Pliny the Elder, Natural History

LCL 353: 366-367


Pliny: Natural History


LVI. Et ingenia aeque varia, ad pastum maxime. caprimulgi appellantur, grandioris merulae aspectu, fures nocturni—interdiu enim visu carent. intrant pastorum stabula caprarumque uberibus advolant suctum propter lactis, qua iniuria uber emoritur caprisque caecitas quas ita mulsere oboritur. platea nominatur advolans ad eas quae se in mari mergunt et capita illarum morsu corripiens, donec capturam extorqueat. eadem cum devoratis se implevit conchis, calore ventris coctas evomit, atque ita ex iis esculenta eligit testas excernens.


LVII. Villaribus gallinis et religio inest: inhorrescunt edito ovo excutiuntque sese et circumactae purificant ac1 festuca aliqua sese et ova lustrant. minimae avium cardueles imperata faciunt, nec voce tantum sed pedibus et ore pro manibus. est quae boum mugitus imitetur, in Arelatensi agro taurus appellata, alioquin parva est. equorum quoque hinnitus anthus nomine herbae pabulo adventu eorum pulsa imitatur ad hunc modum se ulciscens.


LVIII. Super omnia humanas voces reddunt, psittaci quidem etiam sermocinantes. India hanc avem mittit, siptacen vocat, viridem toto corpore, torque tantum miniato in cervice distinctam. imperatores2 salutat et quae accipit verba pronuntiat, in vino praecipue lasciva. capiti eius duritia eadem

  • 1Gelen: aut.
  • 2imperatorem? Rackham.

Book X

LVI. Birds’ dispositions also are equally varied,The goat sucker and the shovelller-duck–modes of feeding. especially in respect of food. Those called goatsuckers, which resemble a rather large blackbird, are night thieves—for they cannot see in the daytime. They enter the shepherds’ stalls and fly to the goats’ udders in order to suck their milk, which injures the udder and makes it perish, and the goats they have milked in this way gradually go blind.a There is a bird called the shoveller-duck which flies up to the sea-divers and seizes their heads in its bill till it wrings their catch from them. The same bird after filling itself by swallowing shells brings them up again when digested by the warmth of the belly and so picked out from them the edible parts, discarding the shells.

LVII. Farmyard hens actually have a religiousCurious habits of other birds. ritual: after laying an egg they begin to shiver and shake, and purify themselves by circling round, and make use of a straw as a ceremonial rod to cleanse themselves and the eggs. The smallestb of birds, the goldfinches, perform their leader’s orders, not only with their song but by using their feet and beak instead of hands. One bird in the Aries district, called the bull-birdc although really it is small in size, imitates the bellowing of oxen. Also the birdd whose Greek name is ‘flower,’ when driven away from feeding on grass by the arrival of horses, imitates their neighing, in this way taking its revenge.

LVIII. Above all, birds imitate the human voice,Talking parrots. parrots indeed actually talking. India sends us this birde; its name in the vernacular is siptacesf; its whole body is green, only varied by a red circlet at the neck. It greets its masters,g and repeats words given to it, being particularly sportive over the wine. Its head

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.pliny_elder-natural_history.1938