L’elefantessa

April 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Occhio

“…ti allego due foto che ho scattato in un circo alcuni anni fa (non mi piacciono gli spettacoli con gli animali ma volevo fare fotografie). Sono sgattaiolata dietro il tendone, fra le gabbie degli animali e ho incontrato l’elefantessa, bellissima, sacrale come una antica scultura rituale… il suo sguardo mi ha fatto imbarazzare, improvvisamente ho avuto la sensazione di non sapere nulla. Come se dentro quella mole di carne e quella corteccia di pelle ci fosse nascosto qualcosa di agile e profondamente consapevole.. non so spiegarlo.. più tardi, vedendo l’elefantessa agghindata e mortificata dallo spettacolo, mi sono sentita parte di una specie immatura e pericolosamente inconsapevole…”

Pelle

foto e testo  C. Giampaoli

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Trained Elephant : Liminal Animal

April 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Romans learned about elephants in battle first from Phyrrus of Epirus, later from Hannibal and Hasdrubal, who brought the beasts onto the Italian penninsula as weapons of war. When frightened, confused or wounded, elephants would often turn away from the enemy to crash through their own ranks, crushing men and creating chaos, in a complete “rejection of human conventions of alliance.”  (1)

By injuring and killing their own soldiers,  “they threw into confusion the boundaries which humans had constructed to differentiate between friend and foe and between culture and nature,” and earned themselves a reputation for treachery. Elephants that trampled their own troops in spite of the care and training they had been given were perceived as not only  “useless, in the sense that lions or bears are useless to humans, but to have betrayed the humans who offered them the alliance.” (2)

CHUNEE was a male Indian elephant imported from Bengal to London in 1809. He appeared on stage in several theatrical productions, including the pantomime Harlequin and Padmanaba, or the Golden Fish, before ownership passed to Edward Cross in 1817 and he was displayed in a menagerie at Exeter Exchange on the Strand. On November 1, 1825, Chunee gored and killed his keeper. Despite being deemed an accident, the elephant was fined one shilling for the offense. In February, 1826, following a period of “madness that made him totally untractable,” probably during his musth, but attributed at the time to an “annual paroxysm” aggravated by a rotten tusk, his behavior became increasingly violent. For days and nights Chunee battered his oak and iron cage until it threatened to explode. He failed to respond to a “calming” dose of powerful purgatives- 6 ounces of calomel and fifty-five pounds of Epsom salts- mixed with molasses. Crowds that gathered to hear the noise had to be restrained by patrolmen. Finally it was determined that Chunee should be killed. On March 1st his keeper tried to feed him “corrosive sublimate” (mercuric chloride) mixed with his hay, which Chunee refused. Soldiers were eventually called in to shoot Chunee with their muskets; he was hit 152 times, but did not die. His keeper finished the job with a harpoon.

George Cruikshank, 1826

Chunee, all 10,000 pounds of him, was skinned, dissected and cut up by a team of surgeons, medical students and butchers before a large paying audience. The story and controversy surrounding his death inspired prose, poetry and a successful play at Sadler’s Wells, entitled Chuneelah; or, The Death of the Elephant at Exeter ‘Change. One pamphlet promised  Every Particular Respecting the Madness of the Tremendous Elephant of Exeter Change, and the Manner Adopted to Destroy That Living Mountain, by Firing nearly 150 Balls, with Particulars Relating to His Disesction. His mounted skeleton remained on display in London until 1941 when it was destroyed by a direct hit from a Luftwaffe bomb. (3)

TOPSY (c.1875-1903), a female elephant belonging to the Forepaugh Circus, lived at Coney Island’s Luna Park. In 1903, after killing three men in three years, it was decided that Topsy herself should be put to death. When hanging as a means of execution was rejected, Thomas Edison offered the option of electrocution. Edison was keen to establish the superiority of his DC current over the “dangerous” AC current promoted by his rival, Nicola Tesla. (AC current had been used to execute humans since 1890.)

On January 4, 1903, Topsy was fed a last meal of carrots laced with 460 grams of cyanide. With Edison’s camera rolling to record the event in front of an audience of 1500, Topsy was fitted with a conducting harness, led forward to stand on metal plates, and 6,600 volts AC was sent through her body. Edison’s film, Electrocuting an Elephant, was shown to audiences throughout the United States.

G.B. Piranesi (1720-1780), Reconstruction of Circus Maximus. Etching. Kupferstickcabinett, Berlin

It was a “slow, difficult process to train elephants for use in battle. And they remained scarcely trained, even after many years of discipline and prolonged practice.” They could not be “counted on to be either always savage, like lions, or always docile, like donkeys.” Elephants captured in battle by the Romans were sent back to the capital for triumphs and spectacles before being slaughtered in front of huge audiences in the Circus. (4)

(1) Shelton, Jo-ann, Dancing and Dying:The Display of Elephants in Ancient Roman Arenas. Daimonopylai, (Winnepeg, 2004)
(2) Ibid.
(3)Altick, Richard, The Shows of London. (London, 1978)
(4) Shelton

The Circus Girl

April 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Marvelously Trained Elephants in New Novel Acts

April 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

c.1899 Granger

Circus Maximus

April 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

“In ancient Roman arenas, elephants appeared in a variety of spectacles. In some they were made to perform stunts, in others they were mutilated and killed. The common element in these spectacles is that the audience found pleasure in the humiliation of these enormous beasts.”(1)

Twenty elephants accompanied Pyrrhus II, King of Epirus, and his army when they invaded southern Italy in 280 BC. Initially successful in terrifying the Roman soldiers, the elephants eventually contributed to Pyrrhus’ defeat when they were turned back against his own troops, causing chaos and destruction. Four of the beasts were captured and taken to Rome. Thirty years later, 140 elephants were captured from the Carthaginians in Sicily, and sent to Rome where they were paraded before the people, prodded with blunt spears or killed with javelins. Thus began a long tradition of humiliation, abuse and slaughter of elephants in the Circus Maximus, a celebration of Rome’s superior military power and domination over its enemies, and over nature itself.

“Aelian describes an exhibition in which elephants, wearing flowered dancers’ dresses, entered the arena in two groups of six, their bodies swaying. They formed a line, wheeled in circles and performed various movements at the trainer’s order keeping time by rhythmic stamping as if dancing, and sprinkling flowers delicately on the floor.” (2)

“Another stunt described by Aelian drove the spectators wild with delight. Six male elephants and six female elephants in pairs, suitably costumed, took their places at a banquet. They used their long trunks as hands to take food with great delicacy and drank from bowls placed in front of them.” (3)

 

(1) Jo-ann Shelton, Dancing and Dying:The Display of Elephants in Ancient Roman Arenas. Daimonopylai, (Winnepeg, 2004)
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.

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