Part 13 out of 16
On Mount Etna the words freeze in your mouth and you may make ice of
them.[Footnote 2: There is no clue to explain this strange
Just as iron rusts unless it is used, and water putrifies or, in
cold, turns to ice, so our intellect spoils unless it is kept in
You do ill if you praise, and still worse if you reprove in a matter
you do not understand.
When Fortune comes, seize her in front with a sure hand, because
behind she is bald.
It seems to me that men of coarse and clumsy habits and of small
knowledge do not deserve such fine instruments nor so great a
variety of natural mechanism as men of speculation and of great
knowledge; but merely a sack in which their food may be stowed and
whence it may issue, since they cannot be judged to be any thing
else than vehicles for food; for it seems to me they have nothing
about them of the human species but the voice and the figure, and
for all the rest are much below beasts.
Some there are who are nothing else than a passage for food and
augmentors of excrement and fillers of privies, because through them
no other things in the world, nor any good effects are produced,
since nothing but full privies results from them.
On foolishness and ignorance (1180--1182).
The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.
Folly is the shield of shame, as unreadiness is that of poverty
Blind ignorance misleads us thus and delights with the results of
Because it does not know the true light. Because it does not know
what is the true light.
Vain splendour takes from us the power of being .... behold! for its
vain splendour we go into the fire, thus blind ignorance does
mislead us. That is, blind ignorance so misleads us that ...
O! wretched mortals, open your eyes.
On riches (1183--1187).
That is not riches, which may be lost; virtue is our true good and
the true reward of its possessor. That cannot be lost; that never
deserts us, but when life leaves us. As to property and external
riches, hold them with trembling; they often leave their possessor
in contempt, and mocked at for having lost them.
Every man wishes to make money to give it to the doctors, destroyers
of life; they then ought to be rich. [Footnote 2: Compare No. 856.]
Man has much power of discourse which for the most part is vain and
false; animals have but little, but it is useful and true, and a
small truth is better than a great lie.
He who possesses most must be most afraid of loss.
He who wishes to be rich in a day will be hanged in a year.
That man is of supreme folly who always wants for fear of wanting;
and his life flies away while he is still hoping to enjoy the good
things which he has with extreme labour acquired.
Rules of Life (1188-1202).
If you governed your body by the rules of virtue you would not walk
on all fours in this world.
You grow in reputation like bread in the hands of a child.
[Footnote: The first sentence is obscure. Compare Nos. 825, 826.]
Savage he is who saves himself.
We ought not to desire the impossible. [Footnote: The writing of
this note, which is exceedingly minute, is reproduced in facsimile
on Pl. XLI No. 5 above the first diagram.
Ask counsel of him who rules himself well.
Justice requires power, insight, and will; and it resembles the
He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.
He who takes the snake by the tail will presently be bitten by it.
The grave will fall in upon him who digs it.
The man who does not restrain wantonness, allies himself with
You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself.
He who thinks little, errs much.
It is easier to contend with evil at the first than at the last.
No counsel is more loyal than that given on ships which are in
peril: He may expect loss who acts on the advice of an inexperienced
Where there is most feeling, there is the greatest martyrdom;--a
The memory of benefits is a frail defence against ingratitude.
Reprove your friend in secret and praise him openly.
Be not false about the past.
A SIMILE FOR PATIENCE.
Patience serves us against insults precisely as clothes do against
the cold. For if you multiply your garments as the cold increases,
that cold cannot hurt you; in the same way increase your patience
under great offences, and they cannot hurt your feelings.
To speak well of a base man is much the same as speaking ill of a
Envy wounds with false accusations, that is with detraction, a thing
which scares virtue.
We are deceived by promises and time disappoints us ... [Footnote 2:
The rest of this passage may be rendered in various ways, but none
of them give a satisfactory meaning.]
Fear arises sooner than any thing else.
Just as courage imperils life, fear protects it.
Threats alone are the weapons of the threatened man.
Wherever good fortune enters, envy lays siege to the place and
attacks it; and when it departs, sorrow and repentance remain
He who walks straight rarely falls.
It is bad if you praise, and worse if you reprove a thing, I mean,
if you do not understand the matter well.
It is ill to praise, and worse to reprimand in matters that you do
Words which do not satisfy the ear of the hearer weary him or vex
him, and the symptoms of this you will often see in such hearers in
their frequent yawns; you therefore, who speak before men whose good
will you desire, when you see such an excess of fatigue, abridge
your speech, or change your discourse; and if you do otherwise, then
instead of the favour you desire, you will get dislike and
And if you would see in what a man takes pleasure, without hearing
him speak, change the subject of your discourse in talking to him,
and when you presently see him intent, without yawning or wrinkling
his brow or other actions of various kinds, you may be certain that
the matter of which you are speaking is such as is agreeable to him
The lover is moved by the beloved object as the senses are by
sensible objects; and they unite and become one and the same thing.
The work is the first thing born of this union; if the thing loved
is base the lover becomes base.
When the thing taken into union is perfectly adapted to that which
receives it, the result is delight and pleasure and satisfaction.
When that which loves is united to the thing beloved it can rest
there; when the burden is laid down it finds rest there.
Politics (1203. 1204).
There will be eternal fame also for the inhabitants of that town,
constructed and enlarged by him.
All communities obey and are led by their magnates, and these
magnates ally themselves with the lords and subjugate them in two
ways: either by consanguinity, or by fortune; by consanguinity, when
their children are, as it were, hostages, and a security and pledge
of their suspected fidelity; by property, when you make each of
these build a house or two inside your city which may yield some
revenue and he shall have...; 10 towns, five thousand houses with
thirty thousand inhabitants, and you will disperse this great
congregation of people which stand like goats one behind the other,
filling every place with fetid smells and sowing seeds of pestilence
And the city will gain beauty worthy of its name and to you it will
be useful by its revenues, and the eternal fame of its
[Footnote: These notes were possibly written in preparation for a
letter. The meaning is obscure.]
To preserve Nature's chiefest boon, that is freedom, I can find
means of offence and defence, when it is assailed by ambitious
tyrants, and first I will speak of the situation of the walls, and
also I shall show how communities can maintain their good and just
[Footnote: Compare No. 1266.]
Against Speculators (1205. 1206).
Oh! speculators on things, boast not of knowing the things that
nature ordinarily brings about; but rejoice if you know the end of
those things which you yourself devise.
Oh! speculators on perpetual motion how many vain projects of the
like character you have created! Go and be the companions of the
searchers for gold. [Footnote: Another short passage in MS. I,
referring also to speculators, is given by LIBRI (_Hist, des
Sciences math._ III, 228): _Sicche voi speculatori non vi fidate
delli autori che anno sol col immaginatione voluto farsi interpreti
tra la natura e l'omo, ma sol di quelli che non coi cienni della
natura, ma cogli effetti delle sue esperienze anno esercitati i loro
Against alchemists (1207. 1208).
The false interpreters of nature declare that quicksilver is the
common seed of every metal, not remembering that nature varies the
seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce
in the world.
And many have made a trade of delusions and false miracles,
deceiving the stupid multitude.
Pharisees--that is to say, friars.
[Footnote: Compare No. 837, 11. 54-57, No. 1296 (p. 363 and 364),
and No. 1305 (p. 370).]
Against writers of epitomes.
Abbreviators do harm to knowledge and to love, seeing that the love
of any thing is the offspring of this knowledge, the love being the
more fervent in proportion as the knowledge is more certain. And
this certainty is born of a complete knowledge of all the parts,
which, when combined, compose the totality of the thing which ought
to be loved. Of what use then is he who abridges the details of
those matters of which he professes to give thorough information,
while he leaves behind the chief part of the things of which the
whole is composed? It is true that impatience, the mother of
stupidity, praises brevity, as if such persons had not life long
enough to serve them to acquire a complete knowledge of one single
subject, such as the human body; and then they want to comprehend
the mind of God in which the universe is included, weighing it
minutely and mincing it into infinite parts, as if they had to
Oh! human stupidity, do you not perceive that, though you have been
with yourself all your life, you are not yet aware of the thing you
possess most of, that is of your folly? and then, with the crowd of
sophists, you deceive yourselves and others, despising the
mathematical sciences, in which truth dwells and the knowledge of
the things included in them. And then you occupy yourself with
miracles, and write that you possess information of those things of
which the human mind is incapable and which cannot be proved by any
instance from nature. And you fancy you have wrought miracles when
you spoil a work of some speculative mind, and do not perceive that
you are falling into the same error as that of a man who strips a
tree of the ornament of its branches covered with leaves mingled
with the scented blossoms or fruit....... [Footnote 48: _Givstino_,
Marcus Junianus Justinus, a Roman historian of the second century,
who compiled an epitome from the general history written by Trogus
Pompeius, who lived in the time of Augustus. The work of the latter
writer no longer exist.] as Justinus did, in abridging the histories
written by Trogus Pompeius, who had written in an ornate style all
the worthy deeds of his forefathers, full of the most admirable and
ornamental passages; and so composed a bald work worthy only of
those impatient spirits, who fancy they are losing as much time as
that which they employ usefully in studying the works of nature and
the deeds of men. But these may remain in company of beasts; among
their associates should be dogs and other animals full of rapine and
they may hunt with them after...., and then follow helpless beasts,
which in time of great snows come near to your houses asking alms as
from their master....
On spirits (1211--1213).
O mathematicians shed light on this error.
The spirit has no voice, because where there is a voice there is a
body, and where there is a body space is occupied, and this prevents
the eye from seeing what is placed behind that space; hence the
surrounding air is filled by the body, that is by its image.
There can be no voice where there is no motion or percussion of the
air; there can be no percussion of the air where there is no
instrument, there can be no instrument without a body; and this
being so, a spirit can have neither voice, nor form, nor strength.
And if it were to assume a body it could not penetrate nor enter
where the passages are closed. And if any one should say that by
air, compressed and compacted together, a spirit may take bodies of
various forms and by this means speak and move with strength--to him
I reply that when there are neither nerves nor bones there can be no
force exercised in any kind of movement made by such imaginary
Beware of the teaching of these speculators, because their reasoning
is not confirmed by experience.
Of all human opinions that is to be reputed the most foolish which
deals with the belief in Necromancy, the sister of Alchemy, which
gives birth to simple and natural things. But it is all the more
worthy of reprehension than alchemy, because it brings forth nothing
but what is like itself, that is, lies; this does not happen in
Alchemy which deals with simple products of nature and whose
function cannot be exercised by nature itself, because it has no
organic instruments with which it can work, as men do by means of
their hands, who have produced, for instance, glass &c. but this
Necromancy the flag and flying banner, blown by the winds, is the
guide of the stupid crowd which is constantly witness to the
dazzling and endless effects of this art; and there are books full,
declaring that enchantments and spirits can work and speak without
tongues and without organic instruments-- without which it is
impossible to speak-- and can carry heaviest weights and raise
storms and rain; and that men can be turned into cats and wolves and
other beasts, although indeed it is those who affirm these things
who first became beasts.
And surely if this Necromancy did exist, as is believed by small
wits, there is nothing on the earth that would be of so much
importance alike for the detriment and service of men, if it were
true that there were in such an art a power to disturb the calm
serenity of the air, converting it into darkness and making
coruscations or winds, with terrific thunder and lightnings rushing
through the darkness, and with violent storms overthrowing high
buildings and rooting up forests; and thus to oppose armies,
crushing and annihilating them; and, besides these frightful storms
may deprive the peasants of the reward of their labours.--Now what
kind of warfare is there to hurt the enemy so much as to deprive him
of the harvest? What naval warfare could be compared with this? I
say, the man who has power to command the winds and to make ruinous
gales by which any fleet may be submerged, --surely a man who could
command such violent forces would be lord of the nations, and no
human ingenuity could resist his crushing force. The hidden
treasures and gems reposing in the body of the earth would all be
made manifest to him. No lock nor fortress, though impregnable,
would be able to save any one against the will of the necromancer.
He would have himself carried through the air from East to West and
through all the opposite sides of the universe. But why should I
enlarge further upon this? What is there that could not be done by
such a craftsman? Almost nothing, except to escape death. Hereby I
have explained in part the mischief and the usefulness, contained in
this art, if it is real; and if it is real why has it not remained
among men who desire it so much, having nothing to do with any
deity? For I know that there are numberless people who would, to
satisfy a whim, destroy God and all the universe; and if this
necromancy, being, as it were, so necessary to men, has not been
left among them, it can never have existed, nor will it ever exist
according to the definition of the spirit, which is invisible in
substance; for within the elements there are no incorporate things,
because where there is no body, there is a vacuum; and no vacuum can
exist in the elements because it would be immediately filled up.
We have said, on the other side of this page, that the definition of
a spirit is a power conjoined to a body; because it cannot move of
its own accord, nor can it have any kind of motion in space; and if
you were to say that it moves itself, this cannot be within the
elements. For, if the spirit is an incorporeal quantity, this
quantity is called a vacuum, and a vacuum does not exist in nature;
and granting that one were formed, it would be immediately filled up
by the rushing in of the element in which the vacuum had been
generated. Therefore, from the definition of weight, which is
this--Gravity is an accidental power, created by one element being
drawn to or suspended in another--it follows that an element, not
weighing anything compared with itself, has weight in the element
above it and lighter than it; as we see that the parts of water have
no gravity or levity compared with other water, but if you draw it
up into the air, then it would acquire weight, and if you were to
draw the air beneath the water then the water which remains above
this air would acquire weight, which weight could not sustain itself
by itself, whence collapse is inevitable. And this happens in water;
wherever the vacuum may be in this water it will fall in; and this
would happen with a spirit amid the elements, where it would
continuously generate a vacuum in whatever element it might find
itself, whence it would be inevitable that it should be constantly
flying towards the sky until it had quitted these elements.
AS TO WHETHER A SPIRIT HAS A BODY AMID THE ELEMENTS.
We have proved that a spirit cannot exist of itself amid the
elements without a body, nor can it move of itself by voluntary
motion unless it be to rise upwards. But now we will say how such a
spirit taking an aerial body would be inevitably melt into air;
because if it remained united, it would be separated and fall to
form a vacuum, as is said above; therefore it is inevitable, if it
is to be able to remain suspended in the air, that it should absorb
a certain quantity of air; and if it were mingled with the air, two
difficulties arise; that is to say: It must rarefy that portion of
the air with which it mingles; and for this cause the rarefied air
must fly up of itself and will not remain among the air that is
heavier than itself; and besides this the subtle spiritual essence
disunites itself, and its nature is modified, by which that nature
loses some of its first virtue. Added to these there is a third
difficulty, and this is that such a body formed of air assumed by
the spirits is exposed to the penetrating winds, which are
incessantly sundering and dispersing the united portions of the air,
revolving and whirling amidst the rest of the atmosphere; therefore
the spirit which is infused in this
air would be dismembered or rent and broken up with the rending of
the air into which it was incorporated.
AS TO WHETHER THE SPIRIT, HAVING TAKEN THIS BODY OF AIR, CAN MOVE OF
ITSELF OR NOT.
It is impossible that the spirit infused into a certain quantity of
air, should move this air; and this is proved by the above passage
where it is said: the spirit rarefies that portion of the air in
which it incorporates itself; therefore this air will rise high
above the other air and there will be a motion of the air caused by
its lightness and not by a voluntary movement of the spirit, and if
this air is encountered by the wind, according to the 3rd of this,
the air will be moved by the wind and not by the spirit incorporated
AS TO WHETHER THE SPIRIT CAN SPEAK OR NOT.
