Thomas Stanley, translator (1665) Claudius Aelianus His Various History. Book IV (pages 100-121)


Various History.

The Fourth Book.


Several Customes of Nations and People.

A Certain Law of the Lucanians saith, That if after Sun-set a Stranger come and request to lodge under the roof of any one, if he entertain not the man, let him be punished, and pay the penalties of Inhospitality. As I conceive both to the person that came to him, and to hospitable Jupiter.

I am informed that the Dardanians in Illyria wash but thrice in their whole life ; at Birth, at Marriage, and at Death.

The Indians do not let out money to use, neither do they receive any : Neither is it lawful for an Indian to give or take wrong. Hence they neither make Bonds, or give Pawns.

It is a Sardinian Law, That when Parents grow very old, their sons should by beating them with Clubs kill them, and then bury them ; they conceiving it unfit that a man at an extraordinary age should live any longer, he frequently failing by reason of his bodie's being opprest with old age. There was also this Law amongst them, They punished Idleness ; and he who lived slothfully was to be arraigned, and to give an account of his manner of life, and to shew where were his means of subsistence.

The Assyrians gathered together in a certain City such Virgins as were fit for Marriage, proclaiming a Fair of them ; and whoever buyes one carries her away as his Bride.

The Biblians, if they light upon any thing by chance in the way, take not up what they laid not down ; for such a thing is not esteemed the right of the finder, but a theft.1

The Berbiccans put all persons to death that are above threescore and ten years old ; the Men by Sword, the Women by Halter.2

The Colchians intomb their dead in Skins, in which they sow them, and hang them up on trees.

It was a custome of the Lydians to prostitute their Women before Marriage : but being once married they must live continently ; and she who transgressed was not capable of pardon.

Chap. II.

Of the difference betwixt Nicostratus, who plaied upon the Lute onely, and Laodocus, who both plaid and sung to the Lute.

It is reported that Nicostratus a Fidler, arguing with Laodocus a Lutenist about Musick, said, That he in a great Art was little, but that himself in a little Art was great. It is therefore a commendable thing not onely to improve a Family and Estate, but an Art also, if we believe Nicostratus, who in this said excellently.

Chap. III.

Of Polygnotus and Dionysius, Painters.

Polygnotus a Thasian and Dionysius a Colophonian were two Painters. Polygnotus wrought to the full bigness, and most commonly descriptions of Games : Dionysius copied the same things in little, alike exactly in every thing but their bigness ; as the spirit, air, posture, habit, and the like.

Chap. IV.

A Theban Law concerning Artificers and Painters.

I am told there is a Law at Thebes, which commands Artificers, both Painters and Potters, to make the Figures as good as may be. This Law menaceth to those who mould or paint them not well a pecuniary mulct.

Chap. V.

Persons that were mindful of Benefits.

Persons that were mindful of Benefits received, and gratefully requited them. Theseus to Hercules : for Aidoneus King of the Moloßians having cast Theseus into bonds because he came along with Pirithous, to steal away his Wife, (not intending to marry her himself, but doing this onely for the sake of Pirithous) Hercules coming to the Moloßians set Theseus at liberty, for which Theseus erected an Altar to him. And those seven Captains that besieged Thebes were grateful to Pronax, for Pronax being killed in their Cause, they instituted Games in memory of him ; which most think were celebrated for the Captain Archemorus.3

And Hercules was grateful to Nestor : for when Neleus would not entertain him, and the rest of his sons were of Neleus his minde, Nestor onely dissented ; for which reason Hercules, having taken the City, put Neleus and the rest of his sons to death, but not onely spared Nestor, but bestowed on him the Kingdom of his Ancestours.4 And the Athenians expressed a publick gratitude to the children of Hercules ; for because their progenitour had deserved well of Theseus, the Athenians did therefore conduct them to Peloponnesus. And Hercules was grateful to the three hundred and three-score Cleonians : For they having aided him against the Molionidæ, and dying generously and honourably, he transferred to them the Honours which the Nemeans bestowed on him for subduing the Lion which over-ran and wasted their Country.5

And Menestheus son of Peteus was not ungrateful to the Tyndaridæ : for they having cast out the sons of Theseus, and taken Æthra the Mother of Theseus Prisoner, they bestowed the Kingdome upon Menestheus ; for which reason Menestheus named them Kings and Preservers.

And Darius son of Hystaspes having (whilest he was yet a private person) received in gift a Garment from Syloson, when he was possessed of the Empire, bestowed on him the Government of his own Country Samos, Gold, as we may say, for Dross.6

Chap. VI.

An Oracle concerning the Athenians.

When the Lacedemonians would have utterly destroyed the City of the Athenians, consulting the Oracle, they brought answer in this manner ; "Do not remove the common Altar of Greece."

Chap. VII.

That sometimes the Dead rest not even after Death ; and of Pausanias.

Not Death it self benefits wicked persons, since even then they cannot rest : But either they are wholly destitute of Sepulchres ; or, if buried, yet fail of the latest honor, and common port of all bodies.7 So when Pausanias took part with the Medes, the Lacedemonians not onely famished him, but threw his carcase out beyond their Borders, as Epitimedes reports.8

Chap. VIII.

Of the Vicißitudes of Fortune.

Who knows not the sudden and swift changes of Fortune ? The Lacedemonians, when they were Masters of the Thebans, were again so subdued by them, that the Thebans came not onely into Peloponnesus, but passed Eurotas, and wasted the Country of the Lacedemonians, and had taken the City, if Epimonandas has not feared that all the Peloponnesians should conspire and fight for Sparta.

Dionysius the Tyrant being besieged by the Carthaginians, having no hope of relief, did quite despair, and intended to run away ; but one of his friends, named Ellopides, coming to him, said, "O Dionysius, the Title of King is an excellent Funeral ornament." Hereat ashamed, he took heart, and with a few overcame many Myriads, and enlarged his Empire.

Amyntas the Macedonian9 being worsted by his neighbouring Barbarians, and losing his Kingdome, took his resolution to quit the Country wholly, thinking he did enough if he saved himself. Whilest he was in these thoughts, one told him of the saying of Ellopides : whereupon seizing a little place, and gathering many Souldiers together, he recovered the Kingdome.

The Ægyptians in their own language called Ochus an Ass, reproching his sloth by the dulness of that Beast. For which he seizing Apis sacrificed him to an Ass.10

Dio son of Hipparinus being banished by Dionysius, with three thousand Souldiers conquered him, and reduced him to his own estate, a banished person.

The Syracusians with nine Gallies assaulting an hundred and twenty of the Carthaginians, overcame them.

Chap. IX.

Of the Humility of Plato, and Ingratitude of Aristotle.

Plato, son of Aristo, at the Olympick Games fell into company with some strangers who knew him not, upon whose affections he gained much by his affable conversation ; dining and spending the whole day with them, not mentioning either the Academy or Socrates, onely saying his name was Plato. When they came to Athens, he entertained them courteously. "Come, Plato, said the strangers, shew us your name-sake, Socrates his disciple, bring us to the Academy, recommend us to him, that we may know him." He smiling a little, as he used, said, "I am the man" : whereat they were much amazed, having conversed so familiarly with a person of that note, and not knowing him, who used no boasting or ostentation. Whence it appears, that besides his Philosophical discourse, his ordinary conversation was extremely winning.

Plato called Aristotle a Colt : What is meant by that name is manifest : a Colt as soon as it is satisfied with the milk of the Dam kicks at her. Plato therefore hereby signified some Ingratitude of Aristotle ; for he having received the greatest seeds of Philosophy from him, and introduction thereto, as soon as he was replenished and satisfied with the best things thereof, revolted from him, and, getting his friends together, set up against him Peripateticism, professing himself Plato's adversary.

Chap. X.

What respect Pericles had for the Athenian people.

Did not Pericles, son of Xanthippus, bear a great respect to the Athenian people ? to me it appears so ; for as often as he was to speak in publick, he wished that no word might fall from him which might exasperate the people, as being contrary to them or their opinion.

Chap. XI.

Of the Luxury of Socrates.

Diogenes said that Socrates himself was luxurious : for he was too curious in his little House, and in his little Bed, and in the Sandals which he used to wear.

