An Elephant’s Love for a Child

When I first started translating this I did not consider it allegory from a slightly different reality.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, 13.85, 606F–607A [BNJ 81 F36]

“The same Phylarkhos also reports in his twentieth book how great a love an elephant once had for a child. He writes this: “There was a female elephant which was tended with that elephant, and they used to call her Nikaia. When the wife of the Indian who cared for her was dying, she handed her child who was 30 days old to her.

After she died, the animal’s love for the child was striking. It could not endure the child being separated from her; and whenever she did not see the child, she despaired. When the nurse fed the child milk, she put it in a cradle in the middle of the animal’s feet. If she failed to do this, the elephant would refuse to eat. After this, all day long the elephant would take reeds from the nearby grasses and chase away flies while the child was sleeping. Whenever the child cried, the elephant would move the cradle with her trunk and help him sleep. The male elephant often did the same thing.”

ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς ἱστορεῖ Φύλαρχος διὰ τῆς εἰκοστῆς ὅσην ἐλέφας τὸ ζῶιον φιλοστοργίαν ἔσχεν εἰς παιδίον. γράφει δὲ οὕτως· «τούτωι δὲ τῶι ἐλέφαντι συνετρέφετο θήλεια ἐλέφας, ἣν Νίκαιαν ἐκάλουν· ἧι τελευτῶσα ἡ τοῦ τρέφοντος ᾽Ινδοῦ γυνὴ παιδίον αὑτῆς τριακοσταῖον παρακατέθετο. ἀποθανούσης δὲ τῆς ἀνθρώπου δεινή τις φιλοστοργία γέγονε τοῦ θηρίου πρὸς τὸ παιδίον· οὐτε γὰρ ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ χωριζόμενον τὸ βρέφος ὑπέμενεν, τὸ δὲ εἰ μὴ βλέποι τὸ παιδίον ἤσχαλλεν. ὅτ᾽ οὖν ἡ τροφὸς ἐμπλήσειεν αὐτὸ τοῦ γάλακτος, ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν ποδῶν τοῦ θηρίου ἐτίθει αὐτὸ ἐν σκάφηι. εἰ δὲ μὴ τοῦτο πεποιήκοι, τροφὴν οὐκ ἐλάμβανεν ἡ ἐλέφας. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα δι᾽ ὅλης τῆς ἡμέρας [τοὺς] καλάμους λαμβάνων ἐκ τῶν παρατιθεμένων χορτασμάτων καθεύδοντος τοῦ βρέφους τὰς μυίας ἀπεσόβει· ὅτε δὲ κλαίοι, τῆι προβοσκίδι τὴν σκάφην ἐκίνει καὶ κατεκοίμιζεν αὐτό. τὸ δ᾽ αὐτὸ ἐποίει καὶ ὁ ἄρρην ἐλέφας πολλάκις.»

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