The Rhinoceros of Versailles

Justin E. H. Smith in his blog:

6a00d83453bcda69e201a3fd1a6d13970b-400wiIn a corner of the Paris Jardin des Plantes, tucked between the greenhouses and the cultivated rows of bright dahlias of this vast park on the Left Bank of the Seine, we find La Ménagerie, as it is still called, home to over 1100 animals of various sizes, lineages, and provenances: panthers, wallabies, pheasants. It is held to be one of the oldest zoos in the world, having been established in 1793 by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint Pierre from the transplanted remnants of the former royal menagerie at Versailles.

The Ménagerie has been immortalized in innumerable works of French literature and cinema, from the satirical fiction of Honoré de Balzac to Chris Marker’s 1962 masterpiece, La Jetée (later the inspiration for the Bruce Willis vehicle, 12 Monkeys). Balzac, in a curious novella of 1841 entitled A Guide for Animals Looking to Move Up in the World, relates the schemes of a man named Adam Marmus, the not-so-proud owner of a humble donkey. He conceives a plot to paint his donkey with stripes, like those familiar specimens in novelty photos from Tijuana, but white on black rather than black on white. As a peculiar new variety of zebra, the donkey will be the hit of the menagerie, and will bring his owner fame and fortune.

More here.