From Marco Polo to Leibniz: Stories of Intercultural Misunderstanding
The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, 1996
A lecture presented by Umberto Eco on December 10, 1996. Includes several references to the Bestiary.
"This evening I shall ... deal with some misunderstandings that took place when people were unable to understand that different cultures have different languages and world-visions. The fact that - by serendipity - also those mistakes provided some new discoveries only means ... that even errors can produce interesting side-effects. ... The whole of the medieval tradition convinced Europeans that there existed unicorns, that is, animals that looked as gentle and slender as white horses, with a horn on their nose. ... When Marco Polo traveled to China, he was obviously looking for unicorns. ... And the truth was that the unicorns he saw were very different from those represented by a millinery tradition. ...They were not white, but black. ... Their horn was not white but black, their tongue was thorny, their head looked as that of a wild boar. As a matter of fact what Marco Polo saw were rhinoceroses." - Eco
Last update January 4, 2022