Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 September 2009
Marco Polo's book — The Travels, The Description of the World, II Milione, or whatever we prefer to call it — is unquestionably the best known of all contemporary sources on that unprecedented historical phenomenon, the Mongol Empire of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. That is not to say that it is by any means the best source. As history, it cannot compare, for example, with Rashīd al-Dīn's Jāmi' al-tawārīkh, and as a European travel account (if that is what it is), it is not remotely in the same class as Friar William of Rubruck's Itinerarium. Nevertheless, while Friar William may have been completely forgotten and Chinggis Khan remembered only as someone a political reactionary can, by dint of great effort, get himself (or herself, one should hasten to add) to the right of, there are many who know at least something about Marco Polo: perhaps principally the fact that he went to China — as almost everyone has hitherto supposed that he did.
A review article of Frances Wood, Did Marco Polo go to China? pp. x, 182. London, Seeker and Warburg, 1995. £14.99.
1 For a well-documented and persuasive, if perhaps to some extent overstated, argument to the effect that Marco Polo tells us a good deal more about Europe than about Asia in the late thirteenth century, see J. Critchley, Marco Polo's Book (Aldershot, 1992)Google Scholar.
2 At least as far back as Sir Yule's, Henry The Book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian, 3rd ed. (London, 1903), Introduction, pp. 110–112Google Scholar [the first edition was published in 1871].
4 See e.g. Professor Barrett's, T. H. review of Wood: London Review of Books, vol. XVII, no. 23, 30 11 1995, p. 28.Google Scholar
11 Sykes, C., Evelyn Waugh: a Biography (Harmondsworth, 1977), p. 244.Google Scholar I and my own travelling companion, Richard Lawrence, became involved in some strikingly similar roadside conversations in much the same places forty years later. I am not, therefore, entirely convinced that Sykes's recollection was accurate.