Thomas Stanley, translator (1665) Claudius Aelianus His Various History. Book I (pages 1-24)



Of the Polypus.

THE 1 Polypusses are so ravenous that they devour all they light on ; so that many times they abstain not even from one another. The lesser taken by the greater, and falling into his stronger nets, (which are usually called the hairs or grasps of the Fish) becometh his prey. They also betray Fishes in this manner ; lurking under the Rocks they change themselves to their colour, and seem to be all one with the Rock it self. When therefore the Fishes swim to the Rocks, and so to the Polypus, they intangle them in their nets, or grasps.


Of Spiders.

The art of weaving and the gifts of the goddess 2 Ergane, Spiders neither know nor require: for what should such a Creature doe with woven garments ? The web is onely spred as a net for such things as fall into it, whilest she standing still, immovable, keeps watch : whatsoever falls in she eats ; it being as much as the web can hold, is enough to satisfie her hunger.


Of the Ægyptian Frogs.

The Ægyptian kinde of Frogs hath a peculiar wisedom, and farre excelleth all other : For if a Frog meeteth a Serpent bred in Nilus, she biteth off a piece of reed and holds it as fast as she can cross-wise, and will not let it goe. The Serpent is not able to swallow the reed, because his mouth is not so wide as the reed. Thus the Frog by wisedome overcomes and masters the strength of the Serpents.


Of the Ægyptian Dog.

This also is wise in the Æyptian Dogs: they drink of the River not greedily or freely, stooping and lapping till they have at the same time satisfied their thirst, for they are afraid of the Creatures in it ; but run along the bank, and catch up drink by stealth at times, till at last they have allayed their thirst by snatches without receiving harm.


Of the Sea-Fox.

The Fox, not onely the Land-beast is wily, but the Sea-Fox very cunning : for she scruples not the bait, neither, being greedy, refrains from it, but contemneth the hook ; for before the Fisher can pluck up the reed, she leaps up, and gnawing the line asunder, swims away. So that many times she swallows two or three hooks, yet the Fisherman cannot get her for his Supper.


Of Sea-Tortoises.

The Sea-Tortoises lay upon land, and having laid, they immediately bury their eggs in the ground, and returning to their usual abode, swim there : They are so good accomptants, that having reckoned forty daies, (in which time the eggs are hardned and become living creatures) they returning to the place where they hid what they laid, and digging up the earth which they had cast upon them, lead their young away, now able to follow them.


Of wild Swine.

Wild Swine are not wholly ignorant of Physick and Medicine ; for if unwittingly they have eaten Henbane, whereby their hinder parts are contracted with a kinde of Palsie, though thus shrunk up, they make to the waters, where they get Crabs and eat them with all haste. These afford remedy of their ill, and make them sound again.


Of the Phalangium.

The 3 Phalangium is as hurtful to Deer as to Men : If they bite the Deer, they are in danger of dying quickly after it ; yet if they tast Ivy, the bite will not harm them. But it must be wild Ivy.


Of the Lion, sick.

When a Lion is sick, nothing will cure him but to eat an Ape.


How the Cretan Goats cure themselves when shot.

The Cretans are excellent Archers ; they shoot the Goats which feed on the tops of mountains, which being hurt, immediately eat of the herb Dittany, which as soon as they have tasted, the Arrow drops out.


That Mice have Præscience.

Mice also are to be reckoned among creatures of greatest Præscience ; for when a House decaieth and is ready to fall, they first perceive it, and leaving their holes and former dwellings, run away as fast as they can, and remove to new.


Of Pismires.

Pismires also, as I am informed, have some kinde of Præscience ; for when there shall be a Famine, they take pains extraordinarily to carry in provision, and lay up corn and other grain on which they feed.


Of Gelo.

Gelo the Syracusian dreaming that he was thunder-struck, cried out, not with a soft or low voice, as is usual in dreams, but aloud, being exceedingly affrighted. The dog which lay asleep by him, wakened with the cry, went round about him, and fell a barking fiercely and eagerly : By which means Gelo was at once delivered from sleep and fear.


Of the Swan.

