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[From the Archive]

Birds on the Wane


Before the invention of the electric telegraph enabled man to outrival the boast of Shakespeare’s Puck that he would “put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes,” the carrier-pigeon afforded the most rapid means of conveying intelligence between places far remote from each other. In ages the memory of which is dimly preserved in vague legends and traditions, these graceful couriers of the air were employed to carry messages of love and war. It is surmised by some writers that the “dove” let loose from the Ark, which returned at even-tide with an olive branch in its beak, was a carrier-pigeon. On one occasion when an Egyptian king assumed the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, a prince let fly four pigeons and commanded them to announce to the south, north, west, and east that “Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, has put on the splendid crown of the Upper and Lower country; that the king Ramses III has put on the two crowns.” At the memorable siege of Mutina, Hirtius and Brutus held constant communication by this means, while Antony, through whose beleaguering host no courier could make his way, beheld with rage and chagrin the passage to and fro of these aerial messengers. In vain he tried every expedient to intercept them. Nets and lures were of no avail, nor could his strongest and most expert archers bring them down as they sped their way, far above the camps, between the besieged and their friends. Wealthy Romans carried pigeons in baskets to the Amphitheatre, for the purpose of sending home the names of guests whom they invited at that place of amusement, or to order a change in the dinner. The building being open at the top, the released messengers would rise above the walls and fly home with the important information.

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