Friday, November 02, 2007


When I was in Rome recently I visited the museo nazionale, which has a huge collection of Roman statues, frescoes and mosaics, including this one, which you might recognise from Book II of the Cambridge Latin Course, showing pygmies hunting a crocodile and hippos on the river Nile.

The Greek historian Herodotus, describes a similar hunt for us in Book II of his Histories:

The following is an account of the crocodile. During the four winter months it takes no food. It is a four-footed, amphibious creature, lays and hatches its eggs on land, where it spends the greater part of the day, and stays all night in the river, where the water is warmer than the night-air and the dew. The difference in size between the young and the full-grown crocodile is greater than in any other known creature; for a crocodile’s egg is hardly bigger than a goose’s, and the young when hatched are small in proportion, yet they grow to a size of some twenty-three feet long or even more. It has eyes like a pig’s but great fang-like teeth in proportion to its body, and is the only animal to have no tongue and a stationary lower jaw; for when it eats it brings the upper jaw down upon the under. It has powerful claws and a scaly hide, which on its back is impenetrable. It cannot see under water, though on land its sight is remarkably sharp…

Of the numerous ways of catching crocodiles I will describe the one which seems to me the most worthy to report. They bait a hook with a big bit of pork and let it float out into midstream, and at the same time, standing on the bank, take a live pig and beat it. The crocodile, hearing its squeals, makes a rush towards it, encounters the bait, gulps it down, and is hauled out of the water. The first thing the huntsman does when he has got the beast on land is to plaster its eyes with mud: this done, it is dispatched easily enough- but without this precaution it will give you a lot of trouble.

(Herodotus, Book II.68,70)

Herodotus, by the way, never one to let facts stand in the way of an interesting story, is wrong about crocodiles. They do have tongues, they do move their lower rather than their upper jaws and their eyesight underwater is excellent.


Prosepina said...

So... um....

Was Herodotus the original "Crocodile Hunter", then?

Selena Belle said...

Sir -

I'm really sorry to do this, but it has just come to my attention that there are grevious problems with my Livy Assignment 1, and as such (and here's where I'm particularly sorry if you've already spent time marking it) I'd really, really appreciate it to somehow find its way into the recycling bin. Or, um... out the train window. Really, the manner of disposal is totally within your control. Basically, I don't want it back, until I can fix up a few problems and hand in the whole assignment to you asap.

Again, I'm sorry if you've wasted time marking it! I'll get the genuinely-markable version to quam celerrime.

Cheers, Rebecca