The ancient fable so dear, even to modern poets, that Swans sing before
they die--was not altogether believed even in classical times, as saith
Pliny:--"It is stated that at the moment of the swan's death, it gives
utterance to a mournful song; but this is an error, in my opinion; at
least, I have tested the truth of the story on several occasions." That
some swans have a kind of voice, and can change a note or two, no one
who has met with a flock or two of "hoopers," or wild swans, can deny.
Olaus Magnus relates the fable--and quotes Plato, that the swan sings at
its death, not from sorrow, but out of joy, at finishing its life. He
also gives us a graphic illustration of how swans may be caught by
playing to them on a lute or other stringed instrument, and also that
they were to be caught by men (playing music) with stalking-horses, in
the shape of oxen, or horses; and, in another page, he says, that not
far from London, the Metropolis of England, on the River Thames, may be
found more than a thousand domesticated swans.