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Lucretius' Elephant Wall

  • E. K. Borthwick (a1)

In an article1 entitled Lucrèce et les éléphants, Professor Ernout has referred to recent archaeological evidence that in palaeolithic times the skeletons of mammoths were used in the construction of primitive habitations, and observes that the well-known lines of Lucretius. 532 ff. about India being so prolific inelephants that the whole land ‘milibus e multis vallo munitur eburno’ mayrefer not to anything legendary (as Bailey and others had supposed), nor to themilitary use of elephants in large numbers for frontier defence, but to a recognitionof the fact that even in later times ‘les Indiens avaient pu conserver leurmode de vie et utiliser avec ses défenses d'éléphant le système de protectioninvente par leurs ancêtres, ou simplement conserver ces gigantesques os demammouths’, etc.

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page 291 note 1 R.Ph. xliv (1970), 203–5.

page 291 note 2 See most recently Schrijvers P. H., études sur la poétique et la poésie de Lucrièce (1970), 294–6, who envisages the tradition as going back to the invasions of Alexander, quoting Meurig-Davies E. L. B., Elephant Tactics, C.Q. xlv (1951), 53–5, who had referred to the wars against Pyrrhus and Carthage.

page 292 note 1 Cf. D. A. West's comment on this passage in The Imagery and Poetry of Lucretius, 21.

page 292 note 2 That the shells of the giant turtles of the Indian ocean are of exceptional dimensions and sturdiness is as true today as it was two thousand years ago, and doubtless they could be put to use as roof tiles, but I am unaware that any credible example is on record much more than a quarter as long as the fifteen-cubit shells described by Aelian (N.A. 16. 17) large enough for ‘quite a few people to dwell underneath’:inline-graphicinline-graphic,inline-graphic. Pliny (N.H. 9. 12. 35) also insists on the capacity of a single shell (‘tantae magnitudinis… uti singularum superficie habitabiles casas integant').

page 292 note 3 This fragment is overlooked in the fragments of Agatharchides printed in Müller, Jacoby, and G.G.M. For the reading of the manuscript (Keller givesinline-graphic), see Giannini's recent edition of the Paradoxographorum Graecorum Reliquiae, who tentatively proposesinline-graphic here. A comparison with parallel descriptions (abstracted from Agatharchides himself) in Phot. Bibl. 250(G.G.M. i. p. 139)inline-graphicinline-graphicinline-graphic and Diod. Sic. 3. 2I. 5.inline-graphic,inline-graphic, suggestsas a possible reading in Agatharchidesinline-graphicinline-graphic (i.e. with top of the shell uppermost, opp.inline-graphic): forinline-graphic confusion, see Greg. Cor. p. 269.

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The Classical Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0009-8388
  • EISSN: 1471-6844
  • URL: /core/journals/classical-quarterly
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