Aristotle saith that the Swan begets a fair and numerous offspring ; but that they are prone to anger, fighting and killing one another. He also affirms the Swans warre with the Eagles, but so as that they resist onely, not begin the assault. It is commonly reported they sing sweetly, but I never heard a Swan sing, nor perhaps any man else : yet it is believed she sings, and then especially (as is said) she sings most sweetly and pleasantly when she draws near her end. They cross the Sea and fly too over it, yet their wings never are tired.


Of Pigeons.

They report that Pigeons (the male and the female) sit upon their eggs by turns ; which being hatched, the male bedews them with a kinde of spittle to avert envy, and (as it is said) that they may not be liable to fascination. The female laies two eggs, of which the first alwaies proveth a male, the second a female. They lay all the year long, so that they bring forth young ten times in the year. Of Ægypt it is reported, that Pigeons lay twelve times [a year ] in that Countrey. Aristotle asserts that wood-pigeons are different from house-pigeons, these being bigger, those lesser : besides, house-pigeons are tame, wood-pigeons wild. He also affirms that the male couples not with the female till he hath kiss'd her, for she will not admit his society without a kiss. *  *  *[4] But if we credit Callimachus, the Phassa, the Pyrallis, the House-pigeon and the Turtle are nothing alike.[4a]

The Indian Relations tell us that in India there are yellowish Pigeons : Charon of Lampsacus affirms that about Athos there were seen white Pigeons when the Persian Gallies coasting about Athos were defeated there. At Eryx in Sicily is the renowned and sacred Temple of Venus; where when the Erycinians celebrate the [Feast ] Anagogia, (at which time they say Venus removes from Sicily to Libya) all the Pigeons disappear, as if they went along with the Goddess. At all times else it is certain that a great number of these Birds are about the Temple. Moreover the Achæans report that Jupiter falling in love with a Virgin named Phthia, turned himself to a Pigeon : Phthia lived at Ægium.


Of Socrates drinking Hemlock.

When the Ship returned from Delus, and Socrates was now to die,[4b] Apollodorus (a friend of Socrates) coming to him in Prison brought him a Vest of fine cloth and rich, with a Gown of the same, desiring him that he would put on that Vest and Gown when he was to drink the poison ; since he should not fail of handsome Funeral-Robes if he died in them. "For it is not 5 unfit that a dead body should be covered with decent ornaments." Thus Apollodurus to Socrates. But he would not permit it, saying to Crito, Simmias and Phædo, "How high an opinion hath Apollodorus of us, if he believe that after I have pledged the Athenians, and taken the potion, he shall see Socrates any more ? For if he thinks that he which shall shortly lie at your feet extended on the ground is Socrates, it is certain he knows me not."


Of a very little Chariot, and an Elegiack Distich.

The admired little works of Myrmecides a Milesian, and Callicrates a Lucedemonian. They made Chariots with four horses which a flie might cover ; They writ an Elegiack Distich in golden letters in a Sesammum: Neither of which a wise man (I think) will praise ; for what are these but a vain waste of time ?


Of Women vain in apparel.

Were not many Women [among the Ancients ] luxurious in apparel ? They wore on their heads a high Coronet, on their feet Chiappines : They had also long Ear-rings hanging at their ears. That part of their Gowns which reacheth from the shoulder to the hand was not sowed together, but fastned all along with buttons of gold and silver. Thus did the women among the Ancients : The vanity of Athenian women let Aristophanes relate.


The Luxury of the Sybarites, Colophonians, and Corinthians.

It is a common saying and known to all, that to the Sybarites and the City Sybaris the cause of destruction was their great luxury. But I will relate what is not commonly known : They say that the Colophonians also were ruined by excessive luxury ; for they also went proudly attired, were lavish at their Tables farre beyond need, and apt to affront others. Likewise the reign of the Bacchiadæ at Corinth (when they had arrived to great power) was destroyed by immoderate luxury.


Of Dionysius his Sacrilege.

Dionysius plundered all the Temples of Syracuse of their Treasure. From the Statue of Jupiter he took the Robe and Ornaments, valued at fourscore and five Talents of gold. The publick Artificers not being able to touch the Statue, he first laid hands upon it. He likewise robbed Apollo's Image of a golden Periwig, which he commanded to be cut off. Sailling thence to Troezene, he impiously took away all the Treasure of Apollo and Leucothea. He also having drank a 6 grace-cup, commanded a silver Table which stood by Apollo to be taken away.


How Ismenias without dishonour adored the King of Persia.

