Monday, November 01, 2010

Defeating the mischief intended by the Elephants

And therefore it was remarkably singular in the battle of Africa, that Scipio fearing a rout from the Elephants of the Enemy, left not the Principes in their alternate distances, whereby the Elephants passing the vacuities of the Hastati, might have run upon them, but drew his battle into right  order, and leaving the passages bare, defeated the mischief intended by the Elephants.

The event which Browne alludes to in chapter two of his Discourse  'The Garden of Cyrus'  is the Battle of Zama  in North Africa, modern-day Tunisia, which was fought in 202 BCE between the Roman army led by Scipio Africanus and the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal. The battle ended in the decimation of Hannibal's army and Carthage losing the Second Punic War, effectively establishing Rome's total control of the Mediterranean sea.

Scipio's fame in esoteric literature is due  to  the sixth book of Cicero's De Republica  describing Scipio's journey through the planetary spheres and  his hearing the celestial music of the spheres. The  Neoplatonic philosopher Macrobius (395 - 425 CE) wrote a commentary upon Scipio's dream which became well-known in the Middle ages. The 15 year old Mozart composed a one act opera named Il sogno di Scipio K. 126 using a libretto by Metastastio which was based upon the Roman text.

Browne's figure of speech 'defeated the mischief intended by the Elephants',  in particular, linking 'mischief'  with  'Elephants' seems  a fine example of his subtle  humour. 

Painting by Guilo Romano (1492-1546)  The Battle of Zama
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