Friday, May 20, 2011

Pliny the Elder's "Historia Naturalis", Making Mention of Mermaids

Naiades et centaures dans les vagues; Georges Jules Victor Clairin; Oil on Canvas
 (Do you see the pale mermaids in sloshing foam?  One has got away from those randy centaurs.)
  
THE NINTH BOOKE OF
THE HISTORIE OF NATVRE,
WRITTEN BY C. PLINIVS
SECVNDVS.

Of Tritons, Nereides, and sea-Elephants, and their formes.

IN the time that Tiberius was Emperour, there came unto him an Embassador from Ulyssipon, sent of purpose to make relation, That upon their sea coast there was discovered within a certain hole, a certain sea goblin, called Triton, sounding a shell like a Trumpet or Cornet: & that he was in forme and shape like those that are commonly painted for Tritons. And for the Meremaids called Nereides, it is no fabulous tale that goeth of them: for looke how painters draw them, so they are indeed: only their bodie is rough and skaled all over, even in those parts wherin they resemble a woman. For such a Meremaid was seene, and beheld plainely upon the same coast neere to the shore: and the inhabitants dwelling neer, heard it a farre off, when it was a dying, to make piteous mone, crying and chattering very heavily. Moreover, a lieutenant or governour under Augustus Cæsar in Gaule, advertised him by his letters, That many of these Nereides or Meremaids were seene cast upon the sands, and lying dead. I am able to bring forth for mine authors divers knights of Rome, right worshipfull persons and of good credite, who testifie that in the coast of the Spanish Ocean neere unto Gades, they have seene a Mere-man, in every respect resembling a man as perfectly in all parts of the bodie as might bee. And they report moreover, that in the night season he would come out of the sea abourd their ships: but look upon what part soever he setled, he waied the same downe, and if he rested and continued there any long time, he would sinke it cleane. In the daies of Tiberius the Emperour, in a certain Island upon the coast of the province of Lions, the sea after an eb, left upon the bare sands three hundred sea-monsters and above, at one flote together, of a wonderfull varietie and bignesse, differing asunder. And there were no fewer found upon the coast of the Santones. And among the rest there were sea-Elephants and Rams, with teeth standing out; and hornes also, like to those of the land, but that they were white like as the foresaid teeth: over and besides, many Mere maids. Turanius hath reported, That a monster was driven and cast upon the coast of Gades, betweene the two hindmost finnes whereof in the taile, were sixteene cubites: it had 122 teeth, whereof the biggest were a span or nine inches in measure, and the least halfe a foot. M. Scaurus among other strange and wonderfull sights that he exhibited to the people of Rome, to doe them pleasure in his Ædileship, shewed openly the bones of that sea-monster, before which ladie Andromeda (by report) was cast to be devoured: which were brought to Rome from Ioppe, a town in Iudæa: and they caried in length fortie foot: deeper were the ribs than any Indian Elephant is high, and the tidge-bone a foot and halfe thicke.

To read more of Pliny's Natural History, visit this website, which has the full text online, "Historia Naturalis".

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