You can believe your own eyes.


Back in 2007, I did some IT work at a warehouse in a still rural area. To the east, there was a cow pasture. On the other side of the road to the north there were a number of small houses. One of the residents kept a flock of bantam chickens. The birds had the free run of the neighborhood. Here one indeed could wonder why the chicken crossed the road.

It struck me that farm animals in close proximity to human habitation and commerce, though unusual now, almost certainly was the norm for most of human history. Then I realized why the damning comment about Ulysses Aldrovandi’s natural history — “a cock and bull story” — concerned common animals, not the dragons, mermaids and who only knows what that Aldrovandi diligently described. One could always maintain that just over the horizon, or across the sea, or in the jungle, or desert, . . ., everything and anything was lurking. But for the beasts in barns that people walked past every day, anybody at a glance was able to determine that Aldrovandi’s musings were ridiculous.

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