Thought of the Day 9.15.12 Marco Polo


“I have not told half of what I saw.”

–Marco Polo

Marco Polo was born on this day in Venice, Italy in 1254. It is the 758th anniversary of his birth.

Marco Polo followed in the footsteps of his explorer father, Niccolo, and uncle, Matteo and traveled with them from Europe to the East. Niccolo and Matteo were on their first trip East when Marco was born. The elder Polos made it as far east as Kkublai Khan’s capital Kaifeng in the Mongol Empire. When they returned to Italy they found out that Marco’s mother, Niccolo’s wife, had died. Marco, then 15,  joined the explorers and in 1271 they set off again.

14th-century print showing the Polos leaving Venice at the beginning of their journey [Image Courtesy Hutton Archive/Getty Image / How Stuff Works]

This time they met the Great Khan himself in his summer capital of Xanadu. Khan liked the Polos, and took a special interest in the lively,  20 year-old Marco who he

conscripted him into service for the Empire. Marco served in several high-level government positions, including as ambassador and as the governor of the city of Yangzhou. [Biography of Marco Polo by Matt Rosenberg, About.Com Guide]

The Polos stayed in the diplomatic service of the Khan,  exploring the Empire for 17 years. In 1292, charged by Khan to escort a 17-year-old princess to Persia to wed a King, the Polos led an armada of 14 ships and 600 passengers that departed Sumatra and travelled to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India through the Strait of Hormuz to Persia. The trip took 2 years.

Supposedly, only eighteen people survived from the original 600, including the Princess who could not wed her intended fiancée because he had died, so she married his son instead. [Biography of Marco Polo by Matt Rosenberg, About.Com Guide]

Polo would have been about 40 when he returned home from the East. [Image Courtesy: Hutton Archive/Getty Images; How Stuff Works]

The Polos went back to Venice. Marco became involved in the Italian wars between the city-states of Venice and Genoa, and was captured. While in prison he met Rustichello da Pisa . To pass the time he shared the stories of his far East travels with Rustichello who wrote them down. When they were released they worked together to publish The Travels of Marco Polo.

Polo told tales of fabulous Asian courts, black stones that would catch on fire (coal), and Chinese money made out of paper. [Biography of Marco Polo by Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide]

The book was an exaggerated telling of Polo’s actual adventures. Perhaps Marco hyped up the adventure to make for a more interesting tale in the dark days of prison, or maybe Rustichel loaded  it with danger and cannibals to increase sales. Regardless of how it happened, the book was an enormous hit. It was translated into most of the European languages and sold thousands of copies during Polo’s life time.

Cover of The Travels of Marco Polo, the paperback edition. The book has been in continuous publication (in one for or another) for 712 years. [ Image courtesy: Amazon.com]

The accounts of his travels provide a fascinating glimpse of the different societies he encountered: their religions, customs, ceremonies and way of life; on the spices and silks of the East; on precious gems, exotic vegetation and wild beasts. He tells the story of the holy shoemaker, the wicked caliph and the three kings, among a great many others, evoking a remote and long-vanished world with colour and immediacy. [Amazon.com]

The book heightened Europe’s desire to explore the world. Christopher Columbus owned a copy of it.

Marco lived out his days in Venice as a merchant. He married the daughter of another successful merchant and they had three daughters. He prefered to stay in Italy, letting others travel for the supplies that he sold.

As Polo neared death in 1324, he was asked to recant what he had written and simply said that he had not even told half of what he had witnessed. [Biography of Marco Polo by Matt Rosenberg, About.Com Guide]

The Polo’s route outlined in red [Image Courtesy: Tropical Stamps]
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About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

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