Chap. XII.

Of the Picture of Helena drawn by Zeuxis.

Zeuxis the Heracleote having drawn Helena, got much money for the Picture ; for he admitted not every one that came accidentally, or out of a desire to see it, but made them first pay money before they saw it. Hereupon the Heracleote gaining much money by the Picture, the Grecians of that time called this Helena a Curtezan.

Chap. XIII.

The saying and happineß of Epicurus.

Epicurus the Gargettian said, that to whom a little is not sufficient, nothing is sufficient. The same said, that he was ready to contend with Jupiter in felicity when he had bread and water. This being the opinion of Epicurus, what he meant when he praised Pleasure we shall know elsewhere.

Chap. XIV.

Of sparing and keeping Riches.

Many times Riches gathered together peny by peny, with much labour, as Archilochus saith, are poured into the lap of a Curtezan. For money is as the Sea Hedgehog, easier to be taken then kept. Anaxagoras also in his Book of Kingly Government saith, It is hard to get Money, but much harder to keep it.

Chap. XV.

Of some who in sickneß learned Musick and other Sciences, in which recovering they became eminent.

Hiero Tyrant of Sicily is said to have been first a private person, and of all men the most averse from learning Musick, and nothing inferiour to his brother Gelo in Rusticity. But falling sick he became extraordinary learned, imploying the leisure of his infirmity in hearing learned Discourses. Hiero therefore recovering heard Simonides the Cean, Pindarus the Theban, and Bacchylides the Juliet ; but Gelo was illiterate to the last.

They say also that Ptolomee the second falling sick became very learned.11 And Plato affirms that Theages studied Philosophy upon no other occasion then the leisure of sickness, which hindring him from Civil affairs forced him to the love of Learning. What man of understanding wisheth not that sickness had befallen Alcibiades, Critias, Pausanias the Lacedemonian, and others ? To Alcibiades and Critias, that they might not have revolted from Socrates. One becoming insolent, and sometimes taking part with the Bœotians, sometimes with the Thessalians, the Medes and Persians, adhering to Pharnabazus. But Critias became most Tyrannical and bloudy, and much opprest his Country, and led a hated life.

And Straton son of Corrhagus seems to have fallen sick advantageously. For being of an old family and rich, he used no exercise ; but falling ill of the Spleen, and exercise being requisite for his cure, he addicted himself to it, and making progress therein, he in one day at the Olympick Games was victor in wrastling and the Pancratium, as also in the following Olympick and Nemean and Isthmian and Pythian Games.

Likewise Democrates the Wrastler, having a pain in his feet, went to the Games, and standing in the Stadium made a Circle about himself, and challenged his Antagonists to force him beyond the line ; which they not able to doe, were worsted : And he, for continuing firmly in his station, went away crowned.

Chap. XVI.

Qualities of some of the Ancients.

If any man imitate Callias, he will make him a great Drinker ; if Ismenias, a Player on the Flute ; a Boaster, if Alcibiades ; a maker of Broths, if Crobylus ; an excellent Oratour, if Demosthenes ; Warlike, if Epaminondas ; Magnanimous, if Agesilaus ; Good, if Phocion ; Just, if Aristides ; and Wise, if Socrates.

Chap. XVII.

Wonders and Opinions of Pythagoras.

Pythagoras taught men that he was begotten of a better kind then mortal nature. For on the same day, and at the same hour, he was seen at Metapontium and in Crotona. Likewise at Olympia he shewed one of his Thighs which was of Gold ; and did make Myllias the Crotonian call to mind that he had been Midas son of Cordius a Phrygian.12 He also stroked a white Eagle which came to him of her own accord, and as he passed over the River Cosa, the River saluted him, saying "Hail Pythagoras."

He affirmed the leaf of Mallows to be most sacred. He said that Arithmetick is the wisest of all things : Next, he who imposed names on things. And that Earthquakes were nothing else but Conventions of the dead : And that the Rainbow is the beams of the Sun13 : And that the sound which frequently strikes the ear is the voice of Dæmons. It was not lawful to doubt of any thing he said or question about it, but to acquiesce in what he said as in a Divine Oracle. And when he came to Cities, a report was spread that he came not to teach, but to heal.

