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CHAP. 70. (46.)—DOG-FISH. 1

Vast numbers of dog-fish infest the seas in the vicinity of the sponges, to the great peril of those who dive for them. These persons say that a sort of dense cloud gradually thickens over their2 heads, bearing the resemblance of some kind of animal like a flat-fish,3 and that, pressing downward upon them, it prevents them from returning to the surface. It is for this reason that they carry stilettos with them,4 which are very sharp at the point, and attached to them by strings; for if they did not pierce the object with the help of these, it could not be got rid of. This, however, is entirely the result, in my opinion, of the darkness and their own fears; for no person has ever yet been able to find, among living creatures, the fish-cloud or the fish-fog, the name which they give to this enemy of theirs.

The divers, however, have terrible combats with the dogfish, which attack with avidity the groin, the heels, and all the whiter parts of the body. The only means of ensuring safety, is to go boldly to meet them, and so, by taking the initiative, strike them with alarm: for, in fact, this animal is just as frightened at man, as man is at it; and they are on quite an equal footing when beneath the water. But the moment the diver has reached the surface, the danger is much more imminent; for he loses the power of boldly meeting his adversary while he is endeavouring to make his way out of the water, and his only chance of safety is in his companions, who draw him along by a cord that is fastened under his shoulders. While he is engaging with the enemy, he keeps pulling this cord with his left hand, according as there may be any sign of immediate peril, while with the right he wields the stiletto, which he is using in his defence. At first they draw him along at a moderate pace, but as soon as ever they have got him close to the ship, if they do not whip him out in an instant, with the greatest possible celerity, they see him snapped asunder; and many a time, too, the diver, even when already drawn out, is dragged from their hands, through neglecting to aid the efforts of those who are assisting him, by rolling up his body in the shape of a ball. The others, it is true, are in the meantime brandishing their pronged fish-spears; but the monster has the craftiness to place himself beneath the ship, and so wage the warfare in safety. Consequently, every possible care is taked by the divers to look out5 for the approach of this enemy.

(47.) It is the surest sign of safety to see flat-fish, which never frequent the spots where these noxious monsters are found: and it is for this reason that the divers6 call them sacred.

1 It is pretty clear that under the name of "canicula," "dog-fish," or "canis marinus," "sea-dog," Pliny includes the whole genus of sharks.

2 Rondelet and Dalechamps absolutely interpret this passage as though it were the dog-fish and flat-fish over whose eyes this cloud comes, and the latter proceeds to describe it as a malady which hinders the fish from taking its own part in the combat. Hardouin, however, detects this absurdity, and justly reprehends it; though it must be confessed that there is some obscurity in the passage, arising from the way in which it is worded.

3 Cuvier thinks it not improbable that it may have been some of the large rays that were seen by the divers, and more especially, the largest of them all, the Cephalopterus.

4 "Stilos."

5 Cælius Rhodigonus, B. xxv. c. 16, states that the divers for sponges were in the habit of pouring forth oil at the bottom of the sea, for the purpose of increasing the light there; and Pliny states the same in B. ii. c. 106.

6 Cuvier says, that the name of "sacred fish" has been given to several fish of very different character; such as the anthias or aulopias of Aristotle, B. ix. c. 37, the pompilus and the dolphin (Atheneus, B. vii.), because it was thought that their presence was a guarantee against the vicinity of dangerous fish. The authors, however, that were consulted by Pliny, seem to have given this name to the flat-fish, the Pleuronectes of Linnæus; and in fact, unprovided as they are with any means of defence, their presence is not unlikely to prove, in a very great degree, the absence of the voracious class of fishes.

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