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  • Lost Book on Magical Chameleons May 14, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient , trackback

    This blog has long championed the lost books of antiquity and the middle ages. But there have been few greater tragedies for the bizarrist, surely, than the disappearance of an early Greek volume entitled On the Power and the Nature of the Chameleon.

    The chameleon is to be found through large part of the Mediterranean basin and naturally intrigued the ancient world for its transformative qualities. Our first proof, though, that a volume existed on this lizard is to be found in Pliny’s Natural History, and to our great good fortune Pliny gives us some hints of its contents, holding his nose while he does so. These include the idea that by burning a chameleon’s head rain and thunder are produced. There is also the useful tidbit that if you roast the left foot of a chameleon in a fire with a herb that is also called chameleon (been unable to trace this) and mix into a paste that you carry with you will become invisible in crowds. Just imagine a whole volume of such delirium! Oh what have we lost…

    Pliny does not actually name the book, we owe the title to Aulus Gellius a couple of centuries later: was this really the name or did Aulus Gellius just come up with something credible sounding for his superficial readers? More interesting is the question of the author. This sounds like it might be an anonymous Greek magical text of which there were apparently many in antiquity. The curiosity though is that Pliny claims that the author was Democritus the famous pre-Socratic philosopher! All of Democritus’ works are now lost – our knowledge of him is based on a series of later citations – but the title of one of his lost works was Causes concerned with Animals which is suggestive. Of course, Democritus’ name could have just been nailed to an anonymous screed on lizards…

    Beach is always on the look out for lost books: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com