In order to prove whether the spirit can speak or not, it is
necessary in the first place to define what a voice is and how it is
generated; and we will say that the voice is, as it were, the
movement of air in friction against a dense body, or a dense body in
friction against the air,--which is the same thing. And this
friction of the dense and the rare condenses the rare and causes
resistance; again, the rare, when in swift motion, and the rare in
slow motion condense each other when they come in contact and make a
noise and very great uproar; and the sound or murmur made by the
rare moving through the rare with only moderate swiftness, like a
great flame generating noises in the air; and the tremendous uproar
made by the rare mingling with the rare, and when that air which is
both swift and rare rushes into that which is itself rare and in
motion, it is like the flame of fire which issues from a big gun and
striking against the air; and again when a flame issues from the
cloud, there is a concussion in the air as the bolt is generated.
Therefore we may say that the spirit cannot produce a voice without
movement of the air, and air in it there is none, nor can it emit
what it has not; and if desires to move that air in which it is
incorporated, it is necessary that the spirit should multiply
itself, and that cannot multiply which has no quantity. And in the
4th place it is said that no rare body can move, if it has not a
stable spot, whence it may take its motion; much more is it so when
an element has to move within its own element, which does not move
of itself, excepting by uniform evaporation at the centre of the
thing evaporated; as occurs in a sponge squeezed in the hand held
under water; the water escapes in every direction with equal
movement through the openings between the fingers of the hand in
which it is squeezed.
As to whether the spirit has an articulate voice, and whether the
spirit can be heard, and what hearing is, and seeing; the wave of
the voice passes through the air as the images of objects pass to
Every quantity is intellectually conceivable as infinitely
[Amid the vastness of the things among which we live, the existence
of nothingness holds the first place; its function extends over all
things that have no existence, and its essence, as regards time,
lies precisely between the past and the future, and has nothing in
the present. This nothingness has the part equal to the whole, and
the whole to the part, the divisible to the indivisible; and the
product of the sum is the same whether we divide or multiply, and in
addition as in subtraction; as is proved by arithmeticians by their
tenth figure which represents zero; and its power has not extension
among the things of Nature.]
[What is called Nothingness is to be found only in time and in
speech. In time it stands between the past and future and has no
existence in the present; and thus in speech it is one of the things
of which we say: They are not, or they are impossible.]
With regard to time, nothingness lies between the past and the
future, and has nothing to do with the present, and as to its nature
it is to be classed among things impossible: hence, from what has
been said, it has no existence; because where there is nothing there
would necessarily be a vacuum.
[Footnote: Compare No. 916.]
Reflections on Nature (1217-1219).
EXAMPLE OF THE LIGHTNING IN CLOUDS.
[O mighty and once living instrument of formative nature. Incapable
of availing thyself of thy vast strength thou hast to abandon a life
of stillness and to obey the law which God and time gave to
Ah! how many a time the shoals of terrified dolphins and the huge
tunny-fish were seen to flee before thy cruel fury, to escape;
whilst thy fulminations raised in the sea a sudden tempest with
buffeting and submersion of ships in the great waves; and filling
the uncovered shores with the terrified and desperate fishes which
fled from thee, and left by the sea, remained in spots where they
became the abundant prey of the people in the neighbourhood.
O time, swift robber of all created things, how many kings, how many
nations hast thou undone, and how many changes of states and of
various events have happened since the wondrous forms of this fish
perished here in this cavernous and winding recess. Now destroyed by
time thou liest patiently in this confined space with bones stripped
and bare; serving as a support and prop for the superimposed
[Footnote: The character of the handwriting points to an early
period of Leonardo's life. It has become very indistinct, and is at
present exceedingly difficult to decipher. Some passages remain
[Footnote: Compare No. 1339, written on the same sheet.]
The watery element was left enclosed between the raised banks of the
rivers, and the sea was seen between the uplifted earth and the
surrounding air which has to envelope and enclose the complicated
machine of the earth, and whose mass, standing between the water and
the element of fire, remained much restricted and deprived of its
indispensable moisture; the rivers will be deprived of their waters,
the fruitful earth will put forth no more her light verdure; the
fields will no more be decked with waving corn; all the animals,
finding no fresh grass for pasture, will die and food will then be
lacking to the lions and wolves and other beasts of prey, and to men
who after many efforts will be compelled to abandon their life, and
the human race will die out. In this way the fertile and fruitful
earth will remain deserted, arid and sterile from the water being
shut up in its interior, and from the activity of nature it will
continue a little time to increase until the cold and subtle air
being gone, it will be forced to end with the element of fire; and
then its surface will be left burnt up to cinder and this will be
the end of all terrestrial nature. [Footnote: Compare No. 1339,
written on the same sheet.]
Why did nature not ordain that one animal should not live by the
death of another? Nature, being inconstant and taking pleasure in
creating and making constantly new lives and forms, because she
knows that her terrestrial materials become thereby augmented, is
more ready and more swift in her creating, than time in his
destruction; and so she has ordained that many animals shall be food
for others. Nay, this not satisfying her desire, to the same end she
frequently sends forth certain poisonous and pestilential vapours
upon the vast increase and congregation of animals; and most of all
upon men, who increase vastly because other animals do not feed upon
them; and, the causes being removed, the effects would not follow.
This earth therefore seeks to lose its life, desiring only continual
reproduction; and as, by the argument you bring forward and
demonstrate, like effects always follow like causes, animals are the
image of the world.
_Just as Michaelangelo's occasional poems reflect his private life
as well as the general disposition of his mind, we may find in the
writings collected in this section, the transcript of Leonardo's
fanciful nature, and we should probably not be far wrong in
assuming, that he himself had recited these fables in the company of
his friends or at the court festivals of princes and patrons._ Era
tanto piacevole nella conversazione-- _so relates Vasari_--che
tirava a se gli animi delle genti. _And Paulus Jovius says in his
short biography of the artist:_ Fuit ingenio valde comi, nitido,
liberali, vultu autem longe venustissimo, et cum elegantiae omnis
deliciarumque maxime theatralium mirificus inventor ac arbiter
esset, ad lyramque scito caneret, cunctis per omnem aetatem
principibus mire placuit. _There can be no doubt that the fables are
the original offspring of Leonardo's brain, and not borrowed from
any foreign source; indeed the schemes and plans for the composition
of fables collected in division V seem to afford an external proof
of this, if the fables themselves did not render it self-evident.
Several of them-- for instance No._ l279--_are so strikingly
characteristic of Leonardo's views of natural science that we cannot
do them justice till we are acquainted with his theories on such
subjects; and this is equally true of the 'Prophecies'_.
_I have prefixed to these quaint writings the 'Studies on the life
and habits of animals' which are singular from their peculiar
aphoristic style, and I have transcribed them in exactly the order
in which they are written in MS. H. This is one of the very rare
instances in which one subject is treated in a consecutive series of
notes, all in one MS., and Leonardo has also departed from his
ordinary habits, by occasionally not completing the text on the page
it is begun. These brief notes of a somewhat mysterious bearing have
been placed here, simply because they may possibly have been
intended to serve as hints for fables or allegories. They can
scarcely be regarded as preparatory for a natural history, rather
they would seem to be extracts. On the one hand the names of some of
the animals seem to prove that Leonardo could not here be recording
observations of his own; on the other hand the notes on their habits
and life appear to me to dwell precisely on what must have
interested him most--so far as it is possible to form any complete
estimate of his nature and tastes._
_In No._ 1293 _lines_ 1-10, _we have a sketch of a scheme for
grouping the Prophecies. I have not however availed myself of it as
a clue to their arrangement here because, in the first place, the
texts are not so numerous as to render the suggested classification
useful to the reader, and, also, because in reading the long series,
as they occur in the original, we may follow the author's mind; and
here and there it is not difficult to see how one theme suggested
another. I have however regarded Leonardo's scheme for the
classification of the Prophecies as available for that of the Fables
and Jests, and have adhered to it as far as possible._
_Among the humourous writings I might perhaps have included the_
'Rebusses', _of which there are several in the collection of
Leonardo's drawings at Windsor; it seems to me not likely that many
or all of them could be solved at the present day and the MSS. throw
no light on them. Nor should I be justified if I intended to include
in the literary works the well-known caricatures of human faces
attributed to Leonardo-- of which, however, it may be incidentally
observed, the greater number are in my opinion undoubtedly spurious.
