In September 1298, the rival Italian republics of Genoa and Venice fought a fierce sea battle at Curzola off the rocky coast of southern Dalmatia. Against the odds the Venetians, led by Admiral Andrea Dandolo, son of the Doge, were defeated. Enraged and humiliated, Dandolo beat his brains out against the mast of his flagship rather than suffer execution at the hands of his enemies. Among the thousands of Venetians captives was one Marco Polo, gentleman, merchant of Venice, and sometime traveller to East Asia. Imprisoned in ...
In September 1298, the rival Italian republics of Genoa and Venice fought a fierce sea battle at Curzola off the rocky coast of southern Dalmatia. Against the odds the Venetians, led by Admiral Andrea Dandolo, son of the Doge, were defeated. Enraged and humiliated, Dandolo beat his brains out against the mast of his flagship rather than suffer execution at the hands of his enemies. Among the thousands of Venetians captives was one Marco Polo, gentleman, merchant of Venice, and sometime traveller to East Asia. Imprisoned in a Ligurian fastness, he told his story to a fellow-prisoner, a writer of romances named Rustichello of Pisa. When Rustichello heard Marco's story, he realized he was hearing one of the most remarkable tales ever told.The account of his travels that Marco Polo dictated to Rustichello in captivity - Il Milione - would be exceptionally widely read and would stimulate European interest in the East and its riches. "Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu" is Laurence Bergreen's thrilling and masterly reconstruction of the life and wanderings of one the great adventurers of world history. The scion of a prosperous and tight-knit merchant family in a Venetian republic that was approaching the height of its political and trading power, between 1271 and 1275 Marco Polo accompanied his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo on a journey east from Acre into central Asia along the Silk Route, eventually reaching China and the court of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, Kublai Khan.Entering the service of the Khan, he travelled extensively in the Mongol Empire. The three Venetians returned home by sea in 1292-5, calling at Sumatra and southern India before reaching Persia, and making the last part of their journey to Venice overland. Three years later came that fateful encounter with the Genoese fleet in the Adriatic...
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Anyone who has read The Travels of Marco Polo and wondered what is fact and what is fantasy should enjoy reading Laurence Bergreen's lucid and entertaining biography of the 13th-century Venetian traveller. Polo comes across as a man full of himself. But then, one knows that already, if one has read The Travels of Marco Polo. In the prologue, one reads:
"It must be known, then, that from the creation of Adam to the present day, no man, wherher Pagan, or Saracen, or Christian, ot other, of whatever progeny or eeneration he may have been, ever saw or inquired into so many and such great things as Marco Polo above mentioned."
Nevertheless, Polo also emerges as an endearing person in this book, which, I think is far more interesting than some of the other works about him which I have seen.
Polo was way ahead of his times in many respects. Amongst other things, he took a keen interest in the sexual habits of the people wherever he found himself on his travels. This biography is a reminder of Polo's ability to see things which often elude the attention of visitors to distant lands. His memoirs made him more famous than his father Niccolo and his uncle Maffeo. When the brothers took Marco with them to China, they could never have imagined the welcome the younger Polo would receive at Kublai Khan's court. But I do think that the two senior Polos deserve more recognition than they generally get, and that Marco's memoirs have eclipsed their own achievements. Without them, Marco would probably never have made it to China or the East.
Bergreen's book is a delightful, scholarly and thought-provoking biographical appraisal of Marco Polo's life, work and achievements. He may have been an extraordinary braggart, but he was also an extraordinary envoy, for Venice and later for the Great Khan, as he always calls Kublai in his travelogue (William Marsden translation). I would recommend this book to all his fans and to everyone who has enjoyed reading The Travels of Marco Polo.
Feb 19, 2009
A terrific story about life in Europe and Asia during the 13th century. A well written and easy to enjoy volume filling in some of the blanks I had not known in history. This rendering of life under Kublai Kahn differs greatly from what I was taught throughout my schooling. The reader is offered vivid insights into early Chinese / Mongol life. I highly reccomend this read to anyone who enjoys well written history reported as accurately as possible.
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