On the Characteristics of Animals, Volume 1

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Harvard University Press, 1958
AELIAN (Claudius Aelianus), a Roman born c. A.D. 170 at Praeneste (where he held a religious office), was a pupil of the rhetorician Pausanias of Caesarea, and taught and practised rhetoric. Expert in good Attic Greek, he became a serious scholar and studied history under the patronage of the Roman Empress Julia Domna. He apparently spent all his life in Italy where he died after A.D. 230. In three volumes we present his On the Characteristics of Animals, in 17 books, which is a mixed collection of facts and beliefs concerning the habits of animals taken from Greek authors with some personal observation, and having as their chief object entertainment. Fact, fancy, legend, stories and gossip all play their part in a narrative which has, of set purpose, no arrangement. If there is any ethical motive, it is that the virtues of untaught yet reasoning animals can be a lesson to thoughtless and selfish mankind. Aelian's philosophy is an easy stoicism. Another surviving work is 'Varied History' in 14 books, consisting mainly of historical, biographical, and antiquarian anecdotes and short narratives, many of them taken from authors whose works are lost. Here also Aelian follows no scheme of arrangement. We have also fragments of a work on 'Providence' and one on 'Divine Manifestations' and these also were apparently collections of stories. Some Letters, by fictitious persons, on husbandry and other country matters survive -- these are rhetorical.

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