The Infantile Mind: Pliny on Where Amber Comes From

Pliny, NH 37 40-42

“[Sophocles] has described how [amber] is made on the other side of India from the tears of the birds called the “daughters of Meleager” as they weep for Meleager. Who doesn’t wonder at the fact that he believed this or expected to convince others to do so. What mind is so infantile or foolish that it could believe that there are birds who weep every year and shed such large tears or that they left Greece where Meleager perished and went to weep for him in India?

What, then? Don’t the poets offer us many tales equally fantastic? Indeed they do, but when it comes to this substance, which is imported daily and fills the market revealing the poet’s lie, this is a grave offense to human intelligence and and unendurable misuse of our ability to lie.

It is known that amber comes from islands in the Northern Oceans and that the Germans call it glaesum and, as a result of this, one of the islands which the natives called Austeravia was named Glaesariam by us when Caesar Germanicus was on campaign there with his fleet [16 CE]. Amber is created, moreover, as the pitch of a particular type of pine drips down in the same way as gum from cherry trees or resin in local pines bursts out because of an excess of liquid.”

hic ultra Indiam fieri dixit e lacrimis meleagridum avium Meleagrum deflentium. quod credidisse eum aut sperasse aliis persuaderi posse quis non miretur? quamve pueritiam tam inperitam posse reperiri, quae avium ploratus annuos credat lacrimasve tam grandes avesve, quae a Graecia, ubi Meleager periit, ploratum adierint Indos? quid ergo? non multa aeque fabulosa produnt poetae? sed hoc in ea re, quae cotidie invehatur atque abundet ac mendacium coarguat, serio quemquam dixisse summa hominum contemptio est et intoleranda mendaciorum inpunitas.

Certum est gigni in insulis septentrionalis oceani et ab Germanis appellari glaesum, itaque et ab nostris ob id unam insularum Glaesariam appellatam, Germanico Caesare res ibi gerente classibus, Austeraviam a barbaris dictam. nascitur autem defluente medulla pinei generis arboribus, ut cummis in cerasis, resina in pinis erumpit umoris abundantia.

British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, Folio 10v

Prophetic Zombie Enemies: Another Fantastic Friday

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 3

“Antisthenes, the peripatetic philosopher, also records that the consul Acilius Glabrio with the ambassadors Porcius Cato and Lucius Valerius Flaccus was stationed in war against Antiochus at Thermopylae and, after fighting well, compelled those on Antiochus’ side to throw down their weapons and the man himself to flee to Elataia with five hundred hypastists. From there, they compelled him to turn again to Thessaly. Acilius then sent Cato to Rome so he might announce the victory while he led the army himself against the Aitolians in Herakleia, which he took with ease.

In the action against Antiochus at Thermopylae, the Romans witnessed some shocking signs. After Antiochus turned and fled, on the next day the Romans turned to the gathering of those who died on the battle and a selection of weapons, war-spoils, and prisoners.

There was some man from the Syrian cavalry, named Bouplagos, who was honored by Antiochus but fell in battle even as he fought nobly. While the Romans were gathering up all the arms at midday, Bouplagos rose from the corpses even though he had twelve wounds. As he appeared to the army, he spoke the following verses in a soft voice:

Stop gathering booty from an army which has marched to Hades’ land—
For Kronos’ Son Zeus already feels anger as he watches your deeds.
He is raging at the murder of the army and your acts,
And he will send a bold-hearted race into your country
Who will end your empire and make you pay for what you’ve done.

Because they were troubled by these verses, the generals swiftly gathered the army in assembly and discussed the meaning of the omen. They thought it best to cremate and bury Bouplagos who had died right after he uttered these words. Then they performed a cleansing of the camp, made sacrifices to Zeus Apotropaios and sent a group to Delphi to ask the god what they should do.”

῾Ιστορεῖ δὲ καὶ ᾿Αντισθένης, ὁ περιπατητικὸς φιλόσοφος, ᾿Ακείλιον Γλαβρίωνα τὸν ὕπατον μετὰ πρεσβευτῶν Πορκίου Κάτωνος καὶ Λουκίου Οὐαλερίου Φλάκκου παραταξάμενον ᾿Αντιόχῳ ἐν Θερμοπύλαις γενναίως τε ἀγωνισάμενον βιάσασθαι ῥίψαι μὲν τὰ ὅπλα τοὺς μετ’ ᾿Αντιόχου, αὐτὸν δὲ τὰ μὲν πρῶτα εἰς ᾿Ελάτειαν μετὰ πεντακοσίων ὑπασπιστῶν φυγεῖν, ἐκεῖθεν δὲ πάλιν εἰς ῎Εφεσον ἀναγκάσαι ὑπεξελθεῖν. ὁ δὲ ᾿Ακείλιος Κάτωνα μὲν εἰς ῾Ρώμην ἀπέστειλεν ἀπαγγελοῦντα τὴν νίκην, αὐτὸς δὲ ἐπ’ Αἰτωλοὺς καθ’ ῾Ηράκλειαν ἐστράτευσεν, ἣν ἐξ εὐμαροῦς ἔλαβεν.

ἐν δὲ τῇ παρατάξει τῇ γενομένῃ πρὸς ᾿Αντίοχον ἐν Θερμοπύλαις ἐπιφανέστατα σημεῖα ἐγένετο ῾Ρωμαίοις. ἀποσφαλέντος γὰρ ᾿Αντιόχου καὶ φυγόντος τῇ ἐπιούσῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἐγίνοντο οἱ ῾Ρωμαῖοι περὶ ἀναίρεσιν τῶν ἐκ τῆς σφετέρας δυνάμεως πεπτωκότων καὶ περὶ συλλογὴν λαφύρων τε καὶ σκύλων καὶ αἰχμαλώτων.

Βούπλαγος δέ τις, τῶν ἀπὸ Συρίας ἱππάρχης, τιμώμενος παρὰ τῷ βασιλεῖ ᾿Αντιόχῳ, ἔπεσε καὶ αὐτὸς γενναίως ἀγωνισάμενος. ἀναιρουμένων δὲ τῶν ῾Ρωμαίων πάντα τὰ σκῦλα καὶ μεσούσης τῆς ἡμέρας ἀνέστη ὁ Βούπλαγος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἔχων τραύματα δέκα δύο, καὶ παραγενόμενος εἰς τὸ στρατόπεδον αὐτῶν ἀνεῖπε λεπτῇ τῇ φωνῇ τούσδε τοὺς στίχους·

παῦσαι σκυλεύων στρατὸν ῎Αιδος εἰς χθόνα βάντα·
ἤδη γὰρ Κρονίδης νεμεσᾷ Ζεὺς μέρμερα λεύσσων,
μηνίει δὲ φόνῳ στρατιᾶς καὶ σοῖσιν ἐπ’ ἔργοις,
καὶ πέμψει φῦλον θρασυκάρδιον εἰς χθόνα τὴν σήν,
οἵ σ’ ἀρχῆς παύσουσιν, ἀμείψῃ δ’ οἷά γ’ ἔρεξας.

ταραχθέντες δὲ οἱ στρατηγοὶ ἐπὶ τοῖς ῥηθεῖσιν διὰ ταχέων συνήγαγον τὸ πλῆθος εἰς ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἐβουλεύοντο περὶ τοῦ γεγονότος φάσματος. ἔδοξεν οὖν τὸν μὲν Βούπλαγον παραχρῆμα μετὰ τὰ λεχθέντα ἔπη ἀποπνεύσαντα κατακαύ-σαντας θάψαι, καθαρμὸν δὲ ποιήσαντας τοῦ στρατοπέδου θῦσαι Διὶ ᾿Αποτροπαίῳ καὶ πέμψαι εἰς Δελφοὺς ἐρωτήσοντας τὸν θεόν τί χρὴ ποιεῖν.

Wednesday’s Wondrous Waters: Rivers from the Paradoxographus Vaticanus

Paradoxographus Vaticanus, 18-22

18 “There is a river Perinthos in Thrace where the city Perinthos is too. If anyone drinks from it, their internal organs swell [or develop tumors?]. The reason for this is that the drops from the Gorgon’s head flowed into it after it was carried off by Perseus.”

 ποταμὸς ἐν Θρᾴκῃ, ὅθεν καὶ Πέρινθος ἡ πόλις· ἐκ τούτου εἰ πίοι τις, τὰ σπλάγχνα ἐξογκοῦται. ῾Η δ’ αἰτία, ὅτι σταγόνες ἐκ τῆς κεφαλῆς Γοργόνος ἐν τούτῳ ἐρρύησαν βασταζομένης ὑπὸ Περσέως.

19 “Among the Kelainai of Phrygia there is a river Marsyas. When that one somehow hears an aulos, it crashes greatly; if it is a kithara, it flows in silence, since the the aulos-player Marsyas drowned in it.”

᾿Εν Κελαιναῖς τῆς Φρυγίας ποταμός ἐστι Μαρσύας· οὗτος ἔν πως αὐλοῦ ἀκούσῃ, βομβεῖ μέγα, ἢν δὲ κιθάρας, μετὰ σιγῆς ῥεῖ, ἀποπνιγέντος ἐν αὐτῷ Μαρσύου τοῦ αὐλητοῦ.

20 “The river Tauromenios is in Sicily near the city of the same name. When that river hears thunder, it is frightened and retreats into the earth; but when the thunder stops, it rushes back from the earth again like a spring.”

Ταυρομένιος ποταμός ἐστιν ἐν Σικελίᾳ παρὰ τὴν ὁμώνυμον πόλιν· οὗτος βροντῆς ἀκούων φοβεῖται καὶ καταδύεται εἰς τὴν γῆν, ἢν δὲ παύσηται ἡ βροντή, πάλιν ἄνεισιν ἐκ τῆς γῆς καθάπερ πηγή.

