Cassiodorus, Variae (X, 30)
Honorio praefecto urbis Thodahadus rex . 535-536.
Relationis vestrae tenore comperimus in via sacra, quam multis superstitionibus dicavit antiquitas, elephantos aeneos vicina omnimodis ruina titubare, et qui solent in carnali substantia supra millenos annos vivere, occasum videantur proximum in simulacris aereis sustinere. his providentia vestra reddi faciat propriam longaevitatem uncis ferreis hiantia membra solidando: alvum quoque demissam subdito pariete corroboret, ne illa magnitudo mirabilis solvatur turpiter in ruinam.
Nam et vivis ipse casus adversus est, qui, dum in genus cubationis arte hominum succisis arboribus ingentia membra commiserint, toto pondere supinati nequeunt propriis viribus surgere, quos semel contigerit corruisse, scilicet quia pedes eorum nullis infl ectuntur articulis, sed in modum columnarum rigentes atque incurvabiles iugiter perseverant. ibi tanta moleprostrati sunt, ut tunc magis metallicos possis credere, cum se vivos aspicias nonmovere. iacent superstites similitudine cadaverum: mortuos putes, quos vivos esse non dubites et more cadentium fabricarum, nesciunt locum sponte relinquere, quem suis membris potuerint occupare.
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From your report, we have learned that in the sacred way which antiquity consecrates to many superstitions, that the bronze elephants wave for imminent collapse: they, that are used to living for over a thousand years in their metal effigies, seem to encounter an impending death. Your solicitude does give back their characteristic longevity, consolidating with iron clamps their torn limbs, and then reinforced with underlying masonry, the felt belly so that this marvelous greatness does not turn into a shameful ruin.
In fact, the fall is also dangerous for living animals that, in the act of laying down, resting their huge limbs on trees affected as the basis of human cunning, once fallen, knocked on their back with all the weight, are not able to stand by their own efforts, because their legs do not flex with any articulations, but always remain upright as columns and can not bend. So weighed down are they by their great weight that you believe them made of metal, when you see them motionless although alive. Lying upturned like corpses: you would consider them dead, them that you do not doubt being alive and in the same way as ruined buildings are not able to voluntarily leave the place that their limbs occupy.
English translation from the Italian text of of C. La Rocca , “Cassiodoro, Teodato e il restauro degli elefanti di bronzo della Via Sacra” in Reti Medievali Rivista, XI – 2010/2 (luglio-dicembre).