Two only have necessarily been given owing to their presence in
text, which it was desired to reproduce: Vol. I page_ 326, _and Pl.
CXXII. It can scarcely be doubted that some satirical intention is
conveyed by the drawing on Pl. LXIV (text No. _688_).
My reason for not presenting Leonardo to the reader as a poet is the
fact that the maxims and morals in verse which have been ascribed to
him, are not to be found in the manuscripts, and Prof. Uzielli has
already proved that they cannot be by him. Hence it would seem that
only a few short verses can be attributed to him with any
STUDIES ON THE LIFE AND HABITS OF ANIMALS.
THE LOVE OF VIRTUE.
The gold-finch is a bird of which it is related that, when it is
carried into the presence of a sick person, if the sick man is going
to die, the bird turns away its head and never looks at him; but if
the sick man is to be saved the bird never loses sight of him but is
the cause of curing him of all his sickness.
Like unto this is the love of virtue. It never looks at any vile or
base thing, but rather clings always to pure and virtuous things and
takes up its abode in a noble heart; as the birds do in green woods
on flowery branches. And this Love shows itself more in adversity
than in prosperity; as light does, which shines most where the place
We read of the kite that, when it sees its young ones growing too
big in the nest, out of envy it pecks their sides, and keeps them
Cheerfulness is proper to the cock, which rejoices over every little
thing, and crows with varied and lively movements.
Sadness resembles the raven, which, when it sees its young ones born
white, departs in great grief, and abandons them with doleful
lamentations, and does not feed them until it sees in them some few
We read of the beaver that when it is pursued, knowing that it is
for the virtue [contained] in its medicinal testicles and not being
able to escape, it stops; and to be at peace with its pursuers, it
bites off its testicles with its sharp teeth, and leaves them to its
It is said of the bear that when it goes to the haunts of bees to
take their honey, the bees having begun to sting him he leaves the
honey and rushes to revenge himself. And as he seeks to be revenged
on all those that sting him, he is revenged on none; in such wise
that his rage is turned to madness, and he flings himself on the
ground, vainly exasperating, by his hands and feet, the foes against
which he is defending himself.
The virtue of gratitude is said to be more [developed] in the birds
called hoopoes which, knowing the benefits of life and food, they
have received from their father and their mother, when they see them
grow old, make a nest for them and brood over them and feed them,
and with their beaks pull out their old and shabby feathers; and
then, with a certain herb restore their sight so that they return to
a prosperous state.
The toad feeds on earth and always remains lean; because it never
eats enough:-- it is so afraid lest it should want for earth.
Pigeons are a symbol of ingratitude; for when they are old enough no
longer to need to be fed, they begin to fight with their father, and
this struggle does not end until the young one drives the father out
and takes the hen and makes her his own.
The basilisk is so utterly cruel that when it cannot kill animals by
its baleful gaze, it turns upon herbs and plants, and fixing its
gaze on them withers them up.
It is said of the eagle that it is never so hungry but that it will
leave a part of its prey for the birds that are round it, which,
being unable to provide their own food, are necessarily dependent on
the eagle, since it is thus that they obtain food.
When the wolf goes cunningly round some stable of cattle, and by
accident puts his foot in a trap, so that he makes a noise, he bites
his foot off to punish himself for his folly.
FLATTERERS OR SYRENS.
The syren sings so sweetly that she lulls the mariners to sleep;
then she climbs upon the ships and kills the sleeping mariners.
The ant, by her natural foresight provides in the summer for the
winter, killing the seeds she harvests that they may not germinate,
and on them, in due time she feeds.
The wild bull having a horror of a red colour, the hunters dress up
the trunk of a tree with red and the bull runs at this with great
frenzy, thus fixing his horns, and forthwith the hunters kill him
We may liken the virtue of Justice to the king of the bees which
orders and arranges every thing with judgment. For some bees are
ordered to go to the flowers, others are ordered to labour, others
to fight with the wasps, others to clear away all dirt, others to
accompagny and escort the king; and when he is old and has no wings
they carry him. And if one of them fails in his duty, he is punished
Although partridges steal each other's eggs, nevertheless the young
born of these eggs always return to their true mother.
FIDELITY, OR LOYALTY.
The cranes are so faithful and loyal to their king, that at night,
when he is sleeping, some of them go round the field to keep watch
at a distance; others remain near, each holding a stone in his foot,
so that if sleep should overcome them, this stone would fall and
make so much noise that they would wake up again. And there are
others which sleep together round the king; and this they do every
night, changing in turn so that their king may never find them
The fox when it sees a flock of herons or magpies or birds of that
kind, suddenly flings himself on the ground with his mouth open to
look as he were dead; and these birds want to peck at his tongue,
and he bites off their heads.
The mole has very small eyes and it always lives under ground; and
it lives as long as it is in the dark but when it comes into the
light it dies immediately, because it becomes known;--and so it is
The lion is never afraid, but rather fights with a bold spirit and
savage onslaught against a multitude of hunters, always seeking to
injure the first that injures him.
FEAR OR COWARDICE.
The hare is always frightened; and the leaves that fall from the
trees in autumn always keep him in terror and generally put him to
The falcon never preys but on large birds; and it will let itself
die rather than feed on little ones, or eat stinking meat.
As regards this vice, we read that the peacock is more guilty of it
than any other animal. For it is always contemplating the beauty of
its tail, which it spreads in the form of a wheel, and by its cries
attracts to itself the gaze of the creatures that surround it.
And this is the last vice to be conquered.
Constancy may be symbolised by the phoenix which, knowing that by
nature it must be resuscitated, has the constancy to endure the
burning flames which consume it, and then it rises anew.
The swallow may serve for Inconstancy, for it is always in movement,
since it cannot endure the smallest discomfort.
The camel is the most lustful animal there is, and will follow the
female for a thousand miles. But if you keep it constantly with its
mother or sister it will leave them alone, so temperate is its
The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control
itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity
and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated
damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.
We see the most striking example of humility in the lamb which will
submit to any animal; and when they are given for food to imprisoned
lions they are as gentle to them as to their own mother, so that
very often it has been seen that the lions forbear to kill them.
The falcon, by reason of its haughtiness and pride, is fain to lord
it and rule over all the other birds of prey, and longs to be sole
and supreme; and very often the falcon has been seen to assault the
eagle, the Queen of birds.
The wild ass, when it goes to the well to drink, and finds the water
troubled, is never so thirsty but that it will abstain from
drinking, and wait till the water is clear again.
The vulture is so addicted to gluttony that it will go a thousand
miles to eat a carrion [carcase]; therefore is it that it follows
The turtle-dove is never false to its mate; and if one dies the
other preserves perpetual chastity, and never again sits on a green
bough, nor ever again drinks of clear water.
The bat, owing to unbridled lust, observes no universal rule in
pairing, but males with males and females with females pair
promiscuously, as it may happen.
The ermine out of moderation never eats but once in the day; it will
rather let itself be taken by the hunters than take refuge in a
dirty lair, in order not to stain its purity.
The eagle when it is old flies so high that it scorches its
feathers, and Nature allowing that it should renew its youth, it
falls into shallow water [Footnote 5: The meaning is obscure.]. And
if its young ones cannot bear to gaze on the sun [Footnote 6: The
meaning is obscure.]--; it does not feed them with any bird, that
does not wish to die. Animals which much fear it do not approach its
nest, although it does not hurt them. It always leaves part of its
This is found in Asia Major, and shines so brightly that it absorbs
its own shadow, and when it dies it does not lose this light, and
its feathers never fall out, but a feather pulled out shines no
This bird has a great love for its young; and when it finds them in
its nest dead from a serpent's bite, it pierces itself to the heart,
and with its blood it bathes them till they return to life.
