Call to correct Gulliver’s Travels food estimates


Researcher finds famous satirist made mistakes on Lilliputian physiology. Andrew Masterson reports.


An 1882 lithograph showing Lemuel Gulliver in the land of Lilliput.

An 1882 lithograph showing Lemuel Gulliver in the land of Lilliput.

ZU_09/Gett Images

Calculations contained in Gulliver’s Travels, the satiric masterpiece written by Jonathan Swift in the early eighteenth century, are incorrect and should be corrected, according to a researcher from Japan’s University of Tokyo.

The novel, as most people know, details the travels of Lemuel Gulliver through a number of lands populated by tiny people, giants, scientists, immortals and talking horses. It was published in 1726, and continues to be popular to this day.

Writing in The Journal of Physiological Science, however, Toshio Kurkori identifies major problems with Swift’s mathematics – in particular his seemingly precise calculations of how many typical Lilliputian meals Gulliver needs to eat at a single sitting to constitute a feed for a normal-sized human.

To reach his own conclusion, Kurkori compiled a multi-factorial analysis based on the heart and respiration rates, life spans and blood pressure of the people Lilliput. To do this he first calculated Lilliputian body-mass index, as well as body weight, height and energy consumed over time.

“Blood pressures were estimated with reference to that of the giraffe and barosaurus, a long-neck dinosaur,” the author explains.

Based on the results, he found that Swift’s assertion that Gulliver needed the food of 1724 Lilliputians to satisfy his hunger was wildly inaccurate.

The real number, he found, was a much more conservative 42. At the other end of the scale, he found that Swift’s hero would need just one-forty-second of a typical Brobdinagian meal to fill his belly.

“Based on the above findings, the food requirement of Gulliver in the original text should be corrected after almost three centuries,” he concludes.

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  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12576-018-00655-4
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