I was browsing YouTube mindlessly–as one does–and came across an adorable video of a baby elephant trying fruitlessly to help up a larger elephant which had fallen down. How sweet!
Skip to 2:16, by the way. The video is actually mostly boring.
But I could not help but be reminded of a passage from The Physiologus, a text written in Greek in the second or third century as both a guide to animals, trees and stones, AND an explanation as to how each of these natural specimens can be seen as analogous to Christian theology and ethics.
Now, before you go and accuse me of being some sort of an intellectual or something, it’s not like I went and read The Physiologus myself! I just happened to read the passage in my copy of Umberto Ecco’s On Ugliness, a lively exploration of the Grotesque in Western art and literature! I don’t even KNOW Greek, and my Latin is getting a bit rusty–difficile est tenere quae acceperis nisi exerceas, as they say! So, just to be clear: I’m just a REGULAR JOE.
Anyway, on to the elephants!
In the mountains
An animal known as the elephant exists.
…This is the elephant’s nature. If it falls down, it is unable to get back up again, because it has no joints in its knees. And how might it fall down? When it wants to sleep, it leans against a tree and hunters, who are familiar with the elephant’s nature, go and saw the tree trunk halfway through.
The animal comes to rest and then falls along with the tree, and begins to send forth loud trumpeting.
Another elephant hears this and comes to help, but it is not capable of lifting up its companion: therefore both begin trumpeting…
and another twelve elephants arrive, but not even all of these together can lift up the fallen beast; therefore they all start trumpeting: finally a small elephant arrives, puts its trunk under the fallen elephant, and lifts him up.
What I take away from this story is that elephant hunters need to follow through with the rest of their hunting plans, and that elephants are disorganized. Oh! Also that Europeans in the Middle Ages were pretty uninformed about elephants. What you SHOULD take away from this story, gentle readers, is that the Elephant is MAN, after falling into SIN…
Then the great elephant arrived, in other words the Law, and it was unable to lift him; then the twelve elephants came (in other words the prophets), and they weren’t able to lift the fallen man either; finally, the holy spiritual elephant arrived, and he lifted the man up.