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Chapter III.—Beasts Similarly Subject to the Law of Mutation.
Beasts, too, instead of a garment, change their form. And yet the peacock withal has plumage for a garment, and a garment indeed of the choicest; nay, in the bloom of his neck richer than any purple, and in the effulgence of his back more gilded than any edging, and in the sweep of his tail more flowing than any train; many-coloured, diverse-coloured, and versi-coloured; never itself, ever another, albeit ever itself when other; in a word, mutable as oft as moveable. The serpent, too, deserves to be mentioned, albeit not in the same breath as the peacock; for he too wholly changes what has been allotted him—his hide and his age: if it is true, (as it is,) that when he has felt the creeping of old age throughout him, he squeezes himself into confinement; crawls into a cave and out of his skin simultaneously; and, clean shorn on the spot, immediately on crossing the threshold leaves his slough behind him then and there, and uncoils himself in a new youth: with his scales his years, too, are repudiated. The hyena, if you observe, is of an annual sex, alternately masculine and feminine. I say nothing of the stag, because himself withal, the witness of his own age, feeding on the serpent, languishes—from the effect of the poison—into youth. There is, withal,
“A tardigrade field-haunting quadruped,
Humble and rough.”
The tortoise of Pacuvius, you think? No. There is another beastling which the versicle fits; in size, one of the moderate exceedingly, but a grand name. If, without previously knowing him, you hear tell of a chameleon, you will at once apprehend something yet more huge united with a lion. But when you stumble upon him, generally in a vineyard, his whole bulk sheltered beneath a vine leaf, you will forthwith laugh at the egregious audacity of the name, in8asmuch as there is no moisture even in his body, though in far more minute creatures the body is liquefied. The chameleon is a living pellicle. His headkin begins straight from his spine, for neck he has none: and thus reflection3232 Reflecti: perhaps a play upon the word = to turn back, or (mentally) to reflect. is hard for him; but, in circumspection, his eyes are outdarting, nay, they are revolving points of light. Dull and weary, he scarce raises from the ground, but drags, his footstep amazedly, and moves forward,—he rather demonstrates, than takes, a step: ever fasting, to boot, yet never fainting; agape he feeds; heaving, bellowslike, he ruminates; his food wind. Yet withal the chameleon is able to effect a total self-mutation, and that is all. For, whereas his colour is properly one, yet, whenever anything has approached him, then he blushes. To the chameleon alone has been granted—as our common saying has it—to sport with his own hide.
Much had to be said in order that, after due preparation, we might arrive at man. From whatever beginning you admit him as springing, naked at all events and ungarmented he came from his fashioner’s hand: afterwards, at length, without waiting for permission, he possesses himself, by a premature grasp, of wisdom. Then and there hastening to forecover what, in his newly made body, it was not yet due to modesty (to forecover), he surrounds himself meantime with fig-leaves: subsequently, on being driven from the confines of his birthplace because he had sinned, he went, skinclad, to the world3333 Orbi. as to a mine.3434 i.e., a place which he was to work, as condemned criminals worked mines. Comp. de Pu., c. xxii. sub init.; and see Gen. ii. 25 (in LXX. iii. 1), iii. 7, 21–24.
But these are secrets, nor does their knowledge appertain to all. Come, let us hear from your own store—(a store) which the Egyptians narrate, and Alexander3535 Alexander Polyhistor, who dedicated his books on the affairs of the Phrygians and Egyptians to his mother (Rig. in Oehler). digests, and his mother reads—touching the time of Osiris,3636 The Egyptian Liber, or Bacchus. See de Cor., c. vii. (Rig. in Oehler). when Ammon, rich in sheep, comes to him out of Libya. In short, they tell us that Mercury, when among them, delighted with the softness of a ram which he had chanced to stroke, flayed a little ewe; and, while he persistently tries and (as the pliancy of the material invited him) thins out the thread by assiduous traction, wove it into the shape of the pristine net which he had joined with strips of linen. But you have preferred to assign all the management of wool-work and structure of the loom to Minerva; whereas a more diligent workshop was presided over by Arachne. Thenceforth material (was abundant). Nor do I speak of the sheep of Miletus, and Selge, and Altinum, or of those for which Tarentum or Bætica is famous, with nature for their dyer: but (I speak of the fact) that shrubs afford you clothing, and the grassy parts of flax, losing their greenness, turn white by washing. Nor was it enough to plant and sow your tunic, unless it had likewise fallen to your lot to fish for raiment. For the sea withal yields fleeces, inasmuch as the more brilliant shells of a mossy wooliness furnish a hairy stuff. Further: it is no secret that the silkworm—a species of wormling it is—presently reproduces safe and sound (the fleecy threads) which, by drawing them through the air, she distends more skilfully than the dial-like webs of spiders, and then devours. In like manner, if you kill it, the threads which you coil are forthwith instinct with vivid colour.
The ingenuities, therefore, of the tailoring art, superadded to, and following up, so abundant a store of materials—first with a view to coveting humanity, where Necessity led the way; and subsequently with a view to adorning withal, ay, and inflating it, where Ambition followed in the wake—have promulgated the various forms of garments. Of which forms, part are worn by particular nations, without being common to the rest; part, on the other hand, universally, as being useful to all: as, for instance, this Mantle, albeit it is more Greek (than Latin), has yet by this time found, in speech, a home in Latium. With the word the garment entered. And accordingly the very man who used to sentence Greeks to extrusion from the city, but learned (when he was now advanced in years) their alphabet and speech—the self-same Cato, by baring his shoulder at the time of his prætorship, showed no less favour to the Greeks by his mantle-like garb.
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