Item description for The Travels of Marco Polo (Modern Library Classics) by Marco Polo, Manuel Komroff & William Marsden...
Overview The thirteenth-century Italian merchant and explorer recounts his adventures in China and tells how he served as an emissary for Kublai Khan.
Publishers Description Marco Polo's account of his journey throughout the East in the thirteenth century was one of the earliest European travel narratives, and it remains the most important. The merchant-traveler from Venice, the first to cross the entire continent of Asia, provided us with accurate descriptions of life in China, Tibet, India, and a hundred other lands, and recorded customs, natural history, strange sights, historical legends, and much more. From the dazzling courts of Kublai Khan to the perilous deserts of Persia, no book contains a richer magazine of marvels than the Travels.
This edition, selected and edited by the great scholar Manuel Komroff, also features the classic and stylistically brilliant Marsden translation, revised and corrected, as well as Komroff's Introduction to the 1926 edition.
Jason Goodwin's books include A Time for Tea: Travels Through China and India in Search of Tea; On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk to Istanbul; and Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire.
1. Though many of his contemporaries doubted the veracity of his story, Marco Polo's account of his travels was widely read and discussed in medieval times, and went on to become the most influential and popular travel narrative ever written. What do you think accounts for its popularity and historical importance?
2. Why did Marco Polo, his father, and his uncle embark upon their journey? What did they hope to accomplish? What did they actually accomplish?
3. What qualities made Marco Polo an ideal traveler and narrator?
4. What do you think accounted for Marco Polo's success as an advisor, administrator, and diplomat in the government of Kublai Khan? What can you discern about Marco Polo the man from his writings?
5. What sort of impression did Kublai Khan make on Marco Polo? How does Marco Polo describe him?
6. Some of the marvels Marco Polo encountered in his travels through the East were completely unknown in the Europe of his time. These include paper money, the Imperial postal system, crocodiles, and coconuts. What other interesting and peculiar phenomena did Marco Polo discover during his travels?
7. Discuss the general features of Chinese society and culture as described by Marco Polo. How did this culture compare to the Europe of Marco Polo's day? To other cultures and civilizations that you are familiar with?
Ye Emperors, Kings, Dukes, Marquises, Earls, and Knights, and all other people desirous of knowing the diversities of the races of mankind, as well as the diversities of kingdoms, provinces, and regions of all parts of the East, read through this book, and ye will find in it the greatest and most marvellous characteristics of the peoples especially of Armenia, Persia, India, and Tartary, as they are severally related in the present work by Marco Polo, a wise and learned citizen of Venice, who states distinctly what things he saw and what things he heard from others. For this book will be a truthful one.
It must be known, then, that from the creation of Adam to the present day, no man, whether Pagan, or Saracen, or Christian, or other, of whatever progeny or generation he may have been, ever saw or inquired into so many and such great things as Marco Polo above mentioned. Who, wishing in his secret thoughts that the things he had seen and heard should be made public by the present work, for the benefit of those who could not see them with their own eyes, he himself being in the year of our Lord 1298 in prison at Genoa, caused the things which are contained in the present work to be written by master Rustigielo, a citizen of Pisa, who was with him in the same prison at Genoa;* and he divided it into three parts.
How the Two Brothers Polo Set Forth from Constantinople to Traverse the World
It should be known to the reader that, at the time when Baldwin II. was emperor of Constantinople† where a magistrate representing the doge of Venice then resided, and in the year of our Lord 1260, Nicolo Polo, the father of the said Marco, and Maffeo, the brother of Nicolo, respectable and well-informed men, embarked in a ship of their own, with a rich and varied cargo of merchandise, and reached Constantinople in safety. After mature deliberation on the subject of their proceedings, it was determined, as the measure most likely to improve their trading capital, that they should prosecute their voyage into the Euxine or Black Sea. With this view they made purchases of many fine and costly jewels, and taking their departure from Constantinople, navigated that sea to a port named Soldaia, from whence they travelled on horseback many days until they reached the court of a powerful chief of the Western Tartars, named Barka, who dwelt in the cities of Bolgara and Sarra, and had the reputation of being one of the most liberal and civilized princes hitherto known amongst the tribes of Tartary. He expressed much satisfaction at the arrival of these travellers, and received them with marks of distinction. In return for which courtesy, when they had laid before him the jewels they brought with them, and perceived that their beauty pleased him, they presented them for his acceptance. The liberality of this conduct on the part of the two brothers struck him with admiration; and being unwilling that they should surpass him in generosity, he not only directed double the value of
*A truce between Genoa and Venice, signed in July 1299, undoubtedly released both Marco Polo and his scribe Rustigielo. (See Sir Henry Yule's introduction to his great scholarly work Ser Marco Polo.) † Baldwin II. reigned from 1237 to 1261.
the jewels to be paid to them, but made them in addition several rich presents.
