Franz Kafka

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Travels of Marco Polo

I recently had the pleasure to read again the marvellous "Travels",  this time in the 1818 translation of William Marsden, from the Italian of Giambattista Ramusio, dated 1553.  I recall reading in my childhood years a Rusticello's adapted version.

The travels recounts the journey of Marco throughout the Asian continent and is the first great travel book outside the ancient world. Now, "travel books and writers" in today's notion is a quite trivial matter that is not worthwhile dwelling on-- read on and rejoice here. Imagine a 20 years old son of a Venetian merchant in A.D. 1271, setting sail to the sea, and taking on to the land too,  accompanying  his father Nicolo and uncle Maffeo, to begin a twenty-four years journey through the marvels of an unknown world, entering the service of the Great Khan, exploring the most remote boundaries of his empire, from Beijing to Northern India, throughout what we call today South-East Asia. Partially factual and partially fictional, what Marco's eyes saw and he accounted for was utterly unheard of in those medieval times. Steering clear of judgmental or paternalistic tones, the "Travels" is a truly ethnographic journey, where a fresh young heart takes a mouth gaping look upon a wholly new world and stretches the horizons of human understanding, acceptance and compassion further on. What  a single mind's giant leap, landing a learned citizen of Venice onto far boundaries, from which humanity have largely receded over the course of the centuries!