The same Pythagoras commanded to abstain from the Heart, and from a white Cock, and from all things that died of themselves, and not to use Baths, nor to goe in the common Road14 ; it being doubtful whether these things were pure.

Chap. XVIII.

Of the respect and honour which Dionysius gave to Plato.

When Plato, invited by the frequent Letters of Dionysius, came to Sicily, the young Dionysius placed him in a Chariot, whilest he himself played the Coachman : whereupon a facetious Syracusian well versed in Homer, pleased with the sight, spake these Verses out of the Iliads,15 with a little alteration :

The Chariot groan'd beneath the weight, Proud that the best of men there sat.

Whereas Dionysius was jealous of all others, he had so great respect for Plato, that he suffered him onely to come to him unsearched (though he knew him to be Dio's intimate friend).

Chap. XIX.

That Philip honoured Learning ; and of Aristotle.

Philip the Macedonian is not onely said to have been a good Souldier, and an excellent Oratour ; but he likewise honoured Learning exceedingly. Wherefore supplying Aristotle with much money, he was the cause of his great and various Experience, and of his knowledge in living Creatures. Whose History the son of Nicomachus acquired through the wealth of Philip.16 He honoured Plato also and Theophrastus.

Chap. XX.

Of Democritus, and of the Renown of him, Theophrastus, Hippocrates, and others.

It is reported that Democritus the Abderite was wise, besides other things, in desiring to live unknown, and that he wholly endeavoured it. In pursuit whereof he travelled to many Countries ; he went to the Chaldæans, and to Babylon, and to the Magi, and to the Indian Sophists. When the estate of his Father Damasippus was to be divided into three parts amongst the three Brothers, he took onely so much as might serve for his travel, and left the rest to his Brethren. For this Theophrastus commends him, that by travelling he had gained better things then Menelaus and Ulysses. For they wandred up and down not otherwise then Phœnician Merchants, for they gathered money, which was the occasion of their travel by Sea and Land. The Abderites called Democritus, Philosophy ; but Protagoraas, Discourse.

Democritus laughed at all people, and said they were mad ; when his Countreymen called him Gelasinus.17 They likewise say, that Hippocrates at his first meeting with Democritus thought him mad : But after they had conversed together, admired the man. They say that Hippocrates, though he were Dorick, yet for the sake of Democritus he composed his Writings in the Ionick Dialect.

Chap. XXI.

Of those who were beloved of Socrates and Plato.

Alcibiades was beloved of Socrates, Dio of Plato. But Dio received advantage by the love of his friend.

Chap. XXII.

Of the Luxury of the Athenians.

The ancient Athenians wore purple garments, and various coloured Vests. They likewise tied their Hair in Knots, to which they put golden Grass-hoppers,18 and other ornaments of Gold. When they went abroad,19 their servants carried Folding-stools, that when they pleased they might sit down. It is certain also, that their Tables and Diet were very Luxurious ; and yet whilest they did this, they were Victors at Marathon.

Chap. XXIII.

Of certain Prodigal persons.

Prodigality and voluptuous life reduced Pericles, and Callias son of Hipponicus, and Nicias of Pergaseus to indigence. When money failed them, these three drank Hemlock, their last draught, to one another, and died as at a Feast.20

Chap. XXIV.

How Friendship may be best preserved.

Leoprepes the Cean, Father of Simonides, chanced on a time to sit in the Wrastling-place : Two young men, intire Friends, came to him, and asked him how their Friendship might best be preserved. He said, "If you yield to one anothers anger, and not by opposition provoke each other."

Chap. XXV.

Of the strange Madneß of Thrasyllus.

Thrasyllus the Æxonian fell into a strange and new kind of Madness ; he left the City and went to Pyræum (the Haven,) and dwelling there, he fansied that all the Ships which came in were his, and registred them, and so dismissed them. When any came safe into the Haven, he rejoyced exceedingly. This Infirmity held him many years. At length his brother, coming from Sicily, put him to a Physician to be cured, and so his Madness ceased. He many times mentioned his actions during his Madness, and said that he never had so much Joy, as when he ws pleased with seeing Ships come in safe which nothing belonged to him.

