Sources : Swallow

Aesop's Fables [6th century BCE +] (The Wise Swallow; Perry 39) Some birds who had flocked together saw a man sowing flax seed but they thought nothing of it. The swallow, however, understood what this meant. She called an assembly of the birds and explained that this was an altogether dangerous situation, but the other birds just laughed at her. When the flax seed sprouted, the swallow warned the birds again, 'This is something dangerous; let's go and pull it up. If it is allowed to grow, people will make it into nets and we will not able to escape the traps that they devise.' The birds mocked the swallow's words and scorned her advice. So the swallow went to the people and began to make her nest only under the roofs of their houses. Meanwhile, the other birds refused to heed the swallow's warnings, so now they are constantly being trapped in nets and snares. [The Swallow nesting on the Courthouse; Perry 227] Spring had arrived, and a twittering swallow (that bird who dwells in human houses) built her nest in the wall of the place which is home to the elderly jurors of the court. In that hall of justice, the mother bird gave birth to seven baby birds. But a snake came creeping out from his hole and devoured all the chicks one by one. The wretched mother bewailed the untimely demise of her children and said, 'Woe is me, and woe is my lot in life! This is the place where mankind's laws and judgments are made but I, a swallow, am the victim of injustice and have to run away.' - [ Gibbs translation]

Aristotle [ca. 350 BCE] (De animalibus Book 9, 8.1):The manufacture of its dwelling by the swallow is remarkable among birds; it has the same method of combining chaff with mud, for it mixes the mud with straw, and if mud is not to be found, it dips in the water and rolls itself in the dust; it uses straw in making its nest as men use it, for it places the largest at the bottom, and makes it commensurate with its own bulk; both the male and female labor in support of the young. - [Cresswell translation, 1887]

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 41; 10, 34; 10, 44; 11, 29): [Book 8, 41] Celandine was shown to be very healthy for the sight by swallows using it as a medicine for their chicks' sore eyes. [Book 10, 33] Swallows, the only flesh-eating bird among those that have not hooked talons, also migrate in the winter months; but they only retire to places near at hand, making for the sunny gulleys in the mountains, and they have before now been found there moulted and bare of feathers. It is said that they do not enter under the roofs of Thebes, because that city has been so often captured, nor at Bizye in Thrace on account of the crimes of Tereus. A man of knightly rank at Volterra, Caecina, who owned a racing four-in-hand, used to catch swallows and take them with him to Rome and dispatch them to take the news of a win to his friends, as they returned to the same nest; they had the winning color painted on them. Also Fabius Pictor records in his Annals that when a Roman garrison was besieged by the Ligurians a swallow taken from her nestlings was brought to him for him to indicate by knots made in a thread tied to its foot how many days later help would arrive and a sortie must be made. [Book 10, 34] The swallow is the only bird that has an extremely swift and swerving flight, owing to which it is also not liable to capture by the other kinds of birds. Also the swallow is the only bird that only feeds when on the wing. [Book 10, 44] Swallows build with clay and strengthen the nest with straw; if ever there is a lack of clay, they wet their wings with a quantity of water and sprinkle it on the dust. The nest itself, however, they carpet with soft feathers and tufts of wool, to warm the eggs and also to prevent it from being hard for the infant chicks. They dole out food in turns among their offspring with extreme fairness. They remove the chicks' droppings with remarkable cleanliness, and teach the older ones to turn round and relieve themselves outside of the nest. There is another kind of swallow that frequents the country and the fields, which seldom nests on houses, and which makes its nest of a different shape though of the same material — entirely turned upward, with orifices projecting to a narrow opening and a capacious interior, and adapted with remarkable skill both to conceal the chicks and to give them a soft bed to lie on. In Egypt, at the Heracleotic Mouth of the Nile, they block the outflow of the river with an irremovable mole of contiguous nests almost two hundred yards long, a thing that could not be achieved by human labor. Also in Egypt near the town of Coptos there is an island sacred to Isis which they fortify with a structure to prevent its being destroyed by the same river, strengthening its point with chaff and straw when the spring days begin, going on for three days all through the nights with such industry that it is agreed that many birds actually die at the work; and this spell of duty always comes round again for them with the returning year. There is a third kind of swallows that make holes in banks and so construct their nests in the ground. (Their chicks when burnt to ashes are a medicine for a deadly throat malady and many other diseases of the human body.) These birds do not build proper nests, and if a rise of the river threatens to reach their holes, they migrate many days in advance. [Book 11, 29] In the abdomen of swallow chicks there are found white or red colored pebbles, called swallow-stones; there are accounts of these in the treatises on magic.

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 1, 52; 3, 25): [Book 1, 52] A Swallow is a sign that the best season of the year is at hand. And it is friendly to man and takes pleasure in sharing the same roof with this being. It comes uninvited, and when it pleases and sees fit, it departs. Men welcome it in accordance with the law of hospitality laid down by Homer, who bids us cherish a guest while he is with us and speed him on his way when he wishes to leave. [Book 3, 25] Her young are slow to open their eyes, in the same way as puppies. But she collects and brings a herb, and they by degrees gain their sight; then after remaining quiet for a while, when able to fly, they leave the nest to seek for food.- [Scholfield translation]

Gaius Julius Solinus [3rd century CE] (De mirabilibus mundi / Polyhistor, Chapter 10.19): Among other things, swallows have a certain foreknowledge which is thus proved: they do not make for roofs about to fall and scorn houses about to perish. They are certainly not attacked by fearful birds and are not ever prey. Thus, they are sacred. They do not take up food standing, but capture and swallow it in the air. - [Arwen Apps translation, 2011]

Saint Ambrose [4th century CE] (Hexameron, Book 5, 17.56-57): The swallow has a very small body, but gives evidence of extremely great affection and devotion. Although devoid of all goods, she constructs her nest as cunningly as if it were a thing 'more precious than gold.' What wiser act is there for a bird given to wandering than that she should avail herself of her liberty and build for her little ones homes near the abodes of men, where no one would attack her brood? It is a commendable act to cause her nestlings from their very birth to become accustomed to human society and thus make them safer from the snares of their bird enemies. Notable, too, is the admirable way she, like a skilled artisan, builds her home without a helper. She gathers twigs in her beak and dips them in the mire so as to fasten them together. Because she is unable to lift the mire with her feet, she sprinkles the tops of her wings with waters so that what before was dry dust now becomes mud. In this way twigs and straw are collected and made compact. Thus is the entire nest built. The nestlings find no obstacles as they busy themselves on the smooth surface within their little house. At the same time, no intruder can damage the structure by planting his feet in an opening. The young ones, too, are not affected by draughts of cold air. ... These birds give evidence of possessing a medical skill. If any of the nestlings suffers blindness as a result of an injury to an eye, its eyes are restored to their former effectiveness by the application of certain curative agents.- [Savage translation, 1961]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:70): The swallow [erundo] is so named because it does not take food when it has alighted, but seizes and eats its food in the air [aer]. It is a garrulous bird, flying around in convoluted loops and twisted circles, and it is very clever at constructing its nests and raising its young. It even has a certain foresight, for it abandons and never seeks out roofs that are about to fall in. Also, it is not attacked by fierce birds, nor is it ever their prey. It flies across the sea and remains there for the winter. - [Barney, Lewis, et. al. translation]

Thomas of Cantimpré [circa 1200-1272 CE] (Liber de natura rerum, Birds 5.66): The swallow is a bird, as he says [i.e. Liber rerum], very light, with a small beak, a pleasant form, and a very decent blackness. It is white in the belly, rufous under the throat. As the Experimentator says, it has little flesh and that is black, many feathers and large wings and therefore it has a quick flight. It announces the day (by ringing), awakens the sleeping (and invites to the praise of the Creator). Its blood, drawn from under its right wing, heals the eyes. It has a forked tail. It flies in tortuous circles and winding circuits. It is a chatterer. It catches its food in flight. Solinus: It has a certain reputation, that it abandons the roofs and does not desire the summits. It is very skillful in building nests and bringing up the young. Most of them carry jewels in their livers. This gem is sometimes found rufous, sometimes black, and is called celandine: it is useful for lunatics and drives away harmful fluids; when washed with water, it heals weak eyes. The young swallows, who have this stone, are recognized by this: if, as a sign of peace, they sit in the nest with their mouths turned to the front. For the rest of the chicks that do not have them sit with their backs turned. ... The Liber Kyrannidarum says that a swallow eaten extinguishes fever and cures epileptics. If you roast its chicks in a pot lined with clay, you will find two chicks in the broken pot as if they were kissing each other. If you burn them, their ashes drunk are valid for the reconciliation of the spouses. Philosophus: The dung of the swallow has the most effective power to sting, if it falls on the eyes. Pliny: The chicks of the swallow are the first to be born. Isidore: It is not attacked by other birds, nor has it ever been prey. Its arrival time is consistent; it is known when it comes and when it returns. Its coming heralds the beginning of spring. When the eyes of the chicks are troubled, the mothers use celandine for medicine. Pliny: This is the only bird that does not have claws that feeds on meat. They seek the sunny retreats of the mountains in winter and are found there naked and without feathers. As Ambrose says, this small bird builds nests with gold, the most precious of all things, meaning that it builds wisely. For the nest of wisdom is more precious than gold. For what is wiser than to take possession of the liberty of flying, and to foster the little ones in the homes of men, so that no one may attack its offspring? And for that it is famous, with which grace it arranges the nests for itself without any helper, as if by skill in art; it picks the nuts with his mouth and smears them with clay so that he can stick them together. But because it cannot carry the mud with its feet, it pours water on the tips of its feathers, so that it easily adheres to this dust and becomes slime, with which it sticks together the grass and in this way builds the fabric of the whole nest. Swallows therefore build their nests with clay, strengthen them with hay, and spread them with soft feathers and fluff, to keep them warm, like an egg, so that the nest is not hard for the young. During the breeding season, they alternate the food and clean up the excrement of the chicks, and teach the adults to move around and throw their filth outside. If a man blinds the chicks of a swallow, their eyes return again, as Aristotle says. There is another kind of them that is very small. In the region of the East, they make their nests of dry moss, so completely round, that they can scarcely find access. In Egypt, therefore, in the place of the swamp, when the Nile begins to flow near their nests, it is as if they oppose an impregnable wall for a distance of about one stadia, which could not be completed by human work. Straw and thatch support that wonderful work. They labor so diligently in this work that many of them die of it. - [Badke translation/paraphrase]

