IV[4arg] On some extraordinary marvels found among barbarian peoples; and on awful and deadly spells; and also on the sudden change of women into men.
WHEN I was returning from Greece to Italy and had come to Brundisium, after disembarking I was [p. 163] strolling about in that famous port, which Quintus Ennius called praepes, or “propitious,” 1 using an epithet that is somewhat far-fetched, but altogether apt. There I saw some bundles of books exposed for sale, and I at once eagerly hurried to them. Now, all those books were in Greek, filled with marvellous tales, things unheard of, incredible; but the writers were ancient and of no mean authority: Aristeas of Proconnesus, Isigonus of Nicaea, Ctesias and Onesicritus, Philostephanus and Hegesias. 2 The volumes themselves, however, were filthy from long neglect, in bad condition and unsightly. Nevertheless, I drew near and asked their price; then, attracted by their extraordinary and unexpected cheapness, 1 bought a large number of them for a small sum, and ran through all of them hastily in the course of the next two nights. As I read, I culled from them, and noted down, some things that were remarkable and for the most part unmentioned by our native writers; these I have inserted here and there in these notes, so that whoever shall read them may not be found to be wholly ignorant and ἀνήκοος, or “uninstructed,” when hearing tales of that kind. Those books, then, contained matter of the following sort: that the most remote of the Scythians, who pass their life in the far north, eat human flesh and subsist on the nourishment of that food, and are called ἀνθρωποφάγοι, or “cannibals.” Also that there are men in the same latitude having one eye in the middle of the forehead and called Arimaspi, who are of the appearance that the poets give the Cyclopes. 3 That there are also in the same region [p. 165] other men, of marvellous swiftness, whose feet are turned backwards and do not point forward, as in the rest of mankind. 4 Further, that it was handed down by tradition that in a distant land called Albania men are born whose hair turns white in childhood and who see better by night than in the daytime. That it was also a matter of assured belief that the Sauromatae, who dwell far away beyond the river Borysthenes, take food only every other day 5 and fast on the intervening day. In those same books I ran upon this statement too, which I later read also in the seventh book of the Natural History of Plinius Secundus, 6 that in the land of Africa there are families of persons who work spells by voice and tongue; for if they should chance to have bestowed extravagant praise upon beautiful trees, plentiful crops, charming children, fine horses, flocks that are well fed and in good condition, suddenly, for no other cause than this, all these would die. That with the eyes too a deadly spell is cast, is written in those same books, and it is said that there are persons among the Illyrians who by their gaze kill those at whom they have looked for some time in anger; and that those persons themselves, both men and women, who possess this power of harmful gaze, have two pupils in each eye. Also that in the mountains of the land of India there are men who have the heads of dogs, and bark, and that they feed upon birds and wild animals which they have taken in the chase. That in the remotest lands of the east too there are [p. 167] other marvellous men called monocoli, or “one-legged,” who run by hopping with their single leg and are of a most lively swiftness. 7 And that there are also some others who are without necks and have eyes in their shoulders. But all bounds of wonder are passed by the statement of those same writers, that there is a tribe in farthest India with bodies that are rough and covered with feathers like birds, who eat no food but live by inhaling the perfume of flowers. And that not far from these people is the land of Pygmies, the tallest of whom are not more than two feet and a quarter in height. These and many other stories of the kind I read; but when writing them down, I was seized with disgust for such worthless writings, which contribute nothing to the enrichment or profit of life. Nevertheless, the fancy took me to add to this collection of marvels a thing which Plinius Secundus, a man of high authority in his day and generation by reason of his talent and his position, recorded in the seventh book of his Natural History, 8 not as something that he had heard or read, but that he knew to be true and had himself seen. The words therefore which I have quoted below are his own, taken from that book, and they certainly make us hesitate to reject or ridicule that familiar yarn of the poets of old about Caenis and Caeneus. 9 He says that the change of women into men is not a fiction. “We find,” says he, “in the annals that in the consulship of Quintus Licinius Crassus and Gains Cassius Longinus 10 a girl at Casinum was changed into a boy in the house of her parents and by direction of the diviners was deported to a desert island. Licinius Mucianus has stated [p. 169] that he saw at Argos one Arescontes, whose name had been Arescusa; that she had even been married, but presently grew a beard, became a man, and had taken a wife: and that at Smyrna also he had seen a boy who had experienced the same change. I myself in Africa saw Lucius Cossutius, a citizen of Thysdrus, who had been changed into a man on his wedding day and was still living when I wrote this.” Pliny also wrote this in the same book: 11 “There are persons who from birth are bisexual, whom we call 'hermaphrodites'; they were formerly termed androgyni and regarded as prodigies, but now are instruments of pleasure.”