Dolphin
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Source: Kongelige Bibliotek (Bestiarius - Bestiary of Anne Walsh (Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4)) Copyright 2003 Kongelige Bibliotek / Used by permission Manuscript description Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4, Folio 60v


 

Dolphin

Latin name: Delphine

Other names: Dalfino, Marsouin

Dolphins gather in schools at the sound of music

 

 
General Attributes

Dolphins are the swiftest creature in the sea. They can fly over ships that attack them. They follow the sound of human voices, and gather together in crowds to sing at the sound of music. When dolphins play and leap in strong waves they seem to forecast storms. There is a kind of dolphin in the Nile that has a serrated back, which kills crocodiles by cutting into the soft parts of the belly.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 38): Dolphins enter the mouth of the Nile river, but are driven away by crocodiles that claim the river as their own. Crocodiles are much stronger than dolphins, so the dolphins must use strategy rather than strength. To defeat the crocodiles, dolphins dive below them and cut open their soft bellies with the sharp fin the dolphin has on its back. (Book 9, 7): Dolphins are the swiftest of all animals found in the sea or on land. Because their moths are much below their snouts, they must turn on their back in order to sieze fish. They breathe air from their backs. While pursuing fish to great depths, and so having held their breath too long, dolphins shoot up to the surface with such force that they fly into the air, sometimes flying over a ship's sails. Dolphins usually travel in mated pairs. Their voice is like a human moan. Their snouts are turned up, so they all answer to the name "Snubnose" (simonis) and prefer that name to any other. Dolphins love music, and can be charmed by songs sung in harmony or by the sound of the water-organ. Dolphins are friendly to mankind; they often play around ships and race with them.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 6:11): Dolphins (delphini) have their name because they follow human voices or because they join together to sing. They are the fastest beasts in the sea; they can jump over most ships that attack them. When they play in strong waves they appear to forecast a storm. The dolphins of the Nile have a saw-shaped back; with this they kill crocodiles by cutting the soft parts of their bellies.

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 6): Dolphins know by the smell if a dead man, that is on the sea, ate ever of Dolphin's kind; and if the dead man hath eat thereof, he eateth him anon; and if he did not, he keepeth and defendeth him fro eating and biting of other fish, and shoveth him, and bringeth him to the cliff with his own working. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)


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