Marco Polo Essay, Research Paper
Marco Polo: An Inspiration to Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration. During the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century, Marco Polo gave Europe a mentalimage of the Far East. With his very detailed descriptions of all he saw, from the Khan sbeautiful palace and the flourishing trade market filled with rare goods from far awayports, with his book called the Travels, Marco Polo captured his readers and filled themwith the stuff dreams are made of. Marco s text was the most read book in the medievalperiod. It excited the imagination and wonder of all nations and inspiring explorers to usehis book as a guidebook, even Christopher Columbus was inspired (Fuson 70). The Thirteenth Century was a time of great prosperity and a major demand forexotic trade goods(Penrose 10). Historian Richard Humble say s that the energy andebullience of Thirteenth Century Europeans was never more clearly shown than by thespeed in which far-sighted European entrepreneurs, especially the Venetians, adjustedtheir attitude towards the awe-inspiring new power (the Tarter reign, A.K.A. the Mongolreign or the Yuan Dynasty) which was said to have towered above the East (Marco Polo9). Merchants knew fortunes awaited them if they made agreements with the Tarter rulersto trade. The first Venetian merchants to go to the Far East in search of that fortune werethe Polo brothers, Niccolo and Maffeo. The Polo s went to the court of the of the BarkaKahn to make a trading contract within the Kahn s territory. They traded for twelvemonths and then, accepted an invitation to visit the court of Kublai Kahn inCathay(Andrews 24). As the first Europeans to visit the capital city of the Tarter Empire, the Polos wereamazed in the format of the city and Kublai Kahn, he was an intelligent, strong, thick-setman of medium height ( Forman and Burland 81). The Kahn welcomed them with greathospitality and many questions about the East. Kublai Kahn was also very interested inthe Christian Religion. He sent the Polo brothers back to Europe with a request of 100priests to teach him and his people about the strange religion along with a sample of holyoil from Jerusalem for the Kahn s collection of religious relics(Marco Polo 92). When the Polo s arrived in Europe they found out that Pope Gregory died and thechurch was disorganized. Finally, after many trials of arranging the priests, it fell throughand the Polo s had to go back to the Kahn, and tell of the failure. Richard Humble says,however, that they were able to get the holy oil he had requested, an action that deepenedthe trust between the Kahn and the Polo s (Marco Polo 111). But before the Polos left Venice in 1297, Nicole made a critical decision to bringhis fifteen year old son named Marco. Marco later recorded the details of their trip in abook called the Travels, including a prologue with his fathers first trip to the Far East. According to historian Richard Humble, Marco spent 26 years exploring the Far East, 17of those working as a surveyor of potential markets for Kublai Kahn (The Explorers23-26). Throughout the travels, Marco s influence is revealed and takes the main lead. The Travels is not his itinerary, but a collection of descriptions of the cities he visited. Marco tells about the main communities with busy marketplaces, such as Caindu,Kalachan, Tenduc, and Fu-chow (Andews 26). In the Travels, Marco also notes of the magnificent wonders that he saw while hetraveled the Empire. In Burma, he saw one pagoda covered entirely by gold and anotherone covered in silver. Marco also mentions the province Maarbar, across the straight fromCeylon, and described the process of pearl fishing. Pearl fishing is when a trainedswimmer takes a large breath of water at the surface and dives off the shore of an ocean tofind pearls in shells(Samhaber 89). Eventually, the Polo s made it back to Europe, although the trip meant making onemore errand for the Kahn. Their task was to escort a Mongol princess to Persia to marrya prince their, It was completed(Forman39,40). The Kahn also sent a letter with thePolo s to deliver to the Pope and to the King s of Europe, including King Edward ofEngland and King Louis of France (Forman 41,42). The Polos returned to Venice in 1925. At first, their Tarter clothing was made funof, but ,as legend has it, they ripped open their seams of their robes and streams of jewelsfell to the ground and people were ready to listen to their stories ( Penrose 54). Within a few years the trade routes the Polo s had taken were inaccessible due toTurkish and Moslem advances. European trade had to be channeled through middle mensuch as Arab, Turkish, Persian merchants who had monopolies on Asian markets (Albion62). Meanwhile, the great Kahn Empire that Marco had known in Cathay didn t remainunmoving either. Eighty years after Polo left Cathay, the Yuan Dynasty fell , ending theTarter reign. Native Chinese rule was restored to Cathay by the ethnic Han peopleThrough the Ming Dynasty, a fact unknown to Europe until 200 years later ( Forman 28). Upon his return to Venice, Marco Polo married and had children. Later he helpedto fight against Genoa as a gentlemen commander of a venetian galley( Humble 205). In one of the battles Marco was captured and put in Prison in Genoa. He shared hisexperience with Messer Rusticiano of Pisa who in 1928 began to record the adventures ofMarco Polo in medieval French as they re dictated to him. It reached its audience and theaudience was puzzled to see if it was all true or not(Humble 217). Shortly after the manuscript was first published in 1299, Marco earned thenickname il-milione –Marco of the millions–due to his excessive use of superlatives indescribing the wonders of the Far East(Andrews 84). Even Marco s friends didn t believeall of the far- fetched stories the manuscript contained. On his death bed, his relativesurged him to take back some of the lies he told, but he said I never told the half of whatI saw. . . (Andrews 92). Marco Polo s book became a valuable resource as a record of the last contactbetween Europeans and the Far East until 200 years later when Vasco de Gama openedthe first sea route between Europe and India(Morison 32). The business community readwith interest about the commercial potential described by Marco Polo, now unavailable fortheir use. Geographers were also intrigued. Marco Polo revealed many little knowngeographic facts about the Far East. Abraham Cresque, author of the Catalan Atlas, aseries of maps issued in 1375, based his work on the world in light of the travels ofMarco Polo and his missionary successors of Cathay. The placing of the cities of CentralAsia, as well as semicircle of the coastline revealed the author s familiarity with Marco sdescriptions ( Albion 19). The maps also showed the thousands of small islands off thecoast of China that Marco had mentioned in his book. Historian Boise Penrose mentionsin his book that there was not another map more correct of the Eastern Hemisphere untill
the Cantino Map was published in 1502 (18). Robert Albion say s that it is almost certain that Henery the Navigator saw thisatlas (19). The son of Abraham Cresque, Jahuda Cresque, was the Prince s leadingnavigational expert, a position in which he was able to control considerable influence withthe Prince s exploration department. Paoli Toscanelli, a Florentine scholar whose hobby was geography, also admiredMarco Polo and studied the book of his travels. Toscanelli accepted the theory that theAsiatic land mass extended much more eastward than even Ptomely had said. He figuredout that there were 5,000 more miles between the Canary Islands and Kinsay( Hangchow). He was an early figure of the western route to the Indies ( Penrose 51-53). Christopher Columbus was also a big fan of Toscanelli, who began acorrespondence with him ( The Explorers 56). Columbus bought a copy of Marco Polo sbook and consumed the descriptions of the riches of the Far East and especially ofCipangu ( now Japan), an island containing palaces with roofs of gold . Cipangu wasone of the more than 7,000 islands Marco Polo had described off the coast of Asia, anarchipelago so large that it had the effect of extending the land mass of Asia a good 30degrees farther East than by earlier calculations(Fuson46). Columbus said that Asiawould be closer to the west by way of the Atlantic Ocean. He figured that Cipangu mustbe around 28 degrees latitude which would make it 2,400 miles due west on a 270 degreecourse at a speed of 4 knots, therefore, he could arrive at Cipangu in three weeks. FromCipangu to the Cathay mainland would be another 1500 miles he thought. He thoughtthat between the European coastline and the eastern shores of Asia, there were no newlands to discover( Fuson 50). Columbus had kept an audience with King John II of Portugal in 1484 to gainsupport for his expedition. He used Marco Polo s account to back up his theories, thecourt chronicler later wrote that the king obsevered this Cristavao Clumn to be a greattalker, and full of fancy and imagination (Fuson 73). According to Colombian expertSamuel Morison, the mariitime advisory committee appointed to discuss his plan dismissedit as vain, simply founded on imagination, or things like that Isle of Cypangu of MarcoPolo (371). The king gave him no support. At last, Columbus found the support he found from King Ferdinand and QueenIsabella of Spain. In his log, Columbus recorded how he used the prologue of MarcoPolo s book, the account of the Khan requesting priests to teach him about Christianity, inhis effort to convince the monarch of the importance of the project: I informed Your Highnesses how this great Khan and his predecessors had sent to Rome many times to beg for men learned in our Holy Faith so that his people might be instructed therein, and that the Holy Father never furnished them, and therefore, many peoples believeing in idolatries and recieving among themselves sects of perditation were lost(Fuson 79). The arguement proved convincing and in May 1492 Columbus set sail in three diferentships. In his possesion was a letter from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella addressed tothe great Khan, with the understanding that it should be given to the heirs that hadsucceded him. Columbus took the task seriously and went to great lenghts to try todeliver the letter. After leaving their Canary Island stop over Columbus and his company spent 36days at sea before sighting land. They had travelled 2,400 miles, which should havebrought them to Cipangu, According to Columbus calculations. However, the land thatthey found didn t seem to resemble the fabulous Cathay that Marco Polo described. Theland was stony and scruby and the people were poor. Columbus decided that he landed onone of the other 7,448 islands about which Marco Polo had discussed. He decided to lookfarther into the mainland(Fuson 82) From Marco Polo s description, the mainland should have been west of Cipangu,however the islanders that Columbus questioned, signaled that there was a king to thesouth who had great vessels and possesed a lot (Fuson 89) Native guides indicatedthata place called Colba (Cuba) was wealthy and populated, full of ships and sailors, bothgreat and many (Fuson 91). Columbus thought Colba and Cuba meant Cipangu, he alsothought Cubacan meant the Kahn when it actually meant the center of an island. WhenColumbus arrived in Cuba he found the inhabitants to be just as poor as the natives before. The Cubans indicated that there was a powerful king to the west. Columbus went westand still found nothing, so he sent some men into the mainland and still found nothing. Columbus then went to the eastern tip of Cuba, sailing around Hispanola. Hefound a culture there and it seemed a little more advanced than the earlier natives, theyhad belts made of gold. The natives said they would take Columbus to Caibao where thegold was panned from the streams. Columbus, once again, felt he was getting closer tothe Kahn. On his trip east , he had problems with his ship and went to the shore to ask forhelp. He also used the oppertunity to ask about the Kahn. The chief promised to takeColumbus to Caiboa but warned about a man eating tribe called the Caniba(Fuson 93). Atthis point Columbus decided to leave some of the men there and go back to Europe to tellof their discoveries in what they thought was the East(Fuson94). On following journey s to America, Columbus continued to search for the greatKahn. He was probably still in search upon his death (Fuson 62-105). During this age of discovery, explorers from various nations looked for a sea routeto Asia, or the Indies as they called it. Many of them used at least part of Marco Polo sTravels to guide them. Prince Henery the Navigator had directed his sailors southward tocircumnavigate Africa in search of the land further east. John Cabot s prposition to theEnglish in 1494 was based on the idea that columbus didn t go far enough. Cabotproposed that he d find a more northern route to Asia and then sail south of Marco sCathay Which would be deeper into the islands where Columbus was (Moule 23). Magellan discovered the western passage while looking for Asia. Even the discovery ofAustralia by the Dutch may have been inspired by Marco Polo.
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