Texts‎ > ‎


ἱστοριῶν παραδόξων συναγωγή – Compilation of Marvellous Accounts
Antigonus (3rd Century BC), is possibly to be identified with the Pergamene scholar Antigonus of Carystus—if this is correct, he was an extremely versatile figure, combining his collection of παράδοχα with the roles of biographer and practising sculptor. His work survives in 173, generally very short, chapters, though the end (and possibly the beginning) has been lost. Apart from a handful of the author’s own observations, the ἱστοριῶν παραδόχων συναγωγή is entirely the product of (albeit careful) compilation. The work, which deals primarily with natural-historical and topographical curiosities, but also includes a series of chapters on aspects of human biology, falls into five discernible sections, detailed as follows. More 


1[1] Timaeus, who wrote the history of Sicily, says that where the river called Alex forms a boundary between the Locrians and the people of Rhegium, the cicadas [tettix] among the Locrians sing while those among the people of Rhegium are voiceless. [2] And he narrates something yet more fabulous than this: for when the citharodes Ariston from Rhegium and Eunomus from Locri arrived at Delphi, they disagreed between themselves about the lot - the former thought that he ought not to draw the inferior position since all of Rhegium was colonized from Delphi and had been set up by the god, while the latter inveighed against him that it was entirely unsuitable for those to play the cithara among whom the cicadas did not sing. So although the man of Rhegium was the favourite to win the contest, Eunomus the Locrian was victorious for this reason: while he was singing, a cicada which had flown onto his lyre began to sing, and the assembled multitude acclaimed the occurrence and demanded his victory.

2 Another such fabulous thing is recorded at Rhegium, that Heracles, having fallen asleep at some spot in the region and having been mobbed by cicadas, prayed that they would become voiceless.

3 In Cephallenia, too, a river partitions the land, and while on the near side there are cicadas, there are none on the far side.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


4 Nor do the frogs [batrachos] give voice in Seriphus: and myths prevail among the Seriphians, too, except that some are about Heracles, some about Perseus.

5 Myrsilus, who wrote a Lesbiaca, says of Antissa—where the tomb of the head of Orpheus is pointed out and its story told by the inhabitants—that its nightingales [aedon] are more sweet-voiced than others.

6 Our genre of compilation might naturally touch upon the partridges [perdix] spoken of in Attica and Boeotia, of whom some are agreed to be melodious, others completely weak-voiced.

7[1] There is a singular thing, too, about the guts of sheep [probata]: those of the ram are soundless, those of the ewe, melodious. [2] From this, one might understand the poet [Homer] to have said (although he is altogether over-curious and excessive), that
he strung seven strings of female sheep

8[1] Something no less marvelous than this, but more familiar, is the fact concerning the thorn in Sicily called cardoon [kaktos]: whenever a deer [elaphos] treads on it and is injured, its bones are soundless and useless as flutes. [2] Which Philetas, too, has interpreted, when he said
The fawn will sing on its departure from life
if it has guarded itself from the prick of the sharp cardoon

9[1] In the islands of the Lemnians called Neae partridges are not to be found, but if anyone tries to introduce them, they die. [2] Some say that there are things even more prodigious than this, that they die if they even see the land.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


10[1] Although Boeotia has a great many mole-rats [aspalax], in Coroneia alone this animal is not found, but dies if it is introduced. [2] The same is true of [wolves [lykos] and] little owls [glaux] in Crete, where they say that the region bears no deadly animals.

11 There are no snakes [ophis] in Astypalaea, nor are there hares [lagos] in Ithaca, nor the wild pig [hys] nor deer [elaphos] in Libya, nor the weasel [gale] in Rheneia which is near Delos; and the guinea-fowl [meleagris] is not to be seen at all in any place <other than in Leros>.

12[1] Amelesagoras the Athenian, who wrote the Atthis, says that the crow [korone] does not fly towards the acropolis, and there is nobody who can say that they have seen one do so. [2] He gives the reason in fabulous form. For he says that when Athena was given to Hephaestus, as she lay down with him she vanished and Hephaestus fell to the ground and emitted his sperm. The earth, he says, afterwards bore to him Erichthonius, whom Athena nurtured and then shut up in a basket and handed over to the daughters of Cecrops (Agraulos, Pandrosos and Herse). Athena instructed them not to open the chest until she herself came.

