previous next


The swiftest1 not only of the sea animals, but of all animals whatever, is the dolphin.2 He is more rapid in his move- ments than a bird, more instantaneous than the flight of an arrow, and were it not for the fact that his mouth is situate much below his muzzle,3 almost, indeed, in the middle of the belly, not a fish would be able to escape his pursuit. But Nature,4 in her prudence, has thrown certain impediments in his way; for unless he turns, and throws himself on his back, he can seize nothing, and it is this circumstance more especially that gives proof of his extraordinary swiftness. For, if pressed by hunger,5 he will follow a fish, as it flies down, to the very bottom of the water, and then after holding his breath thus long, will dart again to the surface to respire, with the speed of an arrow discharged from a bow; and often, on such occasions, he is known to leap out of the water with such a bound, as to fly right over the sails6 of a ship.

Dolphins generally go in couples; the females bring forth their young in the tenth month, during the summer season, sometimes two in number.7 They suckle their young at the teat like the balæna, and even carry them during the weakness of infancy; in addition to which, long after they are grown up, they accompany them, so great is their affection for their progeny. The young ones grow very speedily, and in ten years are supposed to arrive at their full size. The dol- phin lives thirty years; a fact that has been ascertained from cutting marks8 on the tail, by way of experiment. It conceals itself for thirty days, at about the rising of the Dog-star, and hides itself so effectually, that it is not known whither it goes; a thing that is more surprising still, if it is unable to respire under water. Dolphins are in the habit of darting upon the shore, for some reason or other, it is not known9 what. They do not die the moment that they touch the dry land, but will die much more speedily if the vent-hole is closed. The tongue, contrary to the nature of aquatic animals in general, is moveable, being short and broad, not much unlike that of the pig. Instead of a voice, they emit a moaning sound10 similar to that made by a human being; the back is arched, and the nose turned up. For this reason11 it is that they all recognize in a most surprising manner the name of Simo, and prefer to be called by that rather than by any other.

1 Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. i. c. 74.

2 Cuvier remarks, that in the present Chapter there is a confusion of the peculiarities of two different animals, and refers the reader to his Note on B. viii. c. 38, which, so far as it has not been set forth, is to the following effect:—"I may here remark, that Pliny speaks on several occasions of dolphins with spines or stings on the back, although at other times he is found to give that name to the same cetaceous animal which is so denominated by us. Thus, in his story in B. ix. c. 8, of the friendship conceived by a dolphin in Lake Lucrinus for a child at Baie, he takes care to remark that the dolphin, when taking the child on his back, concealed his spines beneath his dorsal fin. I am of opinion, however, that I have recognized the fish which Seneca, Pliny, and even Aristotle have sometimes confounded with the real dolphin, apparently because it had received that name from certain fishermen, and these are my reasons for forming this conclusion. In c. 7 of the Ninth Book, Pliny mingles with many facts that really do belong to the real dolphin, one trait which is quite foreign to it. It is so swift,' says he, 'that were it not for the fact that its mouth is situate much beneath its muzzle, almost, indeed, in the middle of its belly, not a fish would be able to escape its pursuit: in consequence of this, it can only seize its prey by turning on its back.' This, it must be observed, is not one of those mistakes which we are to put down to Pliny's own account, and of which he has so many; for we find Aristotle as well, who has so perfectly known and described the ordinary dolphin, attributing a mouth similarly situate to the dolphin and the cartilaginous animals. This fact, which is totally false as regards the real dolphin, is, in all probability, applicable to the alleged dolphin, whose back is mentioned as being armed with spines. These three characteristics, a mouth situate very far beneath the nose, spines on the back, and power and swiftness sufficient to enable it to fight the crocodile, are only to be found united in certain of the genus 'Squalus,' such as the 'Squalus centrina,' and the 'Squalus spinax' of Linnæus."

3 Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. viii. c. 5. From this description Hardouin is induced to think that Rondelet and Aldrovandus are wrong in their conclusions that it is the sea-hog, or porpoise, that is meant. Cuvier also says, that this description will not apply to the real dolphin, though it is strictly applicable to the Squalus acanthias, Squalus ricinus, and others; to the former of which also the spines or stings mentioned by Pliny appropriately belong; all the other characteristics, he says, which are here mentioned by Pliny, are applicable to the real dolphin, though in modern times it has never been brought to such a degree of tameness. Hence it is that some writers have supposed that Pliny is here speaking of the Trichechus manatus of Linnæus, by the French called "lamentin," by us the "sea-cow." Cuvier says, that he should be inclined to be of the same opinion, were it not for the fact that that animal does not frequent the coasts of the Mediterranean.

4 Copied literally from Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. viii. c. 5, and De Part. Anim. B. iv. c. 13.

5 Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. ix, c. 74.

6 Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. ix. c. 48, says not the sails, but the masts of ships; and Pintianus remarks, that Pliny has been deceived by the resemblance of the words, ἱστὸς and ἱστίον. Ælian, Hist. Anim. B. xii. c. 12, has a similar statement also.

7 Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. vi. c. 9. Oppian, Halieut. B. i. 1. 660.

8 Fishermen having notched the tail of the animal when young, and recognized it by these marks thirty years afterwards.

9 "Incertâ de causâ." Pintianus, following the similar account given by Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. ix. c. 48, takes the words to mean "temere," "hap-hazard," "without any motive whatever." Ajasson says that it is their eager pursuit of small fishes which sometimes betrays them into leaping on shore, and occasionally, the pain caused by attacks of parasitical sea-insects and other animals.

10 Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. iv. c. 49, says that the dolphin makes this noise when it comes to the air.

11 He would seem to imply that the dolphin knows that it is "simus," or "flat-nosed," for which reason it is particularly fond of being called "Simo," or "flat-nose," a piece of good taste and intelligence remarkable even in a dolphin. Hardouin undertakes to explain their remarkable liking for this name on other grounds, and says that when a song was sung, they were charmed by the pronunciation of the word "Simo" every now and then, the last syllable being drawn out at great length. Ajasson suggests that the only reason for which this name delighted them, was probably the sibilant or hissing sound made when it is frequently repeated.

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.

load focus Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
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: