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Science & Philosophy

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Chapter Summary

Ludovico de Varthema (or Barthema), a native of Bologna, was one of the first Christians to visit Mecca. Instead of travelling back to Damascus, Varthema joined a caravan departing for India via Aden, which at that time was the main port for the maritime spice trade in the Islamic world. In Aden, however, he was recognized as a Christian and arrested. Varthema's description is conspicuously at variance with the traditional representation of unicorns in medieval bestiaries and works of art, where they are usually portrayed as white-furred, horse-like animals, whether or not with cloven hoofs. The chapter outlines pieces of evidence to the allegedly Ethiopian origin of the unicorns that Varthema saw in Mecca. In the author's view, it is highly likely that the unicorns Varthema saw in Mecca were artificially produced specimens.

Keywords: Aden; Ludovico De Varthema; Mecca; unicorns



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