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WE have now given an account of the animals which we call terrestrial, and which live as it were in a sort of society with man. Among the remaining ones, it is well known that the birds are the smallest; we shall therefore first describe those which inhabit the seas, rivers, and standing waters.

(2.) Among these there are many to be found that exceed in size any of the terrestrial animals even; the evident cause of which is the superabundance of moisture with which they are supplied. Very different is the lot of the winged animals, whose life is passed soaring aloft in the air. But in the seas, spread out as they are far and wide, forming an element at once so delicate and so vivifying, and receiving the generating principles1 from the regions of the air, as they are ever produced by Nature, many animals are to be found, and indeed, most of those that are of monstrous form; from the fact, no doubt, that these seeds and first principles of being are so utterly conglomerated and so involved, the one with the other, from being whirled to and fro, now by the action of the winds and now by the waves. Hence it is that the vulgar notion may very possibly be true, that whatever is produced in any other department of Nature, is to be found in the sea as well; while, at the same time, many other productions are there to be found which nowhere else exist. That there are to be found in the sea the forms, not only of terrestrial animals, but of inanimate objects even, is easily to be understood by all who will take the trouble to examine the grape-fish,2 the sword-fish,3 the sawfish,4 and the cucumber-fish,5 which last so strongly resembles the real cucumber both in colour and in smell. We shall find the less reason then to be surprised to find that in so small an object as a shell-fish6 the head of the horse is to be seen protruding from the shell.

1 He has already said, in B. ii. c. 3, that "the seeds of all bodies fall down from the heavens, principally into the ocean, and being mixed together, we find that a variety of monstrous forms are in this way fre- quently produced."

2 Hardouin has the following remark on this passage. "Rondelet and Aldrovandus only waste their time and pains in making their minute inquiries into the present names of these fish, which took their names from grapes, the wood, the saw, and the cucumber; for by no other writer do we find them mentioned even." Cuvier, however, does not seem to be of Hardouin's opinion, that such investigations are a waste of time, and has suggested that the eggs of the Sepia officinalis may be alluded to, the eggs of which are in clusters of a dark colour, and bearing a strong resemblance to black grapes. This resemblance to a bunch of grapes is noticed by Pliny himself, in c. 74 of the present Book.

3 He alludes, most probably, to what we call the "sword-fish," the "Xiphias gladius" of Linnæus.

4 Probably, in allusion to the "Squalus pristis" of Linnæus.

5 Cuvier suggests that he probably alludes to the "Holothuria pentactes" of Linnæus, or the sea-priapus; and remarks, that when the animal contracts itself, it bears a very strong resemblance to a cucumber.

6 Cuvier says, that he most probably alludes to the "Syngnathus hippocampus" of Linnæus. This little fish, he says, is also called the seahorse, and having the body armed with a hard coat, might very easily have been taken for a shell-fish. Its head, in miniature, bears a very strong resemblance to that of a horse.

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  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), TANIS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), THEBAE
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