Chap. XIV.

Of the Wish of Philoxenus.

THAT Relation of Aristotle, and conceit generally received concerning Philoxenus, who wished the neck of a Crane, that thereby he might take more pleasure in his meat, although it pass without exception, upon enquiry I find not only doubtful in the story, but absurd in the desire or reason alledged for it. For though his Wish were such as is delivered, yet had it not perhaps that end, to delight his gust in eating; but rather to obtain advantage thereby in singing, as is declared by Mirandula. Aristotle (saith he) in his Ethicks and Problems, accuseth Philoxenus of sensuality, for the greater pleasure of gust desiring the neck of a Crane; which desire of his, assenting unto Aristotle, I have formerly condemned: But since I perceive that Aristotle for this accusation hath been accused by divers Writers. For Philoxenus was an excellent Musician, and desired the neck of a Crane, not for any pleasure at meat; but fancying thereby an advantage in singing or warbling, and dividing the notes in musick. And many Writers there are which mention a Musician of that name, as Plutarch in his book against usury, and Aristotle himself in the eighth of his Politicks, speaks of one Philoxenus a Musician, that went off from the Dorick Dithyrambicks unto the Phrygian Harmony.

Again, Be the story true or false, rightly applied or not, the intention is not reasonable, and that perhaps neither one way nor the other. For if we rightly consider the Organ of tast, we shall find the length of the neck to conduce but little unto it. For the tongue being the instrument of tast, and the tip thereof an exact distinguisher, it will not advantage the gust to have the neck extended; Wherein the Gullet and conveying parts are only seated, which partake not of the nerves of gustation, or appertaining unto sapor, but receive them only from the sixth pair; whereas the nerves of tast descend from the third and fourth propagations, and so diffuse themselves into the tongue. And therefore Cranes, Herns and Swans have no advantage in taste beyond Hawks, Kites, and others of shorter necks.

Nor, if we consider it, had Nature respect unto the taste in the different contrivance of necks, but rather unto the parts contained, the composure of the rest of the body, and the manner whereby they feed. Thus animals of long legs, have generally long necks; that is, for the conveniency of feeding, as having a necessity to apply their mouths unto the earth. So have Horses, Camels, Dromedaries long necks, and all tall animals, except the Elephant, who in defect thereof is furnished with a Trunk, without which he could not attain the ground. So have Cranes, Herns, Storks and Shovelards long necks: and so even in Man, whose figure is erect, the length of the neck followeth the proportion of other parts: and such as have round faces or broad chests and shoulders, have very seldom long necks. For, the length of the face twice exceedeth that of the neck, and the space betwixt the throat pit and the navell, is equall unto the circumference thereof. Again, animals are framed with long necks, according unto the course of their life or feeding; so many with short legs have long necks, because they feed in the water, as Swans, Geese, Pelicans, and other fin-footed animals. But Hawks and birds of prey have short necks and trussed leggs; for that which is long is weak and flexible, and a shorter figure is best accommodated unto that intention. Lastly, the necks of animals do vary, according to the parts that are contained in them, which are the weazon and the gullet. Such as have no weazon and breath not, have scarce any neck, as most sorts of fishes; and some none at all, as all sorts of pectinals, Soals, Thornback, Flounders; and all crustaceous animals, as Crevises, Crabs and Lobsters.

All which considered, the Wish of Philoxenus will hardly consist with reason. More excusable had it been to have wished himselfe an Ape, which if common conceit speak true, is exacter in taste then any.[1] Rather some kind of granivorous bird then a Crane, for in this sense they are so exquisite that upon the first peck of their bill, they can distinguish the qualities of hard bodies; which the sense of man discerns not without mastication. Rather some ruminating animal, that he might have eat his meat twice over; or rather, as Theophilus observed in Athenæus, his desire had been more reasonable, had he wished himself an Elephant, or an Horse; for in these animals the appetite is more vehement, and they receive their viands in large and plenteous manner. And this indeed had been more sutable, if this were the same Philoxenus whereof Plutarch speaketh, who was so uncivilly greedy, that to engross the mess, he would preventively deliver his nostrils in the dish.[2]

As for the musical advantage, although it seem more reasonable, yet do we not observe that Cranes and birds of long necks have any musical, but harsh and clangous throats. But birds that are canorous, and whose notes we most commend, are of little throats and short necks, as Nightingales, Finches, Linnets, Canary birds and Larks. And truly, although the weazon, throtle and tongue be the instruments of voice, and by their agitations do chiefly concurr unto these delightfull modulations, yet cannot we distinctly and peculiarly assign the cause unto any particular formation; and I perceive the best thereof, the nightingale, hath some disadvantage in the tongue; which is not acuminate and pointed as in the rest, but seemeth as it were cut off,[3] which perhaps might give the hint unto the fable of Philomela, and the cutting off her tongue by Tereus.


* [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 takes on the question at what we may call absurd length, Arcana Microcosmi II:14.4

1 [Wren: I thinke an ape is more exacte in the smel then in the taste: for he never tastes that which he first smels not too. And how pleasant soever any food seeme to us, yf it displease his smel, he throws it away with a kind of indignation.]

2 [Wren: There have been some whose slovenlyeness and greedines have æqualled his, by throwing a candles end into a messe of creame. But, more ingenious, frame a peece of aple like a candle, and therein stick a clove to deceave others of their deyntyes, in fine eating the counterfet candle.]

3 [Wren: Yf the acuminate did any thinge to the song or speech of birds, how comes it that the blunt toung in the parat and the gaye speake best, and in the bulfinch expresses the most excellent whistle.

Ross argues the question at some length, contending that the absurdity of the wish, even if we grant that it is absurd, is no argument against its having been expressed or even felt; more absurd wishes have been and are felt every day. He then goes on to undo his bit of rationality by asserting the reasonableness of the desire as expressed, saying "that there is much pleasure in deglutition of sweet meats and drinks is plain by the practice of those who, to supply the want of long necks" use straws (to capsulize).]

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