Chap. XXVI.

Of Electra.

Xanthus a Lyrick Poet (he was ancienter then Stesichorus the Himeran) saith that Electra daughter of Agamemnon was not named so at first, but Laodice.21 Afterwards when Agamenon was slain, and Ægisthus marrying Clytemnestra reigned, she lived unacquainted with the Marriage-bed, and grew old a Virgin22 : for which reason the Grecians called her Electra, as having never had a Husband, and living unacquainted with the Marriage-bed.23

Chap. XXVII.

Of the gift of Pamphaes and Diotimus.

Pamphaes a Prienian gave to Crœsus, whilest his Father was yet living, thirty Minæ, who coming to the Crown sent him a great Chariot filled with Silver.

Diogenes receiving a little money of Diotimus the Carystian said,24

The Gods immortal grant To thee what thou dost want, A Man and House.

It seems that this Diotimus was effeminate.


That Pherecydes fell into a Phthiriasis because of his Atheism.

Pherecydes the Syrian ended his life the most miserable of men : his whole body being consumed by Vermine, and his countenance becoming loathsome, he declined the conversation of his acquaintance. And whensoever any one coming to visit him demanded how he did, putting out his finger though the hole in the door, the flesh whereof was quite eaten off, he said, that his whole body was such. The Delians affirm, that the God in Delus displeased with him wrought this : for as he sate in Delus with his Disciples, he spoke many things concerning himself, amongst the rest this, That he had sacrificed to none of the Gods, and yet led a life no less pleasant and void of grief then they who offered Hecatombs.25 For this vain speech he suffered severe punishment.

Chap. XXIX.

That Alexander ridiculously believed there are infinite Worlds.26

I cannot forbear to laugh at Alexander the son of Philip, who seeing that Democritus in his Writings asserted that there are infinite Worlds, was troubled that he had not quite subdued one. How much Democritus himself would have laughed at him, what need I say ? whose custome that was.

The End.


Stanley's notes are marked by glyphs (e.g., *); other notes are numbered.

1. Biblians: from Byblos. Cf. Book III, Chap. XLVI.

2. Berbiccans: or Derbiccans, Δερβίκκαι, an Asian people living near Hercynia. According to Strabo, XI.11.8, the near kinsmen eat the old men who are put to death, but not the old women (they do not eat anything female).

3. Archemorus is the name given to Opheltes after he was eaten by a serpent while his nurse showed the Seven Captains a spring. Some think that Pronax here is the same as Archemorus (and Opheltes). In any case, "Captain" is Stanley's mistaken interpolation. On the Nemean games, see Myth of Opheltes.

4. Not so much entertain; Hercules wanted Neleus to perform a rite of purification after one of Hercules's unjust slaughters (the accounts vary as to exactly which of them he needed forgiveness for: Hyginus says it was for killing his wife and his two sons). After slaughtering Neleus and his family, Hercules seems to give up on the idea of needing purification for the earlier crime. Apollodorus says that Nestor survived because he wasn't there.

5. Aelian does not say what exactly these honors were.

6. Gold for dross: Iliad VI.236, χρύσεα χαλκείων.

7. Sepulchres … bodies: that is, either they were denied a proper burial, which according to some ancient beliefs might prevent them from passing the Styx, or they simply were not allowed into the afterlife on account of their lives. "Bodies" doesn't refer to their physical bodies, but just to them; "beings" or "people".

8. According to Cornelius Nepos, Pausanias, he was immured in the temple of Minerva, where he had taken refuge, and there left to starve (after the citizens took the roof off the temple). Cornelius Nepos says he was buried, twice, once at "some distance" from where he died and again, at the order of the Delphic oracle, at the spot where he died. Plutarch (if it is Plutarch) reports a similar story of his immurement and says that Pausanias's body was cast out (by his mother), Parallela Minora 10. Diodorus Siculus XI.45 denies this and reports that Pausanias's parents were permitted to bury the body. See also Book IX, Chap. 41.