I cannot omit the wise and truly Græcian action of Ismenias a Theban: Being by his Countrey sent Embassadour to the King of Persia, he went thither, and would have spoken himself to the Persian about his business ; but the Captain whose office it was to report business to the King, and to conduct such as were admitted to his presence, told him, "Theban, (he spake this merrily[7] by an Interpreter, the Captain's name Tithranstes) "the Law of the Persians is, that he who cometh into the King's presence, shall not speak with him till he hath first 8 adored him. If therefore you will goe in person to him, you must doe what the Law requires ; otherwise your business may be done by us, though you adore not." "Conduct me," said Ismenias. When he came into the King's presence, he pluckt off a Ring which he had upon his finger, and letting it secretly drop, stooped down as if he had adored, and took it up again, making the King believe that he adored ; yet he did nothing that might dishonour the Greeks. By this means he obtained all that he requested, and was not denied any thing by the Persian [Emperour].


The gifts which the Kings of Persia used to bestow upon Embassadours.

The gifts which the King gave to Embassadours who came to him either from Greece or elsewhere were these : To every one a Babylonian Talent of finest silver ; two silver Cups, 9 each weighing a Talent. The Babylonian Talent makes twenty two Attick pounds. He gave them also a Scimitar and Bracelets, and a Chain, all which were valued at a thousand Daricks. Likewise a Median Vest which they called a Dorophorick.


Of Gorgias and Protagoras.

Among the ancient Greeks, Gorgias the Leontine son of Philolaus, and Protagoras son of Democritus, were famous as to Rhetorical opinion ; yet were they as far short of others in wisedome as boies are of men. For opinion neither hears nor sees clearly : whence it oftentimes erres, overprizing some things, undervaluing others.


Of the Contest betwixt Hercules and Lepreas.

Glaucon [or Caucon ][10] son of Neptune had by Astydamia, daughter of Phorbas, a son named Lepreas, who counselled Augeas to cast Hercules in bonds, when he came to demand the reward of his labours. Hereupon, as it seems, Lepreas was hated by Hercules for this advice. Afterwards the son of Jupiter [Hercules ] went to 11 Caucon; but at the intercession of Astydamia laid aside all enmity towards Lepreas. Then there happened a youthful emulation between them, and they challenged one another at the Discus, and to draw Water, and which of them could first eat an Oxe. In all which Lepreas was overcome.

Hereupon another contention arose, which of them could drink most, in which also Lepreas was worsted. At last, moved with anger and indignation, he challenged Hercules to single combate. Thus he received punishment for his counsel to Augeas, for he was slain in the fight.


Of Alexander's magnificence to Phocion, and his to Alexander.

Alexander the son of Philip, (or, if any one likes it better, of Jupiter, for to me it is all one) to Phocion the Athenian Captain onely began his letters with the usual form of salutation, Hail, so much had Phocion won upon the Macedonian. He also sent him a hundred Talents of silver, and named four Cities, of which he might chuse any one to receive the revenues and profits thereof for his own use. These Cities were Cius, Ebæa, Mylasa, Patara: thus did Alexander liberally and magnificently. But Phocion farre more, who accepted neither the City nor the Silver ; yet that he might not seem to dis-esteem and contemn the offers of Alexander, he expressed his respect to him thus : He requested that they who were kept Prisoners in the Tower of Sardis might be set at liberty ; Echecratides the Sophist, Athenodorus of Himera, Demaratus and Sparto: these two were brethren and Rhodians.


Of Aglais a great eater.

I have heard of a woman that could sound a Trumpet, which art was her way of living, by name Aglais, daughter of Megacles; she wore a Periwig and a plume on her head, as Posidippus relates. At one meal she did devour twelve pounds of flesh, and four 12 Choenixes of bread, and drank a 13 Congius of wine.


Other great eaters.

These are reported to have been extraordinary great eaters : Pityreus a Phrygian, Cambletes a Libyan, Thius a Paphlagonian, Charidas, Cleonymus, Pisander, Charippus, Mithridates of Pontus, Calamodorus of Cyzicus, Timocreon a Rhodian, both a Wrastler and Poet, Cantibaris a Persian, Erysichthon son of Myrmidon, who for that reason was nick-named 14 Æthon. It is said also that there is a Temple in Sicily dedicated to Gluttony, and an Image of Ceres the Corn-giver.[15] Likewise Alcman the Poet attests of himself that he was a great eater. And Anaxilas the Comick Poet saith that there was one Ctesias an extraordinary Glutton.