This has no digestive organs, and gets no food but from the fire, in
which it constantly renews its scaly skin.
The salamander, which renews its scaly skin in the fire,--for
This lives on air, and there it is the prey of all the birds; so in
order to be safer it flies above the clouds and finds an air so
rarefied that it cannot support the bird that follows it.
At that height nothing can go unless it has a gift from Heaven, and
that is where the chameleon flies.
THE ALEPO, A FISH.
The fish _alepo_ does not live out of water.
This bird converts iron into nourishment, and hatches its eggs by
its gaze;--Armies under commanders.
The swan is white without any spot, and it sings sweetly as it dies,
its life ending with that song.
This bird, by drinking saltwater purges itself of distempers. If the
male finds his mate unfaithful, he abandons her; and when it grows
old its young ones brood over it, and feed it till it dies.
This silences the cuckoo with its song. It dies in oil and revives
in vinegar. It sings in the greatest heats
The more light there is the blinder this creature becomes; as those
who gaze most at the sun become most dazzled.--For Vice, that cannot
remain where Virtue appears.
This bird changes from the female into the male and forgets its
former sex; and out of envy it steals the eggs from others and
hatches them, but the young ones follow the true mother.
This bird gives sight to its blind young ones by means of celandine.
THE OYSTER.--FOR TREACHERY.
This creature, when the moon is full opens itself wide, and when the
crab looks in he throws in a piece of rock or seaweed and the oyster
cannot close again, whereby it serves for food to that crab. This is
what happens to him who opens his mouth to tell his secret. He
becomes the prey of the treacherous hearer.
All snakes flie from this creature; but the weasel attacks it by
means of rue and kills it.
This carries instantaneous death in its fangs; and, that it may not
hear the charmer it stops its ears with its tail.
This creature entangles itself in the legs of the elephant which
falls upon it, and so both die, and in its death it is avenged.
She, in pairing opens her mouth and at last clenches her teeth and
kills her husband. Then the young ones, growing within her body rend
her open and kill their mother.
Saliva, spit out when fasting will kill a scorpion. This may be
likened to abstinence from greediness, which removes and heals the
ills which result from that gluttony, and opens the path of virtue.
THE CROCODILE. HYPOCRISY.
This animal catches a man and straightway kills him; after he is
dead, it weeps for him with a lamentable voice and many tears. Then,
having done lamenting, it cruelly devours him. It is thus with the
hypocrite, who, for the smallest matter, has his face bathed with
tears, but shows the heart of a tiger and rejoices in his heart at
the woes of others, while wearing a pitiful face.
The toad flies from the light of the sun, and if it is held there by
force it puffs itself out so much as to hide its head below and
shield itself from the rays. Thus does the foe of clear and radiant
virtue, who can only be constrainedly brought to face it with puffed
THE CATERPILLAR.--FOR VIRTUE IN GENERAL.
The caterpillar, which by means of assiduous care is able to weave
round itself a new dwelling place with marvellous artifice and fine
workmanship, comes out of it afterwards with painted and lovely
wings, with which it rises towards Heaven.
The spider brings forth out of herself the delicate and ingenious
web, which makes her a return by the prey it takes.
[Footnote: Two notes are underneath this text. The first: _'nessuna
chosa e da ttemere piu che lla sozza fama'_ is a repetition of the
first line of the text given in Vol. I No. 695.
The second: _faticha fugga cholla fama in braccio quasi ochultata c_
is written in red chalk and is evidently an incomplete sentence.]
This animal, with his thundering roar, rouses his young the third
day after they are born, teaching them the use of all their dormant
senses and all the wild things which are in the wood flee away.
This may be compared to the children of Virtue who are roused by the
sound of praise and grow up in honourable studies, by which they are
more and more elevated; while all that is base flies at the sound,
shunning those who are virtuous.
Again, the lion covers over its foot tracks, so that the way it has
gone may not be known to its enemies. Thus it beseems a captain to
conceal the secrets of his mind so that the enemy may not know his
The bite of the tarantula fixes a man's mind on one idea; that is on
the thing he was thinking of when he was bitten.
THE SCREECH-OWL AND THE OWL.
These punish those who are scoffing at them by pecking out their
eyes; for nature has so ordered it, that they may thus be fed.
The huge elephant has by nature what is rarely found in man; that is
Honesty, Prudence, Justice, and the Observance of Religion; inasmuch
as when the moon is new, these beasts go down to the rivers, and
there, solemnly cleansing themselves, they bathe, and so, having
saluted the planet, return to the woods. And when they are ill,
being laid down, they fling up plants towards Heaven as though they
would offer sacrifice. --They bury their tusks when they fall out
from old age.--Of these two tusks they use one to dig up roots for
food; but they save the point of the other for fighting with; when
they are taken by hunters and when worn out by fatigue, they dig up
these buried tusks and ransom themselves.
They are merciful, and know the dangers, and if one finds a man
alone and lost, he kindly puts him back in the road he has missed,
if he finds the footprints of the man before the man himself. It
dreads betrayal, so it stops and blows, pointing it out to the other
elephants who form in a troop and go warily.
These beasts always go in troops, and the oldest goes in front and
the second in age remains the last, and thus they enclose the troop.
Out of shame they pair only at night and secretly, nor do they then
rejoin the herd but first bathe in the river. The females do not
fight as with other animals; and it is so merciful that it is most
unwilling by nature ever to hurt those weaker than itself. And if it
meets in the middle of its way a flock of sheep
it puts them aside with its trunk, so as not to trample them under
foot; and it never hurts any thing unless when provoked. When one
has fallen into a pit the others fill up the pit with branches,
earth and stones, thus raising the bottom that he may easily get
out. They greatly dread the noise of swine and fly in confusion,
doing no less harm then, with their feet, to their own kind than to
the enemy. They delight in rivers and are always wandering about
near them, though on account of their great weight they cannot swim.
They devour stones, and the trunks of trees are their favourite
food. They have a horror of rats. Flies delight in their smell and
settle on their back, and the beast scrapes its skin making its
folds even and kills them.
When they cross rivers they send their young ones up against the
stream of the water; thus, being set towards the fall, they break
the united current of the water so that the current does not carry
them away. The dragon flings itself under the elephant's body, and
with its tail it ties its legs; with its wings and with its arms it
also clings round its ribs and cuts its throat with its teeth, and
the elephant falls upon it and the dragon is burst. Thus, in its
death it is revenged on its foe.
These go in companies together, and they twine themselves after the
manner of roots, and with their heads raised they cross lakes, and
swim to where they find better pasture; and if they did not thus
they would be drowned, therefore they combine.
The serpent is a very large animal. When it sees a bird in the air
it draws in its breath so strongly that it draws the birds into its
mouth too. Marcus Regulus, the consul of the Roman army was
attacked, with his army, by such an animal and almost defeated. And
this animal, being killed by a catapult, measured 123 feet, that is
64 1/2 braccia and its head was high above all the trees in a wood.
This is a very large snake which entangles itself round the legs of
the cow so that it cannot move and then sucks it, in such wise that
it almost dries it up. In the time of Claudius the Emperor, there
was killed, on the Vatican Hill,
one which had inside it a boy, entire, that it had swallowed.
THE MACLI.--CAUGHT WHEN ASLEEP.
This beast is born in Scandinavia. It has the shape of a great
horse, excepting that the great length of its neck and of its ears
make a difference. It feeds on grass, going backwards, for it has so
long an upper lip that if it went forwards it would cover up the
grass. Its legs are all in one piece; for this reason when it wants
to sleep it leans against a tree, and the hunters, spying out the
place where it is wont to sleep, saw the tree almost through, and
then, when it leans against it to sleep, in its sleep it falls, and
thus the hunters take it. And every other mode of taking it is in
vain, because it is incredibly swift in running.
