previous next

6% of the text is displayed below. If you wish to view the entire text, please click here



LET US now pass on to the other animals, and first of all to the land animals. The elephant is the largest of them all, and in intelligence approaches the nearest to man. It understands the language of its country, it obeys commands, and it remembers all the duties which it has been taught. It is sensible alike of the pleasures of love and glory, and, to a degree that is rare among men even, possesses notions of honesty, prudence, and equity; it has a religious respect also for the stars, and a veneration for the sun and the moon.1 It is said by some authors, that, at the first appearance of the new moon, herds of these animals come down from the forests of Mauritania to a river, the name of which is Amilos;2 and that they there purify themselves in solemn form by sprinkling their bodies with water; after which, having thus saluted the heavenly body, they return to the woods, carrying before them3 the young ones which are fatigued. They are supposed to have a notion, too, of the differences of religion;4 and when about to cross the sea, they cannot be prevailed upon to go on board the ship, until their keeper has promised upon oath that they shall return home again. They have been seen, too, when worn out by disease, (for even these vast masses are liable to disease,) lying on their back, and throwing the grass up into the air, as if deputing the earth to intercede for them with its prayers.5 As a proof of their extreme docility, they pay homage to the king, fall upon their knees, and offer him the crown. Those of smaller growth, which the Indians call bastards,6 are employed by them in ploughing.7


The first harnessed elephants that were seen at Rome, were in the triumph of Pompeius Magnus over Africa, when they drew his chariot; a thing that is said to have been done long before, at the triumph of Father Liber on the conquest of India. Procilius8 says, that those which were used at the triumph of Pompeius, were unable to go in harness through the gate of the city. In the exhibition of gladiators which was given by Germanicus,9 the elephants performed a sort of dance with their uncouth and irregular movements. It was a common thing to see them throw arrows with such strength, that the wind was unable to turn them from their course, to imitate among themselves the combats of the gladiators, and to frolic through the steps of the Pyrrhic dance.10 After this, too, they walked upon the tight-rope,11 and four of them would carry a litter in which lay a fifth, which represented a woman lying-in. They afterwards took their place; and so nicely did they manage their steps, that they did not so much as touch any of those who were drinking there.


It is a well-known fact,12 that one of these animals, who was slower than usual in learning what was taught him, and had been frequently chastised with blows, was found conning over his lesson in the night-time.13 It is a most surprising thing also, that the elephant is able not only to walk up the tight-rope backwards; but to come down it as well, with the head foremost.14 Mutianus, who was three times consul, informs us that one of these animals had been taught to trace the Greek letters, and that he used to write in that language the following words: "I have myself written these words, and have dedicated the Celtic spoils."15 Mutianus states also, that he himself was witness to the fact, that when some elephants were being landed at Puteoli16 and were compelled to leave the ship, being terrified at the length of the platform, which extended from the vessel to the shore, they walked backwards, in order to deceive themselves by forming a false estimate of the distance.


These animals are well aware that the only spoil that we are anxious to procure of them is the part which forms their weapon of defence, by Juba, called their horns, but by Herodotus, a much older writer, as well as by general usage and more appropriately, their teeth.17 Hence it is that, when their tusks have fallen off, either by accident or from old age, they bury them in the earth.18 These tusks form the only real ivory, and, even in these, the part which is covered by the flesh is merely common bone, and of no value whatever; though, indeed, of late, in consequence of the insufficient supply of ivory, they have begun to cut the bones as well into thin plates. Large teeth, in fact, are now rarely found, except in India, the demands of luxury19 having exhausted all those in our part of the world. The youthfulness of the animal is ascertained by the whiteness of the teeth20 These animals take the greatest care of their teeth; they pay especial attention to the point of one of them, that it may not be found blunt when wanted for combat; the other they employ for various purposes, such as digging up roots and pushing forward heavy weights. When they are surrounded by the hunters, they place those in front which have the smallest teeth, that the enemy may think that the spoil is not worth the combat; and afterwards, when they are weary of resistance, they break off their teeth, by dashing them against a tree, and in this manner pay their ransom.21


It is a wonderful thing, that most animals are aware why it is that they are sought after, and what it is, that, under all circumstances, they have to guard against. When an elephant happens to meet a man in the desert, who is merely wandering about, the animal, it is said, shows himself both merciful and kind, and even points out the way. But the very same animal, if he meets with the traces of a man,22 before he meets the man himself, trembles in every limb, for fear of an ambush, stops short and scents the wind, looks around him, and snorts aloud with rage; and then, without trampling upon the object, digs it up,23 and passes it to the next one, who again passes it to the one that follows, and so on from one to the other, till it comes to the very last. The herd then faces about, returns, and ranges itself in order of battle; so strongly does the odour, in all cases, attach itself to the human footstep, even though, as is most frequently the case, the foot itself is not naked. In the same way, too, the tigress, which is the dread of the other wild beasts, and which sees, without alarm, the traces even of the elephant itself, is said at once, upon seeing the footsteps of man, to carry off her whelps. How has the animal acquired this knowledge? And where has it seen him before, of whom it stands in such dread? Doubt there can be none, that forests such as it haunts are but little frequented by man! It is not to be wondered at, if they are astonished at the print of a footstep before unknown; but how should they know that there is anything that they ought to dread? And, what is still more, why should they dread even the very sight of man, seeing that they are so far supe- rior to him in strength, size, and swiftness? No doubt, such is the law of Nature, such is the influence of her power-the most savage and the very largest of wild beasts have never seen that which they have reason to fear, and yet instantly have an instinctive feeling of dread, when the moment has come for them to fear.24

(5.) Elephants always move in herds.25 The oldest takes the lead, and the next in age brings up the rear. When they are crossing a river, they first send over the smallest, for fear lest the weight of the larger ones may increase the depth of the channel, by working away the bed of the river. We learn from Antipater, that King Antiochus had two elephants, which he employed in his wars, and to which he had given the names of celebrated men; and that they were aware too of this mark of distinction.26 Cato, in his Annals, while he has passed over in silence the names of the generals, has given that of an elephant called Surus, which fought with the greatest valour in the Carthaginian army, and had lost one of its tusks. When Antiochus was sounding the ford of a river, an elephant named Ajax, which on other occasions had always led the van, refused to enter the stream; upon which proclamation was made, that the first rank should belong to the one which should take the lead in passing over. One called Patroclus hazarded the attempt, and as a reward, the king presented it with some silver pendants,27 a kind of ornament with which these animals are particularly delighted, and assigned it all the other marks of command. Upon this, the elephant that had been degraded refused to take its food, and so preferred death to ignominy. Indeed their sense of shame is wonderful, and when one of them has been conquered, it flies at the voice of the conqueror, and presents him with earth and vervain.28

These animals are sensible to feelings of modesty; they never couple but in secret:29 the male after it has attained its fifth year, the female after the age of ten.30 It is said, that their intercourse takes place only every second year, and for five days only, and no more; on the sixth day they plunge into a river, before doing which they will not rejoin the herd. Adulterous intercourse is unknown to them, and they have none of those deadly combats for the possession of the female, which take place among the other animals. Nor is this because they are uninfluenced by the passion of love. One in Egypt, we are told, fell in love with a woman, who was a seller of garlands; and let no one suppose that he made a vulgar choice, for she was the especial object of the love of Aristophanes, who held the very highest rank as a grammarian. Another became attached to the youth Menander, a native of Syracuse, in the army of Ptolemy; whenever it did not see him, it would manifest the regret which it experienced, by refusing its food. Juba gives an account also of a female who dealt in perfumes, to whom one of these creatures formed an attachment. All these animals manifested their attachment by their signs of joy at the sight of the person, by their awkward caresses, and by keeping for them and throwing into their bosom the pieces of money which the public had given them.31 Nor, indeed, ought we to be surprised, that an animal which possesses memory should be sensible of affection: for the same author relates, that an elephant recognized, after the lapse of many years, an old man who had been its keeper in his youth. They would seem also to have an instinctive feeling of justice. King Bocchus once fastened thirty elephants to the stake, with the determination of wreaking his vengeance on them, by means of thirty others; but though men kept sallying forth among them to goad them on, he could not, with all his endeavours, force them to become the ministers of the cruelty of others.


