Chap. XI.

Of Pigmies.

BY Pigmies we understand a dwarfish race of people, or lower diminution of mankind, comprehended in one cubit, or as some will have it, in two foot, or three spans; not taking them single, but nationally considering them, and as they make up an aggregated habitation. Whereof although affirmations be many, and testimonies more frequent then in any other point which wise men have cast into the list of fables, yet that there is, or ever was such a race or Nation, upon exact and confirmed testimonies, our strictest enquiry receaves no satisfaction.[1]

I say, exact testimonies, first, In regard of the Authors, from whom we derive the account, for though we meet herewith in Herodotus,[2] Philostratus, Mela, Pliny,[3] Solinus, and many more; yet were they derivative Relators, and the primitive Author was Homer; who, using often similies, as well to delight the ear, as to illustrate his matter, in the third of his Iliads, compareth the Trojans unto Cranes, when they descend against the Pigmies;[4] which was most largely set out by Oppian, Juvenal, Mantuan, and many Poets since; and being only a pleasant figment in the fountain, became a solemn story in the stream, and current still among us.

Again, Many professed enquirers have rejected it; Strabo an exact and judicious Geographer, hath largely condemned it as a fabulous story, Julius Scaliger a diligent enquirer, accounts thereof, but as a Poetical fiction; Ulysses Aldrovandus a most exact Zoographer in an express discourse hereon, concludes the story fabulous, and a Poetical account of Homer; and the same was formerly conceived by Eustathius his excellent Commentator. Albertus Magnus a man oft-times too credulous, herein was more then dubious; for he affirmeth, if any such dwarfs were ever extant, they were surely some kind of Apes; which is a conceit allowed, by Cardan, and not esteemed improbable by many others.[5]

There are I confesse two testimonies, which from their authority admit of consideration. The first of Aristotle, whose words are these,6 ἔστι δὲ ὁ τόπος, etc. That is, Hic locus est quem incolunt Pygmæi, non enim id fabula est, sed pusillum genus ut aiunt. Wherein indeed Aristotle plaies the Aristotle, that is, the wary and evading assertor; For though with non est fabula, he seems at first to confirm it, yet at the last he claps in, Sicut aiunt, and shakes the beliefe he put before upon it. And therefore I observe Scaliger hath not translated the first; perhaps supposing it surreptitious or unworthy so great an assertor. And truly for those books of animals, or work of eight hundred talents, as Athenæus terms it, although ever to be admired, as containing most excellent truths; yet are many things therein delivered upon relation, and some repugnant unto the history of our senses; as we are able to make out in some, and Scaliger hath observed in many more, as he hath freely declared in his Comment upon that piece.

The second testimony is deduced from holy Scripture;7 Sed & Pygmæi qui erant in turribus tuis, pharetras suas suspenderunt in muris tuis per gyrum: from whence notwithstanding we cannot infer this assertion, for first the Translators accord not, and the Hebrew word Gammadim is very variously rendered. Though Aquila, Vatablus and Lyra will have it Pygmæi, yet in the Septuagint, it is no more then Watchmen;[8] and so in the Arabick and high Dutch. In the Chaldie, Cappadocians, in Symmachus, Medes, and in the French, those of Gamad. Theodotian of old, and Tremellius of late, have retained the Textuary word; and so have the Italian, Low Dutch and English Translators, that is, the Men of Arvad were upon thy walls round about, and the Gammadims were in thy Towers.

Nor do men only dissent in the Translation of the word, but in the Exposition of the sense and meaning thereof; for some by Gammadims understand a people of Syria, so called from the City Gamala; some hereby understand the Cappadocians, many the Medes:9 and hereof Forerius hath a singular Exposition, conceiving the Watchmen of Tyre, might well be called Pigmies, the Towers of that City being so high, that unto Men below, they appeared in a cubital stature. Others expounded it quite contrary to common acception, that is not Men of the least, but of the largest size; so doth Cornelius construe Pygmæi, or viri cubitales, that is, not Men of a cubit high, but of the largest stature, whose height like that of Giants is rather to be taken by the cubit then the foot; in which phrase we read the measure of Goliath, whose height is said to be six cubits and a span. Of affinity hereto is also the Exposition of Jerom; not taking Pigmies for dwarfs, but stout and valiant Champions; not taking the sense of πυγμὴ, which signifies the cubit measure, but that which expresseth Pugils; that is, Men fit for combat and the exercise of the fist. Thus can there be no satisfying illation from this Text, the diversity or rather contrariety of Expositions and interpretations, distracting more then confirming the truth of the story.[10]

Again, I say, exact testimonies; in reference unto circumstantial relations so diversly or contrarily delivered. Thus the Relation of Aristotle placeth them above Egypt towards the head of Nyle in Africa; Philostratus affirms they are about Ganges in Asia, and Pliny in a third place, that is Gerania in Scythia: some write they fight with Cranes, but Menecles in Athenæus affirms they fight with Partridges, some say they ride on Partridges, and some on the backs of Rams.

