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But let us say no more of earthquakes and of whatever may be regarded as the sepulchres of cities2; let us rather speak of the wonders of the earth than of the crimes of nature. But, by Hercules! the history of the heavens themselves would not be more difficult to relate:—the abundance of metals, so various, so rich, so prolific, rising up3 during so many ages; when, throughout all the world, so much is, every day, destroyed by fire, by waste, by shipwreck, by wars, and by frauds; and while so much is consumed by luxury and by such a number of people:—the figures on gems, so multiplied in their forms; the variously-coloured spots on certain stones, and the whiteness of others, excluding everything except light:-the virtues of medicinal springs, and the perpetual fires bursting out in so many places, for so many ages:-the exhalation of deadly vapours, either emitted from caverns4, or from certain unhealthy districts; some of them fatal to birds alone, as at Soracte, a district near the city5; others to all animals, except to man6, while others are so to man also, as in the country of Sinuessa and Puteoli. They are generally called vents, and, by some persons, Charon's sewers, from their exhaling a deadly vapour. Also at Amsanctum, in the country of the Hirpini, at the temple of Mephitis7, there is a place which kills all those who enter it. And the same takes place at Hierapolis in Asia8, where no one can enter with safety, except the priest of the great Mother of the Gods. In other places there are prophetic caves, where those who are intoxicated with the vapour which rises from them predict future events9, as at the most noble of all oracles, Delphi. In which cases, what mortal is there who can assign any other cause, than the divine power of nature, which is everywhere diffused, and thus bursts forth in various places?

1 "Spiracula."

2 "Busta urbium."

3 "Suboriens," as M. Alexandre explains it, "renascens;" Lemaire, i. 420.

4 "Scrobibus;" "aut quum terra fossis excavatur, ut in Pomptina palude, aut per naturales hiatus." Alexandre in Lemaire, i. 420.

5 This circumstance is mentioned by Seneca, Nat. Quæst. vi. 28, as occurring "pluribus Italiæ locis;" it may be ascribed to the exhalations from volcanos being raised up into the atmosphere. It does not appear that there is, at present, any cavern in Mount Soracte which emits mephitic vapours. But the circumstance of Soracte being regarded sacred to Apollo, as we learn from our author, vii. 2, and from Virgil, Æn. xi. 785, may lead us to conjecture that something of the kind may formerly have existed there.

6 The author may probably refer to the well-known Grotto del Cane, where, in consequence of a stratum of carbonic acid gas, which occupies the lower part of the cave only, dogs and other animals, whose mouths are near the ground, are instantly suffocated.

7 Celebrated in the well-known lines of Virgil, Æn. vii. 563 et seq., as the "sævi spiracula Ditis."

8 Apuleius gives us an account of this place from his own observation; De Mundo, § 729. See also Strabo, xii.

9 See Aristotle, De Mundo, cap. iv.

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  • Cross-references to this page (4):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), ASTRONO´MIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CALAMINAE
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CUTI´LIAE
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), STATO´NIA
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