© Emanuele Biggi

Araneorum his* non absurde iungatur natura, digna vel praecipua admiratione. plura autem sunt genera nec dictu necessaria in tanta notitia. phalangia ex iis appellantur quorum noxii morsus, corpus exiguum, varium, acuminatum, assultim ingredientium. altera eorum species nigri, prioribus cruribus longissimis. omnibus internodia terna in cruribus. luporum minimi non texunt, maiores in terra, et cavernis exigua vestibula praepandunt. tertium eorundem genus erudita operatione conspicuum. orditur telas tantique operis materiae uterus ipsius sufficit, sive ita corrupta alvi natura stato tempore, ut Democrito placet, sive est quaedam intus lanigera fertilitas: tam moderato ungue, tam tereti filo et tam aequali deducit stamina, ipso se pondere usus. texere a medio incipit, circinato orbe subtemina adnectens, maculasque paribus semper intervallis, sed subinde crescentibus ex angusto dilatans indissolubili nodo inplicat. quanta arte celat pedicas a scutulato rete grassantes! quam non ad hoc videtur pertinere crebratae pexitas telae et quadam politurae arte ipsa per se tenax ratio tramae! quam laxus ad flatus ac non respuenda quae veniant sinus! derelicta lasso praetendi summa parte arbitrere licia: at illa difficile cernuntur atque, ut in plagis, lineae offensae praecipitant in sinum. specus ipse qua concamaratur architectura! et contra frigora quanto villosior! quam remotus a medio aliudque agenti similis, inclusus vero sic, ut sit necne intus aliquis cerni non possit! age firmitas, quando rumpentibus ventis, qua pulverum mole degravante! latitudo telae saepe inter duas arbores, cum exercet artem et discit texere, longitudo fili a cacumine ac rursus a terra per illud ipsum velox reciprocatio, subitque pariter ac fila deducit. cum vero captura incidit, quam vigilans et paratus accursus! licet extrema haereat plaga, semper in medium currit, quia sic maxime totum concutiendo inplicat. scissa protinus reficit ad polituram sarciens namque et lacertarum catulos venantur, os primum tela involventes et tunc demum labra utraque morsu apprehendentes, amphitheatrali spectaculo, cum contigit.

* sc. bombycibus.

(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 11.79-84)

To these may be not ineptly joined the nature of spiders, which deserves even exceptional admiration. There are several kinds of spiders, but they need not be described, as they are so well known. The name of phalangium is given to a kind of spider that has a harmful bite and a small body of variegated colour and pointed shape, and advances by leaps and bounds. A second species of spider is black, with very long fore legs. All spiders have legs with two joints. Of the wolf-spiders the smallest do not weave a web, but the larger ones live in the ground and spin tiny ante-rooms in from of their holes. A third kind of the same species is remarkable for its scientific method of construction; it sets up its warp-threads, and its own womb suffices to supply the material needed for this considerable work, whether because the substance of its intestines is thus resolved at a fixed time, as Democritus holds, or because it has inside it some power of producing wool: with such careful use of its claw and such a smooth and even thread it spins the warp, employing itself as a weight. It starts weaving at the centre, twining in the woof in a circular round, and entwists the meshes in an unloosable knot, spreading them out at intervals that are always regular but continually grow less narrow. How skilfully it conceals the snares that lurk in its chequered net! How unintentional appears to be the density of the close warp and the plan of the woof, rendered by a sort of scientific smoothing automatically tenacious! How its bosom bellies to the breezes so as not to reject things that come to it! You might think the threads had been left by a weary weaver stretching in front at the top; but they are difficult to see, and, like the cords in hunting-nets, when the quarry comes against them throw it into the bosom of the net. With what architectural skill is the vaulting of the actual cave designed! and how much more hairy it is made, to give protection against cold! How distant it is from the centre, and how its intention is concealed, although it is really so roofed in that it is impossible to see whether somebody is inside or not! Then its strengthwhen is it broken by the winds? what quantity of dust weighs it down? When the spider is practising its art and learning to weave, the breadth of the web often reaches between two trees and the length of the thread stretches down from the top of the tree and there is a quick return right up the thread from the ground, and the spider goes up and brings down the threads simultaneously. But when a catch falls into the web, how watchfully and alertly it runs to it! although it may be clinging to the edge of the net, it always runs to the middle, because in that way it entangles the prey by shaking the whole. When the web is torn it at once restores it to a finished condition by patching it. And spiders actually hunt young frogs and lizards, first wrapping up their mouth with web and then finally gripping both lips with their jaws, giving a show worthy of the amphitheatre when it comes off. (tr. Harris Rackham)

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