The brothers having resided a year in the dominions of this prince, they became desirous of revisiting their native country, but were impeded by the sudden breaking out of a war between him and another chief, named Alaù, who ruled over the Eastern Tartars. In a fierce and very sanguinary battle that ensued between their respective armies, Alaù was victorious, in consequence of which, the roads being rendered unsafe for travellers, the brothers could not attempt to return by the way they came; and it was recommended to them, as the only practicable mode of reaching Constantinople, to proceed in an easterly direction, by an unfrequented route, so as to skirt the limits of Barka's territories. Accordingly they made their way to a town named Oukaka, situated on the confines of the kingdom of the Western Tartars. Leaving that place, and advancing still further, they crossed the Tigris [Volga], one of the four rivers of Paradise, and came to a desert, the extent of which was seventeen days' journey, wherein they found neither town, castle, nor any substantial building, but only Tartars with their herds, dwelling in tents on the plain. Having passed this tract they arrived at length at a well-built city called Bokhara, in a province of that name, belonging to the dominions of Persia, and the noblest city of that kingdom, but governed by a prince whose name was Barak. Here, from inability to proceed further, they remained three years.
It happened while these brothers were in Bokhara, that a person of consequence and gifted with eminent talents made his appearance there. He was proceeding as ambassador from Alaù before mentioned, to the Great Khan,* supreme chief of all the Tartars, named Kublai, whose residence was at the extremity of the continent, in a direction between north-east and east. Not having ever before had an opportunity, although he wished it, of seeing any na- tives of Italy, he was gratified in a high degree at meeting and con-
* Khan 5 Lord. Kublai was also called the Great Kaan. Kaan 5 Supreme Sovereign (Lord of Lords). Polo always referred to Kublai in writing as the Great Khan and to lesser princes as Khan.
versing with these brothers, who had now become proficients in the Tartar language; and after associating with them for several days, and finding their manners agreeable to him, he proposed to them that they should accompany him to the presence of the Great Khan, who would be pleased by their appearance at his court, which had not hitherto been visited by any person from their country; adding assurances that they would be honourably received, and recompensed with many gifts. Convinced as they were that their endeavours to return homeward would expose them to the most imminent risks, they agreed to this proposal, and recommending themselves to the protection of the Almighty, they set out on their journey in the suite of the ambassador, attended by several Christian servants whom they had brought with them from Venice.
The course they took at first was between the north-east and north, and an entire year was consumed before they were enabled to reach the imperial residence, in consequence of the extraordinary delays occasioned by the snows and the swelling of the rivers, which obliged them to halt until the former had melted and the floods had subsided. Many things worthy of admiration were observed by them in the progress of their journey, but which are here omitted, as they will be described by Marco Polo, in the sequel of the book.
CHAPTER 2 How the Great Khan Sent the Two Brothers as His Envoys to the Pope
Being introduced to the presence of the Great Khan, Kublai, the travellers were received by him with the condescension and affability that belonged to his character, and as they were the first Latins who had made their appearance in that country, they were entertained with feasts and honoured with other marks of distinction. Entering graciously into conversation with them, he made earnest inquiries on the subject of the western parts of the world, of the Emperor of the Romans, and of other Christian kings and princes. He wished to be informed of their relative consequence, the extent of their possessions, the manner in which justice was administered in their several kingdoms and principalities, how they conducted themselves in warfare, and above all he questioned them particularly respecting the Pope, the affairs of the Church, and the religious worship and doctrine of the Christians. Being well instructed and discreet men, they gave appropriate answers upon all these points, and as they were perfectly acquainted with the Tartar language, they expressed themselves always in becoming terms; insomuch that the Great Khan, holding them in high estimation, frequently commanded their attendance.
When he had obtained all the information that the two brothers communicated with so much good sense, he expressed himself well satisfied, and having formed in his mind the design of employing them as his ambassadors to the Pope, after consulting with his ministers on the subject, he proposed to them, with many kind entreaties, that they should accompany one of his Barons, named Khogatal, on a mission to the See of Rome.
