Sources : Elephant

Aristotle [ca. 350 BCE] (De animalibus Book 8, chapter 11): Some say that the elephant lives two hundred, and others three hundred years. - [Cresswell translation, 1887]

Julius Caesar (Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars, Book 6.27): There are also [animals] which are called elks [alces]. The shape of these, and the varied color of their skins, is much like roes, but in size they surpass them a little and are destitute of horns, and have legs without joints and ligatures; nor do they lie down for the purpose of rest, nor, if they have been thrown down by any accident, can they raise or lift themselves up. Trees serve as beds to them; they lean themselves against them, and thus reclining only slightly, they take their rest; when the huntsmen have discovered from the footsteps of these animals whither they are accustomed to betake themselves, they either undermine all the trees at the roots, or cut into them so far that the upper part of the trees may appear to be left standing. When they have leant upon them, according to their habit, they knock down by their weight the unsupported trees, and fall down themselves along with them. [The account following this one (6.28) compares the size of another beast to the elephant; this may be the source of the confusion of the elk and elephant.]

Lucan [1st century CE] (Pharsalia, book 6, verse 228-235): Thus Afric elephant, when hunters press, / By shrug of hide shakes off the puny dart / Which finds a hold, while from his rugged bulk / Some fall in shivers; and his vital parts / Are safe within ; and though the spears are thick / Upon the beast, none reach the fount of blood: Thus countless wounds by lance and arrow dealt / Fail to achieve one death. - [Ridley, 1919, Volume 2, Page 17]

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 1-13): The elephant is the closest of all animals to humans in intelligence. It understands the language of its own country, and can therefore understand and obey orders. Elephants are wise and just, remember their duties, enjoy affection, and respect religion. They know that their tusks are valuable, so when a tusk falls off they bury it. Elephants are gentle, and do no harm unless provoked. Females are more timid than males. Male elephants are used in battle, carrying castles full of armed soldiers on their backs. The slightest squeal of a pig will frighten them, and African elephants fear to look at Indian elephants. They hate mice and will refuse to eat fodder that has been touched by one. Their period of gestation is 2 years and [quoting Aristotle] they never bear more than one child at a time. They become adults at the age of 60 years, and live between 200 and 300 years. They love rivers but cannot swim. Elephants constantly feud with the large serpents of India, which can encircle an elephant in their coils. When this happens, the elephant is strangled and dies, but in falling crushes the serpent and kills it. Another way these large serpents kill elephants is by submerging themselves in a river and waiting for an elephant to come and drink; coiling around the elephant, the serpent bites its ear and drains all its blood. The elephant in dying falls on the serpent and kills it. The largest elephants are from India, though Ethiopian elephants rival them in size, being 30 feet high. (Book 8, 15): Pliny repeats the story from Julias Caesar about the elk that cannot bend its legs. (Book 11, 115): The breath of elephants attracts snakes out of their holes.

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 1, chapter 37-38): It seems that the fat of an elephant is a remedy against the poisons of all savage creatures, and if a man rub some on his body, even though he encounter unarmed the very fiercest, he will escape unscathed. The Elephant has a terror of a horned ram and of the squealing of a pig. It was by these means, they say, that the Romans put to flight the elephants of Pyrrhus of Epirus, and that the Romans won a glorious victory. This same animal is overcome by beauty in a woman and lays aside its temper, quite stunned by the lovely sight. And at Alexandria in Egypt, they say, an elephant was the rival of Aristophanes of Byzantium for the love of a woman who was engaged in making garlands. The elephant also loves every kind of fragrance and is fascinated by the scent of perfumes and of flowers. [Book 2, chapter 11] The elephant when once tamed is the gentlest of creatures and is easily induced to do whatever one wants. [Book 2, chapter 18[ ...when it is assailed with spears and a shower of arrows, it eats the flower of the olive or the actual oil, and then shakes off every missile that has pierced it and is sound and whole again. [Book 4, chapter 10] I am informed that when the new moon begins to appear, Elephants by some natural and unexplained act of intelligence pluck fresh branches from the forest where they feed and then raise them aloft and look upwards at the goddess, waving the branches gently to and fro, as though they were offering her in a sense a suppliant's olive-branch in the hope that she will prove kindly and benevolent to them. - [Scholfield translation]

Gaius Julius Solinus [3rd century CE] (De mirabilibus mundi / Polyhistor, Chapter 20.7): The island Gangavia, above the region of Germania, produces an animal like the alces. But, like the elephant, this creature is not able to bend its hocks, and does not, therefore, lie down when it must sleep. Trees sustain those who are drowsy. Men split these trees so that they are almost falling, so the beasts, supported by their accustomed props, fall. They are thus captured; it is otherwise difficult to seize them, for in that stiffness of knee they have an incomprehensible swiftness. [Chapter 25.1] Tingitana, one of the Mauretanian provinces, meets the solstitial region. Where it stretches towards the inner sea, seven mountains rise, which, because of their similarity to one another, are called the Brothers. They border upon the strait. [2] Elephants are very numerous in these mountains. This admonishes me to here speak of this type of animal. Elephants have an understanding close to the intelligence of humans. They have memories and keep the discipline of the stars. When the moon begins to shine they seek the rivers in herds. Next, drenched with liquid, they salute the rising of the sun with what movements they can. Then they return to the forests. [3] There are two breeds of elephant. The more noble breed is indicated by its larger size. They call the smaller breed “bastards”. An elephant is understood to be young if its teeth are white. Of these teeth, one is always in use. The other is spared, lest, blunted by continual abrasion, it is less effective for fighting. [4] When elephants are pursued by hunters, they break both teeth together, so, having damaged the ivory, they are not sought after. For they understand that this is the cause of their danger. They wander in herds. The eldest by birth leads the herd; the nearest in age collects the followers. [5] When they are about to cross a river, they put the smallest in front, lest the elders wear away the river bed by their ingress, and make deep ruts in the low fords. The females do not mate before they are ten years old, and the males before they are five. In a period of two years, elephants do not mate on more than five days in a year. They do not return to the main herd until they have cleansed themselves with fresh water. [6] Because elephants never fight over females, they know no adultery. The virtue of compassion is in them. If they by chance see a man wandering through the desert, they lead him all the way to known paths. Or if they meet with thronging cattle, they make passage for themselves with their trunks gently and placidly, lest they kill any animal in the way by an accidental collision. [7] If ever battle is fought, elephants have a not mediocre care for the injured. They receive the weary and wounded into the middle of the herd. When elephants come into captivity at the hands of men, they are tamed by draughts of barley [8] When they are about to pass over the seas, they will not climb into the ships before an oath is sworn to them about their return. Mauretanian elephants fear Indian elephants, and, as though conscious of their own smallness, scorn to be seen by them. The wombs of elephants do not grow heavy over a period of ten years, as the common people think, but in two, as Aristotle specifies. They do not bring forth more than once, nor more than singly. [9] Elephants live for 300 years. They are most intolerant of cold. They eat tree-trunks and swallow stones. They consider dates the most pleasing of foods. They actually flee the odour of a mouse most of all; they even refuse fodder which has been touched by a little mouse. [10] If by chance any of them devour a chamaeleon, a worm which is poisonous to elephants, the elephant heals itself of the pest by eating wild olive. Elephants’ skin is very hard on their backs, and softer on their bellies. They have no bristles or hair. Between elephants and snakes is continual enmity. 11 Indeed, traps are prepared by the following craftiness. The serpents lurk on paths along which the elephants are accustomed to wander. After the leading elephants have passed, the serpents assail the hindmost elephants, so those who preceded them cannot aid them. The serpents first bind the elephants’ feet with knots so their legs are ensnared, and their means of advancing is impeded. [12] For the elephants, unless prevented by this hindrance of coils, bring themselves into contact with either trees or rocks, so they may kill the brazen serpents by means of their oppressive weight. [13] The especial cause of this combat, they say, is this. Elephants have rather cold blood, and for this reason, in the scorching heat snakes long for it most avidly. Wherefore, snakes never attack elephants unless they are burdened with water, as when the elephants’ veins are inundated, the serpents may take greater satiety from those they overwhelm. [14] The serpents seek the elephants’ eyes above all, because they know that these alone are vulnerable. They also seek the inner parts of the elephants’ ears, as this place cannot be defended by the trunk. When they drink the blood, and the beasts fall, the snakes are crushed. 15 Thus on both sides the poured blood soaks the land, and whatever tints the earth becomes a pigment which they call cinnabar. Italy first saw elephants in the 472nd year after the founding of Rome, in the Epirote war in Lucania. Because of this, they were called Lucanian cows. - [Arwen Apps translation, 2011]

