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"On Exactitude in Science" or "On Rigor in Science" (the original Spanish-language title is "Del rigor en la ciencia") is a one-paragraph short story written in 1946 by Jorge Luis Borges, about the map–territory relation, written in the form of a literary forgery.


The Borges story, credited fictionally as a quotation from "Suárez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lérida, 1658", imagines an empire where the science of cartography becomes so exact that only a map on the same scale as the empire itself will suffice. "[S]ucceeding Generations... came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome... In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar..."[1]

... In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

purportedly from Suárez Miranda, Travels of Prudent Men, Book Four, Ch. XLV, Lérida, 1658

Publication historyEdit

The story was first published in the March 1946 edition of Los Anales de Buenos Aires, año 1, no. 3 as part of a piece called "Museo" under the name B. Lynch Davis, a joint pseudonym of Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares; that piece credited it as the work of "Suarez Miranda." It was collected later that year in the 1946 second Argentinian edition of Borges's Historia universal de la infamia (A Universal History of Infamy).[2] It is no longer included in current Spanish editions of the Historia universal de la infamia, as since 1961 it has appeared as part of El hacedor.[3]

The names "B. Lynch Davis" and "Suarez Miranda" would be combined later in 1946 to form another pseudonym, B. Suarez Lynch, under which Borges and Bioy Casares published Un modelo para la muerte, a collection of detective fiction.[2]

Influences and legacyEdit

The story elaborates on a concept in Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno Concluded: a fictional map that had "the scale of a mile to the mile." One of Carroll's characters notes some practical difficulties with this map and states that "we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well." [4]

"What a useful thing a pocket-map is!" I remarked.
"That's another thing we've learned from your Nation," said Mein Herr, "map-making. But we've carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?"
"About six inches to the mile."
"Only six inches!" exclaimed Mein Herr. "We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all ! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!"
"Have you used it much?" I enquired.
"It has never been spread out, yet," said Mein Herr: "the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight ! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well."

from Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Chapter XI, London, 1895

Umberto Eco expanded upon the theme, quoting Borges's paragraph as the epigraph for his short story "On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1." It was collected in Eco's How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays.[5][4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ J. L. Borges, A Universal History of Infamy (translated by Norman Thomas de Giovanni), Penguin Books, London, 1975. ISBN 0-14-003959-7.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Edney, Matthew H. (2009). Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843. University of Chicago Press. p. 353n39. ISBN 978-0-226-18486-9.
  5. ^ Eco, Umberto (1995). How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 95–106. ISBN 978-0-547-54043-6.

External linksEdit