previous next


The dolphin is an animal not only friendly to man, but a lover of music as well; he is charmed by melodious concerts,1 and more especially by the notes of the water-organ.2 He does not dread man, as though a stranger to him, but comes to meet ships, leaps and bounds to and fro, vies with them in swiftness, and passes them even when in full sail.

In the reign3 of the late Emperor Augustus, a dolphin which had been carried to the Lucrine Lake4 conceived a most wonderful affection for the child of a certain poor man, who was in the habit of going that way from Baiæ to Puteoll5 to school, and who used to stop there in the middle of the day, call him by his name of Simo, and would often entice him to the banks of the lake with pieces of bread which he carried for the purpose. I should really have felt ashamed to mention this, had not the incident been stated in writing in the works of Mæcenas, Fabianus, Flavius Alfius, and many others. At whatever hour of the day he might happen to be called by the boy, and although hidden and out of sight at the bottom of the water, he would instantly fly to the surface, and after feeding from his hand, would present his back for him to mount, taking care to conceal the spiny projection of his fins6 in their sheath, as it were; and so, sportively taking him up on his back, he would carry him over a wide expanse of sea to the school at Puteoli, and in a similar manner bring him back again. This happened for several years, until at last the boy happened to fall ill of some malady, and died. The dolphin, however, still came to the spot as usual, with a sorrowful air and manifesting every sign of deep affliction, until at last, a thing of which no one felt the slightest doubt, he died purely of sorrow and regret.

Within these few years also,7 another at Hippo Diarrhytus,8 on the coast of Africa, in a similar manner used to receive his food from the hands of various persons, present himself for their caresses, sport about among the swimmers, and carry them on his back. On being rubbed with unguents by Flavianus, the then proconsul of Africa, he was lulled to sleep, as it appeared, by the sensation of an odour so new to him, and floated about just as though he had been dead. For some months after this, he carefully avoided all intercourse with man, just as though he had received some affront or other; but at the end of that time he returned, and afforded just the same wonderful scenes as before. At last, the vexations that were caused them by having to entertain so many influential men who came to see this sight, compelled the people of Hippo to put the animal to death.

Before this, there was a similar story told of a child at the city of Iasus,9 for whom a dolphin was long observed to have conceived a most ardent affection, until at last, as the animal was eagerly following him as he was making for the shore,10 it was carried by the tide on the sands, and there expired. Alexander the Great appointed this boy11 high priest of Neptune at Babylon, interpreting this extraordinary attachment as a convincing proof of the favour of that divinity.

Hegesidemus has also informed us, that in the same city12 of lasus there was another boy also, Hermias by name, who in a similar manner used to traverse the sea on a dolphin's back, but that on one occasion a tempest suddenly arising, he lost his life, and was brought back dead; upon which, the dolphin, who thus admitted that he had been the cause of his death, would not return to the sea, but lay down upon the dry land, and there expired.

Theophrastus13 informs us, that the very same thing happened at Naupactus also; nor, in fact, is there any limit to similar instances. The Amphilochians14 and the Tarentines15 have similar stories also about children and dolphins; and all these give an air of credibility to the one that is told of Arion,16 the famous performer on the lyre. The mariners being on the point of throwing him into the sea, for the purpose of taking possession of the money he had earned, he prevailed upon them to allow him one more song, accompanied with the music of his lyre. The melody attracted numbers of dolphins around the ship, and, upon throwing himself into the sea, he was taken up by one of them, and borne in safety to the shore of the Promontory of Tænarum.17

1 "Symphoniæ cantu." Hardouin is of opinion that this means the music of the "symphonia," that being some kind of musical instrument. But, as Ajasson remarks, the meaning is much more likely to be, "singing in concert," where there are several performers, and each takes his own part in the symphony. It might, however, possibly mean singing and music combined, similar to the performance of Arion, mentioned at the end of the Chapter.

2 The organ was so called by the ancients, from the resemblance borne by its pipes to "hydraula," or water-pipes, and from the fact of the bellows being acted on by the pressure of water. According to an author quoted by Athcnaus, B. iv. c. 75, the first organist was Ctesibius of Alexandria, who lived about B. C. 200. It is not improbable that Pliny refers to this invention in B. vii. c. 38. The pipes of the organ of Ctesibius were partly of bronze and partly of reed, and Tertullian describes it as a very complicated instrument.

3 Ælian, Hist. Anim. B. vi. c. 15, tells this story as well, and Aulus Gellius, B. vii. c. 8, relates it from the fifth Book of the Ægyptiaca of Apion, who stated that he himself had witnessed the fact.

4 The Lucrine Lake originally communicated with the sea, but was afterwards separated from the Bay of Cumæ by a dyke eight stadia in length. In the time of Augustus, however, Agrippa opened a communication between the Lake and the Bay, for the purpose of forming the Julian harbour. If the circumstance here mentioned by Pliny happened before this period, "invectus" must mean "carried by human agency;" but if after, it is possible that the fish may have been carried into the lake by the tide. For an account of the lake, see B. iii. c. 9.

5 See B. iii. c. 9.

6 "Pinnarum aculeas." See the remarks of Cuvier on this passage, and his conclusion as to the fish meant, in his Note in p. 369.

7 Oppian, in his Halieutica, B. v. 1. 453, mentions this story also, and of course Solinus does.

8 See B. v. c. 3.

9 The island and city of Caria. See B. v. c. 29.

10 Being alarmed by the pursuit of the fish while he was swimming.

11 Athenæus, B. xiii., tells this story more at large, and states that the name of the child was Dionysius. Hardouin remarks, that Solinus, the ape of Pliny, has absolutely read this passage as though the child's name had been Babylon; upon the strength of which, Saumaise had proposed to alter the reading in Pliny, not remembering at the time that the boy's name had been given by Atheneus.

12 This story is also told by Plutarch, in his work on the Instincts of Animals.

13 Anlus Gellius, B. vii. c. 8, mentions this story, borrowing it probably from Theophrastus.

14 The people of the territory in which Amphilochian Argos was situate, and lying to the south of Ambracia. See B. iv. c. 2.

15 The people of Tarentum. See B. iii. c. 16.

16 Ovid tells the story of Arion more fully, and in beautiful language, in the Fasti, B. ii. 1. 92, et seq.

17 A promontory in the south of Laconia, now Cape Matapan. See B. iv. c. 7. Solinus, c. 7, tells us that there was a temple of Arion of Methymna, situate on this spot, in which there was a figure of him seated on a dolphin's back, and made of bronze; with an inscription stating that this wonderful circumstance took place in the 29th Olympiad, in which year Arion had been victorious in the Sicilian games. Philostorgius, in B. i. of his Ecclesiastical History, tells us also of a martyr who was saved by a dolphin, which bore him to Helenopolis, a city of Nicomedia.

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 Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
200 BC (1)
hide References (14 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: