Elefant – E.3 – II.2 Tierkunde, Enzyklopädik

The elephant is treated in Der naturen bloeme, Jacob van Maerlant’s rhymed adaptation of Thomas of Cantimpré’s De natura rerum (→ C.II.2). Elephants are large and very strong. They have a trunk and two tusks. They are very loyal and brave and are used by the Persians and the Indians for war. A castle with up to 50 soldiers is put on their back. They carry their ›riders‹ into the enemy ranks. The tusks have medicinal properties: they help against illnesses of the blood. Elephants are afraid of mice. They fight with → dragons. They may be captured by sending two naked virgins into the wilderness, one with a sword and one with a cup. The elephant comes when he hears them singing. He enjoys their purity and falls asleep. The virgin with the sword kills him and the other catches his blood in her cup. This is interpreted allegorically: the elephant is Christ, the virgin with the sword is the synagogue (or the Old Testament), the virgin with the cup the church (or the New Testament). Because an elephant has no knee joints, he does not lie down to sleep but leans against a tree to get his rest. So another way to capture him is sawing up the tree. The elephant leans and falls and is unable to get up, so he may be caught. Because of the missing knee joints an elephant gives birth in the water: so the mother can help her child to rise after birth. Elephants mate when they are 15 years or older. They have sexual intercourse only seldom and are monogamous. In this they should be an example for all people. – The elephant is also treated in the 15th century prose translation of Bartholomeus Anglicus’ De proprietatibus rerum. [the Dutch text has not been edited and I have on the moment no access to a microfilm].

Ausg.: Jacob van Maerlant: Der naturen bloeme, ed. M. GYSSELING, 1981.

Lit.: A. BERTELOOT/D. HELLFAIER (ed.): Jacob van Maerlants »Der naturen bloeme« und das Umfeld, 2001.

Paul Wackers

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