Well, it’s already 9:00 pm, and I haven’t posted today’s quote for Words Crush Wednesday, and I still have things I have to do tonight, so…uh, yeah, it’s been a weird day. I don’t have time to figure out what I actually want to get to quoting right now — and next week is IWSG anyway — so I thought I’d pop back to a really great bit from Terry Jones’ Barbarians, which includes a lengthy quote from Julius Caesar. (I can’t do a double block quote, so Caesar will have to be Italicized….which is actually pretty appropriate, if you think about it…)
This is from the introduction, on pages 14-5.
Of course, it was thoughtless of the Celts not to leave us much in the way of written records — they should have known that the lack of books putting forward their own propaganda would weight the evidence firmly in favor of the Romans. But even so, we shouldn’t believe everything the Romans tell us. Here, for example, is Julius Caesar’s considered opinion about elks. Elks, the great statesman and general informs us, are
destitute of horns, and have legs without joints and ligatures; nor do they lie down for the purpose of rest, nor, if they have been thrown down by any accident, can they raise or lift themselves up. Trees serve as beds to them; they lean themselves against them, and thus reclining only slightly, they take their rest; when the huntsmen have discovered from the footsteps of these animals whither they are accustomed to betake themselves, they either undermine all the trees at the roots, or cut into them so far that the upper part of the trees may appear to be left standing. When they [the elks] have leant upon them, according to their habit, they knock down by their weight the unsupported trees, and fall down themselves along with them.
This interesting piece of zoological observation was solemnly repeated by the Greek geographer Strabo and the encyclopedist Pliny the Elder. It seems to be a confusion with an identical story about elephants told by Aristotle, and which, having also been repeated by Strabo, became part of the ‘standard truth’ about elephants right into the late seventeenth century, when Sir Thomas Browne complained that, even when people could see the animals perfectly clearly, and watch them kneel and stand, the determination to cling to the security of classical authorities made them deny what was in front of their own eyes.
The Caesar quote, according to the end notes, is from The Gallic War, VI, 27. (I assume the notes are correct, but I haven’t actually read Caesar’s war self-adulation, so it’s not like I’d know if they’re wrong.) I love the fact that Strabo repeated the same story about both elks and elephants. That’s classic, that is.
BTW, “Caesar Jones” would make a great character name, wouldn’t it? I should totally use that somewhere…
EDIT — Ack, I forgot to credit the book’s co-author, Alan Ereira. Sorry about that!