Of the Wolf.

SUCH a Story as the Basilisk is that of the Wolf concerning priority of vision, that a man becomes hoarse or dumb, if a Wolf have the advantage first to eye him.[1] And this is a plain language affirmed by Pliny:[2] In Italia ut creditur, Luporum visus est noxius, vocemque homini, quem prius contemplatur adimere; so is it made out what is delivered by Theocritus, and after him by Virgil:[3]

———Vox quoque Moerim
Jam fugit ipsa, Lupi Moerim videre priores.

Thus is the Proverb to be understood, when during the discourse, if the party or subject interveneth, and there ensueth a sudden silence, it is usually said, Lupus est in fabula.[4] Which conceit being already convicted, not only by Scaliger, Riolanus and others; but daily confutable almost every where out of England, we shall not further refute.[5]

The ground or occasional original hereof, was probably the amazement and sudden silence the unexpected appearance of Wolves do often put upon Travellers; not by a supposed vapour, or venomous emanation, but a vehement fear which naturally produceth obmutescence; and sometimes irrecoverable silence. Thus Birds are silent in presence of an Hawk, and Pliny saith that Dogs are mute in the shadow of an Hyæna.[6] But thus could not the mouths of worthy Martyrs be silenced, who being exposed not onely unto the eyes, but the merciless teeth of Wolves, gave loud expressions of their faith, and their holy clamours were heard as high as Heaven.[7]

That which much promoteth it beside the common Proverb, was an expression in Theocritus, a very ancient Poet, οὑ φθεγξῇ, λύκον εἶδες, Edere non poteris vocem, Lycus est tibi visus;[8] which Lycus was Rival unto another, and suddenly appearing stopped the mouth of his Corrivall; now Lycus signifying also a Wolf, occasioned this apprehension; men taking that appellatively, which was to be understood properly,[9] and translating the genuine acception. Which is a fallacy of Æquiviocation, and in some opinions begat the like conceit concerning Romulus and Remus,[10] that they were fostered by a Wolf; the name of the nurse being Lupa, and founded the Fable of Europa, and her carriage over Sea by a Bull, because the Ship or Pilots name was Taurus.[11] And thus have some been startled at the Proverb, Bos in lingua, confusedly apprehending how a man should be said to have an Oxe in his tongue, that would not speak his mind; which was no more then that a piece of money had silenced him: for by the Oxe was onely implied a piece of coin stamped with that figure, first currant with the Athenians, and after among the Romans.[12]


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross defends the ancient opinion, Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter III, sect. 2, and makes related (in his mind, in any case) remarks on the rearing of children by wolves, Chapter IV, sect. 2.

1 [Wilkin: "When any one becomes hoarse, the French say, il a vu le loup." Parey, Works, Book II ("A Discourse of Animals, and of the Excellency of Man) (p. 46 in the 1691 edition of the translation of T. Johnson): "There is a great deal of hatred between a Man and a Wolf, which is most manifest by this, that if the Wolve first see a Man, his Voice is taken away, and his intended cry hindered." "Albertus Magnus", Wonders of the World", (unnumbered page 40, 1565 edition): "It is said, if the Woolfe see a man and the man see not him, the man is astonied and feareth, and is hoarse. And therefore, if any man beareth the eye of a Woolfe, it helpeth to victory, to boldnesse, vanquishing and feare of his adversary." (Although Albertus points out earlier that this danger can be avoided by the judicious use of hare dung, of which wolves are afraid.) Topsell, Historie of Foure-footed Beastes, repeats this story among an almost incredible number of stories about the wolf, dismissing it but also giving a remedy in case it happens. Ross, Arcana Microcosmi, descending, as Wilkin points out, to argumentum ad hominem: "Dr. Browne did unadvisedly reckon this among his vulgar errors, for I believe he would find this no error, if he were suddenly surprised by a wolf, having no means to escape or save himself!"]

2 [1672 has Plyny. Pliny HN viii(80); in the English of Holland, Book VIII, Chap. XII. The story is preceded by what Browne calls a fertur: in this case, ut creditur, Holland's "it is commonly thought". Pliny doesn't deny it, but neither does he affirm it.]

