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0171 Cathay and the Way Thither : vol.1
Cathay and the Way Thither : vol.1 / Page 171 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000042
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The Seres are inoffensive in their manners indeed ; but, like the beasts of' the forest, they eschew the contact of mankind ; and, though ready

and then in six months a bombyx. These spin webs like spiders, which are turned to the account of female dress and extravagance under the name of Bombycina. The process of dressing these webs and again of weaving them into fabrics was first invented in Ceos by a woman called Pamphila, the daughter of Latous. Let us not cheat her of her glory in having devised a method by which women shall be dressed and yet naked !

"27. They say that Bombyces are also produced in the island of Cos by the genial action of the earth on the flowers of cypress, turpentine-tree, ash, or oak, when shaken down by rain. The first form of the creature produced is that of a butterfly, little and naked; then as the cold affects it, it develcps a rough coat, and against the winter prepares for itself a thick envelope by scraping off the down of leaves with its feet, which are adapted to this purpose. Carding, as it were, and spinning but this substance to a fine thread with its claws, it stretches it from branch to branch, and then lays hold of it and winds it round its body till entirely wrapped in the nest so formed. The people then gather the creatures and put them in earthen pots with warm bran, the effect of which is to develope on them a new plumage, clothed with which they are let go to the other functions reserved for them. The woolly web that they had spun is moistened so as to disengage more easily, and wound off on a reel of reed. The stuffs made from this are worn without shame even by men as light summer clothing. So far have we degenerated from the days when cuirasses of mail were worn that even a coat is too great a burden for us ! The produce of the Assyrian Bombyx however we as yet leave to the ladies."

On these passages we may remark :

  1. That the account of the Bombyx in §25 appears to be substantially taken from Aristotle, De Animal. Hist., v, 24, and to refer to some kind of mason bee. The in Assyria proveniens" of Pliny, which the reference to " Bombyx Assyria" again at the end of the extract seems to connect with the produce of some kind of texture, does not appear in Aristotle at all. And yet Pliny gives no explanation as to what the produce of the Assyrian Bombyx was.

  2. In §26 Pamphila's invention and some kind of web-weaving bombyx are referred to Ceos ; in §27 another kind of weaving bombyx (with its anomalous history) is referred to Cos ; whilst Aristotle, as we shall see, refers Pamphila to Cos. Has not Pliny here been merely emptying out of his note book two separate accounts of the same matter ?

  3. In §26 Pliny's words redordiri rursusque texere are verbatim the same that he uses in the passage about the Seres translated in the text, and seem to be merely affected expressions, indicating nothing more than the carding and reeling the sericwrn and the bombycinum respectively out of the entanglement of their natural web (as Pliny imagines it) and then re-entangling them again (as it were) in the loom. This is put beyond doubt by the fact that §26 is merely a paraphrase from Aristotle (De An. Hist., y, 19), who, speaking of various insect transformations, says : " From a certain great grub, which has as it were horns, and differs from the others, is produced, first by transformation of the grub, a caterpillar, and then bombylius, and then necydalus. In six months it goes through all these changes of form. And from this creature some women disengage and reel off the bombycina and then weave them. And the first who is said to have woven this material was Pamphile, daughter of Plates in Cos." Whatever material this bombycina may have really been, there is evidently here no question of picking foreign stuffs to pieces, a figment which seems entirely based on Pliny's rhetoric. Cuvier considered the description in §27, however erroneous, clearly to indicate some species of