Saturday, December 8, 2007

E is for elephant

The elephant is only a huge beast, but he is the most worthy that lives on the earth and has the most sense. I want to tell you about a characteristic of his honesty: he never changes females and loves tenderly the one he has chosen, with whom he nonetheless copulates only every three years, and that only for five days, so secretly that he is never seen in the act. But he is seen, however, on the sixth day, on which, before doing anything else, he goes straight to some river in which he washes his whole body, wishing in no way to return to the herd before he is purified.

-Saint François de Sales (1567–1622), Introduction à la vie dévote

They know no adultery, and do not engage each other in mortal combat over females as do other animals; not because they do not know the power of love, for the tale is told of the elephant who was enamored of a salesgirl; and have no illusions that she was chosen by accident: she was the mistress of the famous grammarian Aristophanes. Another elephant was taken with Menander, a young Syracusan who served in Ptolemy's army, and when the elephant couldn't see him, he manifested his unhappiness by refusing to eat. Juba tells that a young perfume dealer was loved by one of them. They all gave proof of their affection: joy at the sight of the beloved, naïve caresses, coins that they were given were saved and showered into the lap of their loves.

-Pliny the Elder, Natural History