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The Epirote King Pyrrhus and His War Elephant Nikon (“Victor”)

Pyrrhus—the second-best general, Hannibal

claimed, himself being third (and great Alexander,

naturally, the best), was doomed, it seems, to fall

at Argos brained by an Argive dragoon’s mother

who dropped a roof tile on his skull from up on high

to save her boy: his neck broken, and he near dead,

braving his expiring glare, an Illyrian GI,

Zopyrus by name, stepped up to hack off his splendid head.

Pierced by an Argive spear,

the Panjabi mahout

who’d raised it as a calf had tumbled helplessly

from the elephant Nikon’s back; amid the rout

of friend and foe alike, the beast found the body,

trunked it to its tusks, and trampled underfoot the throng,

killing as many as it could who'd done, it felt, that wrong.

Source: Plutarch's Lives, with an English translation by Bernadotte Perrin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920), Pyrrhus 33.4–5. Pyrrus died in 272 BCE, aged about 46. Nikon's fate is unknown, but the Macedonian ruler Antigonus Gonatas (ca. 320–239 BCE), son of Demetrius Poliorcetes (Demetrius the Besieger) and grandson of Alexander the Great’s Companion Antigonus Monophthalmus (Antigonus the One-Eyed), treated the losers at Argos kindly, incorporating them into his own army, and Nikon might thus simply have been added to Antigonus’s elephantry.


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