previous next


Hares are seldom tamed, and yet they cannot properly be called wild animals; indeed, there are many species of them which are neither tame nor wild, but of a sort of intermediate nature; of the same kind there are among the winged animals, swallows and bees, and among the sea animals, the dolphin.

(57.) Many persons have placed that inhabitant of our houses, the mouse, in this class also; an animal which is not to be despised, for the portents which it has afforded, even in relation to public events. By gnawing the silver shields at Lanuvium,1 mice prognosticated the Marsian war; and the death of our general, Carbo, at Clusium,2 by gnawing the latchets with which he fastened his shoes.3 There are many species of this animal in the territory of Cyrenaica; some of them with a wide, others with a projecting, forehead, and some again with bristling hair, like the hedgehog.4 We are informed by Theophrastus, that after the mice had driven the inhabitants of Gyara5 from their island, they even gnawed the iron; which they also do, by a kind of natural instinct, in the iron forges among the Chalybes. In gold mines, too, their stomachs are opened for this purpose, and some of the metal is always to be found there, which they have pilfered,6 so great a delight do they take in stealing! We learn from our Annals, also, that at the siege of Casilinum,7 by Hannibal, a mouse was sold for two hundred denarii,8 and that the person who sold it perished with hunger, while the purchaser survived. To be visited by white mice is considered as indicative of a fortunate event; but our Annals are full of instances in which the singing9 of a mouse has interrupted the auspices.10 Nigidius informs us, that the field-mouse conceals itself during winter: this is also said to be the case with the dormouse, which the regulations of the censors, and of M. Scaurus, the chief of the senate, when he was consul,11 have banished from our tables,12 no lebs than shell-fish and birds, which are brought from a foreign country. The dormouse is also a half-wild animal, and the same person13 made warrens for them in large casks, who first formed parks for wild boars. In relation to this subject, it has been remarked that dormice will not mate, unless they happen to be natives of the same forest; and that if those are put together that are brought from different rivers or mountains, they will fight and destroy each other. These animals nourish their parents, when worn out with old age, with a singular degree of affection. This old age of theirs is put an end to by their winter's rest, when they conceal themselves and sleep; they are young again by the summer. The field-mouse14 also enjoys a similar repose.

1 This is referred to by Cicero, in his treatise, De Divinatione, B. i. c. 44, and B. ii. c. 27; in the latter he treats it as an idle tale.—B.

2 See B. iii. c. 8.

3 C. Papirius Carbo, a contemporary and friend of the Gracchi. In B. C. 119, the orator, Licinius Crassus, brought a charge against him, the nature of which is not known; but Carbo put an end to his life, by taking cantharides.

4 These different species are thus characterized by Cuvier: "Les premiers sent les souris et les rats, de formes ordinaires; les seconds, les grandes musaraignes [shrew-mice] de la taille du rat, telles que l'on te trouve en Egypte; les troisiemes, une espece de souris particuliere i l'Egypte, et peut-être á la Barbaric, armée d'epines parmi ses poils dont Aristote avait deja parle (B. vi. 1. 37, cap. ult.) et que AM. Geoffroy a re- trouvée et nommée mus cahirinus." Ajasson, vol. vi. p. 467, and Le- maire, ubi supra.—B. See B. viii. c. 55, and B. x. c. 85.

5 Ælian, Hist. Anim. B. v. c. 11, mentions this circumstance, but says that it occurred in the island of Paros. For Gyara, see B. iv. c. 23.

6 We have two passages in Livy, B. xxvii. and B. xxx., where gold is said to have been gnawed by mice.—B.

7 See B. iii. c. 9. In B. C. 217, this place was occupied by Fabius with a strong garrison, to prevent Hannibal from passing the Vulturnus; and the following year, after the battle of Cannæ, was occupied by a small body of Roman troops, who, though little more than 1000 in number, withstood the assaults of Hannibal during a protracted siege, until compelled by famine to surrender.

8 This sun would be about £ 7.—B.

9 It is by no means improbable that "occentus" here means "singing," and not merely "squeaking;" as the singing of a mouse would no doubt be deemed particularly ill-boding in those times. At the present day, a mouse has been heard to emit a noise which more nearly resembled singing than squeaking; and a "singing mouse" has been the subject of an exhibition more than once.

10 We have frequent allusions to this occurrence in the writings of the Romans, some of which are referred to by Dalechamps; Lemaire, vol. iii. p. 563.—B.

11 A.U.C. 639; it does not appear what was the cause of this prohibition.—B.

12 See B. xxxvi. c. 2.

13 Fulvius Lupinus, as already stated in c. 78.—B.

14 "Nitelis." See B. xvi. o. 69. Probably the animal now known as the Myoxus nitela of Linnæus.

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.
217 BC (1)
119 BC (1)
hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (2):
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (4):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: