Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

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The following extract from Pliny's account of the lion, "right pleasaunte" as it is in the original, is rendered still more so by Dr Holland. "To come againe to our lions: the signe of their intent and disposition, is their taile; like as in horses, their ears: for these two marks and tokens, certainly hath nature given to the most couragious beasts of all others, to know their affections by: for when the lion stirreth not his taile, hee is in a good mood, gentle, mild, pleasantly disposed, and as if hee were willing to be plaied withall; but in that fit he is seldome seene: for lightly hee is alwaies angrie. At the first, when hee entreth into his choller, hee beateth the ground with his taile: when hee groweth into greater heats, he flappeth and jerketh his sides and flanks withall, as it were to quicken himselfe, and stirre up his angry humor. His maine strength lieth in his breast: hee maketh not a wound (whether it be by lash of taile, scratch of claw, or print of[Pg 88] tooth), but the bloud that followeth is blacke. When his belly is once full, all his anger is past, and he doth no more harme. His generositie and magnanimitie he sheweth most in his daungers: which courage of his appeareth not onely herein, that he seemeth to despise all shot of darts against him, defending himselfe a long time onely with the terrible aspect of his countenance, and protesting as it were that he is unwilling to deale unlesse he be forced thereto in his own defence, and at length maketh head againe, not as compelled and driven thereto for any perill that he seeth, but angred at their follie that assaile and set upon him: but herein also is seen rather his noble heart and courage, that be there never so many of hounds and hunters both following after him, so long as hee is in the open plaines where he may be seene, hee maketh semblance as though he contemned both dog and man, dismarching and retiring with honour, and otherwhiles seeming in his retreat to turne againe and make head; but when he hath gained the thickets and woods, and gotten once into the forrests out of sight, then he skuds away, then hee runneth amaine for life, as knowing full well that the trees and bushes hide him, that his shamefull dislodging and flight is not then espied. When he chaseth and followeth after other beasts, hee goeth alwaies saltant or rampant; which he never useth to doe when he is chased in sight, but is onely passant. If hee chaunce to be wounded, hee hath a marveilous eye to marke the partie that did it, and be the hunters never so many in number, upon him he runneth onely. As for him that hath let flie a dart at him, and yet missed his marke and done no[Pg 89] hurt, if he chaunce to catch him, hee all to touzeth, shaketh, tosseth, and turneth him lying along at his feet, but doth him no harme at all besides. When the lionesse fighteth for her young whelpes, by report, she setteth her eies wistly, and entirely upon the ground, because she would not be affrighted at the sight of the chasing-staves of the hunters. Lions are nothing at all craftie and fraudulent, neither be they suspicious: they never look askew, but alwaies cast their eie directly forward, and they love not that any man should in that sort looke side-long upon them. It is constantly beleeved, that when they lie a dying they bite the earth, and in their very death shed teares. This creature, so noble as he is, and withall so cruell and fell, trembleth and quaketh to heare the noise of cartwheeles, or to see them turne about; nay he cannot abide of all things charriots when they be void and emptie: frighted he is with the cocks comb, and his crowing much more, but most of all with the sight of fire. The lion is never sick but of the peevishnes of his stomacke, loathing all meat: and then the way to cure him, is to tie unto him certain shee apes, which with their wanton mocking and making mowes at him, may move his patience and drive him for the verie indignitie of their malapert saucinesse, into a fit of madnesse; and then, so soone as he hath tasted their blood, he is perfectly well againe: and this is the onely remedie.

"Q. Scævola the sonne of Publius, was the first at Rome that in his Curule Ædileship exhibited a fight and combat of many lions togither, for to shew the people pastime and pleasure: but L. Sylla, who afterwards was Dictatour, was the first of all others that in[Pg 90] his Pretorship represented a shew of an hundred lions, with manes and collars of haire: and after him Pompeius the Great shewed 600 of them fighting in the grand Cirque, whereof 315 were male lions with mane. And Cæsar Dictatour brought 400 of them into the shew-place. The taking of them in old time was a verie hard peece of worke, and that was commonly in pit-fals; but in the Emperor Claudius his daies it chaunced, that a shepheard or heardman who came out of Gætulia, taught the manner of catching them: a thing (otherwise) that would have been thought incredible, and altogither unbeseeming the name and honour of so goodly a beast. This Getulian I say, fortuned to encounter a lion, and when he was violently assailed by him, made no more adoe but threw his mandilion or cassocke full upon his eies. This feat or cast of his was soone after practised in the open shew-place, in such sort, that a man would hardly have beleeved, but he that saw it, that so furious a beast should so easily be quailed and daunted so soone as ever hee felt his head covered, were the things never so light; making no resistance, but suffering one to doe what he would with him, even to bind him fast, as if in very truth all his vigor and spirit rested in his eyes. Lesse therefore is it to be marvelled at, that Lysimachus strangled a lion, when as by commaundement of Alexander the Great, he was shut up alone togither with him. The first that yoked them at Rome and made them to draw in a charriot, was M. Antonius. And verily it was in the time of civill warre, after the battaile fought in the plains of Pharsalia, a shrewd fore-token and unhappie presage for the future event, and namely, for men of[Pg 91] an high spirit and brave mind in those daies, unto whom this prodigious sight did prognosticate the yoke of subjection: for what should I say, how Antonie rode in that wise with the courtisan Cytheris, a common actresse in enterludes upon the stage? to see such a sight was a monstrous spectacle, that passed all the calamities of those times. It is reported, that Hanno (one of the noblest Carthaginians that ever were) was the first man that durst handle a lion with his bare hand, and shewe him gentle and tame, to follow him all the citie over in a slip like a dogge. But this device and tricke of his turned him to great domage, and cost him his utter undoing: for the Carthaginians hereupon laid this ground, that Hanno, a man of such a gift, so wittie and inventive of all devises, would be able to persuade the people to whatsoever his mind stood; and that it was a daungerous and ticklish point to put the libertie of so great a state as Carthage was, into the hands and managing of him, who could handle and tame the furious violence of so savage a beast: and thereupon condemned and banished him." He then relates two examples of the gentleness of this animal, or rather of his confidence in man. On one occasion, a lion applied to Mentor, a Syracusan, for relief from a thorn which had pierced his foot; and on another, Elpis, a Samian, had the honour, when in Africa, of extracting a bone from the palate of the royal beast, for which he was rewarded by him with an abundant supply of fresh venison so long as he remained in the country.

In this book Pliny follows no methodical arrangement, either as to the animals themselves or as to the descriptions and anecdotes in each article. He[Pg 92] commences indeed with the largest, and ends with mice, which are among the smallest bred on land; but in this catalogue he includes mammalia, crocodiles, lizards, serpents, and snails. It may be said generally, that in his descriptions at least three-fourths of each article are erroneous, false, or fabulous; and that he scarcely anywhere attempts to elicit general principles, or to discover the circumstances in which animals agree or differ. It were therefore vain for the student of nature to look into this book for any information on which he could place reliance, with respect to their organization or habits. Some particulars respecting the exhibition at Rome of elephants, lions, panthers, crocodiles, and other ferocious creatures, with the combats of which the emperors and great men amused the people, and a few facts relating to the geographical distribution of the more interesting species, are all that the reader finds to recompense him for the labour of examination.

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