The Crocodile

The largest of the Saurians which we have left us, is the Crocodile; and

it formerly had the character of being very deceitful, and, by its

weeping, attracted its victims. Sir John Mandeville thus describes

them:--"In this land, and many other places of Inde, are many

cocodrilles, that is a maner of a long serpent, and on nights they dwell

on water, and on dayes they dwell on land and rocks, and they eat not in

These serpents sley men, and eate them weeping, and they have no


On the contrary, the Crocodile has a tongue, and a very large one too.

As to the fable of its weeping, do we not even to this day call sham

mourning, "shedding crocodile's tears?" Spenser, in his "Faerie Queene,"

thus alludes to its supposed habits (B. I. c. 5. xviii.):--

"As when a wearie traveller, that strayes

By muddy shore of broad seven-mouthed Nile,

Unweeting of the perillous wandring wayes,

Doth meete a cruell craftie crocodile,

Which in false griefe hyding his harmeful guile,

Doth weepe full sore, and sheddeth tender tears:

The foolish man, that pities all this while

His mourneful plight, is swallowed up unawares,

Forgetfull of his owne, that mindes another's cares."

And Shakespeare, from whom we can obtain a quotation on almost anything,

makes Othello say (Act iv. sc. 1):--

"O devil, devil!

If that the earth could teem with woman's tears,

Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile;--

Out of my sight!"

Gesner, and Topsell, in his "Historie of Four-Footed Beastes," give the

accompanying illustration of a hippopotamus eating a crocodile, the

original of which, they say, came from the Coliseum at Rome, and was

then in the Vatican.

Topsell, in his "History of Serpents," dwells lovingly, and lengthily,

on the crocodile. He says:--"Some have written that the Crocodile

runneth away from a man if he winke with his left eye, and looke

steadfastly uppon him with his right eye, but if this bee true, it is

not to be attributed to the vertue of the right eye, but onely to the

rarenesse of sight, which is conspicuous to the Serpent from one eye.

The greatest terrour unto Crocodiles, as both Seneca and Pliny

affirme, are the inhabitants of the Ile Tentyrus within Nilus, for

those people make them runne away with their voyces, and many times

pursue and take them in snares. Of these people speaketh Solinus in

this manner:--There is a generation of men in the Ile Tentyrus within

the waters of Nilus, which are of a most adverse nature to the

Crocodile, dwelling also in the same place. And, although their persons

or presence be of small stature, yet heerein is theyr courage admired,

because at the suddaine sight of a Crocodile, they are no whit daunted;

for one of these dare meete and provoke him to runne away. They will

also leape into Rivers and swimme after the Crocodile, and, meeting

with it, without feare cast themselves uppon the Beasts backe, ryding on

him as uppon a horse. And if the Beast lift uppe his head to byte him,

when hee gapeth they put into his mouth a wedge, holding it hard at both

ends with both their hands, and so, as it were with a bridle, leade, or

rather drive, them captives to the Land, where, with theyr noyse, they

so terrifie them, that they make them cast uppe the bodies which they

had swallowed into theyr bellies; and because of this antypathy in

Nature, the Crocodyles dare not come neare to this Iland.

"And Strabo also hath recorded, that at what time crocodiles were

brought to Rome, these Tentyrites folowed and drove them. For whom

there was a certaine great poole or fish-pond assigned, and walled

about, except one passage for the Beast to come out of the water into

the sun shine: and when the people came to see them, these Tentyrites,

with nettes would draw them to the Land, and put them backe againe into

the water at theyr owne pleasure. For they so hooke them by theyr eyes,

and bottome of their bellyes, which are their tenderest partes, that,

like as horses broken by theyr Ryders, they yeelde unto them, and forget

theyr strength in the presence of these theyr Conquerors....