Saint Ambrose [4th century CE] (Hexameron, Book 6, chapter 5.31-35 The elephant, too, has a prominent trunk; otherwise he would be unable, because of his surpassing size, to reach the ground in order to find pasturage. He therefore makes use of this trunk in his search for food. Through it this monstrous beast imbibes huge quantities of water. This trunk is hollow and capacious. In the effort to satisfy his thirst this huge beast empties entire troughs. Thus he inundates himself within with rivers of water. In fact, his neck is smaller than the massive size of his body demands, so that it may serve a useful function and not be an encumbrance. For the same reason the animal does not bend his knees. In order that such a mighty contrivance be held in balance, there is need that his legs be like columns of a more than ordinary rigid character. The extremities of his feet are slightly curved, but the remaining parts of his legs are rigid throughout from top to bottom. Such a huge beast cannot bend his knees as we do. Naturally, therefore, he does not share with the rest of animals the ability to bend over or lie down. In order that without danger to himself he may sway a little in his sleep, he is supported on both sides by what may be called huge beams, inasmuch as he has no articulated joints in his limbs. For elephants that are tame a type of support has been contrived by men who are expert in this work. For the wild and untamed there is certainly an element of danger in the fact that no provision has been made for such supports. Elephants actually make use of trees either for scratching their sides or for relaxation in sleep. These trees are sometimes bent or broken by the weight of such a body, which causes the animals to fall headlong. Being unable to raise himself up, he lies there and dies. He may be discovered by his cries of pain, as he exposes the softer parts of his body to wounds and death. Weapons cannot easily penetrate his back and the other harder parts of his body. Hunters in search for ivory prepare the following scheme to trap these animals. From the trees which the elephant makes use of they cut away a small section on the sides opposite those which generally served his purpose. The trees subjected to this pressure cannot sustain the weight of the elephant's limbs and become the immediate cause of his downfall. To find fault with these facts is like finding fault with the height of buildings which often threaten to fall headlong and are with difficulty restored. But if we frequently raise these aloft for the sake of artistic beauty or to serve as watchtowers, we ought to approve of this, too, in the case of elephantSj because they perform a useful service in time of war. The Persians, for example, a race of fierce warriors, are noted for their expertness in archery and in similar arts* They advance in battle array surrounded by what appear to be moving towers, from which they shoot their weapons. When shot from a higher position these do more execution against the enemy below. In the center of the battlefield the combat seems to be concentrated around a rampart, citadel, or watch-tower, where the entrenched warriors appear to be spectators of the war rather than participants in it. They seem to be so remote from danger behind the protective bastion of the beasts. Who would venture to approach them, when he could be hit by a weapon from above or be annihilated by the onrush of the elephants from below? As a result, the battle line with its battalions drawn up in wedge formation gives way before them. The camping grounds which were laid out in blocks of squares have completely vanished. The elephants attack the enemy with a force that is irresistible. They cannot be held back by any embattled array of soldiers with massed shields. They take on the appearance of mountains moving in the midst of the battle. Conspicuous with their high crests and emitting a loud trumpet sound, they inspire fear in everyone. What avail are feet or strength of muscles or manual dexterity to those who have to face a moving battlement packed with armed men? What use is his steed to the horse man? Driven by fear at the hugeness of this beast, his horse flees in panic! What can the bowman do against such an onslaught, although the armored soldier may not be affected by a rain of arrows directed from above? Moreover, the beasts' hides, even when unprotected, are not easily penetrated by a weapon. Protected by this armor, they cut their way through and overwhelm the opposing masses of men without any risk of danger to themselves. As in the case of huge buildings, we see that elephants, too, are supported by foundations of unusual strength. Otherwise, they would totter in a brief space of time because of lack of comparable sustaining power in their extremities. We are told nowadays that elephants live 300 years or more a fact that corresponds to the hugeness of their bodies. And so their limbs are all the more sturdy because they are compact, not disjointed as ours are. ... And no wonder that elephants, when equipped with arms, are an object of fear. Actually, they always present an armored front, with their tusks acting as a natural spear! Whatever they take hold of they break into pieces with their trunks and whatever they trample on they annihilate such is the force of their onrush!. - [Savage translation, 1961]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 2:14): The Greeks believe that the elephant (elephans) is named from the size of its body, which looks like a mountain, for in Greek a mountain is called lophos. Among the inhabitants of India an elephant is called a barro after the sound it makes, whence also its trumpeting is called barritus, and its tusks called ivory (ebur). Its snout is called a trunk (proboscis) because with it the beast moves its food to its mouth (pabulum+os, “to feed”), and it is like a snake protected by an ivory palisade. [Book 12, 2:15] These animals were called Lucan cows by the ancient Romans; cows because they had seen no animal larger than a cow, and Lucan because it was in Lucania that Pyrrhus first set them against the Romans in battle. This kind of animal is suited to warfare, for the Persians and Indians, having set wooden towers on them, attack with javelins as if from a rampart. Elephants are very strong in intellect and memory. [Book 12, 2:16] They proceed in herds; they give a greeting with a gesture, as they can; they flee from mice; they mate facing away from each other; and when they give birth they deliver the offspring in the water or on an island on account of serpents, because serpents are their enemies, and kill them by coiling around them. They carry the fetus for two years, never bearing more than once nor more than one; they live three hundred years. At first elephants were found only in Africa and India, but now only India produces them. - [Barney, Lewis, et. al. translation]