Diet of Fish much esteemed by the Rhodians.

I will tell you a Rhodian opinion, In Rhodes, they say that if a man looks upon Fish with a greak liking, and loves 16 Fish above all other meat, they esteem him an extraordinary person : But such as like the diet of Flesh better are reproched by the Rhodians as clownish and gluttonous, whether justly or wrongfully, I not examine.


Of an Ewe which eaned a Lion.

The Coans report than an Ewe in the pastures of Nicippus the Tyrant did ean,[17] not a Lamb, but a Lion. By which sign it was portended to Nicippus (as yet but a private person) that he should be King.


That Galetes was beloved of Ptolomee not more for his beauty then his prudence

King Ptolomee loved a youth named Galetes: he was very beautiful, but of a mind transcending his form ; which Ptolomee frequently testified of him, saying, "Oh thou sweet of disposition, thou never wert author of harm to any, but on the contrary, hast done several good offices to many." On a time this youth rode forth with the King, and beholding afarre off some Malefactors led to execution, he readily said, (speaking to Ptolomee) "O King, since it is our chance to be on horse-back according to some good Genius of those wretches, come, if you please, let us spur on and overtake them, that we may appear to the unhappy men as the 18 Dioscuri, preservers and succourers" : (so those Gods are called.) Ptolomee much pleased with his sweet disposition and proneness to mercy, embraced him, and not onely saved the Malefactors, but confirmed and increased the affection he bare him.


The Persian custome of presenting Gifts to the King.

The Persians have a custome which they observe most strictly ; When the King rides abroad in Persia, all the Persians make him Presents according to their several abilities. They who live by the labour of their hands in husbandry and tillage, give one neither too mean, nor too rich or too magnificent, but either Oxen or Sheep ; some also Corn or Wine. These are presented to him by every one as he rides along, and are called Presents, by which name he also accepts them. The poorer sort bring Milk, Palms, Cheese, ripe Fruits, and other delicacies which grow in that Countrey.


Of Water presented as a gift to the King of Persia.

This also is a Persian story. They report that a Persian called Sinetes, being far from home, met Artaxerxes surnamed Mnemon; being thus surprised, he was much perplexed with fear of the Law and respect of the King. Having nothing at that time to give him, and being much troubled to be exceeded in duty by the rest of the Persians, unwilling that he alone should be infamous for not making a Present, they say that with all speed he ran to the River hard by, which was named Cyrus, and hastily lying down took up water in both his hands. "O King Artaxerxes, (said he) reign for ever. I make you at this time such a Present as I can get, and in such a manner as I can, that as farre as lies in me you may not pass by unpresented. I pay you homage in the water of Cyrus. But when you shall come at night to your station, I will bring from my house, and present you, the best and richest things that I have, according to my ability : I shall not come behind any of those who now offer you gifts." Artaxerxes was much pleased herewith. "Man, (saith he) I accept thy Present kindly, and reckon it amongst the most precious, declaring that it is of equal value with them ; First, because Water is the best of all things ; next, because it bears the name of Cyrus: And I will that you come to me where I shall lodge to night." This said, he commanded the Eunuchs to take the Gift from him ; who instantly running to him, received the Water out of his hand into a golden Cup. The King, as son as he came to his lodging, sent him a Persian Vest, a golden Cup, and a thousand Daricks ; withall, gave the Bearer order to say thus ; "The King commands you to delight your mind with this, because you have delighted his, in not suffering him to pass by unpresented and without homage, but paid him such respect as necessity would then allow. He wills also that you drink water from that River in this Cup."


Of an extraordinary great Pomegranate presented to the same King.

Nisus presented an extraordinary great Pomegranate in a Basket to Artaxerxes as he was riding in Persia. The King admiring the largeness of it, "From what Paradise, (said he) did you take this gift which you bring me ?" He answered, out of his own grounds, and that it was of his own grafting. The King was exceedingly pleased, and sent him royal gifts, saying, "By 19 Mithra, this man by like care and diligence might also in my opinion make a little City great." This speech implies, that by continual industry and labour all things may be made better then Nature hath produced them.