When she went to Pellene to fetch a mountain so that she might make a defence in front of the acropolis, two of the daughters of Cecrops, Agraulos and Pandrosos, opened the chest and saw two serpents [drakon] around Erichthonius. Amelesagoras says that a crow [korone] met Athena as she carried the mountain, which is now called Lycabettus, and said that Erichthonius was out in the open. She, on hearing this, flung the mountain to its present position and said to the crow that because of the bad news it had brought, it was not to be lawful for it to approach the acropolis.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


13 In the Scythian region, and likewise in that of Elis, there are no mules [hemionos].

14 Theopompus says that there is in the neighbourhood of the Chalcidians in Thrace a place of the following nature, that whenever any other sort of animal enters it, it comes back unharmed, but that no dung-beetle [kantharos] escapes: it turns round and round in a circle and then it dies: indeed, the place is called Cantharolethrus (‘Beetle-death’) because of this.

15(a)[1] In Crannon in Thessaly they say that there are only two ravens [korax]: and because of this, on the city seal attached to decrees of proxeny—just as is customary among all men to attach—are depicted two ravens on a bronze cart, because more than this have never been seen. [2] The cart is depicted for the following reason (and this, too, might seem outlandish): they have a bronze cart as a dedication which, whenever there is a drought, they shake while beseeching the god for water, and they say that their prayers are fulfilled. [3] Theopompus tells something more singular than this: for he says that while the ravens stay in Crannon until such time as they hatch their young, once they have done this, they leave the young and return [inland].

(b)(16) Ctesias narrates something similar in respect of the people of Ecbatana and Persia. But I disregarded the excerpt because of his many lies: in fact, it seemed freakish.

(c)(17) Myrsilus of Lesbos says that there is a sanctuary of Apollo and a heroön of Lepetymnus in Mt. Lepetymnus, on which, just as in Cranon, there are only two ravens, although there are not a few in the nearby areas.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


16(a)(18) In Latmos in Caria, Aristotle says that the scorpions [skorpios] cause only moderate pain if some stranger disturbs them, but torment almost to the point of death if it is a local.

(b)(19) Of the Libyans, there are some called Psylli, with whom something happens in the opposite fashion to this: for they suffer nothing when struck by cobras [aspis], but of the other Libyans, not one can escape once bitten.

17(20) In Lycia there grows a plant called goat's bane [aigolethros], which none of the local goats [aix] will taste, but whenever a foreign goat comes upon it and eats the plant through ignorance, it dies through the destruction of that compartment of its stomach called the 'echinus'.

18(a)(21)[1] There is an island near the regions of Carystia and Andria which is called Gyaros; there, the mice [mys] eat through iron. [2] In the island of Ceos, the wild pear [acherdos] is lethal, and if you were to graft it onto another tree, it would cause it to wither.

(b)(22) The sting of the marine stingray [trygon] does the same thing: if you apply it to the teeth, it rots them.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


19(23)[1] There are singular things, too, concerning the comparisons and differences of animals, as well as their births, such as that in Egypt if an ox [bous] is buried in a certain place so that the horns themselves rise above the earth and are afterwards sawn off, they say that bees [melitta] fly out of them: for by rotting they are converted into this insect. [2] And Philetas, who is pretty inquisitive, seems to turn his attention to this; so he addresses them as “ox-born” in saying
Proceed afar, calling the bees 'ox-born'
[3](a)They say, too, that the crocodile [krokodeilos] generates scorpions [skorpios], (b) and that wasps [sphex] are generated from horses [hippos]. [4] And a certain Archelaus, an Egyptian who interpreted paradoxa for Ptolemy in epigrams, spoke thus concerning scorpions:
(a) Into you, scorpions, does nature who gives life to all
things dissolve the crocodile when it has died
and about wasps
(b) From the body of a horse you author this offspring,
wasps: see what nature makes from what!
[5] Aristotle says that scorpions are generated from rotting bergamot-mint [sisymbrios].

