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CHAP. 50. (32.)—STAGS.

Stags, although the most mild of all animals, have still their own feelings of malignancy;1 when hard pressed by the hounds, of their own accord they fly for refuge to man; and when the females bring forth, they are less anxious to avoid the paths which bear traces of human footsteps, than solitary spots which offer a retreat to wild beasts.2 They become pregnant after the rising of the constellation Arcturus;3 they bring forth after a gestation of eight months, and sometimes produce two young ones. They separate after conception, but the males, upon being thus abandoned, become maddened with the fury of their passion; they dig up the earth, and their muzzles become quite black, until they have been washed by the rain.4 The females, before they bring forth, purge themselves by means of a certain herb, which is called seselis, by the use of which parturition is rendered more easy. After delivery, they take a mixture of the two plants called seselis5 and aros,6 and then return to the fawn; they seem desirous, for some reason or other, that their first milk, after parturition, should be impregnated with the juice of these plants. They then exercise the young ones in running, and teach them how to take to flight, leading them to precipices, and showing them how to leap. The sexual passion of the male having been now satisfied, he repairs to the pasture lands with the greatest eagerness. When they feel themselves becoming too fat, they seek some retired spot, thus acknowledging the inconvenience arising from their bulk. Besides this, they continually pause in their flight, stand still and look back, and then again resume their flight when the enemy approaches. This pause is occasioned by the intense pain which they feel in the intestines, a part which is so weak, that a very slight blow will cause them to break within. The barking of a dog instantly puts them to flight, and they always run with the wind, in order that no trace of them may be left. They are soothed by the shepherd's pipe and his song;7 when their ears are erect, their sense of hearing is very acute, but when dropped, they become deaf.8 In other respects the stag is a simple animal, which regards every thing as wonderful, and with a stupid astonishment; so much so, indeed, that if a horse or cow happens to approach it, it will not see the hunter, who may be close at hand, or, if it does see him, it only gazes upon his bow and arrow. Stags cross the sea in herds, swimming in a long line, the head of each resting on the haunches of the one that precedes it, each in its turn falling back to the rear. This has been particularly remarked when they pass over from Cilicia to the island of Cyprus. Though they do not see the land, they still are able to direct themselves by the smell. The males have horns, and are the only animals that shed them every year, at a stated time in the spring; at which period they seek out with the greatest care the most retired places, and after losing them, remain concealed, as though aware that they are unarmed. Still, however, they envy us the good that these might do us; for it is said the right horn, which possesses, as it were, certain medicinal properties, can never be found, a circumstance the more astonishing, from the fact that they change their horns every year, even when kept in parks;9 it is generally thought that they bury their horns in the ground. The odour of either horn, when burnt, drives away serpents and detects epilepsy. They also bear the marks of their age on the horns, every year, up to the sixth,10 a fresh antler being added; after which period the horns are renewed in the same state, so that by means of them their age cannot be ascertained. Their old age, however, is indicated by their teeth, for then they have only a few, or none at all; and we then no longer perceive, at the base of their horns, antlers projecting from the front of the forehead, as is usually the case with the animal when young.

When this animal is castrated it does not shed its horns, nor are they reproduced. When the horns begin to be reproduced, two projections are to be seen, much resembling, at first, dry skin; they grow with tender shoots, having upon them a soft down like that on the head of a reed. So long as they are without horns, they go to feed during the night. As the horns grow, they harden by the heat of the sun, and the animal, from time to time, tries their strength upon the trees; when satisfied with their strength, it leaves its retreat.

Stags, too, have been occasionally caught with ivy green and growing on their horns,11 the plant having taken root on them, as it would on any piece of wood, while the animal was rubbing them against the trees. The stag is sometimes found white, as is said to have been the case with the hind of Q. Sertorius, which he persuaded the nations of Spain to look upon as having the gift of prophecy.12 The stag, too, fights with the serpent: it traces out the serpent's hole, and draws it forth by the breath of its lostrils,13 and hence it is that the smell of burnt stags' horn has the remarkable power of driving away serpents. The very best remedy for the bite of a serpent is the rennet of a fawn that has been killed in the womb of its mother.

The stag is generally admitted to be very long lived; some were captured at the end of one hundred years with the golden collars which Alexander the Great had put upon them, and which were quite concealed by the folds of the skin, in consequence of the accumulation of fat.14 This animal is not subject to fever, and, indeed, it is a preservative against that complaint. We know that of late some women of princely rank have been in the habit of eating the flesh of the stag every morning, and that they have arrived at an extreme old age, free from all fevers. It is, however, generally supposed that the animal must be killed by a single wound to make sure of it possessing this virtue.

(33.) Of the same species is an animal, which only differs from the stag in having a beard and long hair about the shoulders: it is called tragelaphus,15 and is produced nowhere except on the banks of the Phasis.16

1 This refers to what will be found stated in this Chapter, that stags conceal their horns, when they fall off, that they may not be used in medicine.—B.

2 This is mentioned by Aristotle, Plutarch, and Ælian, but it must be considered as very doubtful.—B.

3 See B. xviii. c. 74.

4 It seems that Pliny here attributes the blackening of the mouths of the stags to their turning up the earth with their muzzles; Aristotle, however, refers it to a constitutional cause, arising from their violent sexual excitement; Hist. Anim. B. vi. c. 29.—B.

5 Or seseli, probably hart-wort. See B. xx. c. 87, and B. xxv. c. 52.

6 We learn from Hardouin, that there has been much discussion respecting the plants or other substances which the female is supposed to eat after parturition. Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. ix. c. 6, asserts that it eats the chorion, the membrane in which the fœtus has been enveloped, and afterwards the herb seselis. To make the account of Pliny agree with that of Aristotle, some of the commentators have even supposed, that chorion here means the name of a plant, and they have proposed to substitute the word chorion for aros in the text.—B. Aros is probably the present "Arum maculatum," or wake-robin. See p. 307, N. 78.

7 Aristotle, Plutarch, and Xenophon speak of the influence of music on these animals.—B.

8 Aristotle, ubi supra, mentions this respecting their ears; the same takes place, to a certain extent, with all animals that have large external auricles.—B.

9 Aristotle, ubi supra, Ælian, ubi supra, and B. iii. c. 17, and Theophrastus, in a fragment on the Envious among Animals, agree in stating that one of the horns of the stag is never found, although they differ respecting the individual horn, whether the right one or the left. Aristotle says that it is the left, while Theophrastus and Ælian agree with the statement of Pliny.—B.

10 Cuvier says, that no antlers are added after the eighth year.—B.

11 This, as well as most of the statements respecting the growth of the horns, is mentioned by Aristotle, ubi supra, but it is quite unfounded.—B.

12 This story of the white hind of Sertorius, is given in detail by Aulus Gellius, B. xv. c. 22, who tells us that it was given to him by a native of Lusitania, upon which Sertorius pretended that it had been sent from Diana, who, through it, held converse with him, and instructed him how to act. Plutarch, Frontinus, and Valerius Maximus, also relate the story.

13 This story, which is obviously incorrect, is mentioned by Ælian, Anim. Nat. B. ii. c. 9; and is again referred to in B. xxviii. c. 42.—B.

14 Graguinus, Hist. Franc. B. ix. c. 3, relates a still more wonderful anecdote of a similar nature; but, as Buffon remarks, such tales are without foundation, the life of the stag not being more than thirty or forty years. Cuvier, also, says that its life does not exceed thirty-six or forty years.—B.

15 The real nature of the tragelaphus of Pliny, and the hippelaphus, or horse-stag of Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. ii. c. 1, which appear to be the same animal, had long remained a disputed question among naturalists, when, as Cuvier states, the point was decided by Alphonse Duvaucel, who ascertained that it was a species of stag, which inhabited the mountains of the north of Hindostan.—B.

16 And in Arabia as well, according to Diodorus Siculus, B. ii.

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