Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

Columbus’ egg – turning a good story on its head

Columbus’ egg – turning a good story on its head
The egg of Columbus is a popular expression in the US. And as its name suggests, it comes from an epochal story about Christopher Columbus, as documented by friend and fellow Italian Girolamo Benzoni in his 1565 book ‘History of the New World’.

The story goes that over dinner, certain Spanish noblemen were less than impressed by Columbus’ discovery of the America’s, pointing out that given time, anyone could have done it and that it took no great skill on his part.
Rather than take offence, in response Columbus picked up an egg and placed a wager that none of his dinner companions would be able to make it stand up on its end without any help. They failed of course. And when they had all tried, Columbus simply cracked the end slightly and balanced the egg vertically on the now flattened end. The moral of the story? A challenge is only simple once you know how to pull it off – the triumph is in having the courage to try something new and being the first to succeed.

The story is so well known that many puzzles and even monuments have been inspired by it. And yet, Columbus’ egg may not even have been created by Columbus. A very similar story was also told 15 years earlier about architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who went on to design Florence Cathedral. Some say the dome of the cathedral has a flat tip in reference to the egg conundrum he too posed to disgruntled officials.