20(24)[1] No less amazing than these examples is the usefulness of perishable materials—such as the gecko [galeotes], which whenever it sheds its skin, having turned it around, swallows it: for it is, they say, as Aristotle writes, a cure for epilepsy. [2] Likewise, the seal [phoke] is said to vomit out its whey—this indeed is useful for the same disease. [3] Mares eat off the excrescence on their embryos called 'hippomanes': this occurs on the forehead and is sought for many purposes. [4] The doe [elaphos] buries her right horn in the earth: this, too, is useful in many ways. Thus these things, whether they are so by choice or by chance, demand a great deal of attention.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


21(25)[1] The octopus [polypous] eats its own tentacles in winter. This is
On the wintry day, when the boneless one gnaws its foot.
[2] The embryos of dog-fish [galeos], on being born, are dispensed from the stomach but crawl back into the mouth. [3] The lioness [leaina] does not conceive twice: for, as Herodotus says, she ejects the womb with the new-born. [4] Nor does the viper [echidna], for the embryos eat its stomach.

22(26)[1] The bat [nykteris] alone of birds has teeth and breasts and milk. [2] Aristotle says that the seal [phoke], too, and the whale [phalaina] have milk. [3] He writes down something no less monstrous than these, for he says that in Lemnos milk was extracted from a he-goat [tragos] in sufficient quantities to make cheese.

23(27)[1] The male of the halcyon [halkyon] are called “keryloi”: when they become weak through old age and are no longer able to fly, the female carry them by taking them upon their wings. [2] The saying of Alcman is connected with this, for he says that he is weak from old age and unable to go around with the choruses or with the dances of the maidens:
No longer, sweet-spoken maidens, divine-voiced,
are my limbs able to carry me: would, oh would that I were a kerylos,
which over the foam of the wave flies with the halcyons
with resolute heart - the sacred, purple bird.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


24(28) The Poet, too, is said by everyone to be pretty painstaking and full of curiosity, for Odysseus, when the dogs [kyon] had attacked him on the way up to the swineherd,
crouched in cunning, and cast the staff from his hand.
For they say that whenever anyone who is being chased crouches down, the dogs do him no harm.

25(a)(29)[1] Also amazing are those animals which, like the octopus [polypous], make themselves similar to their surrounding: for it becomes indistinguishable from the colour of the sea-bed and from that of anything which it might entwine, so that it is difficult to hunt. [2] From this, the poet clearly wrote something that is in common currency:
Having the spirit of the octopus in your breast, child,
adapt yourself to <whatever is in accordance with popular sentiment>.

(b)(30) The same thing happens with the chamæleon [chamaileon], for it changes its skin in the same way to that of tree-trunks and leaves and earth and any place at all.

(c)(31) Aristotle says that the animal called the elk [tarandos] undergoes this as well: it is a quadruped and almost equal to the ass, thick-skinned and hairy, and [he says] that it is remarkable how its hair changes so quickly.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


26(32)There is a certain plant, called sea-starwort [tripolion]: it grows on the seashore on rocks and puts forth a flower which changes its colour three times a day—it is sometimes white, sometimes purple and sometimes apple-yellow. Certainly, one would most accurately learn the other instincts of living creatures—such as pertain to conflicts, to healing of wounds, to the preparation of the necessities of life, to memory—from the collection of Aristotle, from which I will at first make my excerpt.

27(33) He says that around Conopeium in the Maeotian lake the wolves [lykos] procure their sustenance from the fishermen and guard their prey, and that if they suspect that they have been cheated in any way, they ruin their nets and their fish.

28(34) In Thrace, in the city once called Cedripolis, men and hawks [hierax] jointly hunt small birds: the former drive them away with sticks while the hawks pursue closely and [the little birds] in their flight fall into [the clutches of] the men. Because of this, they share their prey with the hawks.

