previous next


But since this one element is of so prolific a nature as to produce itself, and to increase from the smallest spark, what must we suppose will be the effect of all those funeral piles of the earth1 ? What must be the nature of that thing, which, in all parts of the world, supplies this most greedy voracity without destroying itself? To these fires must be added those innumerable stars and the great sun itself. There are also the fires made by men2, those which are innate in certain kinds of stones, those produced by the friction of wood3, and those in the clouds, which give rise to lightning. It really exceeds all other wonders, that one single day should pass in which everything is not consumed, especially when we reflect, that concave mirrors placed opposite to the sun's rays produce flame more readily than any other kind of fire; and that numerous small but natural fires abound everywhere. In Nymphæum there issues from a rock a fire which is kindled by rain; it also issues from the waters of the Scantia4. This indeed is a feeble flame, since it passes off, remaining only a short time on any body to which it is applied: an ash tree, which overshadows this fiery spring, remains always green5. In the territory of Mutina fire issues from the ground on the days that are consecrated to Vulcan6. It is stated by some authors, that if a burning body falls on the fields below Aricia7, the ground is set on fire; and that the stones in the territory of the Sabines and of the Sidicini8, if they be oiled, burn with flame. In Egnatia9, a town of Salentinum, there is a sacred stone, upon which, when wood is placed, flame immediately bursts forth. In the altar of Juno Lacinia10, which is in the open air, the ashes remain unmoved, although the winds may be blowing from all quarters.

It appears also that there are sudden fires both in waters and even in the human body; that the whole of Lake Thrasymenus was on fire11; that when Servius Tullius, while a child, was sleeping, flame darted out from his head12; and Valerius Antias informs us, that the same flame appeared about L. Marcius, when he was pronouncing the funeral oration over the Scipios, who were killed in Spain; and exhorting the soldiers to avenge their death. I shall presently mention more facts of this nature, and in a more distinct manner; in this place these wonders are mixed up with other subjects. But my mind, having carried me beyond the mere interpretation of nature, is anxious to lead, as it were by the hand, the thoughts of my readers over the whole globe.

1 "Tot rogis terræ ?" in reference to the remark in a former chapter, "natura terras cremat."

2 "Humani ignes," according to Hardouin, "Hi nostri ignes, quos vitæ usus requirit, ut Tullius ait de Nat. Deor. ii. 67;" Lemaire, i. 457.

3 This is the mode which many savage tribes employ for exciting flame.

4 It is not known whether the Scantia was a river or a lake, or where it was situated; see Alexandre in Lemaire, i. 457.

5 This may have been owing to the emission of an inflammable gas which burns at a comparatively low temperature, as was observed on a former occasion.

6 These are said by Columella, xi. 3, to occur in August; the statement as to the fire occurring on these particular days we may presume is erroneous.

7 Aricia was a town in Campania, near the modern Lake of Nemi: this place, as well as the other places mentioned by our author, were probably of volcanic origin.

8 Sidicinum was a town in Campania, also called Teanum; probably the modern Teano.

9 Egnatia was a town in Calabria, on the coast of the Adriatic: the circumstance mentioned by our author is ridiculed by Horace, in his well-known lines, Sat. i. 5, 97; but it is not improbable that there may be some foundation for it.

10 This circumstance is referred to by Val. Maximus, i. 8, 18. The altar was probably in the neighbourhood of the Lacinian Promontory, at the S.W. extremity of the Bay of Tarentum, the modern Capo delle Colonne.

11 This may be referred to the inflammable vapours mentioned above, unless we regard the whole narrative as fabulous.

12 See Livy, i. 39, and Val. Maximus, i. 6. 2. Although it would be rash to pronounce this occurrence and the following anecdotes respecting Marcius to be absolutely impossible, we must regard them as highly improbable, and resting upon very insufficient evidence.

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.

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: