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The song of the nightingale is to be heard, without intermission, for fifteen days and nights, continuously,1 when the foliage is thickening, as it bursts from the bud; a bird which deserves our admiration in no slight degree. First of all, what a powerful voice in so small a body! its note, how long, and how well sustained! And then, too, it is the only bird the notes of which are modulated in accordance with the strict rules of musical science.2 At one moment, as it sustains its breath, it will prolong its note, and then at another, will vary it with different inflexions; then, again, it will break into distinct chirrups, or pour forth an endless series of roulades. Then it will warble to itself, while taking breath, or else disguise its voice in an instant; while sometimes, again, it will twitter to itself, now with a full note, now with a grave, now again sharp, now with a broken note, and now with a prolonged one. Sometimes, again, when it thinks fit, it will break out into quavers, and will run through, in succession, alto, tenor, and bass: in a word, in so tiny a throat is to be found all the melody that the ingenuity of man has ever discovered through the medium of the invention of the most exquisite flute: so much so, that there can be no doubt it was an infallible presage of his future sweetness as a poet, when one of these creatures perched and sang on the infant lips of the poet Stesichorus.

That there may remain no doubt that there is a certain degree of art in its performances, we may here remark that every bird has a number of notes peculiar to itself; for they do not, all of them, have the same, but each, certain melodies of its own. They vie with one another, and the spirit with which they contend is evident to all. The one that is vanquished, often dies in the contest, and will rather yield its life than its song. The younger birds are listening in the meantime, and receive the lesson in song from which they are to profit. The learner hearkens with the greatest attention, and repeats what it has heard, and then they are silent by turns; this is understood to be the correction of an error on the part of the scholar, and a sort of reproof, as it were, on the part of the teacher. Hence it is that nightingales fetch as high a price as slaves, and, indeed, sometimes more than used formerly to be paid for a man in a suit of armour.

I know that on one occasion six thousand sesterces3 were paid for a nightingale, a white one it is true, a thing that is hardly ever to be seen, to be made a present of to Agrippina, the wife of the Emperor Claudius. A nightingale has been often seen that will sing at command, and take alternate parts with the music that accompanies it; men, too, have been found who could imitate its note with such exactness, that it would be impossible to tell the difference, by merely putting water in a reed held crosswise, and then blowing into it, a languette being first inserted, for the purpose of breaking the sound and rendering it more shrill.4 But these modulations, so clever and so artistic, begin gradually to cease at the end of the fifteen days; not that you can say, however, that the bird is either fatigued or tired of singing; but, as the heat increases, its voice becomes altogether changed, and possesses no longer either modulation or variety of note. Its colour, too, becomes changed, and at last, throughout the winter, it totally disappears. The tongue of the nightingale is not pointed at the tip, as in other birds. It lays at the beginning of the spring, six eggs at the most.

1 It was the nightingale that was said to be "Vox et præterea nihil;" "A voice, and nothing else."

2 As there may be different opinions on the meaning of the various parts of this passage, it is as well to transcribe it for the benefit of the reader, the more especially as, contrary to his usual practice, Pliny is here in a particularly discursive mood. "Nunc continuo spiritu trahitur in longum, nunc variatur inflexo, nunc distinguitur conciso, copulatur intorto, promittitur revocato, infuscatur ex inopinato, interdum et secum ipse murmurat, plenus, gravis, acutus, creber, extentus; ubi visum est, vibrans, summus, medius, imus."

3 1227 francs, Ajasson says.

4 Something very similar to this, we often see practised by the waterwarblers in our streets.

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