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Elephant Rope Dancing

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The ease with which the elephant is taught to perform the most agile and
difficult feats, forms a remarkable contrast to its huge unwieldiness of
size. Aristotle tells us that in ancient times elephants were taught by
their keepers to throw stones at a mark, to cast up arms in the air, and
catch them again on their fall; and to dance not merely on the earth, but
on the rope. The first, according to Suetonius, who exhibited elephant
rope dancers, was Galba at Rome. The manner of teaching them to dance on
the ground was simple enough (by the association of music and a hot
floor); but we are not informed how they were taught to skip the rope, or
whether it was the tight or the slack rope, or how high the rope might be.
The silence of history on these points is fortunate for the figurantes of
the present day; since, but for this, their fame might have been utterly
eclipsed. Elephants may, in the days of old Rome, have been taught to
dance on the rope, but when was an elephant ever known to skip on a rope
over the heads of an audience, or to caper amidst a blaze of fire fifty
feet aloft in the air? What would Aristotle have thought of his dancing
elephants if he had seen some of the elephants who perform to-day?





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