previous next


In the midst of the cornea of the eye Nature has formed a window in the pupil, the small dimensions of which do not permit the sight to wander at hazard and with uncertainty, hut direct it as straight as though it were through a tube, and at the same time ensure its avoidance of all shocks communicated by foreign bodies. The pupils are surrounded by a black circle in some persons, while it is of a yellowish cast with others, and azure again with others. By this happy combination the light is received by the eye upon the white that lies around the pupil, and its reflection being thus tempered, it fails to impede or confuse the sight by its harshness. So complete a mirror, too, does the eye form, that the pupil, small as it is, is able to reflect the entire image of a man. This1 is the reason why most birds, when held in the hand of a person, will more particularly peck at his eyes; for seeing their own likeness reflected in the pupils, they are attracted to it by what seem to be the objects of their natural affection.

It is only some few beasts of burden that are subject to maladies of the eyes towards the increase of the moon: but it is man alone that is rescued from blindness by the discharge of the humours2 that have caused it. Many persons have had their sight restored after being blind for twenty years; while others, again, have been denied this blessing from their very birth, without there being any blemish in the eyes. Many persons, again, have suddenly lost their sight from no apparent cause, and without any preceding injury. The most learned authors say that there are veins which communicate from the eye to the brain, but I am inclined to think that the communication is with the stomach; for it is quite certain that a person never loses the eye without feeling sickness at the stomach. It is an important and sacred duty, of high sanction among the Romans, to close3 the eyes of the dead, and then again to open them when the body is laid on the funeral pile, the usage having taken its rise in the notion of its being improper that the eyes of the dead should be beheld by man, while it is an equally great offence to hide them from the view of heaven. Man is the only living creature the eyes of which are subject to deformities, from which, in fact, arose the family names of " Strabo" 4 and "Pætus." 5 The ancients used to call a man who was born with only one eye, "cocles," and "ocella," a person whose eyes were remarkably small. " Luscinus" was the surname given to one who happened to have lost one eve by an accident.

The eyes of animals that see at night in the dark, cats, for instance, are shining and radiant, so much so, that it is impossible to look upon them; those of the she-goat, too, and the wolf are resplendent, and emit a light like fire. The eyes of the sea-calf and the hyena change successively to a thousand colours; and the eyes, when dried, of most of the fishes will give out light in the dark, just in the same way as the trunk of the oak when it has become rotten with extreme old age. We have already mentioned6 the fact, that animals which turn, not the eyes but the head, for the purpose of looking round, are never known to wink. It is said,7 too, that the chameleon is able to roll the eye-balls completely round. Crabs look sideways, and have the eves enclosed beneath a thin crust. Those of craw-fish and shrimps are very hard and prominent, and lie in a great measure beneath a defence of a similar nature. Those animals, however, the eyes of which are hard, have worse sight than those of which the eyes are formed of a humid substance. It is said that if the eyes are taken away from the young of serpents and of the swallow,8 they will grow again. In all insects and in animals covered with a shell, the eyes move just in the same way as the ears of quadrupeds do; those among them which have a brittle9 covering have the eyes hard. All animals of this nature, as well as fishes and insects, are destitute of eye-lids, and their eyes have no covering; but in all there is a membrane that is transparent like glass, spread over them.

1 Hardouin with justice doubts the soundness of this alleged reason.

2 He alludes, probably, to some method of curing cataract; perhaps somewhat similar to that mentioned by him in B. xx. c. 20.

3 This was done by the nearest relatives. This usage still prevails in this country, the eyelids being pressed down with pieces of gold or silver.

4 Or "squint-eyed."

5 Or "cock-eyed. "

6 B. viii. c. 45.

7 B. viii. c. 51.

8 See B. xxv. e. 50.

9 Or crustaceous covering.

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