His object, he told them, was to make a request to his Holiness that he would send to him a hundred men of learning, thoroughly acquainted with the principles of the Christian religion, as well as with the seven arts,* and qualified to prove to the learned of his dominions by just and fair argument, that the faith professed by Christians is superior to, and founded upon more evident truth than, any other; that the gods of the Tartars and the idols worshipped in their houses were only evil spirits, and that they and the people of the East in general were under an error in reverenc- ing them as divinities.† He, moreover, signified his pleasure that upon their return they should bring with them, from Jerusalem, some of the Holy Oil from the lamp which is kept burning over the Sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he professed to hold in veneration and to consider as the true God. Having heard these
* The seven arts of the time were: Rhetoric, Logic, Grammar, Arithmetic, Astronomy, Music, and Geometry. † “. . . and that if they would prove this, he and all under him would become Christians and the Church's liegemen” (from Yule's translation).
commands addressed to them by the Great Khan they humbly prostrated themselves before him, declaring their willingness and instant readiness to perform, to the utmost of their ability, whatever might be the royal will. Upon which he caused letters, in the Tartarian language, to be written in his name to the Pope of Rome, and these he delivered into their hands.
He likewise gave orders that they should be furnished with a golden tablet displaying the imperial cipher, according to the usage established by his majesty; in virtue of which the person bearing it, together with his whole suite, are safely conveyed and escorted from station to station by the governors of all places within the imperial dominions, and are entitled, during the time of their residing in any city, castle, town, or village, to a supply of provisions and everything necessary for their accommodation.
Being thus honourably commissioned they took their leave of the Great Khan, and set out on their journey, but had not proceeded more than twenty days when the officer, named Khogatal, their companion, fell dangerously ill, and unable to proceed further, he halted at a certain city. In this dilemma it was determined, upon consulting all who were present, and with the approbation of the man himself, that they should leave him behind. In the prosecution of their journey they derived essential benefit from being provided with the royal tablet, which procured them attention in every place through which they passed. Their expenses were defrayed, and escorts were furnished. But notwithstanding these advantages, so great were the natural difficulties they had to encounter, from the extreme cold, the snow, the ice, and the flooding of the rivers, that their progress was unavoidably tedious, and three years elapsed before they were enabled to reach a sea-port town in the lesser Armenia, named Laiassus.
Citations And Professional Reviews The Travels of Marco Polo (Modern Library Classics) by Marco Polo, Manuel Komroff & William Marsden has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2011 page 645
Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2007 page 531
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Studio: Modern Library
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Release Date Dec 4, 2001
Publisher Modern Library
ISBN 0375758186 ISBN13 9780375758188
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More About Marco Polo, Manuel Komroff & William Marsden
Marco Polo travelled to China in 1271 and spent the next twenty years in the service of Kublai Khan. He wrote his famous Travels after returning home, whilst a prisoner in Genoa.
Marco Polo was born in 1254 and died in 1323.
Marco Polo has published or released items in the following series...
Reviews - What do customers think about The Travels of Marco Polo (Modern Library Classics)?
Marco's journey Jan 21, 2008
Marco Polo purportedly spent 17 years travelling to the courts of Kublai Khan and, as an emissary for Kublai Khan, then throughout the Far East. Whether it actually happened or not is up for debate. I went into this text with an open mindset and have accepted that Marco Polo did indeed go on this trip with his father and uncle, but not to the extent as surmised. Instead he travelled and added stories he collected from traders and others to fill in gaps or points of interest to him. The book is broken into four sections now. Part One is his trip to the Great Khan's courts in Cathay (China). Part Two is his travels throughout the provinces of Cathay. Part Three concerns going to Japan, Southern India, and the Islands of the Indian Sea (Java, etc). Part Four is travelling into the 'northern countries' (Russia, etc).
In general, Polo gives very brief descriptions of most regions, accounting for their religious beliefs, money used, fealty to the Great Khan Kublai. There's some intriguing customs (visitors will be taken into a home and the man of the house leaves until they are gone but the visitor has full access to the household including the wives, daughters, sisters, nieces), talks of cannibalism, dress, unfamiliar animals they encountered, and contributes to the whole messy history of Prestor John. It does get repetitive and dry after a while. Polo's talk of Kublai Khan is almost obsessive and he was obviously completely enamoured of this new culture. Overall, it was fascinating to read although I had to push myself through some parts due to repetitive descriptions. Any history buff should read this story about one of the purported most well-travelled explorers ever, not to mention he was possibly the biggest best-selling authors before the printing press was invented.
The Size of the World Sep 12, 2007
It has been a pleasure to revisit the travels of Marco Polo. I was transfixed by these stories of travel and adventure when I was a child, and never questioned the veracity of the narrative. I know today that the narrative has been corrupted over the centuries, that "The Travels" can scarcely be used as an historical reference, and that a more tantalizing and complete manuscript has probably been lost to the ages. Still, there are glimpses and insights within the narrative that could only have come from first-hand experience, and these describe an enormous, exotic world that titillates even today, while readers in the 13th and 14th centuries must have been enthralled.
I was most keen this time around to Polo's descriptions of the cultures and wildlife he encountered, of the whales and lions and leopards and bears--he even describes a white bear, and the people who hunted it were surely of the group often called Eskimos. He describes dog-sledding in the far north and the cannibalistic practices of the people of Java far to the south, both of which are extant in our current era. There are also the fascinating observations of the Mongol Empire, of that group of nomadic people who somehow rose up, like an event in an Isaac Asimov novel, to conquer much of the known world.
Somewhat depressingly, though, are Polo's observations of the tensions that existed between the Islamic and Christian worlds, tensions rooted in the competition for hegemony over trade in the Far East. Seven hundred years later, these tensions are still acting themselves out.
This translation by Ronald Latham from 1958 includes an introduction that puts Marco Polo's life in context with events and includes footnotes to help the reader make sense of the myriad manuscripts that make up the travels of Marco Polo. This is a somewhat dry read; even Latham comments on the paucity of skill employed by Polo's chronicler. Once I put my mind in context with the narrative, however, I was able to roll with the repetition and sycophancy and enjoy the text.
Dry, but interesting Jul 27, 2007
Imagine a very boring person went through something fascinating. This person came up to you, started to talk about this incredible journey of theirs, but talking in this monotonous voice without changing pitch or showing excitement at any moment.
That's essentially what "Travels of Marco Polo" is. It's an INCREDIBLY interesting book and a fascinating tale, but can it possible be said in a more dry and flat way? There is no energetic spark that makes this adventure jump off the page. Perhaps this is due to the times, but I suspect the translation is a bit literal and bland as well. The writing never changes tone, even in parts that are clearly exciting and amazing. All the facts are there, but the reader is forced to put too much energy just to make it interesting.
Marco Polo had a most fascinating journey. Any history buff should snatch this book off the shelves (unless they decide to read the even longer, more annoying records that I'm sure can be found floating around), and anyone interesting in Marco Polo should as well. It may be dull at times, but it's still incredible, fascinating, and a riveting tale.
Recommended to heavier, more able readers.
straight & plain narration Jul 26, 2007
This is just a straight & plain narration on what Marco Polo came across. At times it's quite boring. But I mean no disrespect for Polo as he would still be a remarkable explorer & adventurer even today, not to say in the 13th century where transportation was in primitive modes. Contrasting Polo's map & the modern one is interesting though, as well as guessing the modern places corresponding to Polo's description.
We are all Marco Polos now Jan 15, 2007
In the late 13th century, three Venetian merchants, two brothers and the son of one of them, visited China, which was then ruled by the Mongols. The Mongols distrusted the native Chinese and hired foreigners such as the young man as minor officials. The Venetian merchant-turned-official traveled extensively through North and South China, South-East Asia and India. After he returned to Venice, he took part in a war between Venice and Genoa, was taken prisoner, and in prison met a professional writer who wrote a book based on his memoirs and embellished it with the stock devices of late medieval romances. Among various Asiatic curiosities Messer Polo describes asbestos, coal, tigers, musk deer, sago and coconuts. He tells the story of the Buddha, describes the Mongol postal system (I was surprised that yamb, which is obviously the root of the Russian word yamshchik, a postal courier, is a Mongol word), Chinese paper money and the life of Indian yogis. For him, the Shinto "idols" of Japan are offensive for a Christian to read about, but the virginity test administered to prospective daughters-in-law in South China isn't. Marco Polo is no Jonathan Spence; he is not trying to get the reader inside the heads of people belonging to an alien culture; he is a merchant, and cares much more about the crops that grow in a certain kingdom or a region, and the crafts its inhabitants practice. Anyway, it is an enjoyable read if you liked Herodotus or the Russian Primary Chronicle. When I read it on the bus, the white man in the seat to the left of me was reading a textbook of Mandarin, and the white man to the right was practicing his Kanji - we are all Marco Polos now.