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (Liber de proprietatibus rerum, Book12.21): A Swallow is called Hirundo, as it were Arundo ab aere, and hath that name of the ayre, for hée taketh not his meate sitting, but flyeng in the ayre, as Isidore saith. And is a crieng fowle, and flyeth not even but hether and thether, and sometime about, and is busie in making neastes, and in feeding of birds. And he saith also, in making of neasts, the Swallow is most cunning. For unneth mans wit were sufficient to make of any matter, the worke that the Swallow maketh and shapeth of claye onely with her bill. Moreover, the Swallowe is full of feathers, and lyghtest and most swiftest in flight of Foules: and therefore other fowles réeseth nor distroubleth not the Swallow, neither the Swallow is pray to other Birdes. And flieth over the sea into hot countryes, in which Countryes he abideth in Winter, as men suppose. And also they kéepe certain times of their comming and going. Their againe comming is token of springing time, and witnesse of the faire Summer, & resplendishing weather, as Ambrose saith libro sexto. Aristotle sayth, speaking of the swallowe. li. 6. That a wilde fowle treadeth not nor laieth egges but once a yeare, except the Swallowe which layeth egges twice a yere, but somtime the first egges be broke by coldnesse of Winter, and the latter egges be complete and bring forth birds. Also there it is sayd, that birdes that eate flesh, lay not egges twice a yeere, except the Swallowe, that hath sometime Birdes twice a yeare. Also there it is sayd, yt if a man put out the young swallowes eien, yet their eien come agayne, for shee fetcheth an hearbe that is called Celidonia, and baumeth the eien of her birds with the juyce thereof, and so their eien be restored to them againe. as Macro[bius] saith. Also in the Swallows wombe be two stones found, of the which one is whitish, and is called the Female, and the other is red, and is called the Male. For hée is more vertuous then the white. These stones bée called Celidonii, and bée precious stones, namelye when they be taken out of the birds ere they touch the ground, as it is sayde in Lapidarie: there their vertues be described, as Constanine saith Bloud drawen out under the right wing is medicinable to eyen, as bloud of a Dove is. Their durt is full hot and full gnawing: and therefore it gréeveth eien. And the Swallowe techeth her birds to throw durt out of ye neast. And there be two manner of swallowes, some are great of body, and have blacke ridges and red breasts, and white wombes: and these love mens companye, and make neasts in mens houses. The other bée lesse of bodye, and have blacke breasts, and make their neasts in holes and chins of roches and of rockes, fast by waters. But both kindes make their neasts is earth or in clay, and both theyr tayles bée forked as a payre of shéeres. These are called Martines, and are good to eate. Also it is saide, that among Swallowes is one manner kinde, and other Fowles dread that kinde, yea, ye Eagle & the Goshauke dread and flie ye swallow, as it were their enimie, and dare not fall on their pray, while they sée ye swallow, for they dreade the biting of her. For peradventure it is venimous, as Plinius sayth. And Swallowes fight agaynst Sparrowes, and come into their neasts, and drive them out with biting & scratching. - [Batman]