06 November 2009

Greek Elephants

Nick Nicholas was visiting and we were discussing the 15th-century elephant in the manuscript he and George Baloglou had published, An Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds. The text under the elephant reads:
Just like a tower, safe and fortified,/
a fort impregnable, firm to the end,/
thus, too, stand I, robust beyond compare.
It is, frankly, not convincing if you consider this rather bewildered quadruped.

But it reminded me of my small collection of images of Greek elephants, and as this week is given to celebrating a daughter's wedding, I offer a celebration of elephants instead of more of the 15th century.
This next, tiny image, is cribbed from John Chapman's dense site on Mani, from an 18th-C fresco of the redemption of all the earthly creation at the Last Judgement, in the church of Ag. Chrysostomos at Skoutari.

This elephant is in a fresco at Metora of Adam naming the animals. I bought an unlabeled postcard 32 years ago, and now have no idea which monastery is so privileged, nor of the date, though I will risk a guess for the 16th-C. The animals are fascinating as a group, each taken from a different manuscript illustration, from different cultures and periods, and Adam is gender-neutral, possibly influenced by Balkan gnosticism.

Not actually Greek, but bought by a Greek, and brought to Greece -- it now resides in the Benaki Islamic Museum in Athens -- this ink drawing is Coptic, from the 8th century. A second elephant from the Benaki Islamic is this splendidly-colored tile:

The Museum of Byzantine and Christian Art in Athens has this very scrubbed 3rd?-C elephant alongside a soft giraffe, part of a sculpture of Orpheus playing his harp for the animals.

And the loveliest of them all, this tender elephant from a procession of elephants from the late 4th-century Arch of Theodosios in Thessaloniki.


  1. Hi, there. You can read some information regarding your Meteora elephant here:



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