The Cost of Keeping Elephants

Words are inadequate to describe the hardships of the descent and the havoc caused to the baggage-animals and their burdens.

After the Romans had advanced barely four miles they would have given anything to have been able to retrace their steps. The elephants produced almost as much confusion as an enemy attack, for on arriving at the trackless places they cast off their drivers and with their horrific trumpeting cause immense panic, especially among the horses, until a scheme was devised for lowering the elephants down the hill…1
–Livy

The entire account of this mesmerizing episode will require several returns to capture all of the sounds and smells and efforts and injuries. These horrors are described with plain but exaggerated language and a hint of that familiar stink of the patriotic throughout many small episodes, together comprising the “Fall of Macedonia”.

War does not break out, it is never caught or chained
If something in its environment changes
Only a little at first
Waltzing back and forth on the ground it tramples,
Then it turns its head, letting its iron cervical column
Crack.
Building itself up slowly, in movements believed forgotten
straightening up, gradually groaning, but ever more certainly.
It regains its old strengths from debilitating disappointments.
Shredded hopes, false blame, and fatalism.
From long-circulating lies in the name of religion,
Nursed by powerlessness and poverty.
It reassembles itself from the collected remains
Of historical garbage, worn out,
Rotten debris which must be washed with blood
So that it might seem useful again,
It lifts itself up slowly, as if its joints are rusty
And out of practice:
It stretches and grows
To legendary, heroic, oversized proportions,
Until it stands firm, formidable, dangling chains,
War does not break out.
It waits.
For a singular, but thousandfold: {cheer!} 2


  1. Livy, Book 44.5 “History of Rome” 
  2. Einstürzende Neubauten – Kriegsmaschinerie