Boo the Cat Boo the Cat. 1987-2002.


Alexander Ross (1652) Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter 8, pp. 138-144


1. Divers animals long-lived without food. The Camelion live, on air only. 2. Divers creatures fed only by water. 3. Chilification not absolutely necessary. Strange operations of some stomachs. The Ostrich eats and digests Iron. 4. How Bees, Gnats, &c. make a sound. Of Glow-worms: and Grains bit by Pismires: the vegitable Lamb, and other strange plants. 5. The Tygers swiftnesse. The Remora stays ships.

THAT divers animals, even men and women, can subsist without food, is plain by these examples: A certain maid in the Diocesse of Spire, anno 1542. lived three years without meat or drink. In the year 1582. in the Palatinat there lived a maid nine years together without food, who afterward married, and had children. Rondeletius (l. 1. de pis. c. 13.) writes of a maid in France, and another in Germany, who lived divers years without food: and of another whom hee saw that had no other food but air ten years together. Ficinus saw a man who had no other food but what the air and Sun afforded him. In the year 1595. a maid lived at Colen three years without food; another at Bern lived eighteen years on the air alone, anno 1604. Other examples I could alledge out of Citesius Physitian of Padua, Lentulus of Bern, Joubettus, and others; but these may suffie to let us see, that nutrition doth not consist meerly in meat and drink. I will not here alledge examples of miraculous fasts, or of Diabolical and magical; but such as are meerly natural, as these which I have named: for in them the natural heat was weak, and not able to master the humidity with which they abounded: So then, where there is a weak heat, and much sweet phlegm, which is imperfect blood, as Physitians call it, there the life may bee prolonged without food.

I have read (Mendoza in Flor. phil.) of a Venetian who fasted forty six years, being of a cold constitution, and abounding with thick phlegme; we see this in the hearb Semper vivum, which many years together liveth, and is green without earth or water, having much natural humidity within it. So the Camelion is onely fed by air, as is said, which appears to be true (however Dr. Brown (Book 3. c. 21.) writes to the contrary) by these reasons, 1. The testimonies both of ancient and modern Writers, except a feew, and the witnesses of some yet living, who have kept Camelions a long time and never saw them feed but on air. 2. to what end hath Nature given it such large Lungs beyond its proportion? Sure not for refrigeration; lesse Lungs would serve for this use, seeing their heat is weak; it must be then for nutrition. 3. There is so little blood in it, that we may easily see it doth not feed on solid meat.

The Doctor saith, Thus Frogs and divers Fishes have little blood, and yet their nutriment is solid. But he doth not prove thei nutriment to be solid. Besides, they have more blood then is in the Camelion. 4. To what end shouldd it continually gape more then other animals, but that it stands more in need of air then they, to wit, for nutrition as well as refrigeration. The Doctor imputeth this gaping to the largenesse of his Lungs: This is but a shift; for other animals whose Lungs doe exceed both the Lungs and whole bodies of many Camelions, do not gape as this doth, and yet they stand more in need of refrigeration, as having more blood and heat, then ten thousand Camelions. 5. He that kept the Camelion, which I saw, never perceived it to void excrements backwards; an argument it had no solid food: and what wonder is it for the Camelion to live on air, when Hay a beast of Brasil, as big as a Dog, was never seen to feed on any thing else, as Lerius witnesseth?1 The Doctor concludes, That the Camelion is abstemious a long time, but not still, because divers other animals are so.2 He may as well infer, that the Camelion is cornuted, because divers other animals are so. Each species hath its property, which is not communicable to other species; otherwise it were no property.

II. That water is the aliment of divers creatures, is plain; 1. By the vegetables; for hearbs, trees, and plants are nourished by it. 2. By animals; for it is the food of many fishes, as was shewed by that fish which Rondeletius his wife kept three yars in a glass.3 Grashoppers feed upon dew, which is water.