THE BISON WHICH DOES INJURY IN ITS FLIGHT.
This beast is a native of Paeonia and has a neck with a mane like a
horse. In all its other parts it is like a bull, excepting that its
horns are in a way bent inwards so that it cannot butt; hence it has
no safety but in flight, in which it flings out its excrement to a
distance of 400 braccia in its course, and this burns like fire
wherever it touches.
LIONS, PARDS, PANTHERS, TIGERS.
These keep their claws in the sheath, and never put them out unless
they are on the back of their prey or their enemy.
When the lioness defends her young from the hand of the hunter, in
order not to be frightened by the spears she keeps her eyes on the
ground, to the end that she may not by her flight leave her young
This animal, which is so terrible, fears nothing more than the noise
of empty carts, and likewise the crowing of cocks. And it is much
terrified at the sight of one, and looks at its comb with a
frightened aspect, and is strangely alarmed when its face is
THE PANTHER IN AFRICA.
This has the form of the lioness but it is taller on its legs and
slimmer and long bodied; and it is all white and marked with black
spots after the manner of rosettes; and all animals delight to look
upon these rosettes, and they would always be standing round it if
it were not for the terror of its face;
therefore knowing this, it hides its face, and the surrounding
animals grow bold and come close, the better to enjoy the sight of
so much beauty; when suddenly it seizes the nearest and at once
The Bactrian have two humps; the Arabian one only. They are swift in
battle and most useful to carry burdens. This animal is extremely
observant of rule and measure, for it will not move if it has a
greater weight than it is used to, and if it is taken too far it
does the same, and suddenly stops and so the merchants are obliged
to lodge there.
This beast is a native of Hyrcania, and it is something like the
panther from the various spots on its skin. It is an animal of
terrible swiftness; the hunter when he finds its young ones carries
them off hastily, placing mirrors in the place whence he takes them,
and at once escapes on a swift horse. The panther returning finds
the mirrors fixed on the ground and looking into them believes it
sees its young; then scratching with its paws it discovers the
cheat. Forthwith, by means of the scent of its young, it follows the
hunter, and when this hunter sees the tigress he drops one of the
young ones and she takes it, and having carried it to the den she
immediately returns to the hunter and does
the same till he gets into his boat.
It is found in Ethiopia near to the source Nigricapo. It is not a
very large animal, is sluggish in all its parts, and its head is so
large that it carries it with difficulty, in such wise that it
always droops towards the ground; otherwise it would be a great pest
to man, for any one on whom it fixes its eyes dies immediately.
[Footnote: Leonardo undoubtedly derived these remarks as to the
Catoblepas from Pliny, Hist. Nat. VIII. 21 (al. 32): _Apud Hesperios
Aethiopas fons est Nigris_ (different readings), _ut plerique
existimavere, Nili caput.-----Juxta hunc fera appellatur catoblepas,
modica alioquin, ceterisque membris iners, caput tantum praegrave
aegre ferens; alias internecio humani generis, omnibus qui oculos
ejus videre, confestim morientibus._ Aelian, _Hist. An._ gives a far
more minute description of the creature, but he says that it poisons
beasts not by its gaze, but by its venomous breath. Athenaeus 221 B,
mentions both. If Leonardo had known of these two passages, he would
scarcely have omitted the poisonous breath. (H. MULLER-STRUBING.)]
This is found in the province of Cyrenaica and is not more than 12
fingers long. It has on its head a white spot after the fashion of a
diadem. It scares all serpents with its whistling. It resembles a
snake, but does not move by wriggling but from the centre forwards
to the right. It is said that one
of these, being killed with a spear by one who was on horse-back,
and its venom flowing on the spear, not only the man but the horse
also died. It spoils the wheat and not only that which it touches,
but where it breathes the grass dries and the stones are split.
This beast finding the lair of the basilisk kills it with the smell
of its urine, and this smell, indeed, often kills the weasel itself.
This has four movable little horns; so, when it wants to feed, it
hides under leaves all of its body except these little horns which,
as they move, seem to the birds to be some small worms at play. Then
they immediately swoop down to pick them and the Cerastes suddenly
twines round them and encircles and devours them.
This has two heads, one in its proper place the other at the tail;
as if one place were not enough from which to fling its venom.
This lies on trees, and flings itself down like a dart, and pierces
through the wild beast and kills them.
The bite of this animal cannot be cured unless by immediately
cutting out the bitten part. This pestilential animal has such a
love for its mate that they always go in company. And if, by mishap,
one of them is killed the other, with incredible swiftness, follows
him who has killed it; and it is so determined and eager for
vengeance that it overcomes every difficulty, and passing by every
troop it seeks to hurt none but its enemy. And it will travel any
distance, and it is impossible to avoid it unless by crossing water
and by very swift flight. It has its eyes turned inwards, and large
ears and it hears better than it sees.
This animal is the mortal enemy of the asp. It is a native of Egypt
and when it sees an asp near its place, it runs at once to the bed
or mud of the Nile and with this makes itself muddy all over, then
it dries itself in the sun, smears itself again with mud, and thus,
drying one after the other, it makes itself three or four coatings
like a coat of mail. Then it attacks the asp, and fights well with
him, so that, taking its time it catches him in the throat and
This is found in the Nile, it has four feet and lives on land and in
water. No other terrestrial creature but this is found to have no
tongue, and it only bites by moving its upper jaw. It grows to a
length of forty feet and has claws and is armed with a hide that
will take any blow. By day it is on land and at night in the water.
It feeds on fishes, and going to sleep on the bank of the Nile with
its mouth open, a bird called
trochilus, a very small bird, runs at once to its mouth and hops
among its teeth and goes pecking out the remains of the food, and so
inciting it with voluptuous delight tempts it to open the whole of
its mouth, and so it sleeps. This being observed by the ichneumon it
flings itself into its mouth and perforates its stomach and bowels,
and finally kills it.
Nature has given such knowledge to animals, that besides the
consciousness of their own advantages they know the disadvantages of
their foes. Thus the dolphin understands what strength lies in a cut
from the fins placed on his chine, and how tender is the belly of
the crocodile; hence in fighting with him it thrusts at him from
beneath and rips up his belly and so kills him.
The crocodile is a terror to those that flee, and a base coward to
those that pursue him.
This beast when it feels itself over-full goes about seeking thorns,
or where there may be the remains of canes that have been split, and
it rubs against them till a vein is opened; then when the blood has
flowed as much as he needs, he plasters himself with mud and heals
the wound. In form he is something like a horse with long haunches,
a twisted tail and the teeth of a wild boar, his neck has a mane;
the skin cannot be pierced, unless when he is bathing; he feeds on
plants in the fields and goes into them backwards so that it may
seem, as though he had come out.
This bird resembles a crane, and when it feels itself ill it fills
its craw with water, and with its beak makes an injection of it.
These creatures when they feel themselves bitten by the spider
called father-long-legs, eat crabs and free themselves of the venom.
This, when fighting with serpents eats the sow-thistle and is free.
This [bird] gives sight to its blind young ones, with the juice of
This, when chasing rats first eats of rue.
THE WILD BOAR.
This beast cures its sickness by eating of ivy.
This creature when it wants to renew itself casts its old skin,
beginning with the head, and changing in one day and one night.
This beast after its bowels have fallen out will still fight with
the dogs and hunters.
This creature always takes the colour of the thing on which it is
resting, whence it is often devoured together with the leaves on
which the elephant feeds.
When it has killed the Chameleon it takes laurel as a purge.
Moderation checks all the vices. The ermine will die rather than
The cock does not crow till it has thrice flapped its wings; the
parrot in moving among boughs never puts its feet excepting where it
has first put its beak. Vows are not made till Hope is dead.
Motion tends towards the centre of gravity.
The falcon never seizes any but large birds and will sooner die than
eat [tainted] meat of bad savour.
Fables on animals (1265-1270).
An oyster being turned out together with other fish in the house of
a fisherman near the sea, he entreated a rat to take him to the sea.
The rat purposing to eat him bid him open; but as he bit him the
oyster squeezed his head and closed; and the cat came and killed
The thrushes rejoiced greatly at seeing a man take the owl and
deprive her of liberty, tying her feet with strong bonds. But this
owl was afterwards by means of bird-lime the cause of the thrushes
losing not only their liberty, but their life. This is said for
those countries which rejoice in seeing their governors lose their
liberty, when by that means they themselves lose all succour, and
remain in bondage in the power of their enemies, losing their
liberty and often their life.
A dog, lying asleep on the fur of a sheep, one of his fleas,
perceiving the odour of the greasy wool, judged that this must be a
land of better living, and also more secure from the teeth and nails
of the dog than where he fed on the dog; and without farther
reflection he left the dog and went into the thick wool. There he
began with great labour to try to pass among the roots of the hairs;
but after much sweating had to give up the task as vain, because
these hairs were so close that they almost touched each other, and
there was no space where fleas could taste the skin. Hence, after
much labour and fatigue, he began to wish to return to his dog, who
however had already departed; so he was constrained after long
repentance and bitter tears, to die of hunger.
The vain and wandering butterfly, not content with being able to fly
at its ease through the air, overcome by the tempting flame of the
candle, decided to fly into it; but its sportive impulse was the
cause of a sudden fall, for its delicate wings were burnt in the
flame. And the hapless butterfly having dropped, all scorched, at
the foot of the candlestick, after much lamentation and repentance,
dried the tears from its swimming eyes, and raising its face
exclaimed: O false light! how many must thou have miserably deceived
in the past, like me; or if I must indeed see light so near, ought I
not to have known the sun from the false glare of dirty tallow?
The monkey, finding a nest of small birds, went up to it greatly
delighted. But they, being already fledged, he could only succeed in
taking the smallest; greatly delighted he took it in his hand and
went to his abode; and having begun to look at the little bird he
took to kissing it, and from excess of love he kissed it so much and
turned it about and squeezed it till he killed it. This is said for
those who by not punishing their children let them come to mischief.
A rat was besieged in his little dwelling by a weasel, which with
unwearied vigilance awaited his surrender, while watching his
imminent peril through a little hole. Meanwhile the cat came by and
suddenly seized the weasel and forthwith devoured it. Then the rat
offered up a sacrifice to Jove of some of his store of nuts, humbly
thanking His providence, and came out of his hole to enjoy his
lately lost liberty. But he was instantly deprived of it, together
with his life, by the cruel claws and teeth of the lurking cat.
The ant found a grain of millet. The seed feeling itself taken
prisoner cried out to her: "If you will do me the kindness to allow
me accomplish my function of reproduction, I will give you a hundred
such as I am." And so it was.
A Spider found a bunch of grapes which for its sweetness was much
resorted to by bees and divers kinds of flies. It seemed to her that
she had found a most convenient spot to spread her snare, and having
settled herself on it with her delicate web, and entered into her
new habitation, there, every day placing herself in the openings
made by the spaces between the grapes, she fell like a thief on the
wretched creatures which were not aware of her. But, after a few
days had passed, the vintager came, and cut away the bunch of grapes
and put it with others, with which it was trodden; and thus the
grapes were a snare and pitfall both for the treacherous spider and
the betrayed flies.
An ass having gone to sleep on the ice over a deep lake, his heat
dissolved the ice and the ass awoke under water to his great grief,
and was forthwith drowned.
A falcon, unable to endure with patience the disappearance of a
duck, which, flying before him had plunged under water, wished to
follow it under water, and having soaked his feathers had to remain
in the water while the duck rising to the air mocked at the falcon
as he drowned.
The spider wishing to take flies in her treacherous net, was cruelly
killed in it by the hornet.
An eagle wanting to mock at the owl was caught by the wings in
bird-lime and was taken and killed by a man.
Fables on lifeless objects (1271--1274).
The water finding that its element was the lordly ocean, was seized
with a desire to rise above the air, and being encouraged by the
element of fire and rising as a very subtle vapour, it seemed as
though it were really as thin as air. But having risen very high, it
reached the air that was still more rare and cold, where the fire
forsook it, and the minute particles, being brought together, united
and became heavy; whence its haughtiness deserting it, it betook
itself to flight and it fell from the sky, and was drunk up by the
dry earth, where, being imprisoned for a long time, it did penance
for its sin.
The razor having one day come forth from the handle which serves as
its sheath and having placed himself in the sun, saw the sun
reflected in his body, which filled him with great pride. And
turning it over in his thoughts he began to say to himself: "And
shall I return again to that shop from which I have just come?
Certainly not; such splendid beauty shall not, please God, be turned
to such base uses. What folly it would be that could lead me to
shave the lathered beards of rustic peasants and perform such menial
service! Is this body destined for such work? Certainly not. I will
hide myself in some retired spot and there pass my life in tranquil
repose." And having thus remained hidden for some months, one day he
came out into the air, and issuing from his sheath, saw himself
turned to the similitude of a rusty saw while his surface no longer
reflected the resplendent sun. With useless repentance he vainly
deplored the irreparable mischief saying to himself: "Oh! how far
better was it to employ at the barbers my lost edge of such
exquisite keenness! Where is that lustrous surface? It has been
consumed by this vexatious and unsightly rust."
The same thing happens to those minds which instead of exercise give
themselves up to sloth. They are like the razor here spoken of, and
lose the keenness of their edge, while the rust of ignorance spoils
A stone of some size recently uncovered by the water lay on a
certain spot somewhat raised, and just where a delightful grove
ended by a stony road; here it was surrounded by plants decorated by
various flowers of divers colours. And as it saw the great quantity
of stones collected together in the roadway below, it began to wish
it could let itself fall down there, saying to itself: "What have I
to do here with these plants? I want to live in the company of
those, my sisters." And letting itself fall, its rapid course ended
among these longed for companions. When it had been there sometime
it began to find itself constantly toiling under the wheels of the
carts the iron-shoed feet of horses and of travellers. This one
rolled it over, that one trod upon it; sometimes it lifted itself a
little and then it was covered with mud or the dung of some animal,
and it was in vain that it looked at the spot whence it had come as
a place of solitude and tranquil place.
Thus it happens to those who choose to leave a life of solitary
comtemplation, and come to live in cities among people full of
Some flames had already lasted in the furnace of a glass-blower,
when they saw a candle approaching in a beautiful and glittering
candlestick. With ardent longing they strove to reach it; and one of
them, quitting its natural course, writhed up to an unburnt brand on
which it fed and passed at the opposite end out by a narrow chink to
the candle which was near. It flung itself upon it, and with fierce
jealousy and greediness it devoured it, having reduced it almost to
death, and, wishing to procure the prolongation of its life, it
tried to return to the furnace whence it had come. But in vain, for
it was compelled to die, the wood perishing together with the
candle, being at last converted, with lamentation and repentance,
into foul smoke, while leaving all its sisters in brilliant and
enduring life and beauty.
A small patch of snow finding itself clinging to the top of a rock
which was lying on the topmost height of a very high mountain and
being left to its own imaginings, it began to reflect in this way,
saying to itself: "Now, shall not I be thought vain and proud for
having placed myself--such a small patch of snow--in so lofty a
spot, and for allowing that so large a quantity of snow as I have
seen here around me, should take a place lower than mine? Certainly
my small dimensions by no means merit this elevation. How easily may
I, in proof of my insignificance, experience the same fate as that
which the sun brought about yesterday to my companions, who were
all, in a few hours, destroyed by the sun. And this happened from
their having placed themselves higher than became them. I will flee
from the wrath of the sun, and humble myself and find a place
befitting my small importance." Thus, flinging itself down, it began
to descend, hurrying from its high home on to the other snow; but
the more it sought a low place the more its bulk increased, so that
when at last its course was ended on a hill, it found itself no less
in size than the hill which supported it; and it was the last of the
snow which was destroyed that summer by the sun. This is said for
those who, humbling themselves, become exalted.