3 [Vergil Eclogues IX 53-54; Theocritus, Idylls xiv, 22-26; in the Latin of Winterton (1652):

Non loquutura es? Lupum vidisti, Jocatus est quidam, ut sapiens dixit;
Et illa incensa est: ut facilè ex ea vel lucernam accendere potuisses.
Est Lycus, Lycus est Labæ vicini filius,
Procerus, & tener, qui multis pulcher videtur esse:
Hujus celebri illo amore tabescebat;
Idque nobis oliim in aureum insusurratum fuerat.

In Tho. Creech's translation,

What Mute? what have you seen a Woolf says one?
At that she flusht, her guilty color rose,
That you might light a Candle at her Nose:
There's Woolf, there's Woolf, my Neighbour Labia's Son,
Tall, slender, and the beauty of the town:
For him she burns, and sighs, and sighs again,
And this I heard, but loath to find my pain,
I let it lye, and grew a Man in vain:
When we were heated well, and flusht with Wine,
One sang a Song of Woolf, a curst design,
For streight Cunisca wept at the surprize,
And soon betray'd her passion at her Eyes...

etc.; to the first "Woolf" Creech adds the note "Alluding to the common saying." See also note 8.]

4 [Terrence, Adelphoe; Cicero, ad Atticum XIII:33a; for another version see Ruggles' Ignoramus (1615) Act II, sc. 7, and read the note. Brewer Dictionary of Phrase & Fable s.v. Lupus in Fabula. relates the saying to the Aesop fable of the Wolf and the Sheep, in which he is clearly incorrect; that fable has nothing to do with silence, or with being struck dumb. Indeed, for animals, both wolf and sheep talk a lot.]

5 [Does the "out of England" refer to the paucity of wolves in England?]

6 [Pliny, HN viii(106), once again not exactly Pliny; this is one of the strange stories "traduntur"; in Holland's English, Book VIII, Chap. 30.]

7 [The two saints that spring immediately into my mind in connection with wolves are St. Francis and St. Edmund, but those are different stories altogether. Edmund might be a good counter-example, I suppose, as his head, guarded by a wolf who dared not eat it, answered the cries of those searching for his body. Perhaps Browne is referring to the persecution of the early martyrs, in which no doubt wolves were occasionally used, although I have found no specific instance. Wren, clearly of the latter opinion, objects to "clamours": "Clamours is improper here, for 't was not feare of death that made them cry out at all; but an assured certainty of their neer approaching glorification made them kiss their persequutors, as promoters to eternity, and to sing in the midst of their torments aloud! Soe that, instead of 'clamours', I put 'shouts', wherewith they daunted those wolves, and made them stand amazed at their courage; which they concluded must needs proceed from the hope of something after death, to bee farr better than the present life, and by this meanes were many of them converted." In any case, they could speak; but perhaps they saw the wolves first.]

8 [Theoc. Idyl. XIV, line 22: Latiné, Non loqueris? lupum vidisti? ]

9 [I.e., taking as a common noun a proper noun. This seems a petitio, however; surely the story, or something like it, underlies the passage. As though we were to tell the story of Sally, her boy-friend Jake, and the bad-boy she's really in love with, named Cat; then we would have a parallel passage where, faced with her silence, Jake sarcastically asks if Cat's got her tongue. This would hardly make sense if the adage didn't already exist.]

10 [On Romulus and Remus, their upbringing, and "lupa", see e.g., (Epit.) Dio Cass. 1.5; Livy Liber I.4; Plutarch, Romulus 4. Browne, perhaps out of prudishness, does not mention women of loose morals.]

11 [Ovid gives the story, but not the explanation, Metam. II and Fasti V, 603; see also Apollodorus 2.5.7, 3.1.1 and note 4; cf. the different version in Herodotus, 1.2.1.]

12 [Wren: "Wherewith the embassadors stopt Demosthenes his mouth, that hee should not inveigh against their countrye." Erasmus Adagia 1.7.18 adduces the testimony of Pliny, who informs us, among other seemingly relevant things, that Servius printed coins with the effigy of oxen, HN xviii(12). Brewer takes this dubious explanation and runs with it (notice the tell-tale "without doubt"), s.v. Bos[ei] in lingua. The expression is probably Greek in origin; see, for instance, Aeschylus Agamenon, Ep. 1, line 35. And compare our own "cat's got his tongue", shuddering at the probable conjectures of the glossarists of A.D. 3001.]

This page is dedicated to the memory of Boo the Cat.

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