© 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)



Etenim percensere insignia priscorum in his moribus convenit. Cassius Hemina ex antiquissimis auctor est primum e medicis venisse Romam Peloponneso Archagathum Lysaniae filium L. Aemilio M. Livio cos. anno urbis DXXXV, eique ius Quiritum datum et tabernam in compito Acilio emptam ob id publice. vulnerarium eum fuisse egregium, mireque gratum adventum eius initio, mox a saevitia secandi urendique transisse nomen in carnificem et in taedium artem omnesque medicos, quod clarissime intellegi potest ex M. Catone, cuius auctoritati triumphus atque censura minimum conferunt; tanto plus in ipso est. quam ob rem verba eius ipsa ponemus: ‘dicam de istis Graecis suo loco, M. fili, quid Athenis exquisitum habeam et quod bonum sit illorum litteras inspicere, non perdiscere. vincam nequissimum et indocile genus illorum, et hoc puta vatem dixisse: quandoque ista gens suas litteras dabit, omnia corrumpet, tum etiam magis, si medicos suos hoc mittet. iurarunt inter se barbaros necare omnes medicina, sed hoc ipsum mercede faciunt, ut fides iis sit et facile disperdant. nos quoque dictitant barbaros et spurcius nos quam alios opicon appellatione foedant. interdixi tibi de medicis.’
(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 29.12-14)

In fact this is the time to review the outstanding features of medical practices in the days of our fathers. Cassius Hemina, one of our earliest authorities, asserts that the first physician to come to Rome was Archagathus, son of Lysanias, who migrated from the Peloponnesus in the year of the city 535, when Lucius Aemilius and Marcus Livius were consuls. He adds that citizen rights were given him, and a surgery at the crossway of Acilius was bought with public money for his own use. They say that he was a wound specialist, and that his arrival at first was wonderfully popular, but presently from his savage use of the knife and cautery he was nicknamed ‘Executioner,’ and his profession, with all physicians, became objects of loathing. The truth of this can be seen most plainly in the opinion of Marcus Cato, whose authority is very little enhanced by his triumph and censorship; so much more comes from his personality. Therefore I will lay before my readers his very words. ‘I shall speak about those Greek fellows in can their proper place, son Marcus, and point out the result of my enquiries at Athens, and convince you what benefit comes from dipping into their literature, and not making a close study of it. They are a quite worthless people, and an intractable one, and you must consider my words prophetic. When that race gives us its literature it will corrupt all things, and even all the more if it sends hither its physicians. They have conspired together to murder all foreigners with their physic, but this very thing they do for a fee, to gain credit and to destroy us easily. They are also always dubbing us foreigners, and to fling more filth on us than on others they give us the foul nickname of Opici. I have forbidden you to have dealings with physicians.’ (tr. William Henry Samuel Jones)



Eidem Alexandro et equi magna raritas contigit. Bucephalan eum vocarunt sive ab aspectu torvo sive ab insigni taurini capitis armo impressi. XVI talentis ferunt ex Philonici Pharsalii grege emptum, etiam tum puero capto eius decore. neminem hic alium quam Alexandrum regio instratu ornatus recepit in sedem, alias passim recipiens. idem in proeliis memoratae cuiusdam perhibetur operae, Thebarum oppugnatione vulneratus in alium transire Alexandrum non passus, multa praeterea eiusdem modi, propter quae rex defuncto ei duxit exsequias urbemque tumulo circumdedit nomine eius. nec Caesaris dictatoris quemquam alium recepisse dorso equus traduntur, idemque similes humanis pedes priores habuisse, hac effigie locatus ante Veneris Genetricis aedem. fecit et Divus Augustus equo tumulum, de quo Germanici Caesaris carmen est. Agrigenti conplurium equorum tumuli pyramides habent. equum adamatum a Samiramide usque in coitum Iuba auctor est. Scythici quidem equitatus equorum gloria strepunt: occiso regulo ex provocatione dimicante hostem, cum ad spoliandum venisset, ab equo eius ictibus morsuque confectum; alio detracto oculorum operimento et cognito cum matre coitu petiisse praerupta atque exanimatum. eadem ex causa in Reatino agro laceratum prorigam invenimus. namque et cognationum intellectus his est, atque in grege prioris anni sororem libentius etiam quam matrem equa comitatur. docilitas tanta est, ut universus Sybaritani exercitus equitatus ad symphoniae cantum saltatione quadam moveri solitus inveniatur. iidem praesagiunt pugnam et amissos lugent dominos: lacrimas interdum desiderio fundunt. interfecto Nicomede rege equus eius inedia vitam finivit. Phylarchus refert Centaretum e Galatis, in proelio occiso Antiocho, potitum equo eius conscendisse ovantem, at illum indignatione accensum domitis frenis, ne regi posset, praecipitem in abrupta isse exanimatumque una. Philistus a Dionysio relictum in caeno haerentem, ut se evellisset, secutum vestigia domini examine apium iubae inhaerente, eoque ostento tyrannidem a Dionysio occupatam. ingenia eorum inenarrabilia. iaculantes obsequia experiuntur difficiles conatus corpore ipso nisuque iuvantium; item tela humi collecta equiti porrigunt. nam in circo ad currus iuncti non dubie intellectum adhortationis et gloriae fatentur. Claudi Caesaris saecularium ludorum circensibus, excusso in carceribus auriga albati Corace, occupavere primatum, obtinuere opponentes, effundentes omniaque contra aemulos, quae debuissent peritissimo auriga insistente, facientes, cum puderet hominum artes ab equis vinci, peracto legitimo cursu ad cretam stetere. maius augurium apud priscos plebeis circensibus excusso auriga ita, ut si staret, in Capitolium cucurrisse equos aedemque ter lustrasse; maximum vero eodem pervenisse a Veis cum palma et corona, effuso Ratumenna qui ibi vicerat, unde postea nomen portae est. Sarmatae longinquo itineri inedia pridie praeparant eos, potum exiguum inpertientes, atque ita per centena milia et quinquaginta continuo cursu euntibus insident.
(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 8.154-162)

