The Rhinoceros

rhinoceronPen and ink drawing, Albrecht Dürer, 1515

The Rhinoceros

In early 1514, Afonso de Albuquerque, governor of Portuguese India, sent ambassadors to Sultan Muzafar II, ruler of Cambay, to seek permission to build a fort on the island of Diu. The mission returned without an agreement, but diplomatic gifts were exchanged, including a rhinoceros.
Albuquerque decided to forward the gift, known by its Gujarati name of ganda, and its Indian keeper, to King Manuel I of Portugal.
On the Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, with two companion vessels, all loaded with spices, the animal sailed across the Indian Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope and north through the Atlantic, stopping briefly in MozambiqueSaint Helena and the Azores.
The rhinoceros was finally unloaded in Portugal, near the site where the Manueline Belém Tower was under construction. The tower was later decorated with gargoyles shaped as rhinoceros heads under its corbels.

A rhinoceros had not been seen in Europe since Roman times: it had become something of a mythical beast, occasionally conflated in bestiaries with the “monoceros” (unicorn), so the arrival of a living example created a sensation.
In the context of the Renaissance, it was a piece of Classical Antiquity which had been rediscovered, like a statue or an inscription.
The animal was examined by scholars and the curious, and letters describing the fantastic creature were sent to correspondents throughout Europe.
The earliest known image of it illustrates a poemetto by Florentine Giovanni Giacomo Penni, published in Rome fewer than eight weeks after its arrival in Lisbon.

It was housed in King Manuel’s menagerie at the Ribeira Palace in Lisbon, separate from his elephants and other large beasts at the Estaus Palace.

Manuel decided to give the rhinoceros as a gift to the Medici Pope Leo X. The King was keen to curry favour with the Pope, to maintain the papal grants of exclusive possession to the new lands that his naval forces had been exploring in the Far East since Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India around Africa in 1498.
The previous year, the Pope had been very pleased with Manuel’s gift of a white elephant, also from India, which the Pope had named Hanno.
Together with other precious gifts of silver plate and spices, the rhinoceros, with its new collar of green velvet decorated with flowers, embarked on December 1515 for the voyage to Rome.

The vessel passed near Marseille in early 1516. King Francis I of France was returning from Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in Provence, and requested a viewing of the beast. The Portuguese vessel stopped briefly at an island off Marseilles, where the rhinoceros disembarked to be beheld by the King.

After resuming its journey, the ship was wrecked in a sudden storm as it passed through the narrows of Porto Venere, north of La Spezia on the coast of Liguria. The rhinoceros, chained and shackled to the deck to keep it under control, was unable to swim to safety and drowned.

The carcass of the rhinoceros was recovered near Villefranche and its hide was returned to Lisbon, where it was stuffed. Some reports say that the mounted skin was sent to Rome, arriving in February 1516, to be exhibited impagliato (Italian for “stuffed with straw”), although such a feat would have challenged 16th-century methods of taxidermy, which were still primitive. If a stuffed rhinoceros did arrive in Rome, its fate remains unknown: it might have been removed to Florence by the Medici, or destroyed in the 1527 sack of Rome. In any event, there was not the popular sensation in Rome that the living beast had caused in Lisbon, although a rhinoceros was depicted in contemporary paintings in Rome by Giovanni da Udine and Raphael.

Valentim Fernandes, a Moravian merchant and printer, had seen the rhinoceros in Lisbon shortly after it arrived and had written a letter describing it to a friend in Nuremberg in June 1515. A second letter of unknown authorship was sent from Lisbon to Nuremberg at around the same time, enclosing a sketch by an unknown artist, Albrecht Dürer.
Without ever seeing the rhinoceros himself, Dürer made two pen and ink drawings, and then a woodcut was carved from the second drawing

The German inscription on the woodcut, drawing largely from Pliny’s account, reads:

On the first of May in the year 1513 AD, the powerful King of Portugal, Manuel of Lisbon, brought such a living animal from India, called the rhinoceros. This is an accurate representation. It is the colour of a speckled tortoise, and is almost entirely covered with thick scales. It is the size of an elephant but has shorter legs and is almost invulnerable. It has a strong pointed horn on the tip of its nose, which it sharpens on stones. It is the mortal enemy of the elephant. The elephant is afraid of the rhinoceros, for, when they meet, the rhinoceros charges with its head between its front legs and rips open the elephant’s stomach, against which the elephant is unable to defend itself. The rhinoceros is so well-armed that the elephant cannot harm it. It is said that the rhinoceros is fast, impetuous and cunning.

Dürer’s woodcut is not an accurate representation of a rhinoceros. He depicts an animal with hard plates that cover its body like sheets of armour, with a gorget at the throat, a solid-looking breastplate, and rivets along the seams. He places a small twisted horn on its back, and gives it scaly legs and saw-like rear quarters.
None of these features is present in a real rhinoceros.
It is possible that a suit of armour was forged for the king’s exhibition of the rhinoceros versus an elephant in Portugal, and that these features depicted by Dürer are parts of the armour.
Alternatively, Dürer’s armour may represent the heavy folds of thick skin of an Indian rhinoceros, or, as with the other inaccuracies, may simply be misunderstandings or creative additions by Dürer.
Dürer also draws a scaly texture over the body of the animal, including the armour. This may be Dürer’s attempt to reflect the rough and almost hairless hide of the Indian rhinoceros, which has wart-like bumps covering its upper legs and shoulders.
On the other hand, his depiction of the texture may represent dermatitis induced by the rhinoceros’ close confinement during the four-month journey by ship from India to Portugal.

[Silvio Bedini (1917 – 2007)]



The Rhinoceros

A critically endangered male Sumatran rhino born in a US zoo has been flown to Indonesia to mate, as part of efforts to save his species. Eight-year-old Harapan, born in Cincinnati, was the last Sumatran rhino in the Western hemisphere.
The rhinos natural habitat in the forest of Sumatra is being devastated by illegal logging, and forest fires set by farmers clearing land for palm oil and pulp plantations
They are prized by poachers as their horns are used in [fake aphrodisiac scams dignified by the term] “Chinese medicine”.


The ancient Sumatran rhino has been declared extinct in Malaysia,
following the fate of black rhinos in West Africa in 2011.

Central Africa’s northern white rhino has been reduced to four animals,
and conservationists say the more plentiful southern white rhinos are under unprecedented attack from poachers eager to sell the horns to Asian and Arab buyers.


After roaming free for millions of years, rhinos may be able to survive in Kenya only if they are protected behind fences in sanctuaries, a leading conservation charity has said.
Those that remain are increasingly vulnerable to extremely well-organised poaching gangs,  and people from inside the Kenya Wildlife Service have been found to be colluding with them.


Just last week, preservationists at the Old Pejeta animal sanctuary in Kenya conceded that their one male and two female northern white rhinos will not reproduce naturally.
The animals were flown from the Czech zoo to the Kenyan conservancy in December 2009 in hopes that the natural environment there could be easier for them to breed in than in captivity.
Efforts will now be made to keep the species alive through in vitro fertilization. That experiment could take place with a southern white rhino surrogate mother. Southern white rhinos almost went extinct at the end of the 19th century, plunging down to only 20 at one point. Decades of conservation efforts gradually brought them back to life. 
The greater population of the southern white rhino could aid in reproduction of its northern counterpart. Scientists who have studied the critically endangered animal claim that dramatic population loss has reached the point at which inter-crossing the two subspecies will likely be necessary for the survival of the northern white rhino.
Geneticists view breeding rhinos across subspecies as a last resort of sorts, because of the possibility that the genes of the northern white rhino would not be preserved.
Other options are even less appealing. The six remaining animals in the subspecies would have to inbreed to produce any pure-bred offspring. But the negative effects of inbreeding, like reduced fertility and higher infant mortality rates, decrease the likelihood that the population of the subspecies could rebound this way.
“One can always believe in miracles but everything leads us to believe that hope they would reproduce naturally has gone,” Dvur Kralove Zoo spokeswoman Jana Mysliveckova told Agence France-Presse.


The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Both Good and Evil

Jacques le Moyne de Morgues (1533 – 1588)

pples (Malus communis, M. pumila, & M. sylvestris), pears (Pyrus communis) and quince (Cydonia oblonga) belong to the rose family.

O mosy quince, hangyng by your stalke,
The whyche no man dar pluk away ner take,
Of all the folk that passe forby or walke,
Your flowres fresshe be fallyn away and shake.
I am ryght sory, masteras, for your sake,
Ye seme a thyng that all men have forgotyn;
Ye be so rype ye wex almost rotyn.
 Geoffrey Chaucer

Cultivation of the quince began in Mesopotamia, preceding apple culture, and many references translated to “apple,” such as the fruit in Song of Solomon, may have been references to a quince.

It was perhaps the orchard fruit in the Garden of the Hesperides
Among the ancient Greeks, the quince–sacred to Aphrodite–was a ritual offering at weddings.
In Plutarch’s Lives, Solon decreed that “bride and bridegroom shall be shut into a chamber, and eat a quince together,”
and that a bride should nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber, “in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant.”
It was a quince that Paris awarded Aphrodite and it was for a golden quince that Atlanta paused in her race.
Aristophanes use quinces (kydonia) as a mildly ribald term for teenage breasts.
Pliny the Elder  mentioned the one variety, Mulvian quince, that could be eaten raw, while Columella, another ancient naturalist, describes three other varieties, the sparrow apple,the  golden apple, and the must apple.
Charlemagne was partly responsible for introducing the quince into France with his orders in the year 812 to plant trees in the royal garden.
Used as a rootstock for grafted plants, quince has the property of dwarfing them and forcing them to produce more fruit.
When Joan of Arc arrived in Orleans in 1429 to liberate the French from the English, she received the gift of cotignac– a clear gel made from boiled quince juice and sugar and set into small wooden boxes to form confections.
In 1570 Pope Pius V gave a spectacular banquet that featured, as its piece de resistance, a quince pastry.
Most varieties of quince are too hard, astringent and sour to eat raw unless ‘bletted’ (softened by frost and subsequent decay). w
Marmalade, originally meaning a quince jam, derives from “marmello,” the Portugese word for quince, and it was commonplace centuries before orange marmalade, which didn’t arrive on the scene until 1790 when it was created in Scotland.
A March 16, 1629 entry in the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Memorandum listed quince as one of the seeds requested from England. By 1720 quince was thriving in Virginia, but it wasn’t too long before everyone wanted apples.
Korean scholars of the 1700s and 1800s who helped revive tea drinking, considered their own superior to Chinese teas. Among them were fruit teas, sweetened with honey, made of quince, citron, dates, pears, strawberries, cherries, watermelon and peaches.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the English prepared variations of quince preserves which formed a thick paste that could be shaped into animals or flowers.
Though the quince paste is rarely found in England today, a coarse version, called membrillo, is still served along with cheese in Spain.
Hindus prepare a quince sambalThe phytochemistry of quince is under study for several possible medical uses.
In the Alsace region of France and the Valais region of Switzerland, liqueur de coing is made from quince and used as a digestif.
In Malta, where jam is made from the fruit, a teaspoon-full is  dissolved in a cup of boiling water to relieve intestinal discomfort.
In Iran and other parts of the Middle East, the dried pits of the fruit are soaked in water, and the viscous product  drunk like cough medicine–useful for children because it’s alcohol-free.
In Afghanistan quince is used raw or in stews and jam, and the seeds are used as a remedy for pneumonia and lung disease.

In the Canary Islands and some places in South America, a quince is used to play a beach toss-and-swim game, usually among adolescents. Salt water sweetens quince, so the game is played by throwing one into the sea. Whoever retrieves it takes one bite and tosses the it again –until the quince is fully eaten.

When a baby is born in Slavonia and Croatia, a quince tree is planted as a symbol of fertility, love, and life.

The whole quince fruits are so fragrant at room temperature that they were used in ancient times to scent the room.

Typvs Vniversalis

Sebastian Münster 1489-1552

Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy), greatest of all geographers and cartographers of classical antiquity, lived in Alexandria, Egypt during the second half of the second century AD. Successive editions of Ptolemy’s Atlas, Geographia, continued to be produced in many editions in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and early seventeenth centuries as the basis of development in western cartography.
This world map, from a 1540/42 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia, shows the full twelve winds designated by Aristotle. The twelve-wind system remained throughout the Middle Ages as the one most commonly used. In keeping with the mythologic origin of winds for direction finding, they are of necessity placed beyond the confines of the known world–beyond the earth itself, in an outer, celestial sphere.

King Aeolus, lord of wind and cloud, ruler of contending winds and moaning gales, controlled their fury lest they flay the sea into a great uproar. So great was his power, that Agamemnon, leader of the Greek expedition to destroy Troy, sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia to secure a favorable wind for his voyage across the sea.
Winds, and the place from which they blew, were the earliest means of dividing the horizon into named parts in order to express direction. The ancients used various forms of wind systems: Homer described four winds, consisting of the four cardinal points we now call north, south, east, and west; Pliny and Posidonius recognized eight winds, whereas Aristotle enumerated twelve.