29(35)[1] He says that does [elaphos] give birth by the roadside, to avoid predatory animals, for wolves [lykos] are least likely to attack them there; they lead even their offspring to their lair, so as to accustom them to that which they must flee—this is a precipitous rock with only one exit. [2] A female deer had previously been captured which had ivy [kittos] on its horns when they were moist. [3] Deer are captured by whistling and singing so that they lie down, overcome with pleasure.

30(36) The wild goats [aix] in Crete, whenever they are shot, seek dittany [diktamnos], for it seems to be effective in casting out the arrows.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


31(37) Some say that the leopard [pardalis] has been observed—since living things delight in its smell—to hide itself and thus prey on animals which come close to it.

32(38) The Egyptian mongoose [ichneumon], whenever it sees an asp [aspis], does not attack it before calling upon others to help, and they plaster themselves in mud [as a protection] against its bites and blows: for, having moistened their skin, they roll about in the dust.

33(39) He says that the Egyptian plover [trochilos] cleans out the teeth of crocodiles and gains its nourishment from them. [The crocodiles] perceive it as useful and whenever the trochilos wants to get out, they move their neck so that it is not bitten by the closing teeth.

34(40) The tortoise [chelone], whenever it eats a snake [ophis], eats oregano [origanon] afterwards; and once, when someone had observed closely and stripped off the leaves, it died since it did not have oregano to eat.

35(41)[1] The weasel [gale], whenever it fights with a snake [ophis], eats mountain rue [peganon] beforehand, for its smell is repugnant to the snake. [2] In addition, rue helps against snake-bite when it is placed in unmixed wine and drunk. [3] And a pig [hys], when it is bitten by a snake, takes itself at once to rivers and seeks the crab [karkinos]: this, too, is included in prescriptions and is extremely efficacious for snake-bite.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


36(42) The ring-dove [phatta], whenever it is bitten, packs oregano [origanon] into the wound and becomes healthy in this way.

37(43)[1] Aristotle says that the swallow [chelidon], when building its nest, plaits earth together with twigs and, if earth is lacking, it gets itself wet and rolls about and picks it up with its wings and makes itself a bed of straw using the same techniques as a human being, putting the stiff bits underneath. [2] It gives its young their food in proportion, watching carefully lest it give twice to the same ones. [3] When they are small, it throws the excrement out itself, but when they have grown, it teaches the young to turn around and discharge it outside.

38(44)[1] Pigeons [peristera] do not like to mate with many nor to leave their pairing unless they are widowed. [2] For their young, they chew up salty earth and spit the food which they have prepared into their mouths.

39(45)[1] Partridges [perdix], whenever anyone hunts their young, roll about in front of the hunter as though they are disabled and draw [them] on, until the young escape. [2] Because of their passion for sex, they destroy their eggs so that the female does not incubate them, but she plots against this and lays them while running away. [3] The 'widowers' [i.e., those males successfully eluded by their brooding mate] fight among themselves and the one which is worsted follows [the victor] and is mounted by him alone.

40(46)[1] The cranes [geranos] fly to a great height so that they can look down on a wide area; and if they see clouds and storm, they rest. [2] They have a leader, too: while the others sleep with their heads placed beneath their wings, the leader keeps his bare so as to watch ahead, and if he perceives anything, he signals the others by crying out.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


41(47) [Aristotle] relates that pelicans [pelekan] swallow down smooth mussels [konche]; and afterwards, having held them down for a while in the section above their stomachs, vomit them up when they have gaped open and then eat the meat having separated it in this way.

42(48)[1] It is said by some that no-one has seen either the young of the vulture [gyps] or its nest. [2] And because of this, Herodorus, the father of Bryson the sophist, says that they are from some other high land, for they lay their eggs on inaccessible rocks.

43(49)[1] Some say, too, that 'cinnamon' [kinnamomon] refers to a bird and that it carries the spice and makes its nest from this. [2] It nests in high and unclimbable trees, and the locals tip their arrows with lead to shoot at and break up the nests.

