Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
XCIII. To Gallus
THOSE works of art or nature which are usually the motives of our travels are often overlooked and neglected if they lie within our reach: whether it be that we are naturally less inquisitive concerning those things which are near us, while our curiosity is excited by remote objects; or because the easiness of gratifying a desire is always sure to damp it; or, perhaps, that we put off from time to time going and seeing what we know we have an opportunity of seeing when we please. Whatever the reason be, it is certain there are numberless curiosities in and near Rome which we have not only never seen, but even never so much as heard of: and yet had they been the produce of Greece, or Egypt, or Asia, or any other country which we admire as fertile and productive of belief in wonders, we should long since have heard of them, read of them, and enquired into them. For myself at least, I confess, I have lately been entertained with one of these curiosities, to which I was an entire stranger before. My wife’s grandfather desired I would look over his estate near Ameria. As I was walking over his grounds, I was shewn a lake that lies below them, called Vadimon, about which several very extraordinary things are told. I went up to this lake. It is perfectly circular in form, like a wheel lying on the ground; there is not the least curve or projection of the shore, but all is regular, even and just as if it had been hollowed and cut out by the hand of art. The water is of a clear sky-blue, though with somewhat of a greenish tinge; its smell is sulphurous, and its flavour has medicinal properties, and is deemed of great efficacy in all fractures of the limbs, which it is supposed to heal. Though of but moderate extent, yet the winds have a great effect upon it, throwing it into violent agitation. No vessels are suffered to sail here, as its waters are held sacred; but several floating islands swim about it, covered with reeds and rushes, and with whatever other plants the surrounding marshy ground and the edge itself of the lake produce in greater abundance. Each island has its peculiar shape and size, but the edges of all of them are worn away by their frequent collision with the shore and one another. They are all of the same height and motion; as their respective roots, which are formed like the keel of a boat, may be seen hanging not very far down in the water, and at an equal depth, on whichever side you stand. Sometimes they move in a cluster, and seem to form one entire little continent; sometimes they are dispersed into different quarters by the wind; at other times, when it is calm, they float up and down separately. You may frequently see one of the larger islands sailing along with a lesser joined to it, like a ship with its long boat; or, perhaps, seeming to strive which shall outswim the other: then again they are all driven to the same spot, and by joining themselves to the shore, sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, lessen or restore the size of the lake in this part or that, accordingly, till at last, uniting in the centre, they restore it to its usual size. The sheep which graze upon the borders of this lake frequently go upon these islands to feed, without perceiving that they have left the shore, until they are alarmed by finding themselves surrounded with water; as though they had been forcibly conveyed and placed there. Afterwards, when the wind drives them back again, they as little perceive their return as their departure. This lake empties itself into a river, which, after running a little way, sinks underground, and, if anything is thrown in, it brings it up again where the stream emerges.—I have given you this account because I imagined it would not be less new, nor less agreeable, to you than it was to me; as I know you take the same pleasure as myself in contemplating the works of nature. Farewell