Shocking story of a RW trader prince : Marco Polo

From: hcarteau_at_T6Y7jzpgaX3cE0etpsl0oLMaeZo8xkAYa75W2iNtYwa-gLRruNFO848HWrr2a7u03uO
Date: Sat, 19 May 2012 10:14:23 +0200 (CEST)


I have finished reading a fascinating book, written by french historian Jacques Heers in 1983 and simply titled "Marco Polo". With my feeble historical knowledge, I expected to read an account of a fascinating voyage throughout Asia, full with wonders (this book is sometimes called the "Book of Wonders", as part of a genre) and exotism, doubtless the source of many ideas for future scenarios.

Sadly, I had forgotten that Jacques Heers is something of a "historical myth-buster" and what I read about Marco Polo was, if not disappointing, at least quite sobering. It seems the book in itself makes for very dull reading, filled with approximations and errors. It does not detail any aspects of the travels by themselves. Also, it includes so many destinations that the author thinks MP did not personally visit half of these places, and only repeated what he had heard about them ! It is, for example, impossible to retrace his travels.

Also, Jacques Heers implies that Polo was not much of a merchant, since the book never mentions any business deals, but rather some kind of civil servant sent to spy / bear messages to the Khan. He worked for twenty years for Kublaï as an ambassador, missi dominici and even tax inspector, never as a merchant. His comments are always those of a civil servant, seeing riches as sources for taxation.

Also, it seems Marco Polo was not and by far the only italian merchant travelling to China - some others had done so before him, and there were small italian communities throughout the mongol empire, from Persia to China.

Finally, Polo's Book's title, "Le Devisement du Monde", means "Conversation about the world"; it wasn't even written by him but by a fellow prisoner in Genoa, who wrote it... in French, for the enjoyment of nobles and not as a tool for merchants !

Goes to show how little I actually knew about this character and how much of it was based on pure inventions, written by another venitian, two and a half centuries later, who for political reasons built a Venitian Hero. He entirely made up the famous homecoming scenes, for instance ! Polo was well-off after his travels but never reached high positions in Venise, nor was he quoted by anybody before his "re-inventor" came along 250 years later...

If such affabulations exist in RW history, then any story, however wild, is possible in Glorantha !            

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