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.



10 responses to “Elephants


    What the hell kind of elephant is that in the last picture? Had they never seen an elephant? CLEARLY.

    • I personally like that the elephant and the tower combined barely lift those boys out of reach. If that dude weren’t getting stepped on, he could almost slap them in their faces. And–as always–I like how little anything in that picture cares about the situation.

  2. So weird! That story makes no sense. It ONLY works as a religious parable. Otherwise why does the hunter want to knock down the elephant?

    Your creepy elephant pictures are lovely.

    • It’s not like the hunter doesn’t have AMPLE time to respond, with all the trumpeting that happens. Maybe it is like cow-tipping, and “hunter” is too strong a word.

  3. Elephants live in the forest, like, 20k from my house. Thus I can testify that everything written in The Physiologus is 100% true. As is the accompanying illustration.

    (This post is awesome.)

    • Wowow–can you explain to me why a viper has the head of a man?? My book mentions that The Physiologus describes this quality of vipers, but the actual passage stops short!


  4. This video is boring only if you know nothing about elephants and are not interested in them. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there.

    The baby is not trying to help the older ele get up — he’s playing with him. Baby eles love to clamber and climb on their elders. Adolescent and older eles will lie down, in fact, inviting just such play.

    • Know nothing about elephants?? Not interested in them?? You wound me! I think elephants are interesting, and I know plenty about them! I watched the (whole) video 3 times with delight before posting–I am only anthropomorphizing the baby’s actions a little differently from you–playing with a bigger elephant who has laid himself down versus playfully pushing up a brother who has actually fallen down in the course of play.

      But that is IRRELEPHANT. I skipped to 2:16 because that’s when the part of the video that actually relates to my post begins, and it’s a long clip leading up to that.

      Bonus! Elephant facts for anyone interested in elephants!
      -Elephants tend to live in matriarchal groups!
      -An elephant only digests 40% of what it eats!
      -When elephants mate, they travel East, near the gates of Paradise, where the female elephant tempts the male with the fruit of the mandrake tree–when the male eats the fruit, the female immediately conceives! When the time of birthing comes, she enters a pool of water and lowers herself down to the udders, and the baby is born!

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