Of a Father, who accused his Son of a Capital crime.

A certain man, by Countrey Mardian, by name Rhacoces, had seven sons, the youngest of which, named Cartomes, did many harms to the 20 Magi. His Father first tried to reform his madness by admonition and instruction : but he not obeying, and the Judges coming to the place where this young man's Father lived, he taking his Son, and binding his hands behind him, brought him before the Judges, where he accused his Son of all the several outrages which he had committed, and desired the Judges to put the young man to death. They amazed hereat, would not condemn him, but brought them both before Artaxerxes; where the Mardian persisting in his plea, the King interrupting him said, "Then you can endure that your Son should be put to death before your eies." He answered, "Most willingly : For when in my Garden I prune and cut off the lower branches which grow about the Lettice, the mother and root of them is so farre from being grieved thereat, that she flourishes the better, and becometh both fairer and sweeter. In like manner, O King, when I shall see him who wronged my Family, and consumeth the means of his brothers, lose his life, and be prevented from doing them farther injury, I shall thrive the better, and behold the rest of my Family thrive with my self." Which Artaxerxes hearing, praised Rhacoces, and made him one of the Royal Judges, saying to those who were present, that he who had determined so justly concerning his own Children, would towards all others be an upright Judge. He dismissed the young man without punishment, threatning to put him to a most cruel death if he should offend again for the time to come.

The End.


Notes in [square brackets] are by me or others; unmarked notes are by Stanley.

1. A Fish so named from having many feet.

2. Minerva

3. A kinde of Spider.

4. [The ellipsis is Stanley's, out of prudery: the text continues "He adds that if the females are deprived of males, they make love among themselves; but having not the ability to fertilize themselves, they lay eggs that produce no chicks."]

4a. [Stanley follows the text here, which has πυραλλίδα, which scarcely makes sense; some editors suggest emending to πελειάδα, a kind of pigeon.]

4b. [When the ship returned from Delos: Recalling that each year the Athenians sent a ship to Delos (the Delian or Salaminian ship) carrying the equipage for the Delian games. It was forbidden to execute criminals from the moment the ship left Athens until its return. Socrates was condemned to death during the period when the Delian ship was away and thus the sentence was not carried out until the return of the ship.]

5. Reading ἀδόξων.

6. Ἀγαθοῦ δαίμονος, a cup which they used to drink afer meals, after which the Tables were taken away. [Some editors want to read Τυῤῥηνίους here for Τροιζηνίους, so that Dionysios would have raided the Tyrrhenian coast.]

7. ["Merrily": thus the established text, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Various emendations have been suggested.]

8. Falling prostrate.

9. Read ταλαντιαῖαι.

10. [Glaucon or Caucon: Ælian has Glaucon, but Caucon is the usual name given for the son of Neptune and Astydamia.]

11. To demand revenge on his son : so Scheffer. [Stanley has also adopted Scheffer's reading to Caucon as opposed to Ælians to the Caucons; although there was such a tribe, it perhaps makes more sense to have Hercules go to Caucon. On the other hand, Ælian gives the individual's name as Glaucon. ]

12. Peck loaves.

13. Nine pints.

14. So reade ; Αἲθων, as Scheffer. [= "burning", as in "burning with hunger", an expression. As opposed to the textual Κάνθων, donkey or ass, who was in some ancient traditions a glutton and a gourmand.]

15. [Ceres the Corn-giver: if we take σῖτος in its narrowest meaning; here probably it should be given its broadest meaning, food (as opposed to drink: Ceres (or Demeter) the goddess of food.]

16. Ὀψοφαγίστατον.

17. [ean, properly, yean: to give birth to, especially said of ovines. Coans: natives of Cos. Nicippus: some emend to Nicias, on the grounds that the latter is otherwise recorded as a tyrant of Cos, whereas the former is heard of only in this passage.]

18. Castor & Pollux.

19. The sun, chief Deity of the Persians.

20. Scheffer, to the Mardians. [Scheffer proposes to read Μάρδους, the Mardians, for μάγους; Cuper proposes τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ("the other kids"). This latter reading seems to fit best with the speech of the father below. Death seems a harsh penalty for bothering one's siblings, although, as one possessed of a brother who can be highly irritating, I certainly know the feeling.]

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