Lastly, I say, confirmed testimonies; for though Paulus Jovinus delivers there are Pigmies beyond Japan; Pigafeta, about the Molucca's; and Olaus Magnus placeth them in Greenland; yet wanting frequent confirmation in a a matter so confirmable, their affirmation carrieth but slow perswasion; and wise men may think there is as much reality in the Pigmies of Paracelsus; that is, his non-Adamical men, or middle natures betwixt men and spirits.11

There being thus no sufficient confirmation of their verity, some doubt may arise concerning their possibility, wherein, since it is not defined in what dimensions the soul may exercise her faculties, we shall not conclude impossibility; or that there might not be a race of Pigmies, as there is sometimes of Giants. So may we take in the opinion of Austin, and his Comment Ludovicus, but to believe they should be in the stature of a foot or span, requires the preaspection of such a one as Philetas the Poet in Athenæus; who was faine to fasten lead unto his feet lest the wind should blow him away. Or that other in the same Author, who was so little ut ad obolum accederet, a story so strange, that we might herein accuse the PRINTER, did not the account of Ælian accord unto it, as Casaubon hath observed in his learned Animadversions.

Lastly, If any such Nation there were, yet is it ridiculous what Men have delivered of them; that they fight with Cranes upon the backs of Rams or Partridges: or what is delivered by Ctesias, that they are Negroes in the middest of India; whereof the King of that Country, entertaineth three thousand Archers for his guard. Which is a relation below the tale of Oberon; nor could they better defend him, then the Emblem saith, they offended Hercules whilest he slept; that is to wound him no deeper, then to awake him.[12]


* [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's answer to this chapter, in Arcana Microcosmi II.3.iii, amounts to (1) "there are too pigmies: the ancients said so" and (2) "there are too pigmies: X saw one here and Y saw one there"; that is, (1) begging the question and (2) ignoring the careful definition of "pigmies" in the first paragraph of this chapter.

1 [Ross in Arcana Microcosmi argues that "it stands to reason there should be such, that God's wisdom might be seen in all sorts of magnitudes; for if there have been giants, why not also pygmies, nature being as propense to the least, as to the greatest magnitude." He cites Buchanan, who puts the Isle of Pigmies among the islands of Scotland. Note that Browne is speaking of tiny pigmies, from about eighteen inches to three feet tall (so is Ross: one or two cubits, he says). The shortest of the Pygmies of Africa is the group of tribes known as Mbuti, who average a little less than four and a half feet (adult males). They seem to have made their home around Kinshasa in Congo for over 4,000 years and were probably known to the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.]

2 [Herodotus, iii.37, in passing, comparing a statue to a dwarf]

3 [Pliny, in Books IV, V, VI, VII, and X]

4 [In the Iliad. The story seems to have been sufficiently well known to warrant only a passing simile.]

5 [Wren: This paragraph is taken almost verbatim from Cardan .... Rightly does he quote Cardan, who in the 8th book, De Varietate, cap. xl, p. 527, approves of Strabo's judgement of Homer's fiction; and concludes they were mistaken, being no other then apes. Strabo VII.3, XVII.2, I.2, II.2.]

6 Hist. animal. lib. 8. [English]

7 Ezek. 27.11. [In the Vulgate; "filii Aradii cum exercitu tuo erant super muros tuos in circuitu sed et Pigmei qui erant in turribus tuis faretras suas suspenderunt in muris tuis per gyrum ipsi conpleverunt pulchritudinem tuam"; but not in the KJV, which simply retains "Gammadims".]

8 ["custodes" in the Latin version of the Septuagint]

9 See Mr. Fullers excellent discription of Palestine.

10 [Wren: The least I suppose that ever was seene and lived long, was Lucius Augustus his Dwarfe, who was bipedali minor, librarum septendecim, sed vocis immensæ; Suetonius in Octavio, 53. Certainly few Apes come under this hight; or Hefte.]

11 By Pigmies intending Fairies and other spirits about the earth, as by Nymphs and Salamanders, spirits of fire and water. Lib. de Pigmæis, Nymphis, etc.

12 [Perhaps; but the numerous pygmy and pygmoid groups of Asia, especially the Philippines and Malaysia, are generically known as Negritos. Could this be the origin of Ctesias' story?]

This page is dedicated to the memory of Boo the Cat.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional