Elephant

Elephant

CreaturesBackground Essay Author: Kara L. McShane
The bestiary tradition attributes a strange weakness to the elephant; it sleeps standing up, leaning against a tree, because once an elephant falls it is unable to stand back up (128).  Elephants are uncommon in medieval Arthuriana, but the myth of an elephant's inability to rise may underlie its appearance in the Alliterative Morte Arthure.  After Arthur successfully defeats Rome in battle, the emperor Lucius is displayed on an elephant as part of the parade that delivers Arthur's tribute (202).  The scene associates Lucius with the elephant; though the elephant may suggest exoticism or grandeur (as they were obviously not native to Europe), it may also suggest how thoroughly Rome has fallen.
Bibliography

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