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Texts : Gaius Julius Solinus

The exceprts below are from the second (revised) edition, which Solinus called Polyhistor. All are taken from the translation done by Arwen Apps for her PhD dissertation (Gaius Iulius Solinus and his Polyhistor), 2011, the first translation of the work from Latin into modern (and readable) English. (Other excerpts can be found in the Sources section of some of the beast pages).


From the prologue to Polyhistor, two letters by Solinus describing what he is trying to accomplish.

[1] Greetings from Solinus to Adventus: I realize that you, both in your ears’ forbearance and in your devotion to the liberal arts, excel others. I have had much experience of this, and thus cannot believe I rashly anticipate your kindness. Therefore, I thought to give the weighing of this trifling work especially to you. Either your diligence promises a ready judgment, or your generosity ready indulgence. [2] As far as reason would allow, this book has been designed with a view to brevity; moderately abridged, it has neither a wasteful abundance nor a detrimental beauty of style. If you study it earnestly, you will find it is leavened with knowledge rather than veneered with a gold-leaf of eloquence. [3] For I confess I have very conscientiously studied a number of excellent books, so I might leave the well-known subjects alone, and devote more attention to those which are less well-known. Observations of places occupy the majority of it, and nearly all the material is connected with the same. It seemed good to me to recall, in order, the famous sites on land, and the famous features of the seas, preserving the differences in the world.

[4] On the other hand, I have put in a good many other things, though harmoniously, so, if nothing else, the ennui of readers might be assuaged by the very variety. Among these I have included studies on the natures of Man and other animals. I have added some things about strange trees and the appearances of remote tribes, and the unusual rites of far-flung peoples. Also I have included not a few things, worthy of mention, which it seemed negligent to omit. [5] I would wish you, in your industriousness, to particularly understand that the authority for these things stems from the most accepted writers. For what can we claim as our own, since nothing has been passed over by the diligence of old? What remains untouched up to our own era? Therefore, I beg you not to weigh the credit of this work in the present time, seeing indeed that I, having followed the traces of the old stamps, prefer to choose the universal opinions rather than to innovate. [6] Thus, if you have a different opinion on something in my work, I wish you would grant indulgence to my foolishness; the consistency of truth is in the power of those whom I have followed.

[7] Those who imitate the shapes of bodies, setting the rest aside, figure the head before determining the lines of the other limbs. You might say they make their beginning at the very citadel of form. So I also will make my beginning with the “head” of the world, that is, the city of Rome, although the most learned authors have left nothing which may be newly spoken in her praise, and it may be almost superfluous to re-travel the course trodden over in so many chronicles. 8 Nevertheless, lest they be altogether ignored, I will follow the originals with as much faith as I can.

[9] Solinus to Adventus: Seeing that many people have hurried to snatch up the trifle with which I laboured, more impatiently than studiously, and that they have already assigned it to an obsolete, unpolished mediocrity, I inflict the final form of the unfinished work upon you. Now, things which were omitted have been added, with greater care, to the incorrect versions (which have been condemned, although, as if approved, they are widely circulated), towards the development of the inquiry. Lest by chance a rough copy, with incomplete content, as though endorsed by me, fall into your hands, I have sent, as you see, this collection, interspersed with my own opinions. I did so because, in the first place, the layout of the work had to be referred to your diligence, and so the betrayal of rough unshapeliness be expunged from the proper edition. Therefore, the title of the work shall be Polyhistor. The title I had designated in the beginning, to wit, Collection of Marvellous Things, I have rejected, and I am pleased to assign it to oblivion. So then, when you compare this letter to the one which forms the beginning of my scriptio, you will understand that you occupy the same place as he to whom I dedicated the culmination of my labour.


Polyhistor, Chapter 2: Italy

[1] Now, in order to return to my resolve, I must steer my pen towards the commemoration of places. First, I will visit Italy, the splendour of which I have already touched upon in writing of the city of Rome. [2] But as Italy has already been discussed with such care by everyone, especially by Marcus Cato, there is nothing now to be found which the old authors’ diligence did not anticipate. ... [4] However, lest it appear as though I have left Italy entirely untouched, it seems by no means absurd for me to exert my mind about those things which are less familiar, and to travel through those areas which have been more sparingly investigated.


Polyhistor Chapter 5: Sicily

[2] This thing must be especially noted — is shaped like a triangle, by reason of its far-flung promontories. Pachynus guides its view towards the Peloponnese and the southern region; Pelorias, facing the west, watches Italy, and Lilybaeum stretches out towards Africa. Of these, Pelorias stands forth; it is praised for the unparalleled moderation of its soil, which is neither turned into mud by the moisture of swamps, nor cracked open into dust by drought.

[3] Where Pelorias retreats inland and spreads out in width, there are three lakes. That the first of these is abundant in fish, I do not, for my part, consider marvellous. But near to the lake, the land is thick with trees, and the groves of brushwood nurture wild beasts. Hunters and others on foot are given access by means of paths. Thus the lake offers the double pleasure of fishing and hunting, and can be numbered among the admirable features of this land.

[5] The Pelorian shore is inhabited by the colony Tauromenium, which the men of old called Naxus. The town Messana is placed opposite to Regium in Italy. The Greeks called Regium ??????, on account of the division. [6] There is a great abundance of tuna fish at Pachynus, and because of this, the catch there is always large.


Polyhistor Chapter 37: The Tigris and Euphrates; Sundry Stones

[11] In Persia, there is so great an abundance and diversity of stones that it would be a lengthy matter merely to recall their names. 12 Mithridax, when struck by the sun, flashes with many colours. Tecolithos is spurned when looked upon, as it is similar in appearance to an olive-stone. But its medicinal virtue conquers the beauty of other stones. When it is dissolved and drunk it gets rid of kidney stones and relieves bladder pain. [13] The hammochrysos, in sands mingled with gold, has little squares now of gold-leaf, now of dust. [14] Aetites is yellow and smooth. It holds another stone inside it, and resounds with its rattling when moved. However, they say that the little stone inside does not make the clanging, but the spirit of the most knowledgeable. 15 Zoroaster gives preference to this stone above all others and assigns the greatest power to it. It is found either in the nests of eagles or on the shores of the sea, most of all in Persia. Bound under the hope of the womb, it protects a woman from abortion. [16] Pyrites is black, and does not permit itself to be strongly held. If ever it is tightly pressed in the hand, it burns the fingers. [17] Chalazias has the shape and whiteness of a hailstone, with the most durable and invincible hardness. Echites has spots like those of a viper. [18] Dionysias is dusky and sprinkled with red spots. This same, if ground up and mixed with water, is redolent of wine, and (what is a wonder with that scent) resists drunkenness. [19] Magi hold it to be of considerable power, and think that it causes the lunar movements. [20] The Jewel of the Sun is very white, and looks like a glittering star; it throws golden-red rays out of itself. The Hair of Venus has a dark shine, showing inside it the likeness of red hair. [21] Selenites is transparent, with a white and honey-coloured radiance. It contains an image of the moon; they say that it diminishes or increases from day to day, according to the course of the planet itself.