I've been to London a number of times, and I've heard the phrase "Elephant and Castle" on many of these trips: for me, it's always been a tube stop, although one I haven't often used, if ever. I should have realized, though, that the phrase has a particular medieval resonance, and that it derives from numerous medieval depictions of war-elephants with fighting platforms or pavilions on their backs, as usefully summarized on this blog post I ran across recently.
I ran across that blog, of course, because of the image I've used above, and some online searching I attempted in trying to trace it. As may (or may not) be clear from the heading, this woodcut is used at the top of a broadside Calendar for the year 1603, and the image is a complex and fascinating one. In the center, we have, indeed, an elephant with a kind of fighting castle perched upon its back. Before it and behind it are some marching figures, apparently carrying an army of spears. In the upper right background, three cannon are pointing into the air; though it may not be especially clear, one of them has just fired, and (in a portion of the image that is not shown), the cannon ball is heading directly for a ship sitting just offshore. It seems doubtful that an actual historical battle is being depicted.
The language of the heading, of course, is German, and the calendar certainly comes from a German speaking area, perhaps Austria in particular (possibly Vienna), though no printer's name is now preserved with it.
As best I can tell, the red component of the image above is printed along with the red-printed heading; the other colors (green, magenta, and mustard yellow) seem to have been applied by hand.
As one might guess, such broadside calendars are scarce today: they were ephemeral at best, and they very quickly went out of date. This one is preserved as part of an old book-binding, which seems to have been put together around 1604--immediately after this calendar went out of date. But it's a fascinating example of an old genre of text (and image) that still is part of our world today, whenever we hang a calendar on our wall for ready consultation.
|Table of symbols and the beginning of the calendar for January (Jenner)|
I haven't yet figured out a way to find out if that prediction was true, though there may be a record somewhere. But I do know that I'll remember this image when next I am in London, and I see the words "Elephant and Castle" on the Underground map.