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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

St Basil the Great HEXAEMERON, Complete

Translated by Bl. Jackson.

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80 Pages (Homilies: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

Page 72

During the day, also, how easy it is for you to admire the Creator everywhere! See how the domestic cock calls you to work with his shrill cry, and how, forerunner of the sun, and early as the traveller, he sends forth labourers to the harvest! What vigilance in geese! With what sagacity they divine secret dangers! Did they not once upon a time save the imperial city? When enemies were advancing by subterranean passages to possess themselves of the capitol of Rome, did not geese announce the danger? [1676] Is there any kind of bird whose nature offers nothing for our admiration? Who announces to the vultures that there will be carnage when men march in battle array against one another? You may see flocks of vultures following armies and calculating the result of warlike preparations; [1677] a calculation very nearly approaching to human reasoning. How can I describe to you the fearful invasions of locusts, which rise everywhere at a given signal, and pitch their camps all over a country? They do not attack crops until they have received the divine command. Or shall I describe how the remedy for this curse, the thrush, follows them with its insatiable appetite, and the devouring nature that the loving God has given it in His kindness for men? [1678] How does the grasshopper modulate its song? [1679] Why is it more melodious at midday owing to the air that it breathes in dilating its chest?

But it appears to me that in wishing to describe the marvels of winged creatures, I remain further behind than I should if my feet had tried to match the rapidity of their flight. When you see bees, wasps, in short all those flying creatures called insects, because they have an incision all around, reflect that they have neither respiration nor lungs, and that they are supported by air through all parts of their bodies. [1680] Thus they perish, if they are covered with oil, because it stops up their pores. Wash them with vinegar, the pores reopen and the animal returns to life. Our God has created nothing unnecessarily and has omitted nothing that is necessary. If now you cast your eyes upon aquatic creatures, you will find that their organization is quite different. Their feet are not split like those of the crow, nor hooked like those of the carnivora, but large and membraneous; therefore they can easily swim, pushing the water with the membranes of their feet as with oars. Notice how the swan plunges his neck into the depths of the water to draw his food from it, and you will understand the wisdom of the Creator in giving this creature a neck longer than his feet, so that he may throw it like a line, and take the food hidden at the bottom of the water. [1681]

[1676] cf. Livy v. 47 and Plutarch, Camillus, or Verg. viii. 655. The alternative tradition of the mine is preserved by Servius.

[1677] cf. AElian, H.A. ii. 46. kai mentoi kai tais ekdemois stratiais hepontai gupes kai mala ge mantikos hoti eis polemon chorousin eidotes kai hoti mache pasa ergazetai nekrous kai touto egnokotes. cf. Pliny x. 88: "vultures sagacius odorantur."

[1678] cf. Galen. vi. 3.

[1679] Fialon, quoting the well known ode of Anakreon, "makarizomen se tettix," and Plato's theory of the affection of grasshoppers and the muses in the Phaedrus, contrasts the "cantu querulae rumpent arbusta cicadae" of Vergil (George. iii. 328) and points out that the Romans did not share the Greek admiration for the grasshopper's song.

[1680] "Insecta multi negarunt spirare, idque ratione persuadentes, quoniam in viscera interiora nexus spirabilis non inesset. Itaque vivere ut fruges, arboresque: sed plurimum interesse spiret aliquid an vivat. Eadem de causa nec sanguinem iis esse qui sit nullis carentibus corde atque jecore. Sic nec spirare ea quibus pulmo desit unde numerosa series quaestionum exoritur. Iidem enim et vocem esse his negant, in tanto murmure apium, cicadarum video cur magis possint non trahere animam talia, et vivere, quam spirare sine visceribus." Plin. xi. 2.

[1681] Arist., De Part. An. iv. 12.

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