Fables on plants (1275-1279).
The cedar, being desirous of producing a fine and noble fruit at its
summit, set to work to form it with all the strength of its sap. But
this fruit, when grown, was the cause of the tall and upright
tree-top being bent over.
The peach, being envious of the vast quantity of fruit which she saw
borne on the nut-tree, her neighbour, determined to do the same, and
loaded herself with her own in such a way that the weight of the
fruit pulled her up by the roots and broke her down to the ground.
The nut-tree stood always by a road side displaying the wealth of
its fruit to the passers by, and every one cast stones at it.
The fig-tree, having no fruit, no one looked at it; then, wishing to
produce fruits that it might be praised by men, it was bent and
broken down by them.
The fig-tree, standing by the side of the elm and seeing that its
boughs were bare of fruit, yet that it had the audacity to keep the
Sun from its own unripe figs with its branches, said to it: "Oh elm!
art thou not ashamed to stand in front of me. But wait till my
offspring are fully grown and you will see where you are!" But when
her offspring were mature, a troop of soldiers coming by fell upon
the fig-tree and her figs were all torn off her, and her boughs cut
away and broken. Then, when she was thus maimed in all her limbs,
the elm asked her, saying: "O fig-tree! which was best, to be
without offspring, or to be brought by them into so miserable a
The plant complains of the old and dry stick which stands by its
side and of the dry stakes that surround it.
One keeps it upright, the other keeps it from low company.
A nut, having been carried by a crow to the top of a tall campanile
and released by falling into a chink from the mortal grip of its
beak, it prayed the wall by the grace bestowed on it by God in
allowing it to be so high and thick, and to own such fine bells and
of so noble a tone, that it would succour it, and that, as it had
not been able to fall under the verdurous boughs of its venerable
father and lie in the fat earth covered up by his fallen leaves it
would not abandon it; because, finding itself in the beak of the
cruel crow, it had there made a vow that if it escaped from her it
would end its life in a little hole. At these words the wall, moved
to compassion, was content to shelter it in the spot where it had
fallen; and after a short time the nut began to split open and put
forth roots between the rifts of the stones and push them apart, and
to throw out shoots from its hollow shell; and, to be brief, these
rose above the building and the twisted roots, growing thicker,
began to thrust the walls apart, and tear out the ancient stones
from their old places. Then the wall too late and in vain bewailed
the cause of its destruction and in a short time, it wrought the
ruin of a great part of it.
The privet feeling its tender boughs loaded with young fruit,
pricked by the sharp claws and beak of the insolent blackbird,
complained to the blackbird with pitious remonstrance entreating her
that since she stole its delicious fruits she should not deprive it
of the leaves with which it preserved them from the burning rays of
the sun, and that she should not divest it of its tender bark by
scratching it with her sharp claws. To which the blackbird replied
with angry upbraiding: "O, be silent, uncultured shrub! Do you not
know that Nature made you produce these fruits for my nourishment;
do you not see that you are in the world [only] to serve me as food;
do you not know, base creature, that next winter you will be food
and prey for the Fire?" To which words the tree listened patiently,
and not without tears. After a short time the blackbird was taken in
a net and boughs were cut to make a cage, in which to imprison her.
Branches were cut, among others from the pliant privet, to serve for
the small rods of the cage; and seeing herself to be the cause of
the Blackbird's loss of liberty it rejoiced and spoke as follows: "O
Blackbird, I am here, and not yet burnt by fire as you said. I shall
see you in prison before you see me burnt."
The laurel and the myrtle seeing the pear tree cut down cried out
with a loud voice: "O pear-tree! whither are you going? Where is the
pride you had when you were covered with ripe fruits? Now you will
no longer shade us with your mass of leaves." Then the pear-tree
replied: "I am going with the husbandman who has cut me down and who
will take me to the workshop of a good sculptor who by his art will
make me take the form of Jove the god; and I shall be dedicated in a
temple and adored by men in the place of Jove, while you are bound
always to remain maimed and stripped of your boughs, which will be
placed round me to do me honour.
The chesnut, seeing a man upon the fig-tree, bending its boughs down
and pulling off the ripe fruits, which he put into his open mouth
destroying and crushing them with his hard teeth, it tossed its long
boughs and with a noisy rustle exclaimed: "O fig! how much less are
you protected by nature than I. See how in me my sweet offspring are
set in close array; first clothed in soft wrappers over which is the
hard but softly lined husk; and not content with taking this care of
me, and having given them so strong a shelter, on this she has
placed sharp and close-set spines so that the hand of man cannot
hurt me." Then the fig-tree and her offspring began to laugh and
having laughed she said: "I know man to be of such ingenuity that
with rods and stones and stakes flung up among your branches he will
bereave you of your fruits; and when they are fallen, he will
trample them with his feet or with stones, so that your offspring
will come out of their armour, crushed and maimed; while I am
touched carefully by their hands, and not like you with sticks and
The hapless willow, finding that she could not enjoy the pleasure of
seeing her slender branches grow or attain to the height she wished,
or point to the sky, by reason of the vine and whatever other trees
that grew near, but was always maimed and lopped and spoiled,
brought all her spirits together and gave and devoted itself
entirely to imagination, standing plunged in long meditation and
seeking, in all the world of plants, with which of them she might
ally herself and which could not need the help of her withes. Having
stood for some time in this prolific imagination, with a sudden
flash the gourd presented itself to her thoughts and tossing all her
branches with extreme delight, it seemed to her that she had found
the companion suited to her purpose, because the gourd is more apt
to bind others than to need binding; having come to this conclusion
she awaited eagerly some friendly bird who should be the mediator of
her wishes. Presently seeing near her the magpie she said to him: "O
gentle bird! by the memory of the refuge which you found this
morning among my branches, when the hungry cruel, and rapacious
falcon wanted to devour you, and by that repose which you have
always found in me when your wings craved rest, and by the pleasure
you have enjoyed among my boughs, when playing with your companions
or making love--I entreat you find the gourd and obtain from her
some of her seeds, and tell her that those that are born of them I
will treat exactly as though they were my own flesh and blood; and
in this way use all the words you can think of, which are of the
same persuasive purport; though, indeed, since you are a master of
language, I need not teach you. And if you will do me this service I
shall be happy to have your nest in the fork of my boughs, and all
your family without payment of any rent." Then the magpie, having
made and confirmed certain new stipulations with the willow,--and
principally that she should never admit upon her any snake or
polecat, cocked his tail, and put down his head, and flung himself
from the bough, throwing his weight upon his wings; and these,
beating the fleeting air, now here, now there, bearing about
inquisitively, while his tail served as a rudder to steer him, he
came to a gourd; then with a handsome bow and a few polite words, he
obtained the required seeds, and carried them to the willow, who
received him with a cheerful face. And when he had scraped away with
his foot a small quantity of the earth near the willow, describing a
circle, with his beak he planted the grains, which in a short time
began to grow, and by their growth and the branches to take up all
the boughs of the willow, while their broad leaves deprived it of
the beauty of the sun and sky. And not content with so much evil,
the gourds next began, by their rude hold, to drag the ends of the
tender shoots down towards the earth, with strange twisting and
Then, being much annoyed, it shook itself in vain to throw off the
gourd. After raving for some days in such plans vainly, because the
firm union forbade it, seeing the wind come by it commended itself
to him. The wind flew hard and opened the old and hollow stem of the
willow in two down to the roots, so that it fell into two parts. In
vain did it bewail itself recognising that it was born to no good
JESTS AND TALES.