Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23 - 79 CE)

original text from:*.html (translation: Andrea Gaddini)

Natural History - Book VIII

(38) Ceterorum animalium, quae modo convecta undique Italiae contigere saepius, formas nihil attinet scrupulose referre. paucissima Scythia gignit inopia cruticum, pauca contermina illi Germania, insignia tamen boum ferorum genera, iubatos bisontes excellentique et vi et velocitate uros, quibus inperitum volgus bubalorum nomen inponit, cum id gignat Africa vituli potius cervique quadam similitudine. (38) Between the other animals which arrived in Italy, for the most part just when brought from every part of the world, it's not important to report meticulously their appearance. Scythia gives birth to very few of them, by lack of woods, likewise few are produced by Germany, bordering on it, though it gives birth to peculiar strains of wild cattle, buffaloes with mane and aurochs, excellent by strenght and speed, to whom the ignorant common people imposes the name of buffalo, while these latter are produced by Africa and have rather a certain resemblance with calves or deers.

(74) ... atrocissimos tauros silvestres, maiores agrestibus, velocitate ante omnes, colore fulvos, oculis caeruleis, pilo in contrarium verso, rictu ad aures dehiscente iuxta cornua mobilia. tergori duritia silicis, omne respuens vulnus. fera omnes venantur, ipsi non aliter quam foveis capti feritate semper intereunt. (74) ... the wildest wood bull, bigger than field bull, the fastest of all the animals, tawny-coated, blue-eyed, with hair turned the wrong way, fauces wide-open up to the ears, near the movable horns, with a flint-hard skin, repelling any wound. Everybody hunts these wild beasts, and by their fierceness they are not killed in a different way than catching them by pits.

(176) Bubus Indicis camelorum altitudo traditur, cornua in latitudinem quaternorum pedum. in nostro orbe Epiroticis laus maxima a Pyrrhi, ut ferunt, iam inde regis cura. id consecutus est non ante quadrimatum ad partus vocando; praegrandes itaque fuere et hodieque reliquiae stirpium durant. at nunc anniculae fecunditatem poscuntur, tolerantius tamen bimae, tauri generationem quadrimi. inplent singuli denas eodem anno. tradunt, si a coitu in dexteram partem abeant tauri, generatos mares esse; si in laevam, feminas. (176) They say that Indian cattle has the same height as camels and 4-feet long horns. In our part of the world the most appraised cattle is that of Epirus, even, as they say, for the care of its king, Pyrrhus: he did it not letting the cows calve before the fourth year of age, so cattle became very big and still today some descendants of it remains. Instead today they push heifers to be prolific when yearling, the more patient breeders wait until the second year; the bulls are requested to cover at 4 years and each of them fecundates ten cows in the same year. They say that, if the bull after the mount goes away towards right, he generated a bull calf, if he goes left, a cow calf was generated.
(177) conceptio uno initu peragitur, quae si forte pererravit, XX post diem marem femina repetit. pariunt mense X; quicquid ante genitum, inutile est. sunt auctores ipso conplente decumum mensem die parere. gignunt raro geminos. coitus a delphini exortu a. d. pr. non. Ianuarias diebus XXX, aliquis et autumno, gentibus quidem quae lacte vivunt ita dispensatus, ut omni tempore anni supersit id alimentum. tauri non saepius quam bis die ineunt. (177) The conception is accomplished with only one mating and if by chance this has failed, past 20 days the female goes again to the bull. A cow calves at the tenth month, everything littered before is unfit. According to some authors they calve just the day in which the tenth month expires. They seldom calve twins. Matings begin at the rising of Dolphin constellation, January 4th, and last for thirty days;other mating are in autumn and by the peoples feeding milk, they are distributed so that in every period of the year there be plenty of that food. The bulls must not mate more than twice a day.
(178) boves animalium soli et retro ambulantes pascuntur, apud Garamantas quidem haut aliter. vita feminis XV annis longissima, maribus XX. robur in quinquennatu. lavatione calidae aquae traduntur pinguescere et si quis incisa cute spiritum harundine in viscera adigat. (178) Cattle are the only animals which pasture walking backwards,among the Garamants they don't pasture otherwise. Cow's life lasts for 15 years, the males' for 20 years, their greatest vigour is at 5 years. They say that washing cattle with warm water make them fatten up, and the same happens if, after piercing the hide, you blow air inside them with a reed.
(179) non degeneres existimandi etiam minus laudato aspectu: plurimum lactis Alpinis, quibus minimum corporis, plurimum laboris capite, non cervice, iunctis. Syriacis non sunt palearia, sed gibber in dorso. Carici quoque in parte Asiae, foedi visu tubere super armos a cervicibus eminente, luxatis cornibus, excellentes in opere narrantur, cetero nigri coloris candidive ad laborem damnantur. tauris minora quam bubus cornua tenuioraque. (179)We must not deem as lesser neither those cattle with an umpleasant appearance: those of Alps give plenty of milk, even if their size is very reduced, and give plenty of work if yoked by their head instead of by the neck. The Syrian cattle have a hump on their back but no dewlap. Even those of Caria, a region of Asia, although unsightly, for a hump on their shoulders overhanging the neck, and with crooked horns, are told to be excellent as to the work; moreover white or black coated animals are badly deemed with regard to the work. Bulls have shorter and thinner horns than oxen.
(180) domitura boum in trimatu, postea sera, ante praematura. optime cum domito iuvencus inbuitur. socium enim laboris agrique culturae habemus hoc animal, tantae apud priores curae, ut sit inter exempla damnatus a populo Romano die dicta, qui concubino procaci rure omassum edisse se negante occiderat bovem, actusque in exilium tamquam colono suo interempto. (180) You should break in the oxen when they are three years old, later is tardy, earlier is untimely. A calf is easily broken in beside another one already trained. Since this animal is a workmate of man in land cultivation, he received many attentions amongst the ancients, and it's reported the example of a man tried by the Roman people in the appointed day, for having killed an ox for his impudent boyfriend which said he had never tasted tripe in the countryside, and he was sent into exile as if he had killed his peasant.
(181) Tauris in aspectu generositas torva fronte, auribus saetosis, cornibus in procinctu dimicationem poscentibus. sed tota comminatio prioribus in pedibus. stat ira gliscente alternos replicans spargensque in alvum harenam et solus animalium eo stimulo ardescens. (181) In bulls the good breed is seen by the appearance, with a menacing forehead, shaggy ears, horns in fighting trim challenging to the fight, but having all the threat in the forelegs. This stands still with raising wrath, bending legs backwards and throwing the dirt against its venter, and is the only animal flaring up with this anger.
(182) vidimus ex imperio dimicantes et iocose demonstratos rotari, cornibus cadentes excipi iterumque regi, modo iacentes ex humo tolli bigarumque etiam curru citato velut aurigas insistere. Thessalorum gentis inventum est equo iuxta quadripedante cornu intorta cervice tauros necare; primus id spectaculum dedit Romae Caesar dictator. (182) We saw them fighting at a command and they were shown us turning round for fun or supporting themselves with their horns when falling down, then getting up again. They were made rise up when lying down then getting to stay on a cart started off at full galloop, like if they were charioteers of bigae. An invention of the people of Thessalians is to kill bulls from a horse riding beside them, by twisting their neck holding them by the horns.Caesar, when was dictator, first offered this show in Rome.
(183) hinc victimae opimae et lautissima deorum placatio. huic tantum animali omnium, quibus procerior, cauda non statim nato consummatae ut ceteris mensurae: crescit uni, donec ad vestigia ima perveniat. quam ob rem victimarum probatio in vitulo, ut articulum suffraginis contingat; breviore non litant. hoc quoque notatum, vitulos ad aras umeris hominis adlatos non fere litare, sicut nec claudicante nec aliena hostia deos placari nec trahente se ab aris. est frequens in prodigiis priscorum bovem locutum, quo nuntiato senatum sub diu haberi solitum. (183) Therefore the bulls are wonderful victims for the immolation and are the most sumptuous way to appease the gods. Between all long-tailed animals, only in this species the tail at birth has not the final proportions as in the other species, instead it grows until it reaches the bottom of the hooves. For these reasons the approval of the victims for a sacrifice, as to calves, provides for the tail to reach the fetlock articulation, and if it's shorter it's not a good omen. It was also observed that generally a sacrifice is not effective if calves are carried to the altar in a man's arm, likewise the gods are not appeased by a lame calf nor by a victim foreign to them or which tries to draw himself away from the altar. It was frequent among the ancients the prodigy of an oxen who talked, and when the notice reached the Senate, this was convoked in the open air.

