What Mythical Creature Did Marco Polo Claim to Find?

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The Italian explorer Marco Polo was responsible for introducing Europeans to many new discoveries, including some that were far from accurate; when Marco Polo saw a rhinoceros during his travels in Asia, he claimed to have seen a unicorn. Because Marco Polo was not used to seeing some of the non-mythical animals that are native to Asia, he confused what he saw, which included animals such as crocodiles and large snakes, for mythical creatures. Photographic technology had not yet been developed at the time of Marco Polo’s 13th-century travels, and the explorer’s personal accounts were converted into drawings.

In addition to reporting a sighting of the mythical unicorn, Marco Polo also claimed to have seen a roc, which is a mythological bird of massive proportions. This fictional bird of prey was supposed, based on Marco Polo’s description, to be large enough to scoop up an Asian elephant into its talons as a means of capturing prey. Marco Polo described the roc as being similar in appearance to an eagle, but absolutely massive in size. Though Marco Polo’s imagination likely filled in the gaps from his declining eyesight, his tour of Asia had a lasting impact on Italian and European culture.