Skip to main content

Human-Elephant Encounters in Music

  • 693 Accesses

Part of the Cultural Animal Studies book series (CAS,volume 4)


Elephants and human music have been related in various cultures and various historical situations. This paper mainly tries to explore some of the connections between elephants and music in Western culture and some of the encounters between elephants and humans that have been generated or furthered by Western music. What happens when elephants listen to human music? What happens when they have to perform to this music? How is the concept of being a listening subject challenged by applying it to nonhumans? These questions are discussed in connection with several historical constellations of human-elephant relationships, from the ambiguous association of elephants with music in classical Rome to the 2014 documentary Music for Elephants and recent videos of seemingly dancing zoo elephants on the internet.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-476-04939-1_18
  • Chapter length: 8 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
USD   59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-476-04939-1
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   79.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)


  • Aelian. On the Characteristics of Animals. Trans. by Alwyn Faber Scholfield, vol. 1, Heinemann, 1958.

    Google Scholar 

  • “Are These Elephants Really Dancing to Classical Music? – Video.” The Guardian, 16 June 2015,

  • Barton, Paul. Interview by Amanda Feldon. 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bartsch, Eleanor. “Elephants Dancing to Violin! Adorable!” YouTube, 24 Aug. 2014, Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.

  • Delort, Robert. The Life and Lore of the Elephant. Thames and Hudson, 1992.

    Google Scholar 

  • Feldon, Amanda, director/producer. Music for Elephants. Lightning International, 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  • Foucault, Michel. “The Subject and Power.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 8, no. 4, Summer 1982, pp. 777–795.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Houel, Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent. Histoire naturelle des deux éléphans, mâle et femelle, du Muséum de Paris, venus de Hollande en France en l’an VI. Paris, 1803. Gallica,

  • Johnson, James H. Listening in Paris: A Cultural History. U of California P, 1995.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kallberg, Jeffrey. “Peeping at Pachyderms: Convergences of Sex and Music in France around 1800.” Fashions and Legacies of Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera, ed. by Roberta Montemorra Marvin and Hilary Poriss, Cambridge UP, 2009, pp. 132–151.

    Google Scholar 

  • Körner, Otto. Die Homerische Tierwelt. 2nd ed., Bergmann, 1930. Europeana Collections,

  • O’Connor, Jennifer. “No, These Elephants Aren’t Dancing.” PETA, 26 Aug. 2014,

  • Oettermann, Stephan. Die Schaulust am Elefanten: Eine Elephantographia Curiosa. Syndikat, 1982.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shelton, Jo-Ann. “Dancing and Dying: The Display of Elephants in Ancient Roman Arenas.” Daimonopylai: Essays in Classics and the Classical Tradition Presented to Edmund G. Berry, ed. by Rory B. Egan and Mark A. Joyal, Center for Hellenic Civilization, 2004, pp. 363–382.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shelton, Jo-Ann. “Elephants as Enemies in Ancient Rome.” Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, vol. 32, 2006, pp. 3–25.

    Google Scholar 

  • Smuts, Barbara. “Encounters with Animal Minds.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 8, no. 5–6, May 2001, pp. 293–309.

    Google Scholar 

  • Toscan, Georges. “Histoire-Naturelle: Du Pouvoir de la Musique sur les Animaux, et du Concert donné aux Èlephans.” La Décade philosophique, littéraire et politique: Par une Société de républicains, Paris, 1798, pp. 257–264. Gallica,

  • Tyler, Tom. “Introduction: The Case of the Camel.” Animal Encounters, ed. by Tyler and Manuela S. Rossini, Brill, 2009, pp. 1–9.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, Tom, and Manuela S. Rossini, eds. Animal Encounters. Brill, 2009.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Martin Ullrich .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2019 Springer-Verlag GmbH Deutschland, ein Teil von Springer Nature

About this chapter

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Ullrich, M. (2019). Human-Elephant Encounters in Music. In: Böhm, A., Ullrich, J. (eds) Animal Encounters. Cultural Animal Studies, vol 4. J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-476-04938-4

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-476-04939-1

  • eBook Packages: J.B. Metzler Humanities (German Language)