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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Lucian (c. 125–after 180)

Sailing on Treetops

From the “True History”

ABOUT midnight, the sea being very calm, we unawares fell foul of a prodigious large halcyon’s nest, which might be in compass about sixty stadia. The halcyon happened then to be sitting on her eggs, and was not much less in bulk than her nest. As she took flight she was very near oversetting our ship by the wind of her wings. As she flew away she made a most doleful cry. As soon as it was day we got out for the purpose of inspecting the nest, which we found to be built entirely of trees wattled, and resembling a huge float. In it were fifty eggs, each larger than a ton of Chios measure, and the young birds were already visible, and could be distinctly heard chirping within. We cut open one of these eggs with the carpenter’s ax, and drew out the unfledged young one, which was stronger than twenty vultures.

We had not sailed more than two hundred stadia from the nest when we were surprised with several strange and exceedingly amazing prodigies. The goose which ornamented the prow of our ship suddenly began flapping its wings, and cackled aloud. Our steersman, Scintharus, whose pate was as bald as the palm of the hand, instantaneously recovered his fine head of hair; and, what was more wonderful than all the rest, our mast began to sprout, put out branches, and at the maintop bore figs and clusters of grapes, though not yet quite ripe. You may imagine how greatly we were astonished at this sight, and how fervently we prayed the gods to avert the calamity from us of which that might be the omen. Proceeding on, before we had gone five hundred stadia farther we descried a vast and thick forest of pines and cypresses. At first we took it for firm land; but it was a deep sea, planted with trees that had no roots; notwithstanding which, the trees stood upright and immovable, or seemed rather floating toward us. On making up to it, in order to survey it accurately, and finding how matters stood, we were at a loss to know what measures to take. To succeed in getting through the trees was altogether impossible, they stood so thick and grew so close together; and to turn about seemed not advisable. I therefore climbed up the tallest of these trees in order to look about me on all sides to discover, if I could, what was beyond; and perceived that the wood extended fifty stadia and more, and then appeared another ocean to receive us. Wherefore it occurred all at once to me to hoist our ship on the tops of the trees, which were uncommonly thick, and drag it, if possible, over them into the sea beyond. No sooner thought of than done. We fastened to our ship a strong rope, got up the trees, and drew it, though with immense labor, up to us; then settling it on the topmost boughs, we spread all sails, and sailed with a fair brisk gale behind us, as commodiously as if we were still on the water.

When we had at length got over the wood, we came again upon the sea, let fall our ship, and proceeded through crystalline pellucid water till we were forced to stop by a vast gulf formed by a fissure of the water, which was somewhat of a similar kind with what on land is called a chasm, or great cleft made by an earthquake or other means. We came so suddenly upon the brim that the vessel narrowly escaped tumbling into this abyss, which would infallibly have been the case if we had not struck sail at that instant. On stooping down to look into it, we beheld a depth of a thousand stadia at least, at which we were all lost in amazement. Casting our eyes to the right, however, we perceived at a distance an aquatic bridge thrown over this abyss, which joined the sea on this side and on the other together. Plying our oars, therefore, with all our might, we brought up our vessel to this bridge, and, what we could not have ventured to hope, happily, though with unspeakable labor, got her over.