The Lies Of Poets & The Tears Of Birds

Here is a last extract (at least, for the time being) from Philomen Holland’s translation of Pliny’s Natural History, from The Seven And Thirtieth Booke, Chaps. 2, 3, Of Amber:

“But I wonder most at Sophocles the Tragicall Poet… that he should go beyond al others in fabulous reports, as touching Amber: for he sticketh not to avouch, That beyond India it proceedeth from the tears that fall from the eies of the birds Meleagrides, wailing and weeping for the death of Meleager. Who would not marvell, that either himselfe should be of that beliefe, or hope to persuade others to his opinion? For what child is there to be found so simple and ignorant, who will beleeve, that birds should keep their times to shed tearsĀ  every yere so duly, and especially so great drops and in such quantitie, sufficient to engender Amber in that abundance? Besides, what congruitie is there, that birds should depart as far as to the Indians and beyond, for to mourn and lament the death of Meleager when he died in Greece?

“What should a man say to this? Are there not many more as goodly tales as these, which Poets have sent abroad into the world? And their profession of Poetry, that is to say, of faining and devising fables, may in some sort excuse them. But that any man should seriously and by way of history deliver such stuffe, as touching a thing so rife and common, brought in every day in abundance by merchants which were ynough to convince such impudent lies, is a meere mockerie of the world in the highest degree; a contempt offered to all men, and argueth an habit of lying, and an impunitie of that vice intollerable.”

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