Hello there class, here’s the trio back with our blog post, bringing you a post-sequel of Marco Polo’s travels. Previously, we introduced the biography of this brave traveller to you, and today, we’ll be bringing you to another exciting phase of his life. The travels that he has accounted for - did they really happen?
Do a quick search on the internet, and you will realise that even till these days, historians are still carrying out researches to overthrow the “facts” that he has recorded in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo (Il Milione). Reports after reports would claim that he has not been to China and that there were beliefs that he never ventured past the Black Sea, instead cobbled together all his encountered from second-hand accounts, of historical figures who really got there. Many emphasised that he did not include crucial monument and traditions that were practiced by the Chinese during that era, and thus concluding that he has been falsifying his travels. One of the biggest argument is that, Marco Polo mixed up the details of two separate invasions to Japan, which was 7 years apart, 1274 and 1281. Furthermore, Polo also claimed that the Mongol Fleet Ships had 5 masts each, when in fact there were only 3.
Despite having read all the reports that stands for the opposite school of thought, we as a team felt that he did go to China, and that he did not fabricate all his stories just to sensationalise his travels.
There were so many substantial reasons to dismiss his claims of the travel but come to think of it, focuses were placed on whether or not he highlighted the foot binding cultures of China, a rich tea appreciation culture and if chopsticks were prevalently used during mealtimes in China.
Firstly, “Il Milione” (The Travels of Marco Polo) was in fact not written by Polo himself, instead it was another prisoner of war in Genoa. Rustichello was a fellow prisoner, he was an Italian romance writer who wrote “Il Milione” which consists of 24 years of Macro Polo’s personal journal and was recorded during Marco Polo’s imprisonment(Parker, 2004).
In accordance to that, there may be a possibility that Rustichello could had exaggerated some of the content, twisted some parts just to spice up the stories and even left out certain details because after all he was writing through the imagination of what Marco Polo was describing. Furthermore, under such unconducive and uncomfortable writing conditions with an intensive volume of information, which was verbally expressed, it is rather impossible to accurately jot down all the details and portray a perfect identical mental image through a verbal story. Thus, it would be implausible if it was free from mistakes.
“ll Milione” was passed down through the generations and was translated over and over again through different languages and was also re-named throughout the course of history. We believe that it is possible that during these translations, important information might also be left unrecorded. Sources proof that the translations are inconsistent with the details.
Now, take a moment to imagine that you yourself is a translator that was hired to translate a book. What the future reads would depend on you the individual. It is highly possible that important details from the original copy may not be deemed as important to the current translator. If for example, Polo wrote down his amazement of the use of chopsticks in Singapore, you as the translator, would rethink this particular detail. You wouldn’t take it to heart because many of us use it on a daily basis and it isn’t worth mentioning or noted with such amazement. Likewise, Polo was said to have misinterpreted common animals as mythical creatures. The same theory applies here, it may not be of amazement to us but it could be for him at that period of time, thus a plethora of details may have simply slipped passed throughout history.
Also, there wasn’t any depiction of The Great Wall of China which puzzled many people. But what if those weren’t the aspects that he placed his focus on during his travels to China?
Why don’t we looking at things this way - the monumental Great Wall of China only achieved great proportions and recognition during the Ming Dynasty, which was several hundred years after his travels happened. Putting ourselves in his shoes, if it wasn’t something that was worth mentioning at the juncture when you were there, would you have bothered with writing about it?
For example, let’s take Singapore’s context of our brand new Punggol Waterway - it used to be just a normal park connector. But these days, with many developments hyping up the place, Punggol Waterway has received much limelight from the residents of Punggol and other parts of Singapore. It has recently become a new iconic place for the country. Only now, that you start to see blog reviews and instagram posts about this “used-to-be-underdeveloped” place. But does that mean that Punggol Waterway didn’t exist many years back then when it did not receive the tremendous attention? It did exist, just that it wasn’t worth hyping over.
Back to square one, to clear Marco Polo’s name and his mistakes in his personal accounts. We should use another example to address this issue. Zooming in to another great man, Christopher Columbus, whom died thinking that he found a new route to Asia instead of America. If we do not insistently call Columbus’s a liar and highlight his mistakes that he instead found the new continent, then wouldn’t it be a little unfair and unjust to accuse Marco Polo simply because he made a couple of mistakes as well? Instead let’s just embrace the benefits from what we have gained from these apparent mistakes made by them.