1902 Encyclopedia > Geography > Marco Polo. Minor Travellers of 12th Century.

(Part 10)

Marco Polo. Minor Travellers of 12th Century.

While the republics of Italy, and above all the state of Venice, were engaged in distributing the jewels, the spices, and the fine cloths of India over the Western world, it was impossible that motives of curiosity, as well as a desire of commercial advantage, should not be awakened to such a degree as to impel some to brave all the obstacles and dangers to be encountered in visiting those remote countries. Among these were the East and visited Tatary. The recital of their travels fired the youthful imagination of young Marco Polo, the son of Nicolo, and he set out for the court of Kublai Khan, with his father and uncle, in 1265. After a journey of three years and a half they reached Yeu-king, near the spot where Peking now stands, and young Marco was enrolled among the attendants of honour of the Grand Khan. During the seventeen years that he remained in this service, Marco Polo was employed on important missions’ and besides what he learnt from his own observation, he collected from others much information concerning countries which he did not visit. He returned to Europe possessed of a vast store of knowledge respecting the eastern parts of the world, and, being afterwards made a prisoner by the Geonoese, he dictated the narrative o his travels during his captivity. The work of Marco Polo is the most valuable narrative of travels that appeared during the Middle Ages, and its latest and absent editor truly says, "All other travelers of that time are but stars of a low magnitude beside the full orb of Marco Polo."

Still these minor orbs continued to do useful geographical work, while striving to spread the truths of the Gospel. Among them were John of Monte Corvino, a Franciscan monk. Andrew of Perugia, John Marignioli, and Friar Jordanus, who visited the west coast of India, and above all Friar Odoric of Pordenone. Odoric set out on his travels in about 1318, and was in western India and northern China between 1321 and 11328, dying in 1331. He went by Constantinople to Trebizond, thence through Persia to Ormuz, where he embarked for Tana in Salsette. He then went to Malabar, Sumatra, and Java, and by the ports of China to Cambaluc or Peking, where he remained for three years. Turning westward he journeyed by Shensi into Tibet, and was the first European to visit Lassa. His homeward journey led him by Cabul and Khorasan to Tabriz, and thence to Venice. His companion was an Irish man named Friar James. (Footnote 1)


(1) Sir John Mandeville copied largely from Odoric, and the substance of his travels to the Indies and Cathay is entirely stolen from the Italian travelers, though amplified with fables from Pliny and other ancients, as well as from his own imagination. See Colonel Yule in his account of Odoric (Cathay, and the Way Thither, i. p. 27).

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