21 “A cold river named Akis flows through Sicily. It has muddy water during the summer, but during the winter it is fine and clear.”

Ποταμὸς ψυχρὸς ὄνομα <῎Ακις> διὰ τῆς Σικελίας ῥεῖ· οὗτος τοῦ μὲν θέρους ἰλυῶδες ἔχει ὕδωρ, τοῦ δὲ χειμῶνος καλόν τε καὶ διαυγές.

22 “Among the Lungkêsktai there is a spring. If anyone drinks from it, they get drunk.”

᾿Εν Λυγκήσταις κρήνη ἐστίν, ἀφ’ ἧς ἐάν τις πίῃ, μεθύσκεται.

 

Monstrous Monday: Another Horror to Fear from Antiquity

Paradoxographus Vaticanus 2

2 “Daliôn says in the first book of his Ethiopian Matters that there is an animal in Ethiopia called a krokotta. When that creature goes near backyards it hears people chattering, and especially the words/names of children. But when it goes out at night, it speaks words/names and the children who come out are devoured by it”

Δαλίων φησίν, ἐν τῇ πρώτῃ τῶν Αἰθιοπικῶν ἐν τῇ Αἰθιοπίᾳ θηρίον γίνεσθαι κροκότταν καλούμενον· τοῦτο ἐρχόμενον πρὸς τὰς ἐπαύλεις κατακούειν τῶν λαλουμένων, καὶ μάλιστα τὰ ὀνόματα τῶν παιδίων. νυκτὸς δὲ ἐρχόμενον λαλεῖ τὰ ὀνόματα καὶ ἐξερχόμενα τὰ παιδία καταβιβρώσκονται ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.

Photios adds the following horror:

“[We should note the fact that] there is a creature in Ethiopia which is named krokottas which is like a combination of wolf and a dog, but it is more savage than both and is heavier in its face and at the end of its feet. It is also amazing for its boldness, and it is extremely capable compared to the rest in its teeth and its belly. For they also tear to pieces easily every type of bone and whatever they take up is consumed easily and their digestion is indescribable. In addition, while some of them have been described as imitating human language, we don’t believe it. Nevertheless, some have added that they call out people by name at night—and that they try to use a human voice in doing this—and then they gobble up whoever comes out as they fall upon them.”

     ῞Οτι ὁ κατὰ τὴν Αἰθιοπίαν ὀνομαζόμενος κροκόττας ἐστὶ μὲν ὡς ἐκ λύκου καὶ κυνὸς σύνθετον, ἀμφοῖν δὲ ἀγριώτερον καὶ πολλῷ βαρύτερον ἀπό τε τοῦ προσώπου καὶ τῶν ἄκρων ποδῶν, ἀλκῇ δὲ θαυμαστόν, ὀδοῦσι δὲ καὶ κοιλίᾳ δυνατώτατον τῶν ἄλλων. Καὶ γὰρ κατάγνυσιν εὐπόρως πᾶν ὀστοῦ γένος, καὶ τὸ διαιρεθὲν εὐθέως δεδαπάνηται, καὶ περὶ τὰς πέψεις ἀδιήγητον. Τοῦτο δὲ καὶ μιμεῖσθαί τινες τὴν ἀνθρωπίνην διάλεκτον διηγούμενοι ἡμᾶς μὲν οὐ πείθουσιν· ἐκεῖνοι δὲ καὶ τοῦτο προστιθέασιν, ὡς καὶ ἐξ ὀνόματος κατὰ τὰς νύκτας καλοῦντες, τοὺς δὲ ὡς ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπου φωνῇ προσιόντας, οἱ δὲ ἀθρόον ἐπεισπίπτοντες κατεσθίουσιν.

The crocotta shows up elsewhere as well (Pliny, Aelian, etc).

More Wonder for A Wednesday: Whose Intestines Sing?

From the Paradoxagraphus Palatinus Admiranda 20

“Antigonos says [of sheep intestines] that those of rams are voiceless, but those from females can sing. This fact has not escaped the poet, for he says “He stretched the seven strings from female sheep.”

Επὶ τῶν <ἐντέρων τῶν> προβάτων φησὶν ᾿Αντίγονος τὰ μὲν τῶν κριῶν ἄφωνα εἶναι, τὰ δὲ τῶν θηλέων ἔμφωνα· οὐ λεληθέναι δὲ τοῦτο τὸν ποιητήν. φησὶ γάρ· ἑπτὰ δὲ θηλυτέρων οἴων ἐτανύσσατο χορδάς.

This last line is a variant for the Homeric Hymn to Hermes 51

“He stretched out seven symphonic sheep-gut strings”

ἑπτὰ δὲ συμφώνους ὀΐων ἐτανύσσατο χορδάς.

Zodiac Sign: Aries | Breviary | Belgium, Bruges | ca. 1500 | The Morgan Library & Museum

Breviary | Belgium, Bruges | ca. 1500 | The Morgan Library & Museum

%d bloggers like this: