Of the Sloth

There is another strange beast by a name of contrary effect, the Spaniards call Cagnuolo leggiero, that is the light dog, where as it is one of the slowest beasts in the world, and so heavy and dull in moving that it can scarcely go fifty paces in a whole day. These beasts are in the firm land, and are very strange to behold for the disproportion that they have to all other beasts. (...) They have four feet, and in every of them four claws like birds, and joined together. Yet are neither their claws or their feet able to sustain their bodies from the ground. By reason whereof and by the heaviness of their bodies, they draw their bellies on the ground. (...) In the tops of their necks, they have very round faces much like onto owls. (...). They have little mouths, and move their necks from one side to another as though they were astonished.(...) They have no tails, and their voice is much differing from other beasts: for they sing only at night: And that continually from time to time singing ever fixed notes one higher then another, so faulting with the same that the first note is the highest and the other in a baser tune as if a man should say La, Sol, Fa, Mi, Re,... (...). And doubtless, it seems unto me, that (...) the first inventor of music might seem, by the hearing of this beast, to have the first principles of that science rather then by any other thing in the world. (...) In a short space after this beast has sung and has paused a while, she returns again to the self same song, and does this only in the night and not in the day. By reason whereof and also because of their evil sight, I think her to be a night beast and the friend of darkness. Sometimes the Christian men find these beasts and bring them home to their houses, where also they creep all about with their natural slowness, in so much that neither for threatening or pricking they will move any faster then their natural and accustomed paste.(...) And whereas myself have kept them in my house, i could never perceive other but that they live only of air. And of the same opinion are in manner all men of those regions, because they have never seen them eat anything, but ever turn their heads and mouths towards that part where the wind blows most: whereby may be considered that they take most pleasure in the air. They bite not, nor yet can bite, having very little mouths. They are not venomous or noxious any way : but altogether brutish and utterly unprofitable and without commodity yet known to men.

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, 1526

From: La Natural Hystoria de las Indias
by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés
contained in:
“The first three English books on America. <?1511>-1555 A.D. Being chiefly translations, compilations, &c., by Richard Eden, from the writings, maps, &c., of Pietro Martire, of Anghiera (1455-1526) Sebastian Münster, the cosmographer (1489- 1552) Sebastian Cabot, of Bristol (1474-1557) with extracts, &c., from the works of other Spanish, Italian, and German writers of the time”
Edited and compiled by Edward Arber, Published 1885 in Birmingham
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