Pliny the Elder, Natural History 8.8-9

Ipsius animalis tanta narratur clementia contra minus validos, ut in grege pecudum occurrentia manu dimoveat, ne quod obterat inprudens. Nec nisi lacessiti nocent idque cum gregatim semper ambulent, minime ex omnibus solivagi. Equitatu circumventi infirmos aut fessos vulneratosve in medium agmen recipient, acie, velut imperio aut ratione per vices subeunte. Capti celerrime mitificantur hordei suco.

[The elephant] is said to have so much mildness towards animals with less strength, that in a moving herd of sheep, the elephant parts the crowd with his trunk, so that it would not unknowingly harm them. Not unless they are excited, would do they harm, and they always walk in packs, never one wandering alone from the rest. When they are surrounded by cavalry, they place the sick, tired and wounded in the center of the pack, and, just as if they were under orders and well-disciplined, they rotate among themselves to hold the front line. When captured, they are most quickly tamed with the juice of barley [beer].

The elephant – a large beast with an “intelligence [that] approaches the nearest to man” (est elephans proximumque humanis sensibus).

Who has an elephant I can borrow for this beer experiment? . . . No one? I’ll just have to take Pliny’s word for it.

What is the elephant’s favorite beer style? I’d wager the Oud Bruin. They just look like that type of person.

On to the passage: Barley juice (i.e. beer, see Jennison 1937, 143; Nelson 2001, 32) is said to make the elephants docile. In contrast, Aelian (13.8) says that (rice) wine is used to rile these animals up for battle (for drunken, fighting elephants, see: Nelson 2001, 205-208). Perhaps, this distinction indicates different effects of each alcohol type. Such a distinction is evident as early as Aristotle in the fourth c. BCE.

Author’s Note
Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE)
Old faithful.

Jennison, G. 1937. Animals for Show and Pleasure in Ancient Rome. Manchester.
Nelson, M. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. dissertation, U. of British Columbia.

Image Source
Wikimedia Commons. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a voluntary programme run by the United Kingdom government to record the increasing numbers of small finds of archaeological interest found by members of the public. The scheme started in 1997 and now covers most of England and Wales. Finds are published at FindID: 603459 Old ref: KENT-DDB671 Filename: KENT-DDB671.jpg . Image by Emily Harwood, Emily Harwood, 2014-02-26 12:26:26


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