Essay on Marco Polo

This essay has a total of 1957 words and 10 pages.


Marco Polo





Marco Polo
Marco Polo is one of the most well-known heroic travelers and traders
around the world. In my paper I will discuss with you Marco Polo’s
life, his travels, and his visit to China to see the great Khan.
Marco Polo was born in c.1254 in Venice. He was a Venetian explorer
and merchant whose account of his travels in Asia was the primary source
for the European image of the Far East until the late 19th century.
Marco's father, Niccolò, and his uncle Maffeo had traveled to China
(1260-69) as merchants. When they left (1271) Venice to return to
China, they were accompanied by 17-year-old Marco and two priests.
Early Life
Despite his enduring fame, very little was known about the personal
life of Marco Polo. It is known that he was born into a leading
Venetian family of merchants. He also lived during a propitious time in
world history, when the height of Venice’s influence as a city-state
coincided with the greatest extent of Mongol conquest of Asia(Li Man Kin
9). Ruled by Kublai Khan, the Mongol Empire stretched all the way from
China to Russia and the Levant. The Mongol hordes also threatened other
parts of Europe, particularly Poland and Hungary, inspiring fear
everywhere by their bloodthirsty advances. Yet the ruthless methods
brought a measure of stability to the lands they controlled, opening up
trade routes such as the famous Silk Road. Eventually ,the Mongols
discovered that it was more profitable to collect tribute from people
than to kill them
outright, and this policy too stimulated trade(Hull 23).
Into this favorable atmosphere a number of European traders ventured,
including the family of Marco Polo. The Polos had long-established ties
in the Levant and around the Black Sea: for example, they owned property
in Constantinople, and Marco’s uncle, for whom he was named, had a home
in Sudak in the Crimea(Rugoff 8). From Sudak, around 1260, another
uncle, Maffeo, and Marco’s father, Niccolò, made a trading visit into
Mongol territory, the land of the Golden Horde(Russia), ruled by Berke
Khan. While they were there, a war broke out between Berke and the
Cowan of Levant , blocking their return home. Thus Niccolò and Maffeo
traveled deeper into mongol territory, moving southeast to Bukhara,
which was ruled by a third Cowan. While waiting there, they met an
emissary traveling farther eastward who invited them to accompany him to
the court of the great Cowan, Kublai, in Cathay(modern China). In
Cathay, Kublai Khan gave the Polos a friendly reception, appointed them
his emissaries to the pope, and ensured their safe travel back to
Europe(Steffof 10). They were to return to Cathay with one hundred
learned men who could instruct the Mongols in the Christian religion and
the liberal arts.
In 1269, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo arrived back in Venice, where Niccolò
found out his wife had died while he was gone(Rugoff 5). Their son,
Marco, who was only about fifteen years old, had been only six or
younger when his father left home:thus; Marco was reared primarily by
his mother and the extended Polo family-and the streets of Venice.
After his mother’s death, Marco had probably begun to think of himself
as something of a orphan(Rugoff 6). Then his father and uncle suddenly
reappeared, as if from the dead, after nine years of traveling in
far-off, romantic lands. These experiences were the formative
influences on young Marco, and one can see their effects mirrored in his
character: a combination of sensitivity and toughness, independence and
loyalty, motivated by an eagerness for adventure, a love of stories, and
a desire to please or impress(Li Man Kin 10).
Life’s Work
In 1268, Pope Clement IV died, and a two- or three-year delay while
another pope was being elected gave young Marco time to mature and to
absorb the tales of his father and uncle. Marco was seventeen years old
when he, his father and uncle finally set out for the court of Kublai
Khan(Stefoff 13). They were accompanied not by one hundred wise men but
by two Dominican friars, and the two good friars turned back at the
first sign of adversity, another local war in the Levant. Aside from
the pope’s messages, the only spiritual gift Europe was able to furnish
the great Kublai Khan was oil from the lamp burning at Jesus Christ’s
supposed tomb in Jerusalem. Yet, in a sense, young Marco, the only new
person in the Polos’ party, was himself a fitting representative of the
spirit of European civilization on the eve of the Renaissance, and the
lack of one hundred learned Europeans guaranteed that he would catch the
eye of the Cowan, who was curious about “Latins"(Hull 29).
On the way to the khan’s court, Marco had the opportunity to complete
his education. The journey took three and a half years by horseback
through some of the world’s most rugged terrain, including snowy
mountain ranges, such as the Pamirs, and parching deserts, such as the
Gobi. Marco and his party encountered such hazards as wild beasts and
brigands; they also met with beautiful women, in whom young Marco took a
special interest. The group traveled numerous countries and cultures,
noting food, dress, and religion unique to each(Li Man Kin 17). In
particular, under the khans’s protection the Polos were able to observe
a large portion of the Islamic world at close range, as few if any
European Christians had. By the time they reached the khan’s court in
Khanbalik, Marco had become a hardened traveler. He had also received a
unique education and had been initiated into manhood.

Kublai Khan greeted the Polos warmly and invited them to stay on in his
court. Here, if Marco’s account is to be believed, the Polos became
great favorites of the khan, and Kublai
eventually made Marco one of his most trusted emissaries(Great Lives
from History 16765). On these points Marco has been accused of gross
exaggeration, and the actual status of the Polos at the court of the
khan is much disputed. If at first it appears unlikely that Kublai
would make young Marco an emissary, upon examination this seems quite
reasonable. For political reasons, the khan was in the habit of
appointing foreigners to administer conquered lands, particularly China,
where the tenacity of the Chinese bureaucracy was legendary. The khan
could also observe for himself that young Marco was a good candidate.
Finally, Marco reported back so successfully from his fist
mission-informing the khan not only on business details but also on
colorful customs and other interesting trivia-that his further
appointment was confirmed. The journeys specifically mentioned in
Marco’s book, involving travel across China and a sea voyage to India,
suggests that the khan did indeed trust him with some of the most
difficult missions(Rugoff 25).
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