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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/65

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A FLOCK OF MYTHOLOGICAL CROWS.

Whether an observance of the habits of crows led to their being selected, in the first place, to represent the dark and evil principle, can not now be told, but it is very certain that their feeding upon dead bodies, frequenting battle-fields and plague-infested districts, would add to and intensify their ominous reputation, even if it did not originate it; moreover, being constantly associated with death in its most repulsive forms, and from their keenness of scent and vision being able, apparently, to foretell the death of an animal or human being, their very presence soon came to be regarded as a foreboding of evil.

This keenness of scent and vision and their straight, vigorous flight were taken advantage of by the old Norse sea-rovers, who made use of these birds as pilots to guide them on their murderous forays and voyages of discovery. According to the "Landnama Book," one of the earliest records of Iceland, about the year 865 a. d., Floki, one of the most famous Vikings of that day, having performed a great sacrifice and consecrated three ravens to Odin, started from Norway on a voyage of discovery. After touching at the Shetland and Faroe Islands, Floki steered northwest for the open sea, and when he was fairly out of sight of land he turned loose one of his ravens, which, after rising to a great height, flew off toward the land they had left. From this Floki concluded that he was nearer these islands than any other land. After proceeding on his course some days longer he "let fly" another raven, which, after being some hours on the wing, returned to the vessel. Floki continued his course, and after a few days more let loose his third raven, and followed the direction of its flight until he reached the eastern coast of Iceland.

In Callimachus's hymn to Apollo, we also have mention of a pilot crow being sent by the god to guide the tongue-tied Battus to Libya, where the Python had declared that he must found a colony. And, again, Plutarch tells, on the authority of Callisthenes, that when Alexander crossed the Libyan desert to consult the oracle of Jupiter Ammon, he was directed by a flock of crows, that suddenly made its appearance, and guided him on his way, flying briskly ahead when he was on the march, lighting when he halted, and, what is stranger still, when he was going wrong calling him by their croaking until he was in the right direction again. We might also mention, in this connection, the story Herodotus tells of the ubiquitous Aristeas, whom the Metapontines say appeared in their country, and told them to erect an altar to Apollo, and place near it a statue bearing the name of Aristeas the Prœonnesian, for Apollo had visited their country only of all the Italians, and that he who was now Aristeas had accompanied the god in the shape of a crow.

Another characteristic of crows is their longevity. Hesiod asserts that they will live nine times as long as a man, and it is certain that they have attained an age of more than one hundred years. On this account the sorceress Medea, with many other ingredients of a