9. Amyntas: grandfather of Alexander.

10. See also Hist. Anim. X.xxviii, who says that Cambyses had done this before. Plutarch, Isis & Osiris, says that Ochus ate Apis. Plutarch does not mention making the Egyptians worship an Ass.

11. Ptolomee Philadelphus who founded the library at Alexandria. Strabo attributes his learning in part to the "infirmity of his body" (not quite the same thing as an acute disease); see XVII 1.5.

12. Pythagoras, among the many absurdities attributed to him, is credited with the creation or at least the teaching of the doctrine of metempsychosis.

13. Rays of the sun: adopting Gesner's proposed reading here, ὡς αὐγὴ τοῦ ἡλίου ἐστί for ὡς ἡ γῆ τοῦ Νείλου ἐστί. Gronovius proposes πηγὴ τοῦ Νείλου, making the Rainbow the source of the Nile.

14. Baths...Road: that is, public baths. Iamblicus claims that Pythagoras was speaking metaphorically of the "common road": that is, "common custom, the usual course of life". Commentators on Pythagoras delight in coming up with ingenious explanations of the various prohibitions.

15. After Homer, Iliad V.838, where Pallas Athena takes the reigns of Diomedes' chariot. Stanley's translation is inaccurate and loses the point: the original says "the chariot groan'd beneath the burden of the awe-inspiring goddess and the magnificent hero"; the Syracusian's version "the chariot groan'd beneath the weight of the awe-inspiring mortal and the best of men".

16. Pliny, Book VIII, says it was Alexander who supported Aristotle's work on natural history.

17. Gelasinus: laugher, from γελάω, to laugh.

18. The Scoliast on Aristophanes says that the Athenians wore golden grasshoppers for one (or both) of two reasons: either that the grasshopper's song makes them scred to Apollo, one of the tutelary divinities of Athens, or that the grasshopper, like the Athenians, sprang from the earth itself (were "autochthonous"). The latter is the explanation usually proffered.

19. Abroad: that is, out of their houses; essentially, anywhere. (Standard 17th-century usage, but perhaps misleading to a modern reader.)

20. Pericles, according to Plutarch, died of the plague while still an Athenian general and not indigent. His period of prodigality was succeeded by a period of parsimony so stringent that it drove his wife and children to distraction. Atheneus (XII) says that Callias died of want, but not poisoned. Nicias is usually said to have died in the company of two of his convives, Autocles and Epicles.

21. See also Homer, Iliad IX.145, where Agamenon lists his three daughters, Chrysothemis, Laodice, and Iphianassa :
τρεῖς δέ μοί εἰσι θύγατρες ἐνὶ μεγάρῳ εὐπήκτῳ/
Χρυσόθεμις καὶ Λαοδίκη καὶ Ἰφιάνασσα

22. She could not have grown too old a virgin, since she married Pylades and bore two children, at least in the common version of the story.

23. As though from Ἄλεκτρος, "without conjugal bed". If this is true, perhaps the name refers to the story that Clytemnestra and Ægisthus first gave Electra in marriage to a peasant, in the hopes that base-born children would be less likely to attempt to avenge their grandfather; but the peasant respected Electra' objections and refused to consummate the marriage. Thus Euripides. Some would prefer to derive the name from Ἡλέκτωρ, a name for the sun, which never sleeps; hence ἠλέκτρον, a shining metal (and also amber). There are several other Electra's in Greek history, which might make the second derivation more likely; but compare Virginia.

24. Quoting Homer, Odyssey VI.180-181, where Odysseus is speaking to Nausicaa:

σοὶ δὲ θεοὶ τόσα δοῖεν ὅσα φρεσὶ σῇσι μενοινᾷς, ἄνδρα τε καὶ οἶκον...

25. Although this was not a result of atheism; Pherecydes, like his disciple Pythagoras, believed in metempsychosis and thus refused to sacrifice animals, maintaining that the gods or God would be satisfied with offerings of perfume and flowers and cakes and such. He was presumably in error, if we are to believe the story of his death.

26. It's not the belief in infinite worlds that Aelian finds amusing, but Alexander's comment that he had not been able to conquer even the one. (A variant of the story has him complaining that there is only one world to conquer.)

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