On Hunting, by Xenophon


The tracks of hares are long in winter owing to the length of night, and short for the opposite reason during summer. In winter, however, their scent does not lie in early morning, when the rime is on the ground, or earth is frozen.1 The fact is, hoar frost by its own inherent force absorbs its heat, whilst black frost freezes it.2

The hounds, moreover, with their noses nipped by the cold,3 cannot under these conditions4 use their sense of smell, until the sun or the mere advance of day dissolves the scent. Then the noses of the hounds recover, and the scent of the trail begins to exhale itself perceptibly.5

Heavy dews also will obliterate scent by its depressing effect;6 and rains occurring after long intervals, while bringing out odours from the earth,7 will render the soil bad for scent until it dries again. Southerly winds will not improve scent — being moisture-laden they disperse it; whereas northerly winds, provided the scent has not been previously destroyed, tend to fix and preserve it. Rains will drown and wash it away, and so will drizzle; while the moon by her heat8 — especially a full moon — will dull its edge; in fact the trail is rarest — most irregular9 — at such times, for the hares in their joy at the light with frolic and gambol10 literally throw themselves high into the air and set long intervals between one footfall and another. Or again, the trail will become confused and misleading when crossed by that of foxes.11

Spring with its tempered mildness is the season to render the scent clear, except where possibly the soil, bursting with flowers, may mislead the pack, by mingling the perfume of flowers with the true scent.12 In summer scent is thin and indistinct; the earth being baked through and through absorbs the thinner warmth inherent in the trail, while the dogs themselves are less keen scented at that season through the general relaxation of their bodies.13 In autumn scent lies clean, all the products of the soil by that time, if cultivable, being already garnered, or, if wild, withered away with age, so that the odours of various fruits are no longer a disturbing cause through blowing on to the line.14 In winter, summer, and autumn, moreover, as opposed to spring, the trail of a hare lies for the most part in straight lines, but in the earlier season it is highly complicated, for the little creatures are perpetually coupling and particularly at this season, so that of necessity as they roam together for the purpose they make the line intricate as described.

The scent of the line leading to the hare’s form lies longer than that of a hare on the run, and for this reason: in proceeding to her form the hare keeps stopping,15 the other is in rapid motion; consequently, the ground in one case is thickly saturated all along with scent, in the other sparsely and superficially. So, too, scent lies better in woody than on barren ground, since, whilst running to and fro or sitting up, the creature comes in contact with a variety of objects. Everything that earth produces or bears upon her bosom will serve as puss’s resting-place. These are her screen, her couch, her canopy;16 apart, it may be, or close at hand, or at some middle point, among them she lies ensconced. At times, with an effort taxing all her strength, she will spring across to where some jutting point or clinging undergrowth on sea or freshet may attract her.

The couching hare17 constructs her form for the most part in sheltered spots during cold weather and in shady thickets during the hot season, but in spring and autumn on ground exposed to the sun. Not so the running18 animal, for the simple reason that she is scared out of her wits by the hounds.19

In reclining the hare draws up the thighs under the flanks,20 putting its fore-legs together, as a rule, and stretching them out, resting its chin on the tips of its feet. It spreads its ears out over the shoulder-blades, and so shelters the tender parts of its body; its hair serves as a protection,21 being thick and of a downy texture. When awake it keeps on blinking its eyelids,22 but when asleep the eyelids remain wide open and motionless, and the eyes rigidly fixed; during sleep it moves its nostrils frequently, if awake less often.

When the earth is bursting with new verdure,23 fields and farm-lands rather than mountains are their habitat.24 When tracked by the huntsman their habit is everywhere to await approach, except only in case of some excessive scare during the night, in which case they will be on the move.

The fecundity of the hare is extraordinary. The female, having produced one litter, is on the point of producing a second when she is already impregnated for a third.25

The scent of the leveret lies stronger26 than that of the grown animal. While the limbs are still soft and supple they trail full length on the ground. Every true sportsman, however, will leave these quite young creatures to roam freely.27 “They are for the goddess.” Full-grown yearlings will run their first chase very swiftly,28 but they cannot keep up the pace; in spite of agility they lack strength.

To find the trail you must work the dogs downwards through the cultivated lands, beginning at the top. Any hares that do not come into the tilled districts must be sought in the meadows and the glades; near rivulets, among the stones, or in woody ground. If the quarry makes off,29 there should be no shouting, that the hounds may not grow too eager and fail to discover the line. When found by the hounds, and the chase has begun, the hare will at times cross streams, bend and double and creep for shelter into clefts and crannied lurking-places;30 since they have not only the hounds to dread, but eagles also; and, so long as they are yearlings, are apt to be carried off in the clutches of these birds, in the act of crossing some slope or bare hillside. When they are bigger they have the hounds after them to hunt them down and make away with them. The fleetest-footed would appear to be those of the low marsh lands. The vagabond kind31 addicted to every sort of ground are difficult to hunt, for they know the short cuts, running chiefly up steeps or across flats, over inequalities unequally, and downhill scarcely at all.

Whilst being hunted they are most visible in crossing ground that has been turned up by the plough, if, that is, they have any trace of red about them, or through stubble, owing to reflection. So, too, they are visible enough on beaten paths or roads, presuming these are fairly level, since the bright hue of their coats lights up by contrast. On the other hand, they are not noticeable when they seek the cover of rocks, hills, screes, or scrub, owing to similarity of colour. Getting a fair start of the hounds, they will stop short, sit up and rise themselves up on their haunches,32 and listen for any bark or other clamour of the hounds hard by; and when the sound reaches them, off and away they go. At times, too, without hearing, merely fancying or persuading themselves that they hear the hounds, they will fall to skipping backwards and forwards along the same trail,33 interchanging leaps, and interlacing lines of scent,34 and so make off and away.

These animals will give the longest run when found upon the open, there being nothing there to screen the view; the shortest run when started out of thickets, where the very darkness is an obstacle.

There are two distinct kinds of hare — the big kind, which is somewhat dark in colour35 with a large white patch on the forehead; and the smaller kind, which is yellow-brown with only a little white. The tail of the former kind is variegated in a circle; of the other, white at the side.36 The eyes of the large kind are slightly inclined to gray;37 of the smaller, bluish. The black about the tips of the ears is largely spread in the one, but slightly in the other species. Of these two species, the smaller is to be met with in most of the islands, desert and inhabited alike. As regards numbers they are more abundant in the islands than on the mainland; the fact being that in most of these there are no foxes to attack and carry off either the grown animal or its young; nor yet eagles, whose habitat is on lofty mountains rather than the lower type of hills which characterise the islands.38 Again, sportsmen seldom visit the desert islands, and as to those which are inhabited, the population is but thinly scattered and the folk themselves not addicted to the chase; while in the case of the sacred islands,39 the importation of dogs is not allowed. If, then, we consider what a small proportion of hares existent at the moment will be hunted down and again the steady increase of the stock through reproduction, the enormous numbers will not be surprising.40

The hare has not a keen sight for many reasons. To begin with, its eyes are set too prominently on the skull, and the eyelids are clipped and blear,41 and afford no protection to the pupils.42 Naturally the sight is indistinct and purblind.43 Along with which, although asleep, for the most part it does not enjoy visual repose.44 Again, its very fleetness of foot contributes largely towards dim-sightedness. It can only take a rapid glance at things in passing, and then off before perceiving what the particular object is.45

The alarm, too, of those hounds for ever at its heels pursuing combines with everything46 to rob the creature of all prescience; so that for this reason alone it will run its head into a hundred dangers unawares, and fall into the toils. If it held on its course uphill,47 it would seldom meet with such a fate; but now, through its propensity to circle round and its attachment to the place where it was born and bred, it courts destruction. Owing to its speed it is not often overtaken by the hounds by fair hunting.48 When caught, it is the victim of a misfortune alien to its physical nature.

