previous next


There are some small birds also, which have hooked talons; the wood-pecker, for example, surnamed "of Mars," of considerable importance in the auspices. To this kind belong the birds which make holes in trees, and climb stealthily up them, like cats; mounting with the head upwards, they tap against the bark, and learn by the sound whether or not their food lies beneath; they are the only birds that hatch their young in the hollows of trees. It is a common belief, that if a shepherd drives a wedge into their holes, they apply a certain kind of herb,1 immediately upon which it falls out. Trebius informs us that if a nail or wedge is driven with ever so much force into a tree in which these birds have made their nest, it will instantly fly out, the tree making a loud cracking noise the moment that the bird has lighted upon the nail or wedge.

These birds have held the first rank in auguries, in Latium, since the time of the king2 who has given them their name. One of the presages that was given by them, I cannot pass over in silence. A woodpecker came and lighted upon the head of Ælius Tubero, the City prator, when sitting on his tribunal dispensing justice in the Forum, and showed such tameness as to allow itself to be taken with the hand; upon which the augurs declared that if it was let go, the state was menaced with danger, but if killed, disaster would befall the prætor; in an instant he tore the bird to pieces, and before long the omen was fulfilled.3

1 See B. xxv. c. 5.

2 Picus, the son of Saturn, king of Latium. He was skilled in augury, and was said to have been changed into a woodpecker. See Ovid, Met. B. xiv. 1. 314.; Virgil, Æn. B. vii. c. 187. See also Ovid, Fasti, B. iii. 1. 37.

3 Valerius Maximus, B. v. c. 6, says, that seventeen members of this family fell at the battle of Cannæ.

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 Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide References (6 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: