The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian

by Marco Polo

Other authorsJohn Masefield (Introduction), Adrian De Fristow (Illustrator)
Paper Book, 1926

Status

Available

Publication

London and New York: J.M. Dent and E.P. Dutton, 1926. Black cloth, pasted title labels. 20 pen and ink drawings by De Fristow, 11 photogravures

Description

Presents a translation of thirteenth-century Venetian explorer Marco Polo's account of his travels throughout China, India, Persia, and other places.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Marco Polo's travel tales offer an interesting medieval trader's view of Asia. A large part of his tale is devoted not to China proper but to the extended landbound journey there. The style reminds of a hasty Baedecker entry with a peculiar category set. Marco Polo usually mentions the locals' religions, their sexual mores (especially women offered for prostitution), strange animals and plants, trading goods and the relative price of silver and gold. Arriving in China during (and thanks to) the Mongol occupation, Marco Polo is in a unique position to witness both the Mongol rule and the underlying Chinese civilisation.

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.
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LibraryThing member bzbooks
High noise to signal ratio here. Some interesting anecdotes and details nestled in lots of repetitive and unimportant minutia. For example, you learn that Kublai Kahn oversaw a system of crop insurance but also the specific religions in each local (this one has lots of idolaters and this one has lots of idolaters and this one has lots of idolaters, etc.)… (more)
LibraryThing member antiquary
Personally, I agree with the scholars who believe Polo actually did travel generally as described, though other scholars deny it.
It is important to remember this version is "as told to" a writer of popular romances whjo freely inserted stock romance material.
LibraryThing member mwittkids
Polo's personal telling of his journey to the Far East and back.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
Marco Polo did not, really, write this book - it was put together by a hack romantic writer by the name of Rustichello; however, we should be wary of diminishing Polo's contribution to this classical volume, since he, with his father and uncle, travelled further and more comprehensively than any other man of his times. The modern equivalent would probably require a trip to Saturn or something.

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.
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LibraryThing member isabelx
In the country are many wild elephants and rhinoceroses, which are much inferior in size to the elephant, but their feet are similar. Their hide resembles that of the buffalo. In the middle of their forehead they have a single horn; but with this weapon they do not injure those whom they attack, employing only for this purpose their tongue, which is armed with long, sharp spines, and their knees or feet; their mode of assault being to trample upon the person, and then to lacerate him with the tongue. Their head is like that of the wild boar, and they carry it low towards the ground. They take delight in muddy pools and are filthy in their habits. They are not of that description of animals which suffer themselves to be taken by maidens, as our people suppose, but are quite of a contrary nature.

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".… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
"Travels of Marco Polo" -- a ghostwritten account of Polo's travels around Asia-- was a really difficult book to get into. Many of the descriptions become tedious (countless people are described merely as idolators who eat flesh and drink milk...) The most interesting bits, which are sprinkled throughout the book, focus on Tartar military history -- the conquests of Kublai Khan and his relatives. I also really enjoyed Polo's retelling of various legends (such as the diamond encrusted fish...) Overall, it was worth wading through the long descriptions to get to the good stuff, but it isn't a book I'd ever pick up for a second reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member bigmoose
In some of the books I read this past year about European explorers discovering the world, etc., this work by Marco Polo was referenced as having been inspirational to many of them, such as Columbus and Vespucci. So, I wanted to experience it myself. However, the reading became too tedious and many times just plain unbelievable. I skimmed the latter half of the book and had to stop. I suppose if I had read this in, say, 1450, I may have been inspired, too. But, in 2010, it was just disappointing.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookseller525
This was quite a fascinating read, even if the end notes slowed me down a bit, as well as the fact that there seems to be a bit of confusion about place names and customs, etc.. I'm not sure if the confusion is due to Marco Polo not having notes available when he told the story to Rustichello while he was in prison, to the difficulties of translation or to fact that much of what he related was second-hand. Probably it was a combination of these factors, although more of the last.

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.
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LibraryThing member NielsenGW
Polo's Travels are a good look at the exploration boom in 14th Century Europe. His forays into the Asian continent and his descriptions of the geography, peoples, and customs culminate in Columbus's Great Adventure in 1492. These stories are told in the third person, as Polo himself dictated them to Rustichello to collect for a book. While his descriptions sometime border on the quick and simplistic, the sheer amount of locales as well as the many fantastical stories is indeed marvelous.… (more)
LibraryThing member mattviews
In 1260, Niccolo Polo, the father of Marco Polo, and his brother Maffeo went across Black Sea in the hope of a profitable brisk of trade. So the brothers from Venice brought many dazzling jewels and set out from Constantinople by ship to Sudak and onward to Barku. A war broke out in Barka's Land forced the brothers to travel the opposite direction from which they had come. After they had crossed the desert, they came to Bukhara (in Persia) and by fortuity met a Tartar (Mongol) envoy on the way back to the Great Khan in Khan-balik (Beijing). On learning that they were merchants from Venice whom had never been seen in the country, the envoy invited the brothers to accompany him to Khan-balik to see the Great Khan.
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.
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LibraryThing member xuebi
One of the first accounts of travelling to the Far East and of what Polo found there, The Travels are often repetitive and it is questionable how much of the account is embellished. Yet, Polo's account shaped European perceptions of China and it remains a useful window into how Europe related to the rest of the world during the Middle Ages.… (more)
LibraryThing member JVioland
Currently, this historical figure is an object of ridicule. He was when he lived. Curiously, there are some inconsistencies in his report, but overall I believe he has told the truth (mostly) of his adventures. A good tale none-the-less and worth the read.
LibraryThing member mamzel
This book gives us the accounts of Marco Polo along with other writers of the time and modern interpretations as well. The pages are styled to resemble an antique medium but unfortunately the font is small and uncomfortable to read. The wonderful aspect is the inclusion of art from the period and modern photographs of the areas described. Of particular interest are items from Le livre des merveilles du monde which is a collection of illustrations of people and animals. One modern map of China was totally irrelevant to the cities mentioned in that part of the book which puzzled me.… (more)
LibraryThing member LynnB
This book is a reprint of Marco Polo's own account of his travels. In the style of his day, it is largely a factual account of what he saw...there is little context and nothing of how he felt or hardships he personally experienced.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Garrison0550
Okay, so it's not an airport romance easy read, it does take a bit of a push to get through. But, hey, it's Marco Polo, it's got to be done. You'll be glad you did!
LibraryThing member MrsLee
Who doesn't know what the Travels of Marco Polo are about? Controversy about the veracity of this book abound, but I will leave that for the scholars to debate. For me, the readability and peek into the past is what matters. It is quite readable and indeed even engrossing in portions. Other portions needed mighty skimming to keep me from quitting the book altogether.

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.
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LibraryThing member nordie
Have attempted to listen to this audio (downloaded from audible.co.uk) several but so far have had difficulty getting very far into it.

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… (more)

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