The Ichneumon and the Halcyon by Albany Poyntz

Buffon assumes that the Ichneumon has been brought to a state of domesticity. But he probably generalized from a single instance. The Pacha of Egypt has a tame lion; and many other instances might be cited. But the lion cannot be regarded as reduced to a domestic animal.

According to Pliny, the ichneumon was an object of veneration among the Egyptians. So also was the crocodile; these two determined enemies being equally objects of adoration. By the ancients, the ichneumon was said to watch the moment of the crocodile’s sleep; when, finding the monster’s jaws open, it instantly crept in, and having devoured the bowels, made its way out by the way it entered.

Denon has given us the following account of the ichneumon in his Travels in Egypt.

“The ichneumon is seen lying upon the reeds of the Nile, in the neighbourhood of the villages, to which it repairs in search of poultry and eggs. The supposed antagonism of the ichneumon and crocodile, the one eating the eggs of the other, and the former creeping down the throat of the latter, is pure invention. These two animals do not dwell in the same regions. Crocodiles are not known in Lower, nor ichneumons in Upper Egypt; so that there can be no grounds for the prejudice which has existed twenty centuries:—for Pliny, himself, probably handed down a tradition!

The fable of the halcyon is so charming, that it ought to have been founded on fact. But Ovid was a better poet than naturalist.

To the power of tranquillizing the tempest, the halcyon was supposed to add the gift of foretelling good or bad weather. By degrees, writers of fiction endowed its feathers with the power of rendering silk proof against the sting of insects, of yielding wealth and harmony, and conferring grace and beauty on the wearers. The halcyon deposits its eggs on the sea-shore, on the banks of lakes and rivers; and its breeding season is that when the air is most calm and serene; but its power of controlling the elements is wholly fabulous.