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Like the crocodile, but smaller even than the ichneumon, is the scincus,1 which is also produced in the Nile, and the flesh of which is the most effectual antidote against poisons, and acts as a powerful aphrodisiac upon the male sex. But so great a pest was the crocodile to prove, that Nature was not content with giving it one enemy only; the dolphins, therefore, which enter the Nile, have the back armed with a spine,2 which is edged like a knife, as if for this very purpose; and although these animals are much inferior in strength, they contrive to destroy the crocodile by artifice, which on the other hand attempts to drive them from their prey, and would reign alone in its river as its peculiar domain. For all animals have an especial instinct in this respect, and are able to know not only what is for their own advantage, but also what is to the disadvantage of their enemies; they fully understand the use of their own weapons, they know their opportunity, and the weak parts of those with which they have to contend.

The skin of the belly of the crocodile is soft and thin, aware of this, the dolphins plunge into the water, as if in great alarm, and diving beneath its belly, tear it open with their spines. There is a race of men also, who are peculiarly hostile to this animal; they are known as the Tentyritæ, from an island in the Nile which they inhabit.3 These men are of small stature, but of wonderful presence of mind, though for this particular object only. The crocodile is a terrible animal to those who fly from it, while at the same time it will fly from those who pursue it; these, however, are the only people who dare to attack it. They even swim in the river after it, and mount its back like so many horsemen; and just as the animal turns up its head for the purpose of biting them, they insert a club into its mouth, holding which at each end, with the two hands, it acts like a bit, and, by these means they drive the captured animal on shore. They also terrify the crocodile so much by their voice alone even, as to force it to disgorge the bodies which it has lately swallowed, for the purpose of burial. This island, therefore, is the only place near which the crocodile never swims; indeed, it is repelled by the odour of this race of men, just as serpents are by that of the Psylli.4 The sight of this animal is said to be dull when it is in the water, but, when out of the water, piercing in the extreme; it always passes the four winter months in a cave, without taking food.5 Some persons say, that this is the only animal that continues to increase in size as long as it lives; it is very long-lived.

1 There is a small lizard, called by the modern naturalists the Lacerta scincus; but Cuvier conceives that this cannot be the animal here referred to, because it is so very much smaller than the ichneumon, that no one would have thought of comparing them; and, what seems a better reason, because it is not found in the Nile. From the account of the scincus in B. xxviii. c. 30, it is probable that the animal here referred to is a species of monitor, popularly called the land crocodile. Herodotus, B. iv. c. 192, speaks of the land crocodile as found in Libya; it is also mentioned by Pausanias, Corinthiaca, c. 20, and by Prosper Alpinus, Ægypt. B. iv. c. 5. —B. The scincus is probably the "Lacerta ouaran" of Cuvier.

2 Cuvier remarks, that this account cannot really apply to the dolphin, because none of the cetacea possess the spines here described. He investigates the subject with his usual sagacity, and concludes, with much probability, that the animal here referred to was a squalus, the Squalus centrina, or spinax of Linnæus; Ajasson, vol. vi. pp. 443, 444; Lemaire, vol. iii. pp. 422, 423. We have an account of the contest between the crocodile and the dolphin in Seneca, Nat. Quæst. B. iv. c. 2.—B.

3 We have some account of the Tentyritæ in Ælian, Anim. Nat. B. x. c. 21.—B. See B. xxviii. c. 6.

4 See B. vii. c. 2. The best description of the Psylli is that given by Lucan in B. ix. 1. 892, et seq., where he describes the march of Cato's army across the burning coasts of the Syrtes.

5 This, as Cuvier remarks, is the case with the crocodiles of North America, which, like other reptiles, become torpid during the cold season; Ajasson, vol. vi. p. 444; Lemaire, vol. iii. p. 424.—B.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 7.126
  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CY´ZICUS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), PSYLLI
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