I am reading the Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in the translation by Anthony Bonner published in 1962 by Bantam Books.

In chapter 20 around the 16th paragraph on pg. 163 begins:

On January 2, we had traveled 11,340 miles, or 5,250 leagues from our point...

I did some research and it appears that a league is defined as three miles on land. Correspondingly a "nautical league" is defined as three nautical miles.

Therefore, whether or not the author is referring to leagues or nautical leagues (as long as the appropriate mile unit is used) this math doesn't seem correct. It seems to suggest that a league is just 2.16 miles.

Where is my error in this? Is there an error in the text or have I misunderstood the definition of the unit "league."

  • What is your source for the definition of a league?
    – user14111
    Nov 17, 2017 at 5:49
  • 1
    According to Wikipedia many different leagues have been used, and Verne's 2.16 is not out of line.
    – user14111
    Nov 17, 2017 at 6:01
  • I would like to note that in another Jules Verne novel, Voyage au centre de la Terre, the German characters seems to use French leagues on land, which are 3898 or 4000 meters long.
    – b_jonas
    Nov 17, 2017 at 10:56

1 Answer 1


The Wikipedia article on this book says that a league here is something called a "metric" league, or 4 kilometres. With that figure, a league turns out to be 2.16 nautical miles, or 2.485 miles in modern units.

At any rate, multiple passages indicate that the 2.16 figure is intentional:

  1. Part 2, Chapter 1:

    From the 21st to the 23rd of January the Nautilus went at the rate of two hundred and fifty leagues in twenty-four hours, being five hundred and forty miles, or twenty-two miles an hour.

    540/250 = 2.16

  2. Part 2, Chapter 4

    We had made 16,220 miles, or 7,500 (French) leagues from our starting-point in the Japanese Seas.

    16220/7500 = 2.1627

The original French shows that the Wikipedia reference, which seems to be some translation, is correct (emphasis mine):

Mais bientôt ces derniers représentants de la vie animale disparurent, et, au-dessous de trois lieues, le Nautilus dépassa les limites de l’existence sous-marine, comme fait le ballon qui s’élève dans les airs au-dessus des zones respirables. Nous avions atteint une profondeur de seize mille mètres, — quatre lieues, — et les flancs du Nautilus supportaient alors une pression de seize cents atmosphères, c’est-à-dire seize cents kilogrammes par chaque centimètre carré de sa surface !

16000 metres in 4 leagues (a lieue is a league) makes 4 kilometres a league.

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