A sparkling new translation of one of the greatest travel books ever written- Marco Polo's seminal account of his journeys in the east. Marco Polo was the most famous traveller of his time. His voyages began in 1271 with a visit to China, after which he served the Kublai Khan on numerous diplomatic missions. On his return to the West he was made a prisoner of war and met Rustichello of Pisa, with whom he collaborated on this book. His account of his travels offers a fascinating glimpse of what he encountered abroad- unfamiliar religions, customs and societies; the spices and silks of the East; the precious gems, exotic vegetation and wild beasts of faraway lands. Evoking a remote and long-vanished world with colour and immediacy, Marco's book revolutionized western ideas about the then unknown East and is still one of the greatest travel accounts of all time. For this edition - the first completely new English translation of the Travels in over fifty years - Nigel Cliff has gone back to the original manuscript sources to produce a fresh, authoritative new version. The volume also contains invaluable editorial materials, including an introduction describing the world as it stood on the eve of Polo's departure, and examining the fantastical notions the West had developed of the East.
The early ethnographic description has lost nothing of their attraction since Christopher Columbus dreamed of the golden roofs of Zippangu. Having already read Italo Calvino's wonderful Invisible Cities, I appreciate the variations even more.
However, just because it is a classic doesn't mean that 'The Travels' was well-written. There are many mistakes and repetitions in the work, and at times it becomes a slog working through accounts of peoples described as being 'idolators, subject to the great Khan's rule, who use paper money.' Really, there are pages of that stuff - every paragraph begins the same way.
That said, it is surprising, considering the nearly eight hundred years that have passed since the book was written, that it is as readable as it is.
It is important to remember this version is "as told to" a writer of popular romances whjo freely inserted stock romance material.
The narrator is distant and badly recorded - it sounds like he's recorded it down a phone line. The most animation in his voice comes when he stumbles over words he seems not to know but should have practised before recording. Italian in particular seems to be his sticking point - definately an issue when recording a narration of an Italian travelling to the far east! Otherwise his voice is flat and uninteresting - there is narely a breath or change in tone when announcing the chapter changes that happen on a regular basis and that could, nay should, be pulling the listener back to the recording. Instead, it becomes a background noise that is easily tuned out, and therefore missing the possibly fantastical story
Marco Polo's tale of his many years of travels in the second half of the 13th century. Together with his father and uncle, Marco Polo travelled via Central Asia to far Cathay, where they spent many years at the court of the Tartar emperor Kublai-Khan, before eventually returning to Venice by sea, via Indonesia, India and Abyssinia.
Very interesting, although it tends to be a bit repetitive, with the descriptions of numerous towns and cities starting off with phrases along the lines of "The inhabitants are idolaters, subjects of the Great Khan and use his paper money".
I do regret the fact that my edition has no map, as it would have been fun to follow the route visually. My edition does contain an itinerary, though, so that made up for the lack somewhat.
I do wish that Marco Polo had dwelt more on his (and his father and uncle's) personal experiences while traveling, though. I can only imagine some of the hardships they faced.
On then other hand, I loved the descriptions of cities, palaces, customs, etc..
It certainly is an incredible read - so rich in Eastern history, culture, and lore.
Part of the poetic license is excused by the nature of this work’s recording. While imprisoned, Marco Polo narrated his adventures to a famous travelling romance writer, Rusticello, who had the good fortune to be sharing the same prison, and jotted them down. So the stories were embellished along the way, and blame for any exaggeration can at least be shared.
As an historical record then it cannot all be taken at face value, however considering that there is no evidence of anyone from the West travelling as widely as Marco Polo did until about 100 years ago, this remains a unique document of considerable historical interest. Albeit one that must be interpreted with caution. For pure entertainment however, this is difficult to surpass as far as historical travel writings are concerned. There is also a lot of material of interest in terms of history, culture, anthropology, sociology, and politics. By reading this we see the many ways in which societies can be structured, and the many permutations, real or fictitious, that humans can create.
It IS actually pretty interesting- to be transported into such an ancient, remote world by a European. In 3 (or in some versions 4) volumes, the reader is transported into the Polos' adventures.
Vol 1 starts with Marco's father and uncle taking off for a trading venture to Constantinople (leaving the pregnant wife of former in Venice)...and somehow just keeping going and ending up in Beijing with Kublai Khan. When they finally go home, the wife is dead and the unborn babe a 19 year old youth! They soon resume their travels with young Marco in tow. And here I'd have loved more info on the people involved- what was the motivation? Adventure, money (living gratis at the Great Khan's court)? Or missionary zeal? (The Khan wanted to learn more of the Church of Rome)? Vol 1 continues with short chapters on many places of Iran, Central Asia etc.
Vol 2 is given up to China, where they were based. Kublai Khan is treated with utter awe and respect; Marco is sent by him on various missions throughout the kingdom and continues the reports, many pretty samey and dull. Apparently Marco never actually got to many of the places included and relies on information from others.
Vol 3 takes us into SE Asia, Japan, Java, India, Zanzibar etc, as Marco is sent further afield. Those mongols surely did control,a ginormous realm!
And latter Vol 3(or Vol 4) focusses on battles between warring Mongol factions- uncle against nephew etc-through Turkey and beyond.
