The Travels of Marco Polo

by Marco Polo

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

I have not told the half of what I saw.

This is probably the most famous quote from the book. Whether exaggeration or statement of fact—Marco Polo was in China seventeen years—it points to the inadequacy of words to capture the experience of travel. It echoes, too, albeit more modestly, the claims of the gospel of John, in which the writer insists that there wouldn't be enough books in the world to tell all the stories of Jesus. It also whets the appetite of the more adventurous reader, such as Christopher Columbus, to see with his or her own eyes all the wonders Polo has left out of his story.

This desert is reported to be so long that it would take a year to go from end to end; and at the narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.

Here Polo emphasizes the rigors of the journey along the Silk Road to China. The Gobi Desert provided a barrier between China and other countries, but also, at this time, was travelled by merchants despite the dangers it presented. Nevertheless, a reader can perceive this is not a trip for the faint of heart. The merchants who grew wealthy bringing back the goods produced by the Chinese took risks and worked hard for their wealth.

They knelt before him and made obeisance with the utmost humility. The Great Khan bade them rise and received them honorably and entertained them with good cheer. He asked many questions about their condition and how they fared after their departure. The brothers assured him that they had indeed fared well, since they found him well and flourishing. Then they presented the privileges and letters which the Pope had sent, with which he was greatly pleased, and handed over the holy oil, which he received with joy and prized very highly.

Polo vividly remembers his first meeting with the "Great" Kubla Khan. We see the importance of Christianity to the Polos as part of this first cultural exchange and the pleasure with which Khan received the holy oil. Kubla Khan's favor smoothed Marco Polo's path during his many years in China, allowing him to travel the country as the emperor's representative.

It is true that they have plenty of firewood, too. But the population is so enormous and there are so many bath-houses and baths constantly being heated, that it would be impossible to supply enough firewood, since there is no one who does not visit a bath-house at least three times a week and take a bath - in winter every day, if he can manage it. Every man of rank or means has his own bathroom in his these stones, being very plentiful and very cheap, effect a great saving of wood.

Although Europeans used coal, the "stones" described above, Polo was unfamiliar with the practice. We see here an example of one of Polo's many observations about how Chinese culture differed from the European.

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