Matthew Paris Book of Additions c. 1250 Manuscript British Library, London
This African elephant was given to Henry III of England by Louis IX of France in 1254. Soon after its arrival during a cold English winter, the elephant was imprisoned in the royal menagerie, established in 1235, in The Tower of London. The elephant died three years later, in the “house of forty feet long and twenty feet deep” that had been specially built for it, after being given too much red wine to drink.
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an Angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals….
Shakespeare, Hamlet, c. 1600
Pietro Longhi The Elephant 1774, Oil on canvas. This shackled Indian elephant was exhibited during the cold winter of Carnevale in Venice.
“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” Machiavelli, The Prince
“Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.” Machiavelli, The Prince
Antoine Caron The Elephant Carousel, one of the famous, ground-breaking entertainments devised as part of Catherine de Medici’s political programme to augment the Valois dynasty during the second half of 16th century France. Our modern concept of performance arts derives from her vision; a political agenda is understandable, the abuse of a living animal is always inexcusable. Image: WGA
“The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.” Machiavelli, The Prince, written 1513, published 1532.
NATURE’S GREAT MASTERPIECE, AN ELEPHANT (THE ONLY HARMLESS GREAT THING) John Donne
Antoine-Louis Barye Elephant from Senegal Bronze. Private collection. Image: WGA
Not shackled any more, but still running, always in danger from human cruelty, made up of stupidity, pride, envy and greed.
Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant
(The only harmless great thing), the giant
Of beasts, who thought none had to make him wise,
But to be just and thankful, loth to offend
(Yet nature hath given him no knees to bend)
Himself he up-props, on himself relies,
And, foe to none, suspects no enemies,
Still sleeping stood; vex’d not his fantasy
Black dreams; like an unbent bow carelessly
His sinewy proboscis did remissly lie.
(John Donne, stanza XXXIX from The First Song Of The Progress of the Soul, 1612)