Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/709

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SUPERSTITIONS ABOUT THE DOLPHIN.

SUPERSTITIONS ABOUT THE DOLPHIN.
By Dr. BIEDERMANN,

OF THE GYMNASIUM OF HALLE.

NO animal of the sea or land figures more frequently in the fanciful creations of the Greeks and Romans than the dolphin, king of the Mediterranean Sea. It is represented in their myths as an attribute, symbol, companion, and servitor of the mighty gods, who were themselves not ashamed to borrow its form; in the epics as the friend and deliverer of the Grecian heroes, even of historical men, whom it carried on its back over the waters; in the stories as the playmate and fondling of handsome boys, whose death it could not survive. As in poetic art, so was it also adopted as a form of beauty down to the latest after-bloom of Roman plastic arts of design, equally in painting and as an ornament on the articles of daily life, on vases, coins, and cut stones, on the borders of Etruscan mirrors, etc. It is not strange, then, that these motives entered even the scientific work of antiquity, and the dolphin was elevated into an ethical type of the animal world, Ælian ascribed to it a parental love that did not fear death for the sake of its young. The mother would not forsake her young one when it was caught, but would share captivity and death with it; if one of two was taken, the mother would drive the other away from the danger, and then go back to perish with the caught one. Ælian tells of many such traits which seem to reveal a kind of human nature in the dolphin, and to connect it most intimately with man and his sea-life. Dolphins were said to accompany the ship of the hardy sailor over the solitary sea, to endeavor to entertain him with their sportive movements, and to be so confiding that, if they were called by the name of Simon, they would come up and help the fisherman in his work of driving the fish into his net. They forewarned him of the storm, also had a good feeling toward bathing boys, and exhibited thankfulness toward man. The spiritual qualities of the dolphin appeared not less deep to antiquity. If a dolphin was caught, he would greedily eat all the fish that were caught with him, then would break the net and escape; hence the wise fisherman, if he casually caught a dolphin, would draw a rush through his nose and let him go, marking him for another time. That such an animal, to which a lavish fancy ascribed so many noble qualities, should have enjoyed in reality a certain degree of honor and indulgence, follows as a matter of course, especially when it is remembered that the dolphin was of little value when caught, but when at large could often make himself very useful by driving up the smaller fishes toward the nets, as the whale does in the herring-fishery. The southern people, who were otherwise not particular as to the quality of their food, spared the dolphin, and it is still considered inviolable on the Sea of Marmora. With a few exceptions, dolphins were abhorred by