It's quite a read...interesting (somewhat) .
There is some thought that Marco Polo exaggerated his claims, but the text nevertheless shows what was of interest to Polo and his readers. I found the introduction by Milton Rugoff and the afterward by Howard Mittelmark most enlightening they described a bit about Marco Polo's life and how he came to travel the world.
Having a smartphone by your side is a wonderful way to read this. So many things sound utterly fantastic and as if they are part of the romanticism of the man Rustigielo who actually wrote the book while listening to Marco Polo, and yet, when you look into it with diligence, low and behold that thing does (or did) exist, or that custom was practiced and so on. Camelopard (giraffe) anyone? Or how about the descriptions of asbestos, a fabric which doesn't burn and is mined from the ground? This is full of delightful discoveries like that.
The illustrations from the Fourteenth century are quite comical in their representations of things like rhinoceros (pictured as a unicorn) and battles, and women dancing before an idol in India (fully gowned nuns with veils in the illustration). They make you stop and think though. Probably the artist had never seen or heard of such things before, so they had to pull from their own imagination what they would look like.
This is a book I am glad to have read, but don't expect it to be engrossing from cover to finish.
The Great Khan received the brothers honorably and welcomed them with such lavish hospitality after a year's journey. The curious Khan asked the brothers about their Emperors, about the government of their dominions, about the maintenance of justice, about the Pope and practices of the Roman Church, and about the Latin customs. He decided to send emissaries to the Pope, and asked the brothers to accompany on the mission with one of his barons. He entrusted them a letter written in the Turkish language for the Pope and asked him to send a hundred prominent men learned in the Christian religion to condemn idolaters' performances and shun devil. These well versed were to demonstrate for the idolaters their capability of doing diabolic arts but would not, because only evil spirits performed such enchantments.
As the brothers approached Egypt, they got wind of the Pope's death and so they would go to Venice and visit their families pending the election of a new Pope. During the homeward voyage, Niccolo learned that his wife had passed away and left behind a 15-years-old son Marco Polo, who authored this book. After staying in Venice for about 2 years, they left for Jerusalem to get the oil from the lamp at Christ's sepulcher which the Great Khan had requested for his deceased mother, who was a Christian. The Travels chronicles the three years' journey back to Khan-balik from Venice, via the ancient trade corridor now known as the Silk Road, and details all the peculiar sights and peoples along the present Iran, Iraq, India, Tibet, Pamir, Mongolia, and China. It also records the many regions Marco Polo traveled during his numerous emissaries for the Great Khan during his 17 years in China.
The Great Khan found favor with the then 21-years-old Marco Polo, who had acquired a remarkable knowledge of the letters and customs of the Tartars. Observing his wisdom and perspicacity, Khan sent him as his emissary to Kara-jang (Yunnan) in the far southwest, a mission Marco polo fulfilled brilliantly. When he went on his mission, being well aware of mistakes of previous emissaries, he paid close attention to all the novelties and curiosities that came his way, so that he may report them to the Great Khan. On his return Marco Polo would present himself before the Khan and first gave a full account of the business on which he had been sent. Then he went on to recount these remarkable things he sighted on the way. In The Travels, one will find detailed account of interesting, if not bizarre, customs and practices at which Marco Polo marveled, the very same stories that entertained the Khan who became well disposed to the young lad.
For 17 years, Kubilai (the sixth khan in the Yuan dynasty) was so well satisfied with Marco Polo's conduct of affairs that he held him in high esteem and showed him such favor as keeping him so near his person. He observed more of the peculiarities of China than any of his contemporaries, because he traveled more extensively in these outlandish regions, and not to mention he gave his mind more intently to observing and recording them. The Travels reflects the stupendous extent of his travel, as Marco Polo often bypasses many places that were of no particular interest to him.
Emissaries sent Marco Polo all over Manzi (southern China) and Cathay (northern China), rendering a vivid delineation of the native people, customs, cultures with amazing verisimilitude. For example, he marveled at the funeral customs in which the deads were provided with horses, slaves, camels, clothes in great abundance - all cut out of paper (a tradition that still prevails among Chinese) and burned alongside. For the Chinese believed the deads would have all the money in gold and all the necessities in the next world, alive in fresh and bone, and that all the honor they did while he was burning would be done to the deads correspondingly in the next world by their gods and idols.
Marco Polo also wrote a detailed account of India and its practices of diabolic arts and similar funeral customs. From other historical resources, he probably acquired his knowledge partly when he was there on the Khan's business, partly on his return trip with the bride for Arghun, and that he derived some of it from first-hand observation, some from reliable testimony, and some from mariners' charts. He also wrote about the life of Sakyamuni Buekhan, who was revered founder of the Buddhist religion, for he refused to be the successor of his king father but continued to lead a life of great virtue, chastity, and austerity.
In 1293, the Great Khan reposed such confidence in the brothers that he entrusted to their care not only the princess of Kokachin but also the daughter of the king of the Manzi, so that they might escort them to Arghun, Khan of all the Levant. The Polo brothers' adventure in the East thus completed on the note of a successful escort to Kaikhatu. The Travels, also known as The travels of Marco Polo, chronicled all wonders of Marco Polo's encounters in the East for 33 years.