Of divers popular and received Tenets concerning Animals, which examined, prove either false or dubious.


Of the Elephant.

THE first shall be of the Elephant, whereof there generally passeth an opinion it hath no joints; and this absurdity is seconded with another, that being unable to lie down, it sleepeth against a Tree; which, the Hunters observing, do saw it almost asunder; whereon the Beast relying, by the fall of the Tree, falls also down it self, and is able to rise no more. Which conceit is not the daughter of later times, but an old and gray-headed error, even in the days of Aristotle,[1] as he delivereth in his Booke, De incessu Animalium, and stands successively related by several other Authors: by Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Ambrose, Cassiodore, Solinus, and many more.[2] Now herein methinks men much forget themselves, not well considering the absurdity of such assertions.

For first, they affirm it hath no joints, and yet concede it walks and moves about; whereby they conceive there may be a progression or advancement made in Motion without inflexion of parts. Now all progression or Animals locomotion being (as Aristotle teacheth) performed tractu & pulsu; that is, by drawing on, or impelling forward some part which was before in station, or at quiet; where there are no joints or flexures, neither can there be these actions. And this is true, not onely in Quadrupedes, Volatils, and Fishes, which have distinct and prominent Organs of Motion, Legs, Wings, and Fins; but in such also as perform their progression by the Trunk, as Serpents, Worms, and Leeches. Whereof though some want bones, and all extended articulations, yet have they arthritical Analogies,3 and by the motion of fibrous and musculous parts, are able to make progression. Which to conceive in bodies inflexible, and without all protrusion of parts, were to expect a Race from Hercules his pillars; or hope to behold the effects of Orpheus his Harp, when trees found joints, and danced after his Musick.

Again, While men conceive they never lie down, and enjoy not the position of rest, ordained unto all pedestrious Animals, hereby they imagine (what Reason cannot conceive) that an Animal of the vastest dimension and longest duration, should live in a continual motion, without that alternity and vicissitude of rest whereby all others continue; and yet must thus much come to pass, if we opinion they lye not down and enjoy no decumbence at all. For station is properly no rest, but one kind of motion, relating unto that which Physitians (from Galen) do name extensive or tonical; that is, an extension of the muscles and organs of motion maintaining the body at length or in its proper figure.

Wherein although it seem to be unmoved, it is not without all Motion; for in this position the muscles are sensibly extended, and labour to support the body; which permitted unto its proper gravity, would suddenly subside and fall unto the earth; as it happeneth in sleep, diseases, and death. From which occult action and invisible motion of the muscles in station (as Galen declareth) proceed more offensive lassitudes then from ambulation. And therefore the Tyranny of some have tormented men with long and enforced station, and though Ixion and Sisiphus which always moved, do seem to have the hardest measure; yet was not Titius favoured, that lay extended upon Caucasus; and Tantalus suffered somewhat more then thirst, that stood perpetually in Hell. Thus Mercurialis in his Gymnasticks justly makes standing one kind of exercise; and Galen when we lie down, commends unto us middle figures, that is, not to lye directly, or at length, but somewhat inflected, that the muscles may be at rest; for such as he termeth Hypobolemaioi or figures, of excess, either shrinking up or stretching out, are wearisome positions, and such as perturb the quiet of those parts. Now various parts do variously discover these indolent and quiet positions, some in right lines, as the wrists: some at right angles, as the cubit: others at oblique angles, as the fingers and the knees: all resting satisfied in postures of moderation, and none enduring the extremity of flexure and extension.

Moreover men herein do strangely forget the obvious relations of history, affirming they have no joints, whereas they dayly read of several actions which are not performable without them. They forget what is delivered by Xiphilinus, and also by Suetonius in the lives of Nero and Galba, that Elephants have been instructed to walk on ropes, in publick shews before the people.[4] Which is not easily performed by man, and requireth not only a broad foot, but a pliable flexure of joints, and commandible disposure of all parts of progression. They pass by that memorable place in Curtius,[5] concerning the Elephant of King Porus, Indus qui Elephantem regebat, descendere eum ratus, more solito procumbere jussit in genua, cæteri quoque (ita enim instituti erant) demisere corpora in terram. They remember not the expression of Osorius,6 when he speaks of the Elephant presented to Leo the tenth, Pontificem ter genibus flexis, & demisso corporis habitu venerabundus salutavit. But above all, they call not to mind that memorable shew of Germanicus, wherein twelve Elephants danced unto the sound of Musick, and after laid them down in the Tricliniums, or places of festival Recumbency.[7]

They forget the Etymologie of the Knee, approved by some Grammarians.8 They disturb the position of the young ones in the womb: which upon extension of legs is not easily conceivable; and contrary unto the general contrivance of Nature. Nor do they consider the impossible exclusion thereof, upon extension and rigour of the legs.

Lastly, they forget or consult not experience, whereof not many years past, we have had the advantage in England, by an Elephant shewn in many parts thereof, not only in the posture of standing, but kneeling and lying down. Whereby although the opinion at present be well suppressed, yet from some strings of tradition, and fruitful recurrence of errour, it is not improbable, it may revive in the next generation again. This being not the first that hath been seen in England; for (besides some others) as Polydore Virgil relateth, Lewis the French King sent one to Henry the third, and Emanuel of Portugal another to Leo the tenth into Italy, where notwithstanding the errour is still alive and epidemical, as with us.

The hint and ground of this opinion might be the gross and somewhat Cylindrical9 composure of the legs, the equality and less perceptible disposure of the joints, especially in the former legs of this Animal; they appearing when he standeth, like Pillars of flesh, without any evidence of articulation. The different flexure and order of the joints might also countenance the same, being not disposed in the Elephant, as they are in other quadrupedes, but carry a nearer conformity unto those of Man; that is, the bought of the fore-legs, not directly backward, but laterally and somewhat inward; but the hough or suffraginous flexure behind rather outward. Somewhat different unto many other quadrupedes, as Horses, Camels, Deer, Sheep, and Dogs; for their fore-legs bend like our legs, and their hinder legs like our arms, when we move them to our shoulders. But quadrupedes oviparous, as Frogs, Lizards, Crocadiles, have their joints and motive flexures more analogously framed unto ours: and some among viviparous, that is, such thereof as can bring their fore-feet and meat therein unto their mouths, as most can do that have the clavicles or coller-bones: whereby their brests are broader, and their shoulders more asunder, as the Ape, the Monkey, the Squirrel and some others. If therefore any shall affirm the joints of Elephants are differently framed from most of other quadrupedes, and more obscurely and grosly almost then any, he doth herein no injury unto truth. But if à dicto secundam quid ad dictum simpliciter, he affirmeth also they have no articulations at all, he incurs the countroulment of reason, and cannot avoid the contradiction also of sense.

As for the manner of their venation, if we consult historical experience, we shall find it to be otherwise then as is commonly presumed, by sawing away of Trees. The accounts whereof are to be seen at large in Johannes, Hugo, Edwardus Lopez, Garcias ab horto, Cadamustus, and many more.

Other concernments there are of the Elephant, which might admit of discourse; and if we should question the teeth of Elephants, that is, whether they be properly so termed, or might not rather be called horns: it were no new enquiry of mine, but a Paradox as old as Oppianus.10 Whether as Pliny[11] and divers since affirm it, that Elephants are terrified, and make away upon the grunting of Swine, Garcias ab horto may decide, who affirmeth upon experience, they enter their stalls, and live promiscuously in the Woods of Malavar. That the situation of the genitals is averse, and their copulation like that which some believe of Camels, as Pliny hath also delivered,[12] is not to be received; for we have beheld that part in a different position; and their coition is made by supersaliency, like that of horses, as we are informed by some who have beheld them in that act. That some Elephants have not only written whole sentences, as Ælian ocularly testifieth,[13] but have also spoken, as Oppianus delivereth, and Christophorus à Costa[14] particularly relateth; although it sound like that of Achilles Horse in Homer,[15] we do not conceive impossible. Nor beside the affinity of reason in this Animal any such intollerable incapacity in the organs of divers quadrupedes, whereby they might not be taught to speak, or become imitators of speech like Birds. Strange it is how the curiosity of men that have been active in the instruction of Beasts, have never fallen upon this artifice; and among those, many paradoxical and unheard of imitations, should not attempt to make one speak. The Serpent that spake unto Eve, the Dogs and Cats that usually speak unto Witches, might afford some encouragement. And since broad and thick chops are required in Birds that speak, since lips and teeth are also organs of speech; from these there is also an advantage in quadrupedes, and a proximity of reason in Elephants and Apes above them all. Since also an Echo will speak without any mouth at all, articulately returning the voice of man, by only ordering the vocal spirit in concave and hollow places; whether the musculous and motive parts about the hollow mouths of Beasts, may not dispose the passing spirit into some articulate notes, seems a query of no great doubt.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross dismisses this chapter in one sentence, Chap. 10.

1 [Although Aristotle says in his book on animals: "The elephant does not sleep standing, as some were wont to assert, but it bends its legs and settles down; only that in consequence of its weight it cannot bend its leg on both sides simultaneously, but falls into a recumbent position on one side or the other, and in this position it goes to sleep. And it bends its hind legs just as a man bends his legs."]

2 [Diodorus Siculus, III.27; Strabo XVI 4.10.5; Ambrose Hexaemeron vi (not yet on line); Cassiodorus Variae, Liber; Solinus (not on line). Cf. Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, II:iii "The elephant hath joints, but none for courtesy; his legs are legs for necessity, not for flexure" (but compare this with the statement of Basil in his Hexaemeron IX.v., where "no joints" is given an odd meaning), as well as some natural historians of the century. In his long treatment of the elephant (pages 199-211 of The Historie of Four-Footed Beasts), Topsell says out that elephants have joints in their legs, but it is difficult for them "because of their great weight" to bend the joints of both rear legs at the same time; he also says that the joints stiffen with age and that older elephants prefer to sleep leaning against a tree rather than go through the trouble of reclining and standing back up.]

3 Ioint-like parts.

4 Xiphilinus Epit. Cassius Dio LXI.17.2. Suetonius, Galba vi (Latin; English), Nero xi (English, Latin), the latter apparently the same story as Dio's.]

5 [Q. Curti Historiarum Alexandri Magni Macedonis VIII.14.39]

6 De rebus gestis Emmanuelis. [of Fonseca; 171.]

7 [A fused version of stories in Aelian's De natura animalium, II.xi. "Beds" or "sofas", rather than "triclinia", which certainly brings up some odd mental pictures. Topsell, loc. cit., gives the story Englished, p. 207:

There was a certain banquet prepared for Elephants upon a low bed in a pa[r]lour set with divers dishes and pots of Wine, whereinto were admitted twelve, sixe males, apparelled like men, and sixe females apparelled like women: when they saw it, they sat downe with great modesty, taking heere and there like discreet temperat ghests, neither ravening uppon one dish or other, and when they should drinke, they tooke the cup receiving in the liquor very manerly, and for sport & festivity would through their trunks squirt or cast a little of their drink upon their attendants; so that this beast is not onely of an admirable greatnes but of a more wonderful meakenesse and docibility.]

8 Γόνυ from γωνία.

9 Round, Pillar-like. [This, in the 1646 edition, is the first use of the word cylindrical recorded in the Oxford dictionary. 1646 has no gloss on the word.]

10 Cyneget. lib. 2.

11 [Pliny HN VIII.27 (Englished by Holland, Book VIII, chapter 9).

12 [Pliny HN X.173 (Englished by Holland, Book X, chapter63).]

13 [Ælian says that he saw an elephant's trainer use the elephant's trunk to write (Latin) letters (loc. cit.); presumably Greek is too refined for elephants. Pliny VIII.6 (Englished by Holland, Book VIII, chapter 3) says that an elephant has written an entire sentence, which sentence Pliny quotes.]

14 [Acosta; the elephant said "Hoo, hoo".]

15 [Achilles' horse was far more accomplished than Acosta's elephant: Iliad xix 404 ff:

Then with a loud voice he chided with his father's horses saying, "Xanthus and Balius, famed offspring of Podarge — this time when we have done fighting be sure and bring your driver safely back to the host of the Achaeans, and do not leave him dead on the plain as you did Patroclus."

Then fleet Xanthus answered under the yoke — for white-armed Juno had endowed him with human speech — and he bowed his head till his mane touched the ground as it hung down from under the yoke-band. "Dread Achilles," said he, "we will indeed save you now, but the day of your death is near, and the blame will not be ours, for it will be heaven and stern fate that will destroy you. Neither was it through any sloth or slackness on our part that the Trojans stripped Patroclus of his armour; it was the mighty god whom lovely Leto bore that slew him as he fought among the foremost, and vouchsafed a triumph to Hector. We two can fly as swiftly as Zephyrus who they say is fleetest of all winds; nevertheless it is your doom to fall by the hand of a man and of a god."

When he had thus said the Erinyes stayed his speech, and Achilles answered him in great sadness, saying, "Why, O Xanthus, do you thus foretell my death? You need not do so, for I well know that I am to fall here, far from my dear father and mother; none the more, however, shall I stay my hand till I have given the Trojans their fill of fighting."

So saying, with a loud cry he drove his horses to the front.]

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