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CHAP. 39. (23.)—THE MURÆNA.

The muræna brings forth every month, while all the other fishes spawn only at stated periods: the eggs of this fish increase with the greatest rapidity.1 It is a vulgar2 belief that the muræna comes on shore, and is there impregnated by intercourse with serpents. Aristotle3 calls the male, which impregnates the female, by the name of "zmyrus;" and says that there is a difference between them, the muræna being spotted4 and weakly, while the zmyrus is all of one colour and hardy, and has teeth which project beyond the mouth. In northern Gaul all the murænæ have on the right jaw seven spots,5 which bear a resemblance to the constellation of the Septentriones,6 and are of a gold colour, shining as long as the animal is alive, but disappearing as soon as it is dead. Vedius Pollio,7 a Roman of equestrian rank, and one of the friends of the late Emperor Augustus, found a method of exercising his cruelty by means of this animal, for he caused such slaves as had been condemned by him, to be thrown into preserves filled with murænæ; not that the land animals would not have fully sufficed for this purpose, but because he could not see a man so aptly torn to pieces all at once by any other kind of animal. It is said that these fish are driven to madness by the taste of vinegar. Their skin is exceedingly thin; while that of the eel, on the other hand, is much thicker. Verrius informs us that formerly the children of the Roman citizens, while wearing the prætexta,8 were flogged with eel-skins, and that, for this reason, no pecuniary penalty9 could by law be inflicted upon them.

1 Hardouin says, that though this assertion is repeated by Pliny in c. 74 of the present Book, it is a mistake; we learn, however, from Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. v. c. 11, and Athenæus, B. vii., that the young of the muræna are remarkable for the quickness of their growth.

2 This vulgar belief is, however, followed by Oppian, Halieut. B. i. c. 555; Athenæus, B. vii.; Ælian, Hist. Anim. B. i. c. 50, and B. ix. c. 66; and Nicander, Theriac., who, however, adds, "if indeed it is the truth." It is also alluded to by Basil, in Hexaem. Homil. vii., and Ambrose, Homil. v. c. 7.

3 Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. V. C 11, only quotes this story as he had heard it, and does not vouch for its truth. Doro, as quoted by Athenæus, B. vii., makes the zmyrus and the muræna to be of totally different genera. The zmyrus, he says, is without bone, the whole of it is eatable, and it is remarkable for the tenderness of the flesh. There are two kinds, of which the best, he says, are those which are black.

4 The common muræna, Cuvier says, is spotted with brown and yellow, but there is a larger kind, with stronger teeth and brown all over, the Muræna Christini, of Risso. This, he has no doubt, is the zmyrus of the ancients. Modern naturalists, he says, have incorrectly called Muræna zmyrus, a small kind of conger, which has yellow spots upon the neck.

5 Cuvier has already made some remarks on this passage in one of his Notes to c. 24 of the present Book. See p. 395.

6 The Seven Terriones, or plough oxen. The constellation of Ursa Major was thus called by the Romans.

7 This wretched man was originally a freedman, and though he was on one occasion punished by Augustus for his cruelty, he left him a great part of his property. He died B. C. 15. He is supposed to be the same person as the one against whom Augustus wrote some Fescennine verses, mentioned by Macrobius, Sat. B. ii. c. 4.

8 Until the Roman youth assumed the toga virilis, they wore the toga prætexta, or senatorial gown. The toga virilis was assumed at the Liberalia, in the month of March; and though no age appears to have been positively fixed for the ceremony, it probably took place, as a general rule, on the feast which next followed the completion of the fourteenth year; though it is not certain that the completion of the fourteenth year was not always the time observed. So long as a male wore the prætexta, he was considered "impubes," and when he had assumed the toga virilis, he was "pubes." Hence the word "investis," or "prætextatus," (here employed), was the same as impubes.

9 Thus the "impubes" paid, as Hardouin says, "not in money, but in skin." Isidorus, in his Glossary, says, "'Anguilla' is the name given to the ordinary 'scutica,' or whip with which boys are chastised at school." The witty Rabelais says, B. ii. c. 30, "Whereupon his master gave him such a sound lashing with an eel-skin, that his own would have been worth nothing to make bag-pipe bags of."

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