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Megasthenes informs us, that in India, serpents grow to such an immense size, as to swallow stags and bulls;1 while Metrodorus says, that about the river Rhyndacus,2 in Pontus, they seize and swallow the birds that are flying above them, however high and however rapid their flight.3 It is a well-known fact, that during the Punic war, at the river Bagrada, a serpent one hundred and twenty feet in length was taken by the Roman army under Regulus, being besieged, like a fortress, by means of balistæ and other engines of war.4 Its skin and jaws were preserved in a temple at Rome, down to the time of the Numantine war. The serpents which in Italy are known by the name of boa, render these accounts far from incredible, for they grow to such a vast size, that a child was found entire in the stomach of one of them, which was killed on the Vaticanian Hill during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.5 These are nourished, in the first instance, with the milk of the cow, and from this they take their name.6 As to the other animals, which have been of late repeatedly brought to Italy from all parts of the world, it is quite unnecessary to give any minute account of their form.

1 It is well known, that certain serpents have the jaws and fauces so constructed, that they will allow of the passage of an animal more bulky than themselves; they first crush its bones, and form it into a kind of pulp, and then pass it, without further change, into the stomach, where it is slowly dissolved by the gastric juices.—B.

2 Supposed to have been in Mysia, or Bithynia, considerably to the west of Pontus.—B.

3 This account is entirely without foundation. The same statement is made by Ælian, Anim. Nat. B. ii. c. 21, who probably copied it from Metrodorus. There are stories of the power which serpents possess of fascinating birds by the eye, but they are not improbably without foundation. —B. There is little doubt, however, that some serpents have the power, by some means or other, of fascinating the birds which they make their prey.

4 This is referred to by many ancient writers; among others, by Livy, B. xviii.; Florus, B. ii. c. 2; Valerius Maximus, B. i. c. 8; and Aulus Gellius, B. vi. c. 3.—B.

5 As Cuvier remarks, it is difficult to conceive what he means by the boa of Italy. At the present day, the longest Italian serpents are the Æsculapian serpent (a harmless animal), and the "Coluber quadrilineatus" of Linnæus, neither of which exceeds ten feet in length. The one here mentioned, was probably, as Cuvier suggests, one of the genuine boa or python species; but, as he says, where did it come from? and how did it get there?

6 It is doubtful whether any one ever witnessed a serpent sucking a cow, but it seems to have been generally believed, and it is therefore probable, that the name of the animal was derived from this circumstance.—B. It is still believed of the common snake in some parts of this country. The reading "primo" has been preferred to "trimo," that adopted by Sillig.

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