previous next


[7arg] That Homer in his poems and Herodotus in his Histories spoke differently of the nature of the lion.

HERODOTUS, in the third book of his Histories, has left the statement that lionesses give birth but once during their whole life, and at that one birth that [p. 429] they never produce more than one cub. His words in that book are as follows: 1 “But the lioness, although a strong and most courageous animal, gives birth once only in her lifetime to one cub; for in giving birth she discharges her womb with the whelp.” Homer, however, says that lions (for so he calls the females also, using the masculine or “common” (epicene) gender, as the grammarians call it) produce and rear many whelps. The verses in which he plainly says this are these: 2
He stood, like to a lion before its young,
Beset by hunters in a gloomy wood
And leading them away.
In another passage also he indicates the same thing: 3

With many a groan, like lion of strong beard,
From which a hunter stole away its young
Amid dense woods.
Since this disagreement and difference between the most famous of poets and the most eminent of historians troubled me, I thought best to consult that very thorough treatise which the philosopher Aristotle wrote On Animals. And what I find that he has written there upon this subject I shall include in these notes, in Aristotle's own language. 4

[p. 431]

1 iii. 108.

2 Iliad, xvii. 133.

3 Iliad, xviii. 318.

4 The passage is not quoted; see critical note. Aristotle tells us that the lioness gives birth to young every year, usually two, at most six, sometimes only one. The current idea that the womb is discharged with the young is absurd; it arose from the fact that lions are rare and that the inventor of the story did not know the real reason, which is that their habitat is of limited extent. The lionesses in Syria give birth five times, producing at first five cubs, then one less at each successive birth.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), CENA
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: