Elefant – C. – IV.1 Narrative Texte

Hagiographie: Elephants normally occur in fabulous or semi-fabulous contexts in the possession of eastern Kings, Persian or Indian, [AASS 15th July, De Sancto Jacobo Episcopo Nisibi in Mesopatamia, Acta, ch. 1, no. 12, and the more historical B. Orderic of Pordenone, d. 1331, in India; AASS 14th January, B. Orderici Peregrinatio, ch. 3, no. 13], or simply wild [AASS 25th August, Vita III S. Ludovici auctore Joanne Joinvillio, ch. 6, no. 73]. Pilgrimage to Rome from the north can be a moment to recall marvellous deeds of antiquity such as Hannibal and his elephants, as in the case of Saint Wandregisilus (d.668); here the associations of the elephant with exotic lands underlines the wonder of antiquity with which Rome could be experienced by northern Christians, [The journey to Rome appears in the unhistorical second Vita of the mid-ninth century; AASS 22nd July, Vita Altera, ch. 2, no. 9]. As an exotic beast associated with the unknown and fabulous, it thus appears as a possible inhabitant of the legendary vast solitudes to which saints might retire and acquire their miraculous virtus, [AASS 23rd October, Vita Fabulosa S. Macarii Romani, no. 8; AASS 4th September, Vita Fabulosa S. Marini, no. 11]. In the case of the late fabulous Vita of Saint Marinus, the devil incites ›desert‹ beasts, including the elephant, to attempt to terrify the saint. This underlines the extent to which the elephant is conceived, in hagiography, as a wonder beast, rather than a standard animal. The elephant can be associated with bloody violence, and indeed is noted in the miracles of Saint Bertinus (d.c.700), for being excited to battle by the sight of blood [AASS 5th September, De Sancto Bertino Abbate, Liber Miraculorum, ch. 3, no. 20]. Aphoristic associations of the elephant appear rarely, but in one tenth-century account, the animal’s proverbial vulnerability to small creatures is noted with a story of how they are stampeded by an attack of → gnats, [AASS 9th September, Translation et Miracula S. Gorgonii, ch. 1, no. 31]. The lack of suitable biblical references to elephants limits the use to which hagiographers can put the elephant, and its almost legendary status restricts the contexts in which it is liable to appear. Underlying these references to elephants in hagiography may be a symbolic association with the pride and violence of secular kings.

Dominic Alexander

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