Sources : Nightingale

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 43): Nightingales pour out a ceaseless gush of song for fifteen days and nights on end when the buds of the leaves are swelling — a bird not in the lowest rank remarkable. In the first place there is so loud a voice and so persistent a supply of breath in such a tiny little body; then there is the consummate knowledge of music in a single bird: the sound is given out with modulations, and now is drawn out into a long note with one continuous breath, now varied by managing the breath, now made staccato by checking it, or linked together by prolonging it, or carried on by holding it back; or it is suddenly lowered, and at times sinks into a mere murmur, loud, low, bass, treble, with trills, with long notes, modulated when this seems good - soprano, mezzo, baritone; and briefly all the devices in that tiny throat which human science has devised with all the elaborate mechanism of the flute, so that there can be no doubt that this sweetness was foretold by a convincing omen when it made music on the lips of the infant Stesichorus [Greek poet]. And that no one may doubt its being a matter of science, the birds have several songs each, and not all the same but every bird songs of its own. They compete with one another, and there is clearly an animated rivalry between them; the loser often ends her life by dying, her breath giving out before her song. Other younger birds practice their music, and are given verses to imitate the pupil listens with close attention and repeats the phrase, and the two keep silence by turns: we notice improvement in the one under instruction and a sort of criticism on the part of the instructor. Consequently they fetch the prices that are given for slaves, and indeed larger prices than were paid for armor-bearers in old days. I know of one bird, a white one it is true, which is nearly unprecedented, that was sold for 600,000 sesterces to be given as a present to the emperor Claudius's consort Agrippina. Frequent cases have been seen before now of nightingales that have begun to sing when ordered, and have sung in answer to an organ, as there have been found persons who could reproduce the birds' song with an indistinguishable resemblance by putting water into slanting reeds and breathing into the holes or by applying some slight check with the tongue. But these exceptional and artistic trills after a fortnight gradually cease, though not in such a way that the birds could be said to be tired out or to have had enough of singing; and later on when the heat has increased their note becomes entirely different, with no modulations or variations. Their color also changes, and finally in winter the bird itself is not seen. Their tongues do not end in a point like those of all other birds. They lay in early spring, six eggs at most. - [Rackham translation]

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 1, 43): Among birds the nightingale has the clearest and most musical voice, and fills solitary places with its most lovely and thrilling note. Further, they say that its flesh is good for keeping one awake. But people who feast upon such food are evil and dreadfully foolish. And it is an evil attribute of food that it drives sleep away - sleep, the king of gods and men, as Homer says. - [Scholfield translation]

Saint Ambrose [4th century CE] (Hexameron, Book 5, chapter 24.85): .What shall I say of the nightingale who keeps long watch over her nest, cherishing her eggs with the warmth of her body? She solaces with the sweetness of her song the sleepless labors of a long night. The highest aim of the nightingale, in my opinion, is to give life to her eggs by the sweet charm of her song no less than by the fostering warmth of her body. - [Savage translation, 1961]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:37): The nightingale [luscinia] is a bird that took its name because it is accustomed to indicate by its song the onset of the rising sun, as if its name were lucinia [lux, lucis, “light, sun”]. This same bird is also the acredula, concerning which Cicero says in his Prognostics : And the acredula performs her morning songs. - [Barney, Lewis, et. al. translation]

Thomas of Cantimpré [circa 1200-1272 CE] Liber de natura rerum, Birds 5.76, 5.108): [Thomas describes the nightingale under the names lucina and phylomena.] [Birds 5.78] Lucinia is a bird, of which, in the Hexameron, the blessed Ambrose relates, that this watchman, when it cradles its eggs in the bosom of its body and in its lap, consoles itself in the sleepless work of the long night with the sweetness of a song. And as blessed Ambrose himself says, this is the highest intent of the bird, by which it is able to give life to the eggs which it nurtures with no less sweet forms than with its body. This, of course, is surprising and very wonderful, but it is by no means doubtful, since the blessed Augustine and many others said almost the same thing in a similar manner about the lion. [Birds 5.108] Phylomena the bird is named from phylos, which is 'love', and menos, which is 'sweet'. For this bird delights the listener with its wonderful song. It rejoices at the rising of the Sun and prays for the coming happiness. It sings only in spring, never in winter. At the beginning of spring it is so delighted with the pleasantness of its voice that it rarely eats, and when it does it does so with the utmost haste. It is also said that the nightingale delights in songs so persistently and indiscriminately, that it loses its life through weakness and becomes so weak as to be deprived of its voice. Hence also philomena is called from phylos, which is 'love', and menos, which is 'deficiency', as if failing in love. Pliny: For they contend with each other, and there is open and spirited contention, so that the vanquished often end their lives with death, failing in spirit rather than in song. This is seen in it for the first time as a wonderful thing, that so great a voice in so small a body is so persistent a spirit. Finally, we marvel at its perfect knowledge of music. For the sound is produced in a modulated manner, and now it is drawn out with a continuous breath, now it is varied by bending, now it is distinguished by cutting, it is joined by twisting. For from the thought it sometimes murmurs with itself, full, heavy, sharp, frequent, extended, vibrating; and sometimes to the middle notes, sometimes the highest, it goes, and to say briefly: it represents everything in so small a throat, that the art of men has devised with many exquisite pipes. The younger birds are taught, and learn the verses which they imitate; the pupil listens with great intent and repeats the song several times: it learns through correction and a certain criticism of the teacher. Accordingly, from the end of the spring season, the voice becomes completely different, and the color also changes; and lastly in winter it is not seen. And it is to be noted that as soon as the nightingale begins to mate and to lust, it immediately loses the pleasantness of its voice and, as Pliny says, its voice becomes different, its color also changes. - [Badke translation/paraphrase]

Albertus Magnus [ca. 1200-1280 CE] (De animalibus, Book 23, 100): Though small in body, the nightingale has a great store of breath wherewith it produces a range of sounds no less remarkable for its modulated tones as for the multiplicity of its notes. One minute it sustains a long note with one continuous breath, and then it varies the tone like the inflections of a human singing voice. Again, it separates the notes with staccato effect, all the while maintaining a connected melody, so that the song on its outgoing breath is continued with matching force on inhalation. At varying times its song is full basso profundo; treble; prolonged in a trill; soprano; or reduced to a whisper — in essence, representing almost all of the tones made by musical instruments. In my own observations of this bird I have remarked that it flies toward persons who are singing, provided they have a melodious voice; as long as these persons continue singing, the bird listens in silence; but as soon as they stop, the nightingale takes up the song, as if responding in a roundelay chorus. Furthermore, these birds duplicate the same process in response to one another, provoking each other to song. Pliny is in error when he states this bird loses its voice and changes coloration after mating. For we have often observed a nightingale singing while it sat brooding over its eggs. - [Scanlan]

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (Liber de proprietatibus rerum, Book18.9): And such [adders] lie in await for them that sleep: and if they find the mouth open of them or of other beasts, then they creep in:for they love heat and humour that they find here. But against such adders a little beast fighteth that hight Saura, as it were a little ewt, and some men mean that it is a lizard; for when this beast is aware that this serpent is present, then he leapeth upon his face that sleepeth, and scratcheth with his feet to wake him, and to warn him of the serpent. And when this little beast waxeth old, his eyen wax blind, and then he goeth into an hole of a wall against the east, and openeth his eyen afterward when the sun is risen, and then his eyen heat and take light. - [Steele]

Slavic Physiologus [15th - 16th century]: The nightingale is a bird. He gets together with his mate. One sleeps until midnight, and the other guards him and praises God twelve times over him. At midnight, he falls asleep, and the other one guards him from midnight on. At daybreak, [they all] praise God in one voice. - [Stoykova, English translation by Mladenova and Stoykov]