Page:Historical Works of Venerable Bede vol. 2.djvu/245

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173
OF VENERABLE BEDE.

fowl swimming upon its surface.The Dead Sea, &c. Indeed, if by accident the river Jordan, when swollen by storms, carries down any fish into it, they immediately die, and their dead bodies are seen floating on the languid waters. They say that a lighted candle will float without being upset, and that when the light is put out, it sinks; but that it is difficult for any thing else to be made stop at the bottom; and that every living thing, however different, and with whatever violence thrown in, instantly rises again. Indeed, it is recorded that Vespasian ordered some persons who could not swim to be thrown in with their hands tied behind their backs, and all of them rose and floated on the top. The water is bitter and unfertilizing, of a darker colour than other water, and tastes as if it had been burnt. It is certain that lumps of bitumen with a black liquor are seen swimming in the water, and the natives go out in boats and collect them. They say that the bitumen sticks together most firmly, and cannot be divided by any instrument of steel,[1] but dissolves in urine, or in the blood of a woman. It is of use to fasten ships, and is applied medicinally to the human body. The whole region still bears marks of the judgment inflicted upon it. Apples of a most beautiful appearance are produced there, which make the mouths of the beholders water, but when gathered, they rot and moulder to ashes, and send forth smoke, as if still acted on by fire. In summer an excessive vapour floats over the whole plain; by which cause, and the great drought co-operating together, the air becomes corrupted, and the inhabitants are afflicted with dreadful distempers.

  1. The introduction of asphalt pavement into most of the capitals of Europe, will probably render the "accursed plains" of more value to the owners of the land, than it would have realized them, had it been covered with the olive and the vine.