Elephants were seen in Italy, for the first time, in the war with King Pyrrhus,32 in the year of the City 472; they were called "Lucanian oxen," because they were first seen in Lucania.33 Seven years after this period, they appeared at Rome in a triumph.34 In the year 502 a great number of them were brought to Rome, which had been taken by the pontiff Metellus, in his victory gained in Sicily over the Carthaginians;35 they were one hundred and forty-two36 in number, or, as some say, one hundred and forty, and were conveyed to our shores upon rafts, which were constructed on rows of hogsheads joined together. Verrius informs us, that they fought in the Circus, and that they were slain with javelins, for want of some better method of disposing of them; as the people neither liked to keep them nor yet to give them to the kings.37 L. Piso tells us only that they were brought into the Circus; and for the purpose of increasing the feeling of contempt towards them, they were driven all round the area of that place by workmen, who had nothing but spears blunted at the point. The authors who are of opinion that they were not killed, do not, however, inform us how they were afterwards disposed of.


There is a famous combat mentioned of a Roman with an elephant, when Hannibal compelled our prisoners to fight against each other. The one who had survived all the others he placed before an elephant, and promised him his life if he should slay it; upon which the man advanced alone into the arena, and, to the great regret of the Carthaginians, succeeded in doing so.38 Hannibal, however, thinking that the news of this victory might cause a feeling of contempt for these animals, sent some horsemen to kill the man on his way home. In our battles with Pyrrhus it was found, on making trial, that it was extremely easy to cut off the trunks of these animals.39 Fenestella informs us, that they fought at Rome in the Circus for the first time during the curule ædileship of Claudius Pulcher, in the consulship of M. Antonius and A. Postumius, in the year of the City 655; and that twenty years afterwards, during the curule ædileship of the Luculli, they were set to fight against bulls. In the second consulship40 of Pompeius, at the dedication of the temple of Venus Victrix,41 twenty elephants, or, as some say, seventeen, fought in the Circus against a number of Gætulians, who attacked them with javelins. One of these animals fought in a most astonishing manner; being pierced through the feet, it dragged itself on its knees towards the troop, and seizing their bucklers, tossed them aloft into the air: and as they came to the ground they greatly amused the spectators, for they whirled round and round in the air, just as if they had been thrown up with a certain degree of skill,42 and not by the frantic fury of a wild beast. Another very wonderful circumstauce happened; an elephant was killed by a single blow. The weapon pierced the animal below the eye, and entered the vital part of the head. The elephants attempted, too, by their united efforts, to break down the enclosure, not without great confusion among the people who surrounded the iron gratings.43 It was in consequence of this circumstance, that Cæsar, the Dictator, when he was afterwards about to exhibit a similar spectacle, had the arena surrounded with trenches44 of water, which were lately filled up by the Emperor Nero,45 when he added the seats for the equestrian order.46 When, however, the elephants in the exhibition given by Pompeius had lost all hopes of escaping, they implored the compassion of the multitude by attitudes which surpass all description, and with a kind of lamentation bewailed their unhappy fate. So greatly were the people affected by the scene, that, forgetting the general altogether, and the munificence which had been at such pains to do them honour, the whole assembly rose up in tears, and showered curses on Pompeius, of which he soon afterwards became the victim. They fought also in the third consulship of the Dic- tator Cæsar, twenty of them against five hundred foot soldiers.47 On another occasion twenty elephants, carrying towers,48 and each defended by sixty men, were opposed to the same number of foot soldiers as before, and an equal number of horsemen. Afterwards, under the Emperors Claudius and Nero, the last exploit49 that the gladiators performed was fighting singlehanded50 with elephants.

