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Elephant

a letter to his son


     Look what I found kicking around in a corner of modemcity — something I had written to you before you were born!
    

     July 07, 1978 (circa)
     Rome, Italy.
     From Gil to his unborn son. Greeting!

     GranCon, Nancy and I all think you are a boy, to be born two or three months from now, in September. GranCon says your name might be David, and this has set me thinking about kings and elephants.
     Can you imagine a King who would be more concerned about elephants than with the safety of his kingdom? Well, there was once such a King. He ended with his throat slit on a road just outside Ravenna, Italy, a few days after he wrote a letter to a friend of his, about elephants. I'm going to show you that letter in a moment.
     Keep in mind that this letter was written 1,400 years before I was born, and, if all goes according to plan, 1438 years before the date of your birth into the world. It's an old letter, in other words.
     Here it is:

     July 07, 1540 (circa)
     Rome, Italy.
     King Theudahad to the Illustrious Honorius, Governor of the eternal City Rome, Greeting!

     We regret to learn from your report that the brazen elephants placed in the sacred way (so named after the many superstitions to which it was consecrated of (old) are falling into decay.
     It is to be much regretted that, whereas these animals live in the flesh for more than a thousand years, their brazen effigies should be so soon crumbling to ruin. See therefore that their sagging bellies be underpinned by massive masonry.
     The living elephant, when it falls prostrate on the ground, as often occurs when it is helping men to fell trees, cannot rise again unaided. This is because it has no joints in its feet; and accordingly in the torrid lands frequented by these beasts you may often see numbers of them lying as if dead until men approach to help them stand upright again. Thus this creature, so terrible by its size, is in point of fact not equally endowed by Nature with the tiny ant.
     That the elephant, however, surpasses all other animals in intelligence is proved by the adoration which it renders to Him whom it understands to be the Almighty Rules of all. Moreover, it pays to good princes a homage which it refuses to tyrants.
     This beast uses its proboscis, that nosed hand which Nature has awarded it in compensations for its very short neck, for the benefit of its master, accepting those presents which will be most profitable to him. It always walks cautiously, mindful of that fatal fall into the hunter's pit which was the prelude to its captivity. At its master's bidding it will exhale its breath -- which is said to be a remedy for the human headache, especially if it sneezes.
     When the elephant comes to water, it sucks up in its trunk a vast quantity, which at a word of command it will squirt forth like a shower. If anyone has treated it with contempt, it will pour forth such a stream of dirty water over him that one would believe a river had entered its house. For this beast has a wonderfully long memory, both of injury and of kindness. Its eyes are small but move solemnly.
     There is a sort of regal dignity in its appearance, and while it recognizes with pleasure all that is honorable, it evidently despise scurrilous jests. Its skin is furrowed by deep channels, like those of the victims of the foreign disease named after it, elephantiasis. It is on account of the impenetrability of its hide that the Persian Kings use the elephant in war.
     It is most desirable that we should preserve the likeness of these creatures, and that our citizens should thus be familiarized with the sight of the denizens of foreign lands. Do not therefore permit them to perish, since it adds to the glory of Rome to collect all specimens of process by which the art of workmen has imitated the productions of wealthy Nature in far parts of the world.
     Farewell!


     "It's me again, your Dad!"
     The King should have been more concerned with the siege of Naples, just a hundred miles to the south, than with elephants, but that is perhaps not for me to judge.
     Perhaps I should be more concerned with my own kingdom, and with the siege they have laid around it...
     Enough of that! You may discover one day that your Dad has quite an interest in elephants, too. See you soon, little son! Maybe I'll find this letter in a pile of papers years from now and give it to you.
     Only if you like elephants, that is. 


     These are the Pamphili Papers.

 


 All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.