huntsmen about her as well of others, who from the neighbouring villages flockt in, as seeing some wonerful thing in the Beast: And there was indeed a strange thing; for her Belly being ript open, they found eight Whelps in her Womb. Now it is reported, that a Lioneß bringeth forth in six months, and that but thrice in all her life: At the first time, three Whelps; at the second, two; and at the third, one; which last is (I suppose) more big and fierce than ordinary. For we must not give credit to them who say, that when the whelps are grown to perfection, they tear the Womb of their Dam, and so come forth: for that which doth breed, and that which is bred, seem naturally to be serviceable to one another, for the conservation of their king. Apollonius therefore casting his eyes upon the Beast, and with-holding his speech a long time, at last said, O Damis, the time of our sojourning with the King will be a year and eight months: for neither will he let us go sooner, neither will it be easie for us to depart sooner; and this I conjecture from the number of Whelps, each of which signifieth a month, and the Lyoneß her self a whole year; for perfect things are to be compared with things that are perfect. But what will the Sparrows in Homer say to this (answer'd Damis) whom, being eight in number, the Dragon devoured, taking also the Dam for the ninth? which Calchas interpreted to signifie the nine years that Troy should be besieg'd. Look to it therefore, lest (according to the determination of Homer and Calchas) our residence be prolong'd for nine years. Whereunto Apollonius reply'd, Homer did right compare the eight Birds when they were hatch'd unto years; but why therefore should I like unto years such unperfect Beasts as were not yet born, and perhaps would never have been born? for such things as thwart the course of Nature, are either never broght forth, or if they be, do soon perish. But confide in what I have said, and let us be upon the march, making hereafter our prayers to the Gods, show shew us these things.

Book II, Chap. VII, p. 197

[Various examples of motherly love and care among beasts.] I saw a Sea-calfe taken by Fishermen, so exceedingly to bewail her dead young one, whom she had brought forth in the House, that for thre days together she abstain'd from food, though she be otherwise a most ravenous Creature. Likewise the Whale hideth her young ones in the Cavities of her throat, if she fly from a greater Fish; and a Viper hath been also seen to lick the young Serpents which she had brought forth, and so to polish them with her Tongue.

Book II, Chap. VIII, p. 198

Let us not assent (O Damis) to that foolish Story, which saith, that vipers are bred without a Dam; which neither Nature doth admit of, nor Experience justifie.

To the last of which passages, Blount, after describing the viper and its putative mating and breeding habits, refers us to Dr. Brown's Vulgar Errors, bringing us full circle.

This page is maintained by James Eason.