The elephant is said to display such a merciful disposition towards animals that are weaker than itself, that, when it finds itself in a flock of sheep, it will remove with its trunk51 those that are in the way, lest it should unintentionally trample upon them.52 They will never do any mischief except when provoked, and they are of a disposition so sociable, that they always move about in herds, no animal being less fond of a solitary life. When surrounded by a troop of horsemen, they place in the centre of the herd those that are weak, weary, or wounded, and then take the front rank each in its turn, just as though they acted under command and in accordance with discipline. When taken captive, they are very speedily tamed, by being fed on the juices of barley.53


In India54 they are caught by the keeper guiding one of the tame elephants towards a wild one which he has found alone or has separated from the herd; upon which he beats it, and when it is fatigued mounts and manages it just the same way as the other. In Africa55 they take them in pit-falls; but as soon as an elephant gets into one, the others immediately collect boughs of trees and pile up heaps of earth, so as to form a mound, and then endeavour with all their might to drag it out. It was formerly the practice to tame them by driving the herds with horsemen into a narrow defile, artificially made in such a way as to deceive them by its length; and when thus enclosed by means of steep banks and trenches, they were rendered tame by the effects of hunger; as a proof of which, they would quietly take a branch that was extended to them by one of the men. At the present day, when we take them for the sake of their tusks, we throw darts at their feet, which are in general the most tender part of their body. The Troglodytæ, who inhabit the confines of Æthiopia, and who live entirely on the flesh of elephants procured by the chase, climb the trees which lie near the paths through which these animals usually pass. Here they keep a watch, and look out for the one which comes last in the train; leaping down upon its haunches, they seize its tail with the left hand, and fix their feet firmly upon the left thigh. Hanging down in this manner, the man, with his right hand, hamstrings the animal on one side, with a very sharp hatchet. The elephant's pace being retarded by the wound, he cuts the tendons of the other ham, and then makes his escape; all of which is done with the very greatest celerity. Others, again, employ a much safer, though less certain method; they fix in the ground, at considerable intervals, very large bows upon the stretch; these are kept steady by young men remarkable for their strength, while others, exerting themselves with equal efforts, bend them, and so wound the animals as they pass by, and afterwards trace them by their blood. The female elephant is much more timid by nature than the male.


Elephants of furious temper are tamed by hunger56 and blows, while other elephants are placed near to keep them quiet, when the violent fit is upon them, by means of chains. Besides this, they are more particularly violent when in heat,57 at which time they will level to the ground the huts of the Indians with their tusks. It is on this account that they are prevented from coupling, and the females are kept in herds separate from the males, just the same way as with other cattle. Elephants, when tamed, are employed in war, and carry into the ranks of the enemy towers filled with armed men; and on them, in a very great measure, depends the ultimate result of the battles that are fought in the East. They tread under foot whole companies, and crush the men in their armour. The very least sound, however, of the grunting of the hog terrifies them:58 when wounded and panic-stricken, they invariably fall back, and become no less formidable for the destruction which they deal to their own side, than to their opponents. The African elephant is afraid of the Indian, and does not dare so much as look at it, for the latter is of much greater bulk.59


The vulgar notion is, that the elephant goes with young ten years;60 but, according to Aristotle, it is two years only. He says also that the female only bears once, and then a single young one; that they live two hundred years, and some of them as much as three hundred. The adult age of the elephant begins at the sixtieth year.61 They are especially fond of water, and wander much about streams, and this although they are unable to swim, in consequence of their bulk.62 They are particularly sensitive to cold, and that, indeed, is their greatest enemy. They are subject also to flatulency, and to looseness of the bowels, but to no other kind of disease.63 I find it stated, that on making them drink oil, any weapons which may happen to stick in their body will fall out; while, on the contrary, perspiration makes them the more readily adhere.64 If they eat earth it is poison to them, unless indeed they have gradually become accustomed by repeatedly doing so. They also devour stones as well; but the trunks of trees are their most favourite food. They throw down, with a blow from their forehead, palms of exceeding height, and when lying on the ground, strip them of their fruit. They eat with the mouth, but they breathe, drink,65 and smell with [the proboscis], which is not unaptly termed their "hand." They have the greatest aversion to the mouse of all animals,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
21 AD (1)
1845 AD (1)
1810 AD (1)
1809 AD (1)
17 AD (1)
1510 AD (1)
1301 AD (1)
1155 AD (1)
92 BC (1)
55 BC (1)
435 BC (1)
400 BC (1)
356 BC (1)
34 BC (1)
261 BC (1)
217 BC (1)
216 BC (1)
181 BC (1)
150 BC (1)
148 BC (1)
144 BC (1)
133 BC (1)
119 BC (1)
103 BC (1)
hide References (2 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: