Chap. XIII.

Of the Pictures of the Nine Worthies.

THE pictures of the nine Worthies[1] are not unquestionable, and to critical spectators may seem to containe sundry improprieties. Some will enquire why Alexander the Great is described upon an Elephant: for, we do not find he used that animal in his Armies,[2] much less in his own person; but his Horse is famous in History, and its name is alive to this day.[3] Beside, he fought but one remarkable battel, wherein there were any Elephants, and that was with Porus King of India; In which notwithstanding, as Curtius, Arrianus, and Plutarch report,[4] he was on Horseback himself. And if because he fought against Elephants, he is with propriety set upon their backs; with no less or greater reason is the same description agreeable unto Judas Maccabeus, as may be observed in the history of the Macabees;[5] and also unto Julius Cæsar, whose triumph was honoured with captive Elephants, as may be observed in the order thereof, set forth by Jacobus Laurus.6 And if also we should admit this description upon an Elephant, yet were not the manner thereof unquestionable, that is, in his ruling the beast alone; for beside the Champion upon their back, there was also a guide or ruler, which sat more forward to command or guide the beast. Thus did King Porus ride when he was overthrown by Alexander; and thus are also the towred Elephants described, Maccab. 1.6. Upon the beasts there were strong towers of wood, which covered every one of them, and were girt fast unto them by devices: there were also upon every one of them thirty two strong men, beside the Indian that ruled them.[7]

Others will demand, not only why Alexander upon an Elephant, but Hector upon an Horse: whereas his manner of fighting, or presenting himselfe in battel, was in a Chariot,[8] as did the other noble Trojans, who as Pliny affirmeth[9] were the first inventers thereof. The same way of fight is testified by Diodorus, and thus delivered by Sir Walter Raleigh. Of the vulgar little reckoning was made, for they fought all on foot, slightly armed, and commonly followed the success of their Captains; who rode not upon Horses, but in Chariots drawn by two or three Horses. And this was also the ancient way of fight among the Britains, as is delivered by Diodorus, Cæsar, and Tacitus;[10] and there want not some who have taken advantage hereof, and made it one argument of their original from Troy.

Lastly, By any man versed in Antiquity, the question can hardly be avoided, why the Horses of these Worthies, especially of Cæsar, are described with the furniture of great saddles, and stirrops; for saddles largely taken, though some defence there may be, yet that they had not the use of stirrops, seemeth of lesser doubt; as Pancirollus hath observed, as Polydore Virgil11 and Petrus Victorius12 have confirmed, expresly discoursing hereon; as is observable from Pliny, and cannot escape our eyes in the ancient monuments, medals, and Triumphant arches of the Romans.[13] Nor is there any ancient classical word in Latine to express them; for Staphia, Stapes or Stapeda is not to be found in Authors of this Antiquity. And divers words which may be urged of this signification, are either later, or signified not thus much in the time of Cæsar. And therefore as Lipsius observeth, lest a thing of common use should want a common word, Franciscus Philelphus named them Stapedas, and Bodinus Subicus Pedaneos. And whereas the name might promise some Antiquity, because among the three small bones in the Auditory Organ, by Physitians termed Incus, Malleus, and stapes, one thereof from some resemblance doth bear this name; these bones were not observed, much less named by Hippocrates, Galen or any ancient Physitian. But as Laurentius observeth concerning the invention of the stapes or stirrop bone, there is some contention between Columbus and Ingrassias; the one of Scicilia, the other of Cremona, and both within the compass of this Century.

The same is also deduceable from very approved Authors: Polybius speaking of the way which Anibal marched into Italy, useth the word βεβημάτισται, that is saith Petrus Victorius, it was stored with devices for men to get upon their horses, which ascents were termed Bemata; and in the life of Caius Gracchus, Plutarch expresseth as much. For endeavouring to ingratiate himself with the people, besides the placing of stones at every miles end; he made at nearer distances certain elevated places, and Scalary ascents, that by the help thereof they might with better ease ascend or mount their horses. Now if we demand how Cavaliers then destitute of stirrops did usually mount their horses; as Lipsius informeth, the unable and softer sort of men had their ἀναβοχεῖς, or Stratores, which helped them up on horse back, as in the practise of Crassus in Plutarch, and Caracalla in Spartianus, and the later example of Valentinianus, who because his horse rised before that he could not be setled on his back, cut off the right hand of his Strator. But how the active and hardy persons mounted, Vegetius14 resolves us, that they used to vault or leap up, and therefore they had wooden horses in their houses and abroad: that thereby young men might enable themselves in this action: wherein by instruction and practice they grew so perfect, that they could vault up on the right or left, and that with their sword in hand, according to that of Virgil[15]

Poscit equos, atque arma simul, saltuque superbus

And againe:

Infrænant alii currus & corpora saltu
Injiciunt in equos.

So Julius Pollux adviseth to teach horses to incline, dimit, and bow down their bodies, that their riders may with better ease ascend them. And thus may it more causally be made out, what Hippocrates affirmeth of the Scythians, that using continual riding, they were generally molested with the Sciatica or hip-gout. Or what Suetonius delivereth of Germanicus, that he had slender legs, but encreased them by riding after meals; that is, the humours descending upon their pendulosity, they having no support or suppedaneous stability.

Now if any shall say that these are petty errors and minor lapses not considerably injurious unto truth, yet is it neither reasonable nor safe to contemn inferiour falsities; but rather as between falshood and truth, there is no medium, so should they be maintained in their distances: nor the contagion of the one, approach the sincerity of the other.[16]


My notes (and other people's) are in square brackets [ ]; addenda from manuscripts are in curly braces { }; Browne's own marginalia are unmarked. Ross defends some of the depictions in Arcana Microcosmi II.11.

