And it is World Elephant Day, so… Elephants!
Last year I wrote a post about the general lack of fictional elephants, in which I mentioned the historical but nameless elephant given by the Sultan of Egypt to Emperor Frederick II, and gone down in the chronicles as the Elephant of Cremona… *
And I wondered: would Frederick really not bother to name his elephant? Now, I’ll admit I have something of a historical crush on Frederick, so I might be ever-so-slightly biased – but, knowing what I know about him, I just don’t see him neglecting the naming of such a magnificent and extraordinary creature.
The idea nagged at me so much that I kept searching for the name, and involving innocent friends in the search… I even made it a bit of a game on my Italian blog: how do you imagine Frederick would call his elephant?
In the end I found my answer: the elephant had a name indeed, an exotic and slightly odd one: Malik.
Malik, “King” in Arabic, seems a very fitting name for the imposing creature from far, far away… I call it odd because the Sultan who sent it to Frederick was himself named Malik al-Kamil: the elephant was named after him.** One wonders how the human Malik took the homonymy…
Considering, he may have liked it. Al-Kamil, an Ayyubid ruler with Kurdish blood, nephew of Saladin, was a remarkable man, and a good friend of Frederick. They shared an open mind, a boundless intellectual curiosity, many common interests, and, in more ways than one, a worldview. When his friend bestowed his very regal name on a creature symbol of wisdom and majesty, he must have appreciated the homage.
And so Malik, the Elephant of Cremona, comes to embody this extraordinary friendsip, the meeting point of two exceptional minds, of two very different worlds… We have even an image of him, from Matthew Paris’s Cronica Majora. You can see him up at this post’s beginning…
So there: I knew that Frederick would name him. I knew it, I knew it and I knew it! And after all, for a 13th century elephant, we know Malik rather well, don’t we?
* Doesn’t it make you want to write a Limerick?
** Come to think of it, the mythical Sri Lankan elephant Kandula was also named after his giver…