Using Marco Polo to support a thesis

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Posted by Larry Joseph on December 21, 1998 at 18:13:37:

In Reply to: Re: American Ethnocentricism in "Verstehen?" posted by Michael Wendorf on December 21, 1998 at 14:29:25:

Dear Michael,

Prior to your posting, I was also questioning the validity of using "The Travels of Marco Polo" as support for a thesis. Some research on the Internet turned up the following information (from Fordham University Internet Midevil Sourcebook -

"Marco Polo returned to Venice, his hometown, in 1295 after an absence of twenty-five years in the East. He claimed to have spent seventeen years in the service of Kublai Khan, ruler of the Mongols and of the largest empire in the world. He had many stories to tell. These stories were eventually written down by Rustichiello of Pisa, who heard them while sharing a Genoese prison with Polo, sometimes after 1298."

"The is some dispute as to the reliability of the Travels of Marco Polo. Several authorities, including Frances Wood of the British Museum, point out that Polo uses Persian words to describe Chinese sights, omits descriptions of phenomena which would have been hard to miss [for instance footbinding or even the Great Wall], and gives an account of his own career under Kublai Khan which go beyond belief. Wood suggests that many of the stories may have been picked up from Persian merchants in caravan stops. "

"This does not mean that all the information is useless, but much could be replicated from Chinese sources - with China we are dealing with recorded everything and where the unbroken historiographical tradition is the longest on record."a country whose rulers almost obsessively

Note - Frances Wood studied Chinese at the universities of Cambridge, London and Peking, and between 1972 and 1988 travelled extensively in China. She is now Head of the Chinese Collections in the British Library.

1. This reference indicates that Marco Polo did not actually write a journal at the time of his travels, that the stories of his travels were first written after his return (which in many cases was years after the event).
2. I find it interesting that this refernce uses the phrase "beyond belief" to describe some of Polo's stories. To me, trained eagles that hunt wolves is "beyond belief".
3. Based on the information in this reference, there should exist collaborative evidence for this thesis in Chinese records. Perhaps we could ask Tom Cole or even Frances Wood to provide more information on this matter. Related to this, if there was a proud tradition of using leopards or linyx to hunt deer, one would expect that there would have been stories picked up by the Russians during their conquests of the Turkomen tribes.



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