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OF THE FISHES EATEN BY OUR SAVIOUR WITH HIS DIS
CIPLES AFTER HIS RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.
SIR, I have thought a little upon the question proposed by you (viz. what kind of fishes those were, of which our Saviour ate with his disciples after his resurrection ?*] and I return you such an answer, as, in so short a time for study, and in the midst of my occasions, occurs to me.
The books of Scripture (as also those which are apocryphal) are often silent or very sparing, in the particular names of fishes; or in setting them down in such manner as to leave the kinds of them without all doubt and reason for further inquiry. For, when it declareth what fishes were allowed the Israelites for their food, they are only set down in general which have fins and scales: whereas, in the account of quadrupeds and birds, there is particular mention made of divers of them. In the book of Tobit that fish which he took out of the river is only named a great fish, and so there remains much uncertainty to determine the species thereof. And even the fish which swallowed Jonah, and is called a great fish, and commonly thought to be a great whale, is not received without all doubt; while some learned men conceive it to have been none of our whales, but a large kind of lamia.
And, in this narration of St. John, the fishes are only expressed by their bigness and number, not their names, and therefore it may seem undeterminable what they were : notwithstanding, these fishes being taken in the great lake or sea of Tiberias, something may be probably stated therein. For since Bellonius, that diligent and learned traveller, informeth us, that the fishes of this lake were trouts, pikes, chevins, and tenches; it may well be conceived that either
* St. John xxi. 9, 10, 11–13.
I what kind, &c.] MS. Sloan. 1827, reads, “of what kind those little fish were, which fed the multitude in the wilderness, or, &c."
all or some thereof are to be understood in this Scripture. And these kind of fishes become large and of great growth, answerable unto the expression of Scripture, « one hundred fifty and three great fishes;" that is, large in their own kinds, and the largest kinds in this lake and fresh water, wherein no great variety, and of the larger sort of fishes, could be expected. For the river Jordan, running through this lake, falls into the lake of Asphaltus, and hath no mouth into the sea, which might admit of great fishes or greater variety to come up into it.
And out of the mouth of some of these fore-mentioned fishes might the tribute money be taken, when our Saviour, at Capernaum, seated upon the same lake, said unto Peter, “Go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh; and when thou hast opened his mouth thou shalt find a piece of money ; that take and give them for thee and me.”
And this makes void that common conceit and tradition of the fish called faber marinus, by some, a peter or penny fish; which having two remarkable round spots upon either side, these are conceived to be the marks of St. Peter's fingers or signatures of the money : for though it hath these marks, yet is there no probability that such a kind of fish was to be found in the lake of Tiberias, Gennesareth, or Galilee, which is but sixteen miles long and six broad, and hath no communication with the sea ; for this is a mere fish of the sea and salt water, and (though we meet with some thereof on our coast) is not to be found in many seas.
Thus having returned no improbable answer unto your question, I shall crave leave to ask another of yourself concerning that fish mentioned by Procopius,* which brought the famous king Theodorick to his end: his words are to this effect : “ The manner of his death was this; Symmachus and his son-in-law Boëthius, just men and great relievers of the poor, senators, and consuls, had many enemies, by whose false accusations Theodorick being persuaded that they plotted against him, put them to death, and confiscated their estates. Not long after his waiters set before him at supper a great head of a fish, which seemed to him to be the
head of Symmachus lately murdered : and with his teeth sticking out, and fierce glaring eyes to threaten him : being frighted, he grew chill, went to bed, lamenting what he had done to Symmachus and Boëthius; and soon after died.” What fish do you apprehend this to have been ? I would learn of you; give me your thoughts about it.
I am, &c..
AN ANSWER TO CERTAIN QUERIES RELATING TO FISHES,
BIRDS, AND INSECTS.
SIR,--I return the following answers to your queries, which were these :
1. What fishes are meant by the names, halec and mugil ?
2. What is the bird which you will receive from the bearer, and what birds are meant by the names halcyon, nysus, ciris, nycticorax ?