Alexander also had the good fortune to own a great rarity in horseflesh. They called the animal Bucephalus, either because of its fierce appearance or from the mark of a bull’s head branded on its shoulder. It is said that it was bought for sixteen talents a from the herd of Philonicus of Pharsalus while Alexander was still a boy, as he was taken by its beauty. This horse when adorned with the royal saddle would not allow itself to be mounted by anybody except Alexander, though on other occasions it allowed anybody to mount. It is also celebrated for a memorable feat in battle, not having allowed Alexander during the attack on Thebes to change to another mount when it had been wounded; and a number of occurrences of the same kind are also reported, on account of which when it died the king headed its funeral procession, and built a city round its tomb which he named after it. Also the horse that belonged to Caesar the Dictator is said to have refused to let anyone else mount it ; and it is also recorded that its fore feet were like those of a man, as it is represented in the statue that stands in front of the Temple of Venus Genetrix. The late lamented Augustus also made a funeral mound for a horse, which is the subject of a poem by Germanicus Caesar. At Girgenti a great number of horses’ tombs have pyramids over them. Juba attests that Semiramis fell so deeply in love with a horse that she married it. The Scythian cavalry regiments indeed resound with famous stories of horses: a chieftain was challenged to a duel by an enemy and killed, and when his adversary came to strip his body of its armour, his horse kicked him and bit him till he died; another horse, when its blinkers were removed and it found out that a mare it had covered was its dam, made for a precipice and committed suicide. We read that an ostler in the Reate district was savaged by a horse for the same reason. For horses actually understand the ties of relationship, and a filly in a herd is even fonder of going with a sister a year older than with their dam. Their docility is so great that we learn that the entire cavalry of the army of Sybaris used to perform a sort of ballet to the music of a band. The Sybarite horses also know beforehand when there is going to be a battle, and when they lose their masters mourn for them: sometimes they shed tears at the bereavement. When King Nicomedes was killed his horse ended its life by refusing food. Phylarchus records that when Antiochus fell in battle one of the Galatians Centaretus caught his horse and mounted it in triumph, but it was fired with indignation and taking the bit between its teeth so as to become unmanageable, galloped headlong to a precipice where it perished with its rider. Philistus records that Dionysius left his horse stuck in a bog, and when it extricated itself it followed its master’s tracks with a swarm of bees clinging to its mane; and that in consequence of this portent Dionysius seized the tyranny. The cleverness of horses is beyond description. Mounted javelinmen experience their docility in assisting difficult attempts with the actual swaying of their body; also they gather up the weapons lying on the ground and pass them to their rider. Horses harnessed to chariots in the circus unquestionably show that they understand the shouts of encouragement and applause. At the races in the circus forming part of the Secular Games of Claudius Caesar a charioteer of the Whites named Raven was thrown at the start, and his team took the lead and kept it by getting in the way of their rivals and jostling them aside and doing everything against them that they would have had to do with a most skilful charioteer in control, and as they were ashamed for human science to be beaten by horses, when they had completed the proper course they stopped dead at the chalk line. A greater portent was when in early days a charioteer was thrown at the plebeian circus races and the horses galloped on to the Capitol and raced round the temple three times just the same as if he still stood at the reins; but the greatest was when a chariot-team reached the same place from Veii with the palm-branch and wreath after Ratumenna who had won at Veii had been thrown: an event which subsequently gave its name to the gate. The Sarmatians get their horses into training for a long journey by giving them no fodder the day before and only allowing them a small amount of water, and by these means they ride them on a journey of 150 miles without drawing rein. (tr. Harris Rackham)