1 [The standard list: Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabæus, the three Jewish Worthies; Hector, Alexander the Great, and Julius Cæsar, the three Gentile Worthies; and Charlemagne, King Arthur, and Godefroi de Bouillon, the three Christian Worthies. The list varies from work to work, sometimes including as many as 18 or as few as 3. There is also a corresponding list of "Neuf Preuses" or Nine Female Worthies: Delphile, Sinope, Hippolita, Semiramis, Melanippe, Lampeto, Thamyris, Teucha, and Panthesilea; or, "systematized" (and obviously later), Hester, Judith, and Jael; Lucretia, Veturia, and Virginia; and Saints Helen, Birgitta, and Elizabeth of Hungary. An excellent treatment is Der Topos der Nine Worthies in Literatur und bildender Kunst by Hoerst Schroeder (1971, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen). The depiction of Alexander with an elephant is by no means universal.]

2 [Ross, in Arcana Microcosmi, (II. Chap. 11)suggests that "this picture hath reference to that story of the elephant in Philostratus (lib. i, c. 61,) which from Alexander to Tiberius, lived three hundred and fifty years. This huge elephant, Alexander, after he had overcome Porus, dedicated to the sun, in these words, Αλεξανδρος ο Διος τον Αιαντα τω ηλιοω; for he gave to this elephant the name of Ajax, and the inhabitants so honoured this beast, that they beset him round with garlands and ribbons". (p. 160)]

3 [Bucephalus; see Book II, Chapter VII]

4 [Curtius VIII.xiv.34; Plutarch Alexander.]

5 [1 Macc. 6; the elephants are made to fight by being shown mulberry juice. There are no end to odditie in history.]

6 In splendore urbis Antiquæ. [Giacomo Lauro (1641) Splendore dell'antica e moderna Roma: nel quale si rappresentano tutti i principali tempii, teatri, anfiteatri, cerchi, naumachie, archi trionfali, obelischi, palagii, terme, curie, basiliche, fatti delli ré, consoli, dittatori, & imperadori romani, dignità ciuili, e militari, ordine de' trionfi, nomi di tutti i trionfanti, sacrificio militare, colonna Traiana, colonna Antonina, colonna milliaria, colonna rostrata, & colonna bellica, con li più segnalati giardini de gli antichi, e moderni Romani, & altre cose notabili, con fatti, & imprese di quelli, da'quali sono stati eretti, e dedicati (!)]

7 [Wren: Yf wee reckon but 300 lb weight for every man and his armour and weapons (which is the lowest proportion) and allowing for the tower and harnessing, but 5 or 600 lb more, the burthen of each elephant cannot be esteemed less than 10,100 lb weight; which is a thing almost incredible: for 4,000 lb or 5,000 lb is the greatest loade that 8 or 10 strong horse are usually put to drawe.]

8 [Wren: The use of chariots and (in warr) of iron, and in private travayle of lighter substance is as olde as Jacob, as appeares Gen. xiv, 27. and in Gen. xiv, 7, the text sayes, that Pharoah had in his army 600 chosen chariots, besides all the chariots of Ægypt. Now the former of these two storyes was 500 yeares before the Trojan war, and the latter 300.]

9 [Pliny NH vii (202); englished by Holland.]

10 [Diodorus ; Cæsar, Bell. Gall. iv.33 (for example) ; Tacitus Agricola 12]

11 De inventione rerum.

12 Variæ Lectiones.

13 [Pliny does not mention stirrups; the inference is that they did not exist. Ancient representations of horsemen do not show stirrups; see, for instance, the (large) JPEG from Trajan's Column (copyright B. Thayer, from his LacusCurtius page): Image]

14 De re Milit. [I.xviii.]

15 [Virg. Aen. XII 326-27 and 287-288. But Ross points out that Browne is cheating in the first example; Turnus is leaping into a chariot, not onto a horse; Browne omits this part of the line.]

16 [Wilkin: Hippocrates observes that the Scythians, who were much on horseback, were troubled with defluxions and swellings in their legs, occasioned by their dependent posture and the want of something to sustain their feet. Had stirrups been known, this inconvenience could not have been urged; and on this fact, Berenger much relies in his opinion that stirrups were not known to the ancients.... Montfaucon attributes this ignorance to the absence of saddles, and to the impossibility of attaching stirrups to the horse-cloths, or ephippia, which were anciently used for saddles.

Beckman, in his chapter on stirrups (History of Inventions and Discoveries, vol. ii, 270), among other authorities, refers to the present chapter in the French translation. Nothing, he says, resembling stirrups remains in ancient works of art or coins. Xenophon in his chapter on horsemanship makes no mention of them. Stone mounting-steps, he observes, were not only used among the Romans, but are still to be found even in England. Victorious generals used to compel the vanquished even of the highest rank to stoop that they might mount by stepping on their backs. He mentions some spurious inscriptions and coins which exhibit the stirrup. He names Mauritius as the first writer who has expressly mentioned it, in the sixth century, and from Eustathius it appears that even in the 12th century the use of stirrups had not become common.

"Abdallah's friend found him with his foot in the stirrup, just mounting his camel." Sale's Koran, Prelim. Disc., p. 29. Abdallah lived in the sixth century. — Jeff.

JE: A classic petitio: a statement or translation in "Sale's Koran" no more proves the existence of stirrups in the 6th century than a 17th century painting of Caesar using them proves their existence in the 1st B.C. We need to know what the "prelim. disc." is, who wrote it and when, and what the original text says, in the original language. ]

This page is dedicated to the memory of Boo the Cat.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional