Pliny’s Parrot

Conjure up an image of the ancient world. Do you see a betoga’d fellow beating a bird about the bonce with an iron bar? No? Then read your Pliny. Here he is, in the Natural History, telling us about parrots:

“She hath an head as hard as is her beak: when she learns to speak, she must be beaten about the head with a rod of yron: for otherwise she careth for no blowes.”

ADDENDUM : Pliny’s seventeenth-century English translator Philomen Holland uses the phrase “barton & mue” for aviary. This is splendid, and I suggest we all take every opportunity to resurrect so grievous a loss to the language. You may wish to write a note of it in your day-book, particularly if, as Pliny/Holland says elsewhere, your “memory is so shittle, [you] will soone forget the same againe”.

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