590 (15)

Romae pugnasse* Fenestella tradit primum omnium in circo Claudi Pulchri aedilitate curuli M. Antonio A. Postumio cos. anno urbis DCLV, item post annos viginti Lucullorum aedilitate curuli adversus tauros. Pompei quoque altero consulatu, dedicatione templi Veneris Victricis, viginti pugnavere in circo aut, ut quidam tradunt, septendecim, Gaetulis ex adverso iaculantibus, mirabili unius dimicatione, qui pedibus confossis repsit genibus in catervas, abrepta scuta iaciens in sublime, quae decidentia voluptati spectantibus erant in orbem circumacta, velut arte, non furore belvae, iacerentur. magnum et in altero miraculum fuit uno ictu occiso; pilum autem sub oculo adactum in vitalia capitis venerat. universi eruptionem temptavere, non sine vexatione populi, circumdatis claustris ferreis. qua de causa Caesar dictator postea simile spectaculum editurus euripis harenam circumdedit, quos Nero princeps sustulit equiti loca addens. sed Pompeiani amissa fugae spe misericordiam vulgi inenarrabili habitu quaerentes supplicavere quadam sese lamentatione complorantes, tanto populi dolore, ut oblitus imperatoris ac munificentiae honori suo exquisitae flens universus consurgeret dirasque Pompeio, quas ille mox luit, imprecaretur.

* sc. elephantem

(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 8.19-21)

Fenestella states that the first elephant fought in the circus at Rome in the curule aedileship of Claudius Pulcher and the consulship of Marcus Antonius and Aulus Postumius, 99 B.C., and also that the first fight of an elephant against bulls was twenty years later in the curule aedileship of the Luculli. Also in Pompey’s second consulship at the dedication of the Temple of Venus Victrix, twenty, or, as some record, seventeen, fought in the Circus, their opponents being Gaetulians armed with javelins, one of the animals putting up a marvelous fight—its feet being disabled by wounds it crawled against the hordes of the enemy on its knees, snatching their shields from them and throwing them into the air, and these as they fell delighted the spectators by the curves they described, as if they were being thrown by a skilled juggler and not by an infuriated wild animal. There was also a marvelous occurrence in the case of another, which was killed by a single blow, as the javelin striking it under the eye had reached the vital parts of the head. The whole band attempted to burst through the iron palisading by which they were enclosed and caused considerable trouble among the public. Owing to this, when subsequently Caesar in his dictatorship was going to exhibit a similar show he surrounded the arena with channels of water; these the emperor Nero removed when adding special places for the Knighthood. But Pompey’s elephants when they had lost all hope of escape tried to gain the compassion of the crowd by indescribable gestures of entreaty, deploring their fate with a sort of wailing, so much to the distress of the public that they forgot the general and his munificence carefully devised for their honour, and bursting into tears rose in a body and invoked curses on the head of Pompey for which he soon afterwards paid the penalty. (tr. Harris Rackham)



XII tabulis ortus tantum et occasus nominantur, post aliquot annos adiectus est et meridies, accenso consulum id pronuntiante, cum a curia inter Rostra et Graecostasin prospexisset solem; a columna Maenia ad carcerem inclinato sidere supremam pronuntiavit, sed hoc serenis tantum diebus, usque ad primum Punicum bellum. princeps solarium horologium statuisse ante XII annos quam cum Pyrro bellatum est ad aedem Quirini L. Papirius Cursor, cum eam dedicaret a patre suo votam, a Fabio Vestale proditur. sed neque facti horologii rationem vel artificem significat nec unde translatum sit aut apud quem scriptum id invenerit. M. Varro primum statutum in publico secundum Rostra in columna tradit bello Punico primo a M’. Valerio Messala cos. Catina capta in Sicilia, deportatum inde post XXX annos quam de Papiriano horologio traditur, anno urbis CCCCLXXXX. nec congruebant ad horas eius lineae, paruerunt tamen ei annis undecentum, donec Q. Marcius Philippus, qui cum L. Paulo fuit censor, diligentius ordinatum iuxta posuit, idque munus inter censoria opera gratissima acceptum est. etiam tum tamen nubilo incertae fuere horae usque ad proximum lustrum. tunc Scipio Nasica collega Laenati primus aqua divisit horas aeque noctium ac dierum idque horologium sub tecto dicavit anno urbis DXCV. tam diu populo Romano indiscreta lux fuit.
(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 7.212-215)

