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Hanno The Elephant


Hanno (Italian, Annone; c. 1510 – 8 June 1516) was the pet white elephant of Pope Leo X (born Giovanni de' Medici), and the subject of the book The Pope's Elephant: An Elephant's Journey from Deep in India to the Heart of Rome by Silvio A. Bedini.

 He was the gift of King Manuel I of Portugal on the Pope's coronation. King Manuel had either received him as a gift from the King of Cochin, or had asked Alfonso d'Albuquerque, his viceroy in India, to purchase him. Hanno was said to be white in colour, and arrived by ship from Lisbon to Rome in 1514, aged about four years, and was kept initially in an enclosure in the Belvedere courtyard, then moved to a specially constructed building between St. Peter's Basilica and the Apostolic Palace, near the Borgo Sant'Angelo (a road in the rione of Borgo). His arrival was commemorated in poetry and art. Pasquale Malaspina wrote:

“ In the Belvedere before the great Pastor

Was conducted the trained elephant

Dancing with such grace and such love

That hardly better would a man have danced:

And then with its trunk such a great noise

It made, that the entire place was deafened:

And stretching itself on the ground to kneel

It then straightened up in reverence to the Pope,

And to his entourage.

Hanno became a great favourite of the papal court and was featured in processions. Two years after he came to Rome, he fell ill suddenly, was given a purgative, and died on 8 June 1516, with the pope at his side. Hanno was interred in the Cortile del Belvedere at the age of seven.

The artist Raffaello Santi designed a memorial fresco (which does not survive), and the Pope himself composed the epitaph:

“ Under this great hill I lie buried

Mighty elephant which the King Manuel

Having conquered the Orient

Sent as captive to Pope Leo X.

At which the Roman people marvelled, --

A beast not seen for a long time,

And in my brutish breast they perceived human feelings.

Fate envied me my residence in the blessed Latium

And had not the patience to let me serve my master a full three years.

But I wish, oh gods, that the time which Nature would have assigned to me,

and Destiny stole away,

You will add to the life of the great Leo.

He lived seven years

He died of angina

He measured twelve palms in height.

Giovanni Battista Branconio dell'Aquila

Privy chamberlain to the pope

And provost of the custody of the elephant,

Has erected this in 1516, the 8th of June,

In the fourth year of the pontificate of Leo X.

That which Nature has stolen away

Raphael of Urbino with his art has restored. ”


Hanno was also the subject of a satirical pamphlet by Pietro Aretino entitled "The Last Will and Testament of the Elephant Hanno." The fictitious will cleverly mocked the leading political and religious figures of Rome at the time, including Pope Leo X himself. The pamphlet was such a success that it kickstarted Aretino's career and established him as a famous satirist, ultimately known as "the Scourge of Princes."

There are four sketches of Hanno, done in life with red chalk, in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.

Hanno's story is told at some length in Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power in a section entitled "Enter Action with Boldness." Greene claims that Aretino's audacious move to satirize Pope Leo's sacred pet was responsible for the author's rise to literary infamy.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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