previous next


Oysters, too, neutralize the venom of the sea-hare—and now that we are speaking of oysters, it may possibly be thought that I have not treated of this subject at sufficient length in the former part1 of my work, seeing that for this long time past the palm has been awarded to them at our tables as a most exquisite dish. Oysters love fresh water and spots2 where numerous rivers discharge themselves into the sea; hence it is that the pelagia3 are of such small size and so few in number. Still, however, we do find them breeding among rocks and in places far remote from the contact of fresh water, as in the neighbourhood of Grynium4 and of Myrina,5 for example. Generally speaking, they increase in size with the increase of the moon, as already stated by us when6 treating of the aquatic animals: but it is at the beginning of summer, more par- ticularly, and when the rays of the sun penetrate the shallow waters, that they are swollen with an abundance of milk.7 This, too, would appear to be the reason why they are so small when found out at sea; the opacity of the water tending to arrest their growth, and the moping consequent thereon producing a comparative indisposition for food.

Oysters are of various colours; in Spain they are red, in Illyricum of a tawny hue, and at Circeii8 black, both in meat and shell. But in every country, those oysters are the most highly esteemed that are compact without being slimy from their secretions, and are remarkable more for their thickness than their breadth. They should never be taken in either muddy or sandy spots, but from a firm, hard bottom; the meat9 should be compressed, and not of a fleshy consistence; and the oyster should be free from fringed edges, and lying wholly in the cavity of the shell. Persons of experience in these matters add another characteristic; a fine purple thread, they say, should run round the margins of the beard, this being looked upon as a sign of superior quality, and obtaining for them their name of "calliblephara."10

Oysters are all the better for travelling and being removed to new waters; thus, for example, the oysters of Brundisium, it is thought, when fed in the waters of Avernus, both retain their own native juices and acquire the flavour of those of Lake Lucrinus.11 Thus much with reference to the meat of the oyster; we will now turn to the various countries which produce it, so that no coast may be deprived of the honours which properly belong to it. But in giving this description we will speak in the language of another, using the words of a writer who has evinced more careful discernment in treating of this subject than any of the other authors of our day. These then are the words of Mucianus, in reference to the oyster:—"The oysters of Cyzicus12 are larger than those of Lake Lucrinus,13 fresher14 than those of the British coasts,15 sweeter16 than those of Medulæ,17 more tasty18 than those of Ephesus, more plump than those of Lucus,19 less slimy than those of Coryphas,20 more delicate than those of Istria,21 and whiter than those of Circeii."22 For all this, however, it is a fact well ascertained that there are no oysters fresher or more delicate than those of Circeii, last mentioned.

According to the historians of the expedition of Alexander, there were oysters found in the Indian Sea a foot23 in diameter: among ourselves, too, the nomenclature of some spendthrift and gourmand has found for certain oysters the name of "tridacna,"24 wishing it to be understood thereby, that they are so large as to require three bites in eating them. We will take the present opportunity of stating all the medicinal properties that are attributed to oysters. They are singularly refreshing25 to the stomach, and tend to restore the appetite. Luxury, too, has imparted to them an additional coolness by burying them in snow, thus making a medley of the produce of the tops of mountains and the bottom of the sea. Oysters are slightly laxative to the bowels; and boiled in honied wine, they relieve tenesmus, in cases where it is unattended with ulceration. They act detergently also upon ulcerations of the bladder.26 Boiled in their shells, unopened just as they come to hand, oysters are marvellously efficacious for rheumatic defluxions. Calcined oyster-shells, mixed with honey, allay affections of the uvula and of the tonsillary glands: they are similarly used for imposthumes of the parotid glands, inflamed tumours, and indurations of the mamillæ. Applied with water, these ashes are good for ulcerations of the head, and impart a plumpness to the skin in females. They are sprinkled, too, upon burns, and are highly esteemed as a dentifrice. Applied with vinegar, they are good for the removal of prurigo and of pituitous eruptions. Beaten up in a raw state, they are curative of scrofula and of chilblains upon the feet.

Purples, too, are useful27 as a counterpoison.

1 B. ix. c. 79.

2 Ajasson remarks that these statements are consistent with fact.

3 "Deep-sea" oysters.

4 In Asia Minor. See B. v. c. 32, where it is called "Grynia."

5 In Lemnos. See B. iv. c. 23, and B. v. c. 32.

6 This is an error: the statement is made, not in B. ix., but in B. ii. c. 109.

7 See B. ix. c. 74. It is at the spawning season that this milky liquid is found in the oyster; a period at which the meat of the fish is considered unwholesome as food. We have a saying that the oyster should never be eaten in the months without an r; that the same, too, was the opinion in the middle ages is proved by the Leonine line:
"Mensibus erratis vos ostrea manducatis."
"In the r'd months you may your oysters eat."

8 See B. iii. c. 9. Horace speaks of the oysters of Circeii, B. ii. Sat. 4. l. 33.

9 There has been considerable discussion among the commentators as to the meaning of the word "spondylus" here. We are inclined to adopt the opinion of Venette, and to think that it means the so-called "meat" of the oyster. It must be short, and consequently plump and comparatively destitute of beard, and it must not be fleshy, as that would imply a degree of toughness not desirable in an oyster. The words "nec fibris laciniata ac tota in alvo," only seem to be an amplification of the preceding ones, "spondylo brevi et non carnoso."

10 Literally, "Having beautiful eyebrows."

11 See B. ix. c. 79.

12 See B. v. c. 40.

13 See B. iii. c. 9.

14 "Dulciora."

15 Those of Rutupæ, the present Richborough in Kent, were highly esteemed by the Romans. See Juvenal, Sat. 4. l. 141.

16 "Suaviora."

17 The district in the vicinity of Bordeaux, now called Medoc. The oysters of Medulæ are mentioned in terms of praise by Ausonius, Epist. vii. and Epist. cxliii.

18 "Acriora."

19 See B. iii. c. 4.

20 See B. v. c. 32.

21 See B. iii. c. 23.

22 See B. iii. c. 9.

23 They probably gave the name of "oyster" to some other shell-fish of large size. In Cook's Voyages we read of cockles in the Pacific, which two men were unable to carry.

24 From τρὶς, "thrice," and δάκνω, "to bite."

25 Ajasson remarks that many persons are unable to digest oysters, in an uncooked state.

26 Ajasson remarks that calcined oyster-shells formed an ingredient in the famous lithontriptic of Mrs. Stephens, a so-called remedy which obtained for her a considerable reward, voted by the English Parliament in the middle of last century.

27 A statement purely imaginary, Ajasson thinks; the liquid of this class of shell-fish containing no element whatever to fit it for an antidote.

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 (5 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • Harper's, Nomenclātor
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), GRYNIUM
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), MY´SIA
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (2):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: