Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Natural history

A third kind, again, is remarkable for the skill which it displays in its operations. These spin a large web, and the abdomen suffices to supply the material for so extensive a work, whether it is that, at stated periods the excrements are largely secreted in the abdomen, as Democritus thinks, or that the creature has in itself a certain faculty of secreting2 a peculiar sort of woolly substance. How steadily does it work with its claws, how beautifully rounded and how equal are the threads as it forms its web, while it employs the weight of its body as an equipoise! It begins at the middle to weave its web, and then extends it by adding the threads in rings around, like a warp upon the woof: forming the meshes at equal intervals, but continually enlarging them as the web increases in breadth, it finally unites them all by an indissoluble knot. With what wondrous art does it conceal the snares that lie in wait for its prey in its checkered nettings! How little, too, would it seem that there is any such trap laid in the compactness of its web and the tenacious texture of the woof, which would appear of itself to be finished and arranged by the exercise of the very highest art! How loose, too, is the body of the web as it yields to the blasts, and how readily does it catch all objects which come in its way! You would fancy that it had left, quite exhausted, the thrums of the upper portion of its net unfinished where they are spread across; it is with the greatest difficulty that they are to be perceived, and yet the moment that an object touches them, like the lines of the hunter's net, they throw it into the body of the web. With what architectural skill, too, is its hole arched over, and how well defended by a nap of extra thickness against the cold! How carefully, too, it retires into a corner, and appears intent upon anything but what it really is, all the while that it is so carefully shut up from view, that it is impossible to perceive whether there is anything within or not! And then too, how extraordinary the strength of the web! When is the wind ever known to break it, or what accumulation of dust is able to weigh it down?

tertium eorundem genus erudita operatione conspicuum. orditur telas tantique operis materiae uterus ipsius sufficit, sive ita corrupta alvi natura stato tempore, ut democrito placet, sive est quaedam intus lanigera fertilitas: tam moderato ungue, tam tereti filo et tam aequali deducit stamina, ipso se pondere usus. texere a medio incipit, circinato orbe subtemina adnectens, maculasque paribus semper intervallis, sed subinde crescentibus ex angusto dilatans indissolubili nodo inplicat. quanta arte celat pedicas a scutulato rete grassantes! quam non ad hoc videtur pertinere crebratae pexitas telae et quadam politurae arte ipsa per se tenax ratio tramae! quam laxus ad flatus ac non respuenda quae veniant sinus! derelicta lasso praetendi summa parte arbitrere licia: at illa difficile cernuntur atque, ut in plagis, lineae offensae praecipitant in sinum. specus ipse qua concamaratur architectura! et contra frigora quanto villosior! quam remotus a medio aliudque agenti similis, inclusus vero sic, ut sit necne intus aliquis cerni non possit! age firmitas, quando rumpentibus ventis, qua pulverum mole degravante!

Pliny the Elder



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