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)



Romanis eam* legionibus Gaius Marius in secundo consulatu suo proprie dicavit. erat et antea prima cum quattuor aliis: lupi, minotauri, equi aprique singulos ordines anteibant; paucis ante annis sola in aciem portari coepta erat, reliqua in castris relinquebantur; Marius in totum ea abdicavit. ex eo notatum non fere legionis umquam hiberna esse castra ubi aquilarum non sit iugum.

* sc. aquilam

(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 10.16)

The eagle was assigned to the Roman legions as their special badge by Gaius Marius in his second consulship. Even previously it had been their first badge, with four others, wolves, minotaurs, horses and boars going in front of the respective ranks; but a few years before the custom had come in of carrying the eagles alone into action, the rest being left behind in camp. Marius discarded them altogether. Thenceforward it was noticed that there was scarcely ever a legion’s winter camp without a pair of eagles being in the neighbourhood. (tr. Harris Rackham)



Capillus puero qui primum decisus est podagrae impetus dicitur levare circumligatus, et in totum impubium impositus. virorum quoque capillus canis morsibus medetur ex aceto et capitum volneribus ex oleo aut vino; si credimus, a revulso cruci quartanis, combustus utique capillus carcinomati. pueri qui primus ceciderit dens, ut terram non attingat, inclusus in armillam et adsidue in bracchio habitus muliebrium locorum dolores prohibet.
(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 28.41)

The hair cut off first from a child’s head, if tied round the affected part, is said to relieve attacks of gout, as does the application of the hair of all, generally speaking, who have not arrived at puberty. The hair of adult men also, applied with vinegar, is good for dog bites, with oil or wine for wounds on the head. If we believe it, the hair of a man torn from the cross is good for quartan ague; burnt hair is certainly good for carcinoma. The first tooth of a child to fall out, provided that it does not touch the ground, if set in a bracelet and worn constantly on a woman’s arm, keeps pain away from her private parts. (tr. William Henry Samuel Jones)



Vulva eiecto partu melior quam edito; eiecticia vocatur illa, haec porcaria. primiparae suis optima, contra effetis. a partu, praeterquam eodem die suis occisae, livida ac macra; nec novellarum suum praeter primiparas probatur, potiusque veterum, dum ne effetarum, nec biduo ante partum aut post partum aut quo eiecerint die. proxima ab eiecticia est occisae uno die post partum; huius et sumen optimum, si modo fetus non hauserit; eiecticiae deterrimum.
(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 11.210-211)

Sow’s paunch is a better dish after a miscarriage than after a succesful delivery; in the former case it is called ‘miscarryings’ and in the latter ‘farrowings.’ That of a sow farrowing for the first time is best, and the contrary with those exhausted with breeding. After farrowing the paunch is a bad colour and lacking in fat, unless the sow was killed the same day; nor is that of young sows thought much of, except from those farrowing for the first time, and the paunch of old sows is preferable provided they are not quite worn out, and not killed on the actual day of farrowing or the day before or the day after. The paunch next best to miscarryings is that of a sow slaughtered the day after farrowing; also its paps are the best, provided it has not yet suckled the litter; the paps of a sow that has had a miscarriage are the worst. (tr. Harris Rackham)



Leonum simul plurium pugnam Romae princeps dedit Q. Scaevola P. f. in curuli aedilitate, centum autem iubatorum primus omnium L. Sulla, qui postea dictator fuit, in praetura; post eum Pompeius Magnus in circo DC, in iis iubatorum CCCXV, Caesar dictator CCCC. capere eos ardui erat quondam operis, foveisque maxime. principatu Claudii casus rationem docuit pudendam paene talis ferae nomine pastorem Gaetuliae, sago contra ingruentis impetum obiecto, quod spectaculum in harenam protinus translatum est, vix credibili modo torpescente tanta illa feritate quamvis levi iniectu operto capite, ita ut devinciatur non repugnans. videlicet omnis vis constat in oculis, quo minus mirum fit a Lysimacho Alexandri iussu simul incluso strangulatum leonem.
(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 8.53-54)

A fight with several lions at once was first bestowed on Rome by Quintus Scaevola, son of Publius, when consular aedile, but the first of all who exhibited a combat of 100 maned lions was Lucius Sulla, later dictator, in his praetorship. After Sulla Pompey the Great showed in the Circus 600, including 315 with manes, and Caesar when dictator 400. Capturing lions was once a difficult task, chiefly effected by means of pitfalls. In the principate of Claudius accident taught a Gaetulian shepherd a method that was almost one to be ashamed of in the case of a wild animal of this nature: when it charged he flung a cloak against its onset – a feat that was immediately transferred to the arena as a show, – the creature’s great ferocity abating in an almost incredible manner when its head is covered with even a light wrap, with the result that it is vanquished without showing fight. The fact is that all its strength is concentrated in its eyes, which makes it less remarkable that when Lysimachus by order of Alexander was shut up in a lion’s cage he succeeded in strangling it. (tr. Harris Rackham)


Obelisk of Ramesses II in Luxor. (Not the one mentioned in the text.)

Opus id fecisse dicuntur CXX hominum. ipse rex, cum surrecturus esset verereturque, ne machinae ponderi non sufficerent, quo maius periculum curae artificum denuntiaret, filium suum adalligavit cacumini, ut salus eius apud molientes prodesset et lapidi. hac admiratione operis effectum est, ut, cum oppidum id expugnaret Cambyses rex ventumque esset incendiis ad crepidines obelisci, extingui iuberet molis reverentia qui nullam habuerat urbis.
(Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 36.66)

It is said that one hundred and twenty thousand men were employed upon this work;* and that the king, when it was on the point of being elevated, being apprehensive that the machinery employed might not prove strong enough for the weight, with the view of increasing the peril that might be entailed by due want of precaution on the part of the workmen, had his own son fastened to the summit; in order that the safety of the prince might at the same time ensure the safety of the mass of stone. It was in his admiration of this work, that, when King Cambyses took the city by storm, and the conflagration had already reached the very foot of the obelisk, he ordered the fire to be extinguished; he entertaining a respect for this stupendous erection which he had not entertained for the city itself.

* This, Hardouin says, was the same obelisk that was afterwards erected by Constantius, son of Constantine the Great, in the Circus Maximus at Rome; whence it was removed by Pope Sextus V., in the year 1588, to the Basilica of the Lateran.

(tr. John Bostock & H.T. Riley, with their note)