1795 handbill announcing a live elephant

A chapter of Sarah Bakewell’s book Humanly Possible considers the life and times of Renaissance scholar Petrarch. Petrarch, she says, wrote a book called Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul (1360), which is a dialogue between three embodied figures: Reason, Sorrow and Joy. Reason’s job here is both to cheer up Sorrow and to settle down Joy.

At one point, Joy says, “I have elephants.”

Reason replies, “May I ask for what purpose?”

Bakewell’s comment: “No answer is recorded.”

(Bakewell, 2023: 52)

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