I have read (Mendoza, Prob. 23.) of Worms in Armenia, which feed only on Snow; and of some birds whose aliment is only water. 3. By men; for Albertus magnus speaks of one who lived seven weeks together only upon water. I know Aristotle, (l. 7. de anim.), Galen, and Averroes are against this opinion. But we must understand they speak of the pure element of water, which is not nutritive; not of that which is impure, mixed, or ccompounded; for such may nourish.4

Doctor Brown will not have water an aliment, 1. Because some creatures drink not at all. Answ. To such, water can indeed be no aliment, and so indeed his argument is good; but to say, that water is no creatures aliment, because some creatures do not drink at all, is as much as if he shouuld infer, that no man eats bread, bcause some men never ate any. 2. He saith, That water serves for refrigeration and dilution; therefore it is no aliment. Answ. Why may not the same thing serve both? Doe we not many times eat cooling hearbs, which both refrigerate and feed us. 3. If the ancients (saith he) had thought water nutritive, they would not have commended the Limpid waters for the best, but rather turbid streams, where there may be some nutriment. Answ. If the Ancients had spoken of Waters fitted to feed Eels, Frogs, and such as live on mud, they would have commended the turbid streams; but they spake of such Waters as are fittest for our bodies, and therefore they commended the Limpid for the best; and yet he confesseth in the purest water there is much terreous residence, and consequently some nutriment.

III. Chilification is an action of the stomach, but not absolutely necessary, because many creatures in the Winter live without it: And this act is not to be ascribed to the heat of the stomach; for though heat as heat doth concoct, yet it doth not chilifie; for neither fiery, nor feverish, nor any other heat of the body can perform this, but that of the stomach; therefore this ation must proceed from the specifical form and proper quality of the stomach, which turns all it receives into a white creamy substance, but cannot produce several substances, as the Liver doth; because it is not so hot as the Liver, or rather it hath not that specifical form which the Liver hath. Besides, that the stomachs work is to master the aliment, to concoct it, and to prepare it for the Liver. But besides this quality of the stomach, there is another more strange, when som can eat and digest coals, sand, lime pitch, ashes, and such like trash. This is called by Physitians a disease, under the name of Pica, Citta, Malacia;5 but I think it proceeds not only from a distemper in the stomach, and malignant acide humors impacted in the membrans thereof; but also, and that chiefly, from some occult quality. Forestus (lib. 18 Obs. 7.) knew one who swallowed down live Eels, another who ate a piece of Lime as big as his fist, and all without hurt. Fonseca (Consult. part. 1. cons. 94.) knew a woman who daily did eat earthenware or pot-sheards so long as she lived; and she lived till she was old; even when she fell sick of a fever, she could not abstain from eating of this stuffe:6 therefore I do not much wonder that the Ostridge can eat and digest iron,7 which it doth not by its heat, as Cardan thinks; (though I deny not but the great heat of that bird, and the thicknesse of his Gizzard may be some help) but rather by an occult quality, or the nature of its whole essence, as Fernelius writes: For the truth of this, we have not only the testimonies of the Ancients, but the experiments also of late Writers: For Langius in his Epistles, writes that he saw some of those Ostriches in the Duke of Ferrara's Garden, who swallowed and digested pieces of gold, and other metal. Leo Africanus saith, that they swallow whatsoever they finde, even iron. And what wonder is it if the Ostridges eat Iron, when Rats do the same. But Doctor Brown denies this for these reasons, (book 3. c. 22.) Because Aristotle and Oppian are silent in this singularity. 2. Pliny speaketh of its wonderful digestion. 3. Ælian mentions not Iron. 4. Leo Africanus speaks diminutively. 5. Fernelius extenuates it, and Riolanus denies it. 6. Albertus Magnus refutes it. 7. Aldrovandus saw an Ostrich swallow Iron, which excluded it again undigested. Answ. Aristotles, Oppians, and Ælians silence, are of no force; for arguments taken from a negative authority, were never held of any validity. Many things are omitted by them, which yet are true; It is sufficient that we have eye-witnesses to confirm this truth. As for Pliny, he saith plainly, that it concocteth whatsoever it eateth.8 Now the Doctor acknowledgeth it eats iron: Ergo, according to Pliny, it concocts Iron. Africanus tells us, that it devours Iron. And Fernelius is so far from extenuating the matter, that he plain affirms it, and shews, that this concoction is performed by the nature of its whole essence. As for Riolanus, his denial without ground, we regard not. Albertus Magnus speaks not of iron, but of stones which it swallows, and excludes again without nutriment.9 As for Aldrovandus, I deny not but he might see one Ostrich which excluded his iron undigested; but one Swallow makes no Summer. All individuals have not the same temperament: Among men, some will digest that which others cannot: there might be some weaknesse or distemper in the stomach of that Ostrich. Again, digestion or concoction (if we speak of the first which is the work of the stomach) is nothing else but the altering of the aliment, not into a new substance, (for that is done by the Liver) but to a new quality, in which natural heat separates the excrements from that which is fit for nutrition: If so, then the Iron which this Ostrich excluded, was digested; for the stomach suckt something out of it, and altered that which was fit for nutriment, sending away the superfluous part. Thus the Iron was not undigested, because egested: for of every thing we eat, there is some part excluded. Now the Doctor cannot deny, but that the Iron received an alteration in the stomach; and what I pray is this but chilification? Yet he will not have this alteration to proceed from the power of natural heat, but from an acide and vitriolous humidity. If there were such a manifest quality, or a vitriolous humidity to corrode the Iron, it would doubtlesse corrode the stomach it self; therefore the safest way is to acknowledge an occult quality.