44(50) It seems that the cuckoo [kokkyx] makes its young supposititious because of its cowardice and inability to defend them, for they are picked on by the least [of birds]. Those birds that take in the young throw out their own because of the beauty of the cuckoo’s.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


45(51)[1] The aigithos flies to the female goat [aix] and suckles her: it has taken its name from this fact. The breast <dries out> whenever it suckles <and the goat> goes blind. [2] The bird is lame, from which Callimachus of Egypt, too, wishing to be very lucid, said (having spoken previously of some other bird) “αἴγιθος ἀμφιγυήεις.” His account is not confirmed, for it is not lame in both feet. “ἀμφιγυήεις” means not lameness of this sort but that which is spoken of in connexion with Hephaestus, whenever one has been lamed in both limbs. I have been led to speak of Callimachus because of his implausibility.

46(52)[1] Aristotle says that when the eagle [aetos] grows old, its beak grows and curves and it finally dies of starvation. [2] The vulture [phene] takes those young cast out by the eagle and brings them up. [3] The sea-eagle [haliaietos] compels its young while still unfeathered to look towards the sun, and whichever one of them gets watery eyes and is unwilling to withstand [the sun], it kills.

47(52)[4] The fish called the ‘fishing frog’ [batrachos halieus] hunts little fish with the appendages from its eyes, whose length is like that of hair, but with an attachment at the tip like round bait: so it hides itself and sticks this out.

48(53) The electric ray [narke] hides itself in the sand and seizes the fish that, whenever it is nearby, are rendered incapable of swimming because of the torpor it induces.

49(54) The so-called ‘foxes’ [alopex], whenever they sense that they have swallowed a fish-hook, run back and bite off the line from above.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


50(55) [1] The octopus [polypous] puts food into chambers and whenever the useful bits are used up, expels the unusable and preys on those little fish [ichthydion] which come to [feed on] the cast-offs by changing its colour close to that of the stones it happens to be nearby. [2] It does the same thing whenever it is frightened.

51(56) Now the nautilus octopus [nautilos polypous] is also unusual in what it does, for it has a shell which it turns downward on ascending so that it might more easily be propelled with it empty, but when it descends from above, it reverses it. It has webbing like a membrane between its tentacles up to a certain point and this, whenever there is a breeze, it uses as a sail, and instead of steering-oars lets down <two> of its tentacles alongside.

52(a)(57)[1] When bees [melissa] have been fumigated and are badly affected by the smoke, it is then most of all that they eat <honey>, but for the rest of the time they use it sparingly as if storing it by as food. [2] They smear the hive with drops from the trees as a protection against other animals. [3] When the worker bees kill [other bees], they try to do it outside: if they kill within the hive, they carry out the body. [4] The so-called ‘robber’ bees do damage if they come in unnoticed. But they seldom enter—for they are watched out for and guards are placed everywhere. [5] There are bees appointed to each of the tasks: some gather flowers, others level the combs. [6] They are disgusted both by the bad smell of food and by perfume, and go away [from the hive] to discharge their excrement. [7] And the elders work inside < . . . . . >
(b)(57) If one takes a wasp [sphex] by the legs and lets its wings buzz, he [i.e. Aristotle] says that the stingless ones fly towards it but none of those with stings do so.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


53(58)[1] They say that the bison [monapos] is found in Paeonia on the mountain of Marsanos [=Messapium] and that it has no upper teeth, like the ox or any other two-horned beast, and in other respects is similar to the bull. [2] When it is pursued, it projects its excrement quite a distance; whenever it does this in fright, its dung burns in such a way that the hounds’ [kyon] hair falls out, but if it does it free from fear, nothing suffers or is injured.

54(a)(58[3]) < . . . . . > if [a bull elephant [elephas]] mates with [a female] and makes it pregnant, it does not touch that one again.
(b)(59) They say that the King of Scythia had a noble mare [hippos]: he led a foal born from herself to her so that it might mate, but [the foal] was unwilling. When they led in the mare having first covered her over, he mounted her, but when she had been unveiled and he saw her face, he fled and threw himself off the cliffs.