3. What insect is meant by the word cicada ?
ANSWER 1. The word halec we are taught to render an herring, which, being an ancient word, is not strictly appropriable unto a fish not known or not described by the ancients; and which the modern naturalists are fain to name harengus : the word halecula being applied unto such little fish out of which they are fain to make pickle; and halec or alec, taken for the liquamen or liquor itself, according to that of the poet,
Ego fæcem primus et alec
And was a conditure and sauce much affected by antiquity, as was also muria and garum.
In common constructions mugil is rendered a mullet, which, notwithstanding, is a different fish from the mugil
described by authors ;? wherein, if we mistake, we cannot so closely apprehend the expression of Juvenal,
Quosdam ventres et mugilis intrat. And misconceive the fish whereby fornicators were so opprobriously and irksomely punished; for the mugil, being somewhat rough and hard-skinned, did more exasperate the guts of such offenders: whereas the mullet was a smooth fish, and of too high esteem to be employed in such offices.
ANSWER 2. I cannot but wonder that this bird you sent should be a stranger unto you, and unto those who had a sight thereof; for, though it be not seen every day, yet we often meet with it in this country. It is an elegant bird, which he that once beholdeth can hardly mistake any other for it. From the proper note it is called an hoopebird with us: in Greek epops, in Latin upupa. We are little obliged unto our school instruction, wherein we are taught to render upupa a lapwing, which bird our natural writers name vannellus ; for thereby we mistake this remarkable bird, and apprehend not rightly what is delivered of it.
We apprehend not the hieroglyphical considerations which the old Egyptians made of this observable bird; who, considering therein the order and variety of colours, the twentysix or twenty-eight feathers in its crest, his latitancy, and mewing this handsome outside in the winter : they made it an emblem of the varieties of the world, the succession of times and seasons, and signal mutations in them. And, therefore, Orus, the hieroglyphic of the world, had the head of an hoopebird upon the top of his staff.
Hereby we may also mistake the duchiphath, or bird forbidden for food in Leviticus ;* and, not knowing the bird, may the less apprehend some reasons of that prohibition ; that is, the magical virtues ascribed unto it by the Egyptians, and the superstitious apprehensions which the nation held of it, whilst they precisely numbered the feathers and colours thereof, while they placed it on the heads of their
* Levit. xi. 19. I authors.] M$. Sloan. proceeds thus: “for which I know not, perhaps, whether we have any proper name in English ; and other nations nearly imitate the Latin, wherein,” &c.—MS. Sloan. 1827.
gods, and near their Mercurial crosses, and so highly magnified this bird in their sacred symbols.
Again, not knowing or mistaking this bird, we may misapprehend, or not closely apprehend, that handsome expression of Ovid, when Tereus was turned into an upupa, or hoopebird :
Vertitur in volucrem cui sunt pro vertice cristæ,
Nomen epops volucri, facies armata videtur. For, in this military shape, he is aptly fancied even still revengefully to pursue his hated wife, Progne : in the propriety of his note crying out, pou, pou, ubi, ubi ; or, Where are you?
Nor are we singly deceived in the nominal translation of this bird : in many other animals we commit the like mistake. So gracculus is rendered a jay, which bird, notwithstanding, must be of a dark colour according to that of Martial,
Sed quandam volo nocte nigriorem
Formica, pice, gracculo, cicada. Halcyon is rendered a kingfisher, * a bird commonly known among us, and by zoographers and naturals the same is named ispida, a well coloured bird, frequenting streams and rivers, building in holes of pits, like some martins, about the end of the spring; in whose nests we have found little else than innumerable small fish bones, and white round eggs of a smooth and polished surface, whereas the true halcyon is a sea bird, makes an handsome nest floating upon the water, and breedeth in the winter.
That nysus should be rendered either an hobby or a sparrow-hawk in the fable of Nysus and Scylla in Ovid, because we are much to seek in the distinction of hawks according to their old denominations, we shall not much contend, and may allow a favourable latitude therein : but that the ciris or bird into which Scylla was turned should be translated a lark, it can hardly be made out agreeable unto the description of Virgil, in his poem of that name,
Inde alias volucres mimoque infecta rubenti crura — But seems more agreeable unto some kind of hæmantopus or
* See Vulg. Err. b. iii. c. 10.