Aberdeen Bestiary [circa 1200 CE] (folio 10v-11r): The Persians and Indians, carried in wooden towers on their backs, fight with javelins as from a wall. Elephants have a lively intelligence and a long memory; they move around in herds; they flee from a mouse; they mate back-to-back. The female is pregnant for two years, and gives birth no more than once, and not to several offspring but to one only. Elephants live for three hundred years. If an elephant wants to father sons, it goes to the East, near Paradise; there the tree called mandragora, the mandrake, grows. The elephant goes to it with his mate, who first takes fruit from the tree and gives it to her male. And she seduces him until he eats it; then she conceives at once in her womb. When the time comes for her to give birth, she goes out into a pool, until the water comes up to her udders. The male guards her while she is in labour, because elephants have an enemy - the dragon. If the elephant finds a snake, it kills it, trampling it until it is dead. The elephant strikes fear into bulls, yet fears the mouse. The elephant has this characteristic: if it falls down, it cannot rise. But it falls when it leans on a tree in order to sleep, for it has no joints in its knees. A hunter cuts part of the way through the tree, so that when the elephant leans against it, elephant and tree will fall together. As the elephant falls, it trumpets loudly; at once a big elephant goes to it but cannot lift it. Then they both trumpet and twelve elephants come, but they cannot lift the one who has fallen. Then they all trumpet, and immediately a little elephant comes and puts its trunk under the big one and lifts it up. The little elephant has this characteristic, that when some of its hair and bones have been burnt, nothing evil approaches, not even a dragon. The big elephant and its mate represent Adam and Eve. For when they were in the flesh pleasing to God, before their sin, they did not know how to mate and had no understanding of sin. But when the woman ate the fruit of the tree, that is to say, she gave her man the fruit of the mandrake, the tree of knowledge, then she became pregnant, and for that reason they left Paradise. For as long as they were in Paradise, Adam did not mate with Eve. ... Whatever elephants wrap their trunks around, they break; whatever they trample underfoot is crushed to death as if by the fall of a great ruin. They never fight over female elephants, for they know nothing of adultery. They possess the quality of mercy. If by chance they see a man wandering in the desert, they offer to lead him to familiar paths. Or if they encounter herds of cattle huddled together, they make their way carefully and peacably lest their tusks kill any animal in their way.