Again, if the Doctor will speak Philosophically, the principal agent in digestion is heat, not moisture; for humidity compared to calidity, is a passive quality; so then the vitriol corrodes by its heat, not by its moisture.

IV. When I fell upon this piece, I thought not to meddle with Doctor Browns Enquiries: but finding some of his Assertions contradictory to what I was to write, I thought good to bring some of them to the Test, and to remove all rubbish out of my way; wherein I hope I shall doe him no wrong, seeing as he saith in his Epistle, Opinions are free, and open it is for any to think or declare the contrary. Having therefore examined some of his Assertions, I will be bold to enquire into some more of his Enquiries, having no intent to traduce or extenuate his excellent pains, but to elucidate what may seem to be obscure, and to deliver my opinion wherein I htink he is mistaken. Whereas then he saith out of Aristotle, That Flies, Bees, &c. make a sound by allision of an inward part upon a little membrane of the body. 10 I will not deny but this may be in some, but not in all: for I have observed the contrary in Gnats, whose sound is made by their wings only, when I pluckt off one wing, they sounded with the other, but when they lost both, they made no sound at all. Again when he saith, That the light of the Glow-worm depends upon a living spirit,11 he expresseth but a remote cause: for the proximat and immediate cause is the natural heat in a clear luminous water or humour: For I have observed in those I kept som days in grasse, that as this heat decreased, the humour thickned, and as it were congealed, & so the light grew dimmer, being quite dead, there remained the congealed humour, white like a piece of chalk. Those I took were for three or four nights, so shining, that holding the book neer, I could see to read by them. Again he saith, That grains whosee ends are eat off, will suddenly sprout; which thwarts their opinion, who say, that the Psimires bite off the end of the corn, which they store up to prevent the growth thereof.12 Both these Assertions may bee true: For corn cut at the ends, may grow, and yet that may faile which the Pismire bites; because of some malignant quality contrary to the grain, impressed upon it by the Pismires bite, which is not in the knife. Again, he saith, (Book 3. c. 27.13) That the plant animal or vegitable Lamb of Tartaria, is not much to be wondered at, if it be no more the the shape of a lamb in the flower or seed. Sure it must be more then this, if those that write the story thereof deceive us not.14 For Scaliger (Exerc. 182.29.) describes it out of them to be like a Lamb in all the parts of it: in stead of horns, it hath long hairs like horns, it is covered with a thin skin, it bleeds when it is wounded, and lives so long as it hath grass to feed on; when that is spent, it dieth. And they write also, that it is a prey to Wolves. All these circumstances may be true: For 1. the shape, why may not this plant resemble a Lamb, as well as that Indian fruit described by Nic. Monardes, resembles a Dragon so artificially painted by nature, as if it were done by a painter.15 2. Why may it not have a Downy, or Wooly skin, as well as Peaches, Quinces, Chesnuts, and other fruits which are covered with a Down, called Lanugo by the Poet? 3. Why may it not bleed as well as that Tree we mentioned but now, called Draco, from the shape of the Dragon which its fruit hath; the juice of thiss Tree from the resemblance is called the blood of the Dragon, well known in Physick for its astringent and corroborating quality. 4. Why ma it not have some animal motions, as well as that plant called Pudica, which contracts its16 leaves when you touch or come neer it, and dilates them again when you depart? Or that Tree in the Isle of Cimbubon, whose leaves falling on the ground, crawl up and down like worms: they have (saith Scaliger, Exerc. 112.) two little feet on each side: if they be touched, they run away. One of these leaves was kept alive eight days in a platter, which still moved it selfe when it was touched.

V. That Tigers are swift creatures, is affirmed by all the Antients; but denyed by Bontius, Because (as the Doctor cites him) those in Java are slow and tardigradous. 17 By the same reason he may infer, that our sheep are as big as Asses, and doe carry burthens, because the sheep of America are such; or that the African Lions are not fierce, big, and red, as they are described; because the American are not so; for the Indian animals differ much from ours, although they be the same species. Though then the Indian Tygers be slow, the African or European may be swift.18 Again, the Doctor doubts, that the story of the Remora may be unreasonably amplified. The story is, that it stays ships under sail: This, saith Scaliger, is as possible as for the Loadstone to draw Iron: for neither the resting of the one, nor moving of the other, proceeds from an apparent, but from an occult vertue: for as in the one there is an hid principle of motion, so there is in the other a secret principle of quiescence.




1. Not having Lerius to hand, I cannot dispute Ross's reading, but feel it cannot be correct. The ai, or three-toed sloth, consumes enormous amounts of vegetation, so that the sloth's multichambered stomach and its contents weigh in the area of 30% of the total body weight. The sloth's usual activity — nothing, about 90% of the time — might convince an impatient observer that it does not eat.

2. That is, that the chameleon is abstemious without hibernating or estivating.

3. In Chapter 7.

4. Silly. If so, it isn't the water that nourishing, it's the impurities.

5. Most of these substances, if eaten, cannot be digested. Pica, a craving for inedible substances (pitch, dirt), rather a symptom of disease than a disease, and also not uncommon in pregnancy; citta, specifically the longing of pregnant women for unusual foods or substances; malacia, a craving for unusual substances or foods, distinguished from pica in that the desired substances are nutritious (or have some food value).

6. One wonders what her teeth were like.

7. In the previous chapter Ross says that the ostrich "eats" iron, as the chamaeleon eats flies, for medicine (or out of wantonness), not as nutrition.

8. Pliny, HN X.2 (englished by Holland). The passage can be read either Browne's or Ross's way: "Their capacity to digest whatever they swallow is a marvel".

9. And yet Ross argues that Pliny says that it "concocts" whatever it swallows: so why not the stones, as well as the iron?

10. Pseudodoxia III.27.10. Aristotle is correct, for bees and at least some flies, and probably for gnats as well.

11. Pseudodoxia III.27.12.

12. Pseudodoxia III.27.13. Ross's argument is reasonable, although, since he is changing the story, it is up to him to demonstrate its truth. Browne, however, further points out, correctly, that the ants he knows do not in fact store up food at all.

13. Chapter 28 in the 1672 edittion; III.28.

14. They do.

15. Dracaena draco.

16. 1652: it.

17. Pseudodoxia III.28.

18. There are no African or European tigers, strictly speaking.

This page is by James Eason