The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo (approx. 1254 - 1324)

The Travels of Marco

by Marco Polo (approx.

1254 - 1324)
(as told to Rusticiano da

Pisa and edited by Francis R, Gemma; originally titled A DESCRIPTION OF


Type of Work:

Autobiographical adventure


Venice, Italy and overland to Eastern

China (Cathay)

Principal Characters

Marco Polo, a young nobleman, traveling
merchant and adventurer

Niccolo Polo, Marco\'s father, also a merchant

Maffeo Polo, Niccolo\'s brother and business

Kublai Khan, Emperor of China, descendent
of Ghenghis Khan

Historical Overview

Prologue: (The book contains the story
of Marco Polo\'s life and his travels from his home in Venice, Italy across

Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia to the court of Khan, located
in the area now known as Beijing, China. Marco was much liked by the Emperor,
who made him his ambassador. The explorer describes his many adventures
during his 26-year absence from home. An introduction outlines the biographical
events (each that he himself personally witnessed or "heard tell by persons
worthy of faith"), and sets us on our way with Marco en route to China.)

Two wealthy Venetian gentleman-merchants,

Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, sailed eastward from Venice about 1254, leaving

Niccolo\'s infant son, Marco, in the care of his aunt. The travelers journeyed
as far as the court of the great emperor Kublai Khan, where they became
highly favored. After learning a little about the exotic Catholic religion
of his guests, the Khan dispatched envoys to return with them to Italy
to meet with the Pope. His desire was that the Pope should lend the services
of as many as a hundred scholars to come to his court and prove that the

Law of Christ was "most agreeable." If they succeeded, he vowed that he
and all his subjects would become Christians.

The Polos sailed into Acre, Italy in April
of 1269, to the news that Pope Clement had died. Then the brothers journeyed
on to Venice to await the anointing of a new pope. But after several years
they tired of waiting and began to make their way again to Kubtai\'s court,
this time accompanied by young Marco.

Again in Acre, after some backtracking,
the three finally met up with the newly-named Pope Gregory of Piacenza.

He reluctantly agreed to cooperate with the Khan\'s commission, but sent
only two ambassadors to accompany them. However, these priests soon became
discouraged. Unwilling either to endure the privations the journey would
require or to sacrifice their lives in the service of pagans, both eventually
turned back.

Book-by-Book Summary

Book I
contains Marco\'s descriptions of his three-and-a-half
year journey to Kublai\'s court. It is a fascinating narrative, with vivid
renditions not only of geography, natural phenomena and traveling distances
and conditions, but of histories, food preparation and production, trade,
religious practices, and customs and oral traditions among the many tribes
and civilizations they encountered.

Book II
tells of life in the court of Kublai Khan.

The person of the Khan is admiringly detailed: "He is of a good stature,
neither tall nor short, but of a middle height. He has a becoming amount
of flesh, and is very shapely in all his limbs. His complexion is white
and red, the eyes black and fine, the nose well formed and well set on."

The Khan\'s palaces, his vast court, his government and armies are depicted.

An account is given of a battle led by great Khan himself. The narrative
reports that "when all were in battle array [one could hear] a sound arise
of many instruments of various music, and of the voices of the whole of
the two hosts loudly singing. For this is the custom of the Tartars..

Portrayals of court affairs such as the
marking of the calendar, and the celebration of thousands of festivals
and hunting trips, are eloquently recorded. Record-keeping was very important
to the Chinese. Each household kept near the front door a list of the names
of all the home\'s inhabitants, and the keepers of hostelries were required
to record the names of all travelers and the dates of their visits.

Certain chapters relate some of the wondrous
inventions Marco saw while serving the Khan. He writes of such marvels
as paper money, a system of express messengers, fine highway systems (remnants
of which are still in place), and a "black stone" (coal) used for fuel.

For all of these wonders Marco gives full credit to the "Great Khan," whom
he never tires of praising for his wisdom, power, wealth and skill.

Now fluent in four different languages,

Marco became a valuable ambassador for the Emperor. Book 11 ends with brief
descriptions of his separate missions.

Book III
recounts in great detail the adventurous
travels of the Polos on behalf of