(184) Bos in Aegypto etiam numinis vice colitur; Apin vocant. insigne ei in dextro latere candicans macula cornibus lunae crescere incipientis, nodus sub lingua, quem cantharum appellant. non est fas eum certos vitae excedere annos, mersumque in sacerdotum fonte necant quaesituri luctu alium, quem substituant, et donec invenerint maerent derasis etiam capitibus; nec tamen umquam diu quaeritur. (184) In Egypt a bull is venerated as a god, and is called Apis. His distinctive signs are a big white spot on its right side, shaped as the horns of the moon beginning to wax, and a lump under the tongue named cantharus. It's not deemed allowable that he exceeds a certain age and he's killed plunging him in priests' fountain, then they go around in mourning to search for another one as a replacement and until they find him they are sad and even shave their heads; anyway they don't need to search for him very long.
(185) inventus deducitur Memphin a sacerdotibus C. delubra ei gemina, quae vocant thalamos, auguria populorum: alterum intrasse laetum est, in altero dira portendit. responsa privatis dat e manu consulentium cibum capiendo. Germanici Caesaris manum aversatus est haut multo postea extincti. cetero secretus, cum se proripuit in coetus, incedit submotu lictorum, gregesque puerorum comitantur carmen honori eius canentium; intellegere videtur et adorari velle. hi greges repente lymphati futura praecinunt. (185) When they find the bull, this is escorted to Memphis by hundreed priests. Twin temples, called thalamos, are dedicated to him, and are used by the people to draw prophecies: if the bull goes in one of them, it's a good omen, if he goes into the other it's a bad omen. The bull gives responses to private persons taking food from questioners' hands. He refused the hand of Germanicus Caesar's, who not much later died. For the remaining time he's kept apart and when burst into the crowd, he walks on while lictors send the people off and is accompanied by a band of kids who sing a song in his honour; the bull seems to understand and to wish to be adored. The kids of the band suddenly start madly to foretell the fortune.

(186) femina bos ei semel anno ostenditur, suis et ipsa insignibus, quamquam aliis, semperque eodem die et inveniri eam et extingui tradunt. Memphi est locus in Nilo, quem a figura vocant Phialam, omnibus annis ibi auream pateram argenteamque mergentes diebus quos habent natales Apis. septem hi sunt, mirumque neminem per eos a crocodilis attingi, octavo post horam diei sextam redire belvae feritatem.

(186) Once a year a cow is taken to Apis bull, also bearing signs, though different, and they say that still in the same day this cow is found then killed. At Memphis there is a place by the Nile, named Phiala for its shape, where every year a golden and a silver goblet are thrown into the river, in the days when the birth of Apis is celebrated. These days are seven and it's marvellous that during them nobody is reached by a crocodile, and after the sixth hour of the eighth day, the wild beasts display again their ferocity.

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page last updated: February 2nd 2008