55(60)[1] Of marine creatures, the dolphin [delphis] is the most gentle—indeed, they comport themselves passionately towards boys, as [happens] around Tarentum, Caria and many other places. [2] In Caria, when a dolphin had been captured and had received many wounds, many of them came into the harbour to its aid until the fisherman let it go.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


56(61) Concerning the parturition of wolves [lykos], [Aristotle] makes a precise relation of something fabulous (though he does so as one who is conscious of this): for he says that they all give birth in a single twelve-day period of the year. The reason for this, as the story goes, is that they brought Leto from the Hyperboreans to Delos in twelve days, during which time she was in the form of a wolf.

57(62) The owl [glaux] and the crow [korone] are enemies: while the crow <steals away the eggs> of the owl by day because the owl cannot see, the owl does the same to the crow by night because the crow cannot see. So while one rules by night, the other does by day.

58(63) The ass [onos] and the aigithos, too, are at war with one another: for [the ass] comes by and scratches itself on the thorns and because of this, and whenever it brays, it throws out the eggs of the aigithos and the nestlings fall out in fright. Because of this injury, the aigithos flies at it and pecks its sores.

59(64) And the merlin [aisalon] is enemy to the fox [alopex], but the raven [korax] and the fox are friends—the raven, too, makes war on the merlin, which is why it comes to the aid of the fox when the latter is struck.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


60(a)(65) [Aristotle] says that the goatherds say that when the sun turns most quickly, the goats [aix] lie down facing each other.
(b)(66) Lycus narrates something similar to this. He says that in Libya the flocks [ktene]—of which some, for the rest of the time, sleep facing one another while others sleep in whatever way they chance to lie down—on the night on which the dog-star rises, are turned towards that same star. The inhabitants use this as evidence of its rising.
Aristotle also goes through other such matters, apart from the instincts of animals concerning their way of life, using a great deal of care in the majority of his works and not using anything inconsequential in his explanation. In total, he has written nearly seventy books on these matters, and has tried to dwell more on explanation than on narrative in each. As regards my excerpt, it is sufficient for it to summarize the strange and paradoxical content of both the aforementioned and his other writings.

61(67) He says that all the land animals which have lungs breathe but that wasps [sphex] and bees [melissa] do not breathe.

62(68) Of those that have bladders, all have intestines as well, but of those that have intestines, not all have bladders.

63(69) While many animals are bloodless, on the whole they are those which have more than four feet.

64(70) Of those that have hair, all give birth to living offspring, but the reverse is not the case.

65(71) All creatures can move their lower jaw except the crocodile [krokodeilos], which can only move its upper jaw.

66(72) Among the Illyrians and in Paeonia there is a <pig> [hys] with uncloven feet; of the two-horned animals, no specimen with uncloven hoof is to be found, and <few> one-horned beasts with uncloven hoof, like the Indian ass* [Indikos onos] (this animal alone of the uncloven-footed has a knucklebone, too).

*Unicorn, or possibly rhinoceros.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts


67(73) The genitals of the weasel [gale] are bony.

68(74) The male has more teeth than the female in both man [anthropos] and the other animals.

69(75) The heart of the horse [hippos] is bony, as is that of some cattle [bous].

70(76) Of deer [elaphos], the so-called achaïnai seem to have gall in the tail.

71(77) Fish [ichthys] do not have a windpipe: because of this, the stomach of larger fish falls forward into their mouths when they chase smaller ones.

72(78)[1] Snakes [ophis] have thirty ribs. [2] And if one pricks their eyes out, they grow back again, just like those of the swallow [chelidon].

73(79) Of the fish, the parrot-wrasse [skaros] is the only one which ruminates.

74(80) The bones of the lion [leon] are so hard that when they are struck frequently they light fire.

75(81) In Phrygia there are cattle which can move their horns.

76(82) Those creatures that have feet and are viviparous have hair, those that have feet and are oviparous, scales.

77(83) In some cases, when they are sick they become grey, but when healthy grow black again.

Citations and parallels in other classical texts

© R. Hardiman 2009–2015
Subpages (1): Cross-references