Chap. XIX.

Of Lampries.

WHETHER Lampries have nine eyes, as is received, we durst refer it unto Polyphemus, who had but one, to judg it. An error concerning eyes, occasioned by the error of eyes; deduced from the appearance of divers cavities or holes on either side,[1] which some call eyes that carelessly behold them; and is not only refutable by experience, but also repugnant unto Reason. For beside the monstrosity they fasten unto Nature, in contriving many eyes, who hath made but two unto any Animal, that is, one of each side, according to the division of the brain; it were a superfluous inartificial act to place and settle so many in one plane; for the two extreams would sufficiently perform the office of sight without the help of the intermediate eyes, and behold as much as all seven joyned together. For the visible base of the object would be defined by these two; and the middle eyes, although they behold the same thing, yet could they not behold so much thereof as these; so were it no advantage unto man to have a third eye between those two he hath already; and the fiction of Argus seems more reasonable then this; for though he had many eyes, yet were they placed in circumference and positions of advantage, and so are they placed in several lines in Spiders.

Again, These cavities which men calls eyes are seated out of the head, and where the Gils of other fish are placed; containing no Organs of sight, nor having any Communication with the brain. Now all sense proceeding from the brain, and that being placed (as Galen observeth[2]) in the upper part of the body, for the fitter situation of the eyes, and conveniency required unto sight; it is not reasonable to imagine that they are any where else, or deserve that name which are seated in other parts. And therefore we relinquish as fabulous what is delivered of Sternophthalmi, or men with eyes in their breast,[3] and when it is said by Solomon, A wise mans eyes are in his head, it is to be taken in a second sense, and affordeth no objection.[4] True it is that the eyes of Animals are seated with some difference, but in sanguineous animals in the head, and that more forward then the ear or hole of hearing. In quadrupedes, in regard of the figure of their heads, they are placed at some distance; in latirostrous and flat-bild birds they are more laterally seated; and therefore when they look intently they turn one eye upon the object, and can convert their heads to see before and behind, and to behold two opposite points at once. But at a more easie distance are they situated in man, and in the same circumference with the ear; for if one foot of the compass be placed upon the Crown, a circle described thereby will intersect, or pass over both the ears.

The error in this conceit consists in the ignorance of these cavities, and their proper use in nature;[5] for this is a particular disposure of parts, and a peculiar conformation whereby these holes and sluces supply the defect of Gils, and are assisted by the conduit in the head; for like cetaceous Animals and Whales, the Lamprie hath a fistula, spout or pipe at the back part of the head, whereat it spurts out water.[6] Nor is it only singular in this formation, but also in many other; as in defect of bones, whereof it hath not one; and for the spine or backbone, a cartilaginous substance without any spondyles, processes or protuberance whatsoever. As also in the provision which Nature hath made for the heart; which in this Animal is very strangely secured, and lies immured in a cartilage or gristly substance. And lastly, in the colour of the liver: which is in the Male of an excellent grass green: but of a deeper colour in the Female, and will communicate a fresh and durable verdure.[7]


* [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 does not defend this opinion, which seems not to have been very widespread among the more learned of the vulgar.

1 [Wilkin notes "These are the bronchial apertures, of which the lamprey has seven on each side. — It has two eyes; but it is remarkable that there are no holes in the skin, but only transparent round spots, over the eyes." The openings are more commonly called "gill apertures"; lampreys have as well a large dorsal "nostral" or "nasal aperture" in which its olfactory sense is centered. The lamprey was and is sometimes referred to (mostly by fishermen) as "seven-eyes" and "nine-eyes". This, it will be noted, is rather odd, as there are seven gill apertures and one large eye on each side; one would expect either eight-eyes or sixteen-eyes. Without a long discussion, we may further note that such names do not necessarily indicate a literal belief in the identity of the features referred to and their name: one may think of sword-fish, razor-backs, duck-billed platypus, and so on.]

2 ["Seemingly", says Galen, de Usu partium Lib. VIII: "Videtur enim cerebrum in capite locatum esse propter oculos" (trans. Nicolaus Rheginus (1528), p. 238).]

3 [Strabo, 1.2.35 and 7.3.6; in both cases Strabo refers to Aeschylus and his "wild inventions"; probably a lost play, although it may be a reference to Prometheus Bound, l. 804; there is, however, a distinct difference between having only one eye and having an eye in the chest.]

4 [Eccles. 2:14: "The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all."]

5 [A peculiar marginal notation to this paragraph ignores the entire object of the chapter: "To what use the nine eyes in a Lamprie do serve."]

6 [The so-called nasal or nasohypophysial aperture; it does not connect with the breathing apparatus, as is the case in the dolphin and the whale, although it is thought once to have penetrated the palate.]

7 [Most lampreys lack a bile duct, with the result that over the years the liver turns green; but the only illustration I have seen of this could hardly be called "an excellent grass green" — perhaps it was a female — and in any case Browne seems to indicate that the color is present more or less in all lamprey livers. Time for a trip to the library for books on lampreys.]

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