In the Twelve Tables only sunrise and sunset are specified; a few years later noon was also added, the consuls’ apparitor announcing it when from the Senate-house he saw the sun between the Beaks and the Greek Lodging. When the sun sloped from the Maenian Column to the Prison he announced the last hour, but this only on clear days, down to the First Punic War. We have it on the authority of Fabius Vestalis that the first sundial was erected 11 years before the war* with Pyrrhus at the Temple of Quirinus by Lucius Papirius Cursor when dedicating that temple, which had been vowed by his father; but Fabius does not indicate the principle of the sundial’s construction or the maker, nor where it was brought from or the name of the writer who is his authority for the statement. Marcus Varro records that the first public sundial was set up on a column along by the Beaks during the First Punic War after Catania in Sicily had been taken** by the consul Manius Valerius Messala, and that it was brought from Sicily thirty years later than the traditional date of Papirius’s sundial, B.C. 264. The lines of this sundial did not agree with the hours, but all the same they followed it for 99 years, till Quintus Marcius Philippus who was Censor with Lucius Paulus placed a more carefully designed one next to it, and this gift was received as one of the most welcome of the censor’s undertakings. Even then however the hours were uncertain in cloudy weather, until the next lustrum, when Scipio Nasica the colleague of Laenas instituted the first water-clock dividing the hours of the nights and the days equally, and dedicated this timepiece in a roofed building, B.C. 159. For so long a period the divisions of daylight had not been marked for the Roman public.

* Begun 281 B.C.
** 263 B.C.

(tr. William Henry Samuel Jones, with his notes)



Res ardua vetustis novitatem dare, novis auctoritatem, obsoletis nitorem, obscuris lucem, fastiditis gratiam, dubiis fidem, omnibus vero naturam et naturae sua omnia. itaque nobis etiam non assecutis voluisse abunde pulchrum atque magnificum est.
(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. praef. 15)

It is a difficult task to give novelty to what is old, authority to what is new, brilliance to the common-place, light to the obscure, attraction to the stale, credibility to the doubtful, but nature to all things and all her properties to nature. Accordingly, even if we have not succeeded, it is honourable and glorious in the fullest measure to have resolved on the attempt. (tr. Harris Rackham)



Homines in lupos verti rursusque restitui sibi falsum esse confidenter existimare debemus aut credere omnia quae fabulosa tot saeculis comperimus; unde tamen ista vulgo infixa sit fama in tantum ut in maledictis versipelles habeat indicabitur. Euanthes, inter auctores Graeciae non spretus, scribit Arcadas tradere ex gente Anthi cuiusdam sorte familiae lectum ad stagnum quoddam regionis eius duci vestituque in quercu suspenso tranare atque abire in deserta transfigurarique in lupum et cum ceteris eiusdem generis congregari per annos novem; quo in tempore si homine se abstinuerit, reverti ad idem stagnum et, cum tranaverit, effigiem recipere, ad pristinum habitum addito novem annorum senio, addit quoque fabulosius eandem recipere vestem! mirum est quo procedat Graeca credulitas: nullum tam impudens mendacium est ut teste careat. item Apollas, qui Olympionicas scripsit, narrat Demaenetum Parrhasium in sacrificio, quod Arcades Iovi Lycaeo humana etiamtum hostia faciebant, immolati pueri exta degustasse et in lupum se convertisse, eundem decimo anno restitutum athletice se exercuisse in pugilatu victoremque Olympia reversum. quin et caudae huius animalis creditur vulgo inesse amatorium virus exiguo in villo eumque cum capiatur abici nec idem pollere nisi viventi direptum.
(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 8.80-83)

We are bound to pronounce with confidence that the story of men being turned into wolves and restored to themselves again is false—or else we must believe all the tales that the experience of so many centuries has taught us to be fabulous; nevertheless we will indicate the origin of the popular belief, which is so firmly rooted that it classes werewolves among persons under a curse. Evanthes, who holds no contemptible position among the authors of Greece, writes that the Arcadians have a tradition that someone chosen out of the clan of a certain Anthus by casting lots among the family is taken to a certain marsh in that region, and hanging his clothes on an oak-tree swims across the water and goes away into a desolate place and is transformed into a wolf and herds with the others of the same kind for nine years; and that if in that period he has refrained from touching a human being, he returns to the same marsh, swims across it and recovers his shape, with nine years’ age added to his former appearance; Evanthes also adds the more fabulous detail that he gets back the same clothes. It is astounding to what lengths Greek credulity will go; there is no lie so shameless as to lack a supporter. Similarly Apollas the author of Olympic Victors relates that at the sacrifice which even at that date the Arcadians used to perform in honour of Lycaean Jove with a human victim, Daemenetus of Parrhasia tasted the vitals of a boy who had been offered as a victim ad turned himself into a wolf, and furthermore that he was restored then years later and trained himself in athletics for boxing and returned a winner from Olympia. Moreover it is popularly believed that even the tail of this animal contains a love-poison in a small tuft of hair, and when it is caught it sheds the tuft, which has not the same potency unless plucked from the animal while it is alive. (tr. Harris Rackham)