"To conclude this discourse of Crocodiles inclination, even the

Egyptians themselves account a Crocodile a savage, and cruell murthering

beast, as may appeare by their Hieroglyphicks, for when they will

decypher a mad man, they picture a Crocodile, who beeing put from his

desired prey by forcible resistance, hee presently rageth against

himselfe. And they are often taught by lamentable experience, what

fraude and malice to mankind liveth in these beasts; for, when they

cover themselves under willowes and greene hollow bankes, till some

people come to the waters side to draw and fetch water, and then

suddenly, or ever they be aware, they are taken, and drawne into the


"And also, for this purpose, because he knoweth that he is not able to

overtake a man in his course or chase, he taketh a great deale of water

in his mouth, and casteth it in the pathwaies, so that when they

endeavour to run from the crocodile, they fall downe in the slippery

path, and are overtaken and destroyed by him. The common proverbe also,

Crocodili lachrimae, the Crocodile's teares, justifieth the treacherous

nature of this beast, for there are not many bruite beasts that can

weepe, but such is the nature of the Crocodile, that to get a man within

his danger, he will sob, sigh, and weepe, as though he were in

extremitie, but suddenly he destroyeth him. Others say, that the

Crocodile weepeth after he hath devoured a man....

"Seeing the friendes of it are so few, the enemies of it must needes be

many, and therefore require a more large catalogue or story. In the

first ranke whereof commeth (as worthy the first place), the Ichneumon

or Pharaoh's Mouse, who rageth against their egges and their persons;

for it is certaine that it hunteth with all sagacity of sense to find

out theyr nests, and having found them, it spoyleth, scattereth,

breaketh, and emptieth all theyr egs. They also watch the old ones a

sleepe, and finding their mouths open against the beames of the Sunne,

suddenly enter into them, and, being small, creepe downe theyr vast and

large throates before they be aware, and then, putting the Crocodile to

exquisite and intollerable torment, by eating their guttes asunder, and

so their soft bellies, while the Crocodile tumbleth to and fro sighing

and weeping, now in the depth of water, now on the Land, never resting

till strength of nature fayleth. For the incessant gnawing of the

Ichneumon so provoketh her to seek her rest, in the unrest of every

part, herbe, element, throwes, throbs, rowlings, tossings, mournings,

but all in vaine, for the enemy within her breatheth through her breath,

and sporteth herselfe in the consumption of those vitall parts, which

wast and weare away by yeelding to her unpacificable teeth, one after

the other, till shee that crept in by stealth at the mouth, like a puny

theefe, come out at the belly like a conquerour, thorough a passage

opened by her owne labour and industry....

"The medicines arising out of it are also many. The first place

belongeth to the Caule, which hath moe benefits or vertues in it, than

can be expressed. The bloud of a Crocodile is held profitable for many

thinges, and among other, it is thought to cure the bitings of any

Serpent. Also by annoynting the eyes, it cureth both the dregs, or spots

of blood in them, and also restoreth soundnesse and clearenesse to the

sight, taking away all dulnesse, or deadnesse from the eyes. And it is

said, that if a man take the liquor which commeth from a piece of a

Crocodyle fryed, and annoynte therewithall his wound or harmed part,

that then he shall bee presently rid of all paine and torment. The

skinne both of the Land and Water Crocodile dryed into powder, and the

same powder, with Vineger or Oyle, layd upon a part or member of the

body, to be seared, cut off or lanced, taketh away all sense and feeling

of paine from the instrument in the action.

"All the AEgytians doe with the fat or sewet of a Crocodile, (is to)

annoynt all them that be sick of Feavers, for it hath the same

operation which the fat of a Sea-dogge, or Dog-fish hath, and, if those

parts of men and beasts which are hurt and wounded with Crocodile's

teeth, be annoynted with this fat, it also cureth them. Being concocted

with Water and Vineger, and so rowled uppe and downe in the mouth, it

cureth the tooth-ache: and also it is outwardly applyed agaynst the

byting of Flyes, Spyders, Wormes, and such like, for this cause, as also

because it is thought to cure Wennes, bunches in the flesh, and olde

woundes. It is solde deare, and held pretious in Alcair, (Cairo.)

Scaliger writeth that it cureth the Gangren. The Canyne teeth which

are hollow, filled with Frankinsence, and tyed to a man or woman, which

hath the toothach, cureth them, if the party know not of the carrying

them about: And so they write, that if the little stones which are in

their belly be taken forth and so used, they work the same effect

against Feavers. The dung is profitable against the falling off of the

hayre, and many such other things."