The fact is, there is no other animal of equal size which is at all its match in speed. Witness the conformation of its body: the light, small drooping head [narrow in front];49 the [thin cylindrical]50 neck, not stiff and of a moderate length; straight shoulder-blades, loosely slung above; the fore-legs attached to them, light and set close together;51 the undistended chest;52 the light symmetrical sides; the supple, well-rounded loins; the fleshy buttocks; the somewhat sunken flanks;53 the hips, well rounded, plump at every part, but with a proper interval above; the long and solid thighs, on the outside tense and not too flabby on the inside; the long, stout lower legs or shanks; the fore-feet, exceedingly pliant, thin, and straight; the hind-feet firm and broad; front and hind alike totally regardless of rough ground; the hind-legs far longer than the fore, inclined outwards somewhat; the fur54 short and light.

I say an animal so happily constructed must needs be strong and pliant; the perfection of lightness and agility. If proof of this lightness and agility be needed, here is a fact in illustration. When proceeding quietly, its method of progression is by leaps; no one ever saw or is likely to see a hare walking. What it does is to place the hind-feet in front of the fore-feet and outside them, and so to run, if running one can call it. The action prints itself plainly on snow. The tail is not conducive to swiftness of pace, being ill adapted by its stumpiness to act as a rudder to direct the body. The animal has to do this by means of one or other ear;55 as may be seen, when she is on the point of being caught by the hounds.56 At that instant you may see her drop and shoot out aslant one of her ears towards the point of attack, and then, apparently throwing her full weight on that pivot, turn sharp round and in a moment leave her assailants far behind.

So winsome a creature is it, that to note the whole of the proceedings from the start — the quest by scent, the find, the pack in pursuit full cry, the final capture — a man might well forget all other loves.57

Here it should be added that the sportsman, who finds himself on cultivated lands, should rigidly keep his hands off the fruits of the season, and leave springs and streams alone. To meddle with them is ugly and base, not to speak of the bad example of lawlessness set to the beholder. During the close season58 all hunting gear should be taken down and put away.

1 Or, “when there is hoar frost or black frost” (lit. “ice”).

2 Or, “the ice congeals them,” “encases as it were in itself the heat,” i.e. the warm scent; aliter, “causes the tracks to freeze at the top.”

3 Reading malkiosai, Cobet, “N. Lect.” 131. “Mnem.” 3, 306; Rutherford, “N. Phry.” p. 135. = “nipped, or numb with cold.” For vulg. malakiosai = “whose noses are tender,” see Lenz ad loc.

4 Lit. “when the tracks are in this case.”

5 As it evaporates. Aliter, “is perceptible to smell as it is wafted by the breeze to greet them.”

6 Cf. Plut. “Q. Nat.” 917 F, ap. Schneid.

7 Cf. Theophr. “C. Pl.” xix. 5, 6; xx. 4.

8 Reading to thermo. Aristot. “Gen. An.” iv. 10. Zeune cf. Plut. “Symp.” iii. 10, 657. Macrob. “Sat.” vii. 16; Athen. 276 E. Al. to thermon. See Lenz ad loc., “the moon, especially a full moon, dulls the heat (or odour) of the tracks.”

9 Cf. Poll. v. 67; ib. 66.

10 “Playing with one another, in the rivalry of sport.”

11 Lit. “when foxes have gone through before.”

12 i.e. “with the scent into a composite and confusing whole.”

13 Or, “owing to the relaxed condition of their frames.”

14 Lit. “The fruity odours do not, as commingling currents, injure the trail.”

15 “The form tracks are made by the hare leisurely proceeding and stopping at times; those on the run quickly.”

16 Lit. “Anything and everything will serve to couch under, or above, within, beside, now at some distance off, and now hard by, and now midway between.”

17 “The form-frequenting hare.”

18 “Her roving congener,” i.e. the hunted hare that squats. The distinction drawn is between the form chosen by the hare for her own comfort, and her squatting-place to escape the hounds when hunted.

19 i.e. “the dogs have turned her head and made her as mad as a March hare.”

20 Pollux, v. 72.

21 Or, “as a waterproof.”

22 So Pollux, ib.

23 “When the ground teems with vegetation.”

24 Or, “they frequent cultivated lands,” etc.

25 Re hyper-foetation cf. Pollux, v. 73, ap. Schneid.; Herod. iii. 108; Aristot. “H. A.” iv. 5; Erastosthenes, “Catasterism,” 34; Aelian, “V. H.” ii. 12; Plin. “N. H.” vii. 55.

26 Cf. Pollux, v. 74.

27 aphiasi, cf. Arrian, xxii. 1, “let them go free”; Aesch. “P. V.” 666; Plat. “Prot.” 320 A.

28 Or, “will make the running over the first ring.”

29 Or, “shifts her ground.”

30 Or, “in their terror not of dogs only, but of eagles, since up to a year old they are liable to be seized by these birds of prey while crossing some bottom or bare ground, while if bigger . . .”

31 oi . . . planetai, see Ael. op. cit. xiii. 14.

32 Cf. the German “Mannerchen machen,” “play the mannikin.” Shaks. “V. and A.” 697 foll.

33 Passage imitated by Arrian, xvi. 1.

34 Lit. “imprinting track upon track,” but it is better perhaps to avoid the language of woodcraft at this point.

35 epiperknoi. Cf. Pollux, v. 67 foll., “mottled with black.” Blane.

36 Reading paraseiron, perhaps “mottled”; vulg. paraseron. Al. parasuron, “ecourtee,” Gail.

37 upokharopoi, “subfulvi,” Sturz, i.e. “inclined to tawny”; al. “fairly lustrous.” Cf. ommata moi glaukas kharopotera pollon ‘Athanas, Theocr. xx. 25; but see Aristot. “H. A.” i. 10; “Gen. An.” v. 1. 20.

38 Lit. “and those on the islands are for the most part of low altitude.”

39 e.g. Delos. See Strab. x. 456; Plut. “Mor.” 290 B; and so Lagia, Plin. iv. 12.

40 Lit. “As the inhabitants hunt down but a few of them, these constantly being added to by reproduction, there must needs be a large number of them.”

41 Or, “defective.”

42 Al. “against the sun’s rays.”

43 Or, “dull and mal-concentrated.” See Pollux, v. 69.

44 i.e. “its eyes are not rested, because it sleeps with them open.”

45 i.e. “it goes so quick, that before it can notice what the particular object is, it must avert its gaze to the next, and then the next, and so on.”

46 meta touton, sc. “with these other causes”; al. “with the dogs”; i.e. “like a second nightmare pack.”

47 Reading orthion, or if orthon, transl. “straight on.”

48 kata podas, i.e. “by running down”; cf. “Mem.” II. vi. 9; “Cyrop.” I. vi. 40, re two kinds of hound: the one for scent, the other for speed.

49 Reading katophere [stenen ek tou emprosthen]. See Lenz ad loc. pp. 23, 24. Pollux, v. 69.

50 Reading [lepton, periphere].

51 sugkola, al. “compactly knit.”

52 Lit. ou barutonon, “not deep sounding” = ou sarkodes, Pollux, ib.

53 Reading lagonas ugras lagaras ikanos.

54 trikhona, “the coat.”

55 So Ael. “N. A.” xiii. 14.

56 Pollux, v. 71. For punctuation, see Lenz ad loc. p. 25.

57 See Arrian, xvi. 6, his criticism. Schneid. cf. Plut. “Mor.” 1096 C. Hermog. iii. 319, 11, ed. Walz.

58 Al. “wahrend der Jagdferien,” Lenz; “on Sundays,” as we might say. See some remarks on S. 34 in “Hellenica Essays,” “Xenophon,” p. 349.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02