Thursday, 28 July 2016

Anthologia Latina 186: vis humana.

The Anthologia Latina is a collection of epigrams from Late Antiquity, derived from various manuscripts of which the Codex Salmasianus is the most important. It must be noted that the title Anthologia Latina is a designation is from the 19th century and that the collection now known under that name never existed as such in Late Antiquity.The Codex Salmasianus contains a large number of mostly anonymous epigrams from the 1st -6th century compiled in North Africa under the rule of the Vandals. The codex itself was probably written in North Italy or France at the end of the 8th century. During their reign of North Africa, the Vandals became more and more Romanised. Their power ended when in 533 the Vandal king Gelimer was defeated by the Byzantine general Belisarius.
The epigrams are in no way literary gems, but they are interesting enough, as they contain reflections on daily life, customs and curiosities .
This epigram is about an elephant, not the African elephant, but the Indian elephant, obeying its driver. How could it be – the poet asks – that such a fierce animal obeys the instructions of tiny men, subjecting itself to human power (vis humana)? Indeed a miracle!

Note on the date of composition. As the forest elephant had died out in North Africa during the first centuries AD – thanks to the Romans! -, import of Indian elephants in the 5th and 6th century to North Africa is quite possible. The Indian elephant is easier to tame than the African elephant.

The text and notes are taken from N.M. Kay’s edition, published in 2006.

Anthologia Latina 186

Horrida cornuto procedit belua rostro,
  quam dives nostris India misit oris.
Sed licet immani pugnet proboscide barrus,
  spondeat et saevis dentibus interitum,
fert tamen edomitus residentis iussa magistri,
  quoque velit monitor, cogitur ire ferus.
Vis humana potest rabiem mutare ferinam:
  ecce hominem parvum belua magna timet.

cornuto rostro: rostrum refers normally to the trunk, while of course only the tusks of the elephant are horned (cornutus), so with `horned tusk’ both the tusks and the trunk are meant.
belua: monster (note the variation in words for `elephant’: belua, barrus and ferus `wild animal’)
dives India: rich India. India was notorious for its riches.
immanis –is: enormous
proboscis –idis (f.): trunk
barrus (m.): Indian elephant (a loanword taken from Sanskrit)
spondeo spopondi sponsum: to promise
saevis dentibus: the fierce dents are the tusks
interitus –us (m.): death, destruction
fert iussa: carries out the orders
edomitus: completely tamed
quoque: wherever
monitor (m.): overseer, leader
rabiem ferinam: the frenzy of the wild animal

Mosaic of the transport of elephants (Piazza Armerina, Italy)