The Original Animal Face-Off: Dolphins vs. Crocodiles in Seneca's Natural Questions

What does one say after a long absence from one's blog? Presumably something exciting or witty, something that would make people go "Oh yeah, I remember that girl!" and trick them into thinking that they actually missed you, so that they stick around for the rest of your serially boring prose. But unless this cunning piece of marketing advice for book bloggers counts as such, I have nothing witty or exciting to share, and so I thought... perhaps talking about crocodiles a lot would do the trick?

You see, I am in the unusual (but surely enviable!) position of having not one, but two crocodile-related stories to share with the world. The first comes from Seneca's Natural Questions - which, by the way, is not a book I can recommend, unless you are:
    1. the kind of person that reads everything - in which case, yes, this contains words, go ahead and read them.

    2. really interested in (or amused by) the various ways in which people got things wrong in the past - in which case, this is an ancient natural history, so there is a lot of getting things wrong in potentially very interesting and occasionally very funny ways - enjoy!
      The fragment that tickled my own sense of humor, and provided a title for this post, was this:
      Balbillus, an excellent man, exceptionally refined in every branch of literature, tells of the following occurrence when he himself was prefect in charge of Egypt. In the Heracleotic mouth of the Nile, the largest of [the seven], he saw the spectacle of, as it were, a set-piece battle between dolphins coming in from the sea and crocodiles from the river moving against them in a column. The crocodiles were defeated by the gentle creatures with the harmless bites. The upper part of their body is hard and impenetrable even to the teeth of larger animals, but the underneath part is soft and tender. The dolphins dived and, with the spines they have sticking out from their backs, wounded this part, splitting it open as they pushed against it. When a number of them were torn apart in this way, the rest, as it were, about-turned and fled—a cowardly creature when faced with a bold one, though very bold when faced with a timid one!
      So in case you ever wondered who'd win in the battle between a crocodile and a dolphin - and the Discovery Channel did not come to your rescue - you now have Seneca to turn to. Of course, I suspect there is a bit of an anthropomorphizing, moralizing current running through this story - the "gentle creatures with the harmless bites" using their superior brain power to defeat the cowardly bullies etc. - but don't let it ruin a perfectly good battle scene for you.

      As for my second crocodile story, it actually consists of a pretty striking picture that I stumbled across in yet another not very interesting book. (See a trend in my reading life?) It's a picture of a stuffed crocodile on a church wall. Fun fact: during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, churches would often feature suspended natural wonders (e.g. ostrich eggs, whale ribs and, yes, stuffed or wooden crocodiles) because these things could 1. attract more people to church and 2. inspire wonder at the diversity of the created world and put you in the mood to worship its Creator. 

      Stuffed crocodile in the sixteenth-century chapel of the Chateau of Oiron
      And this, people, has been your share of crocodile stories for the day and my coming-back-to-blogging offering.

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