Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/23

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9
POLO, MARCO


sometimes contradict his statements, but he often adds detail, evidently authentic, of great interest and value, and we need not hesitate to accept as a genuine tradition the substance of his story of the Polos' arrival at their family mansion in St John Chrysostom parish in worn and outlandish garb, of the scornful denial of their identity, and the stratagem by which they secured acknowledgment from Venetian society.

We next hear of Marco Polo in a militant capacity. ]jealousies had been growing in bitterness between Venice and Genoa throughout the 13th century. In IZQ8 the Genoese prepared to strike at their rivals on their own ground, and a powerful fleet under Lamba Doria made for the Adriatic. Venice, on hearing of the Genoese armament, equipped a fleet still more numerous, and placed it under Andrea Dandolo. The crew of a Venetian galley at this time amounted, all told, to 250 men, under a comito or master, but besides this officer each galley carried a sopracomito or gentleman-commander, usually a noble. On one of the galleys of Dandolo's fleet Marco Polo seems to have gone in this last capacity. The hostile fleets met before Curzola Island on the 6th of September, and engaged next morning. The battle ended in a complete victory for Genoa, the details of which may still be read on the facade of St Matthew's church in that city. Sixty-six Venetian galleys were burnt in Curzola Bay, and eighteen were carried to Genoa, with 7000 prisoners, one of whom was Marco Polo. The captivity was of less than a year's duration; by the mediation of Milan peace was made, on honourable terms for both republics, by July IZQQ; and Marco was probably restored to his family during that or the following month.

But his captivity was memorable as the immediate cause of his Book. Up to this time he had doubtless often related his experiences among his friends; and from these stories, and the frequent employment in them (as it would seem) of grand numerical expressions, he had acquired the nickname of M arco Millioni. Yet it would seem that he had committed nothing to writing. The narratives not only of Marco Polo but of several other famous medieval travellers (e.g. Ibn Batuta, Friar Odoric, Nicolo Conti) seem to have been extorted from them by a kind of pressure, and committed to paper by other hands. Examples, perhaps, of that intense dislike to the use of pen and ink which still prevails among ordinary respectable folk on the shores of the Mediterranean.

In the prison of Genoa Marco Polo fell in with a certain person of writing propensities, Rusticiano or Rustichello of Pisa, also a captive of the Genoese. His name is otherwise known as that of a respectable literary hack, who abridged and recast several of the French romances of the Arthurian cycle, then in fashion. He wrote down Marco's experiences at his dictation. We learn little of Marco Polo's personal or family history after this captivity; but we know that at his death he left a wife, Donata (perhaps of the Loredano family, but this is uncertain), and three daughters, Fantina and Bellela (married, the former to Marco Bragadino), and Moreta (then a spinster, but married at a later date to Ranuzzo Dolfino). One last glimpse of the traveller is gathered from his will, now in St Mark's library. On the 9th of January 1324 the traveller, in his seventieth year, sent for a neighbouring priest and notary to make his testament. We do not know the exact time of his death, but it fell a.lmost certainly within the year 1324, for we know from a scanty series of documents, beginning in June 1325, that he had at the latter date been some time dead. He was buried, in accordance with his will, in the Church of St Lorenzo, where the family burying-place was marked by a sarcophagus, erected by his filial care for his father Nicolo, which existed till near the end of the 16tl1 century. On the renewal of the church in 1592 this seems to have disappeared.

The archives of Venice have yielded a few traces of our traveller. Besides his own will just alluded to, there are the wills of his uncle Marco and of his younger brother Maffeo; a few legal documents connected with the house property in St John Chrysostom, and other papers of similar character; and 9

two or three entries in the record of the Maggior Consiglio. We have mentioned the sobriquet of Marco Millioni. Ramusio tells us that he had himself noted the use of this name in the public books of the commonwealth, and this statement has been verified in an entry in the books of the Great Council (dated April 1o, 1305), which records as one of the securities in a'certain case the “ Nobilis vir M archus Paulo M1L1ON.'? It is alleged that long after the traveller's death there was always in the Venetian masques one individual who assumed the character of Marco Millioni, and told Munchausen-like stories to divert the vulgar. There is also a record (March 9, 1311) of the judgment of the court of requests (Curia Petitionum) upon a suit brought by the “ Nobilis vir Marcus Polo ” against Paulo Girardo, who had been an agent of his, to recover the value of a certain quantity of musk for which Girardo had not accounted. Another document is a catalogue of certain curiosities and valuables which were collected in the house of Marino Faliero, and this catalogue comprises several objects that Marco Polo had given to one of the Faliero family. The most tangible record of Polo's memory in Venice is a V portion of the Ca' Polo-the mansion (there is reason to believe) where the three travellers, after their long absence, were denied entrance. The court in which it stands was known in Ramusio's time as the Corte del millioni, and now is called Corte Sabbionera. That which remains of the ancient edifice is a passage with a decorated archway of Italo-Byzantine character pertaining to the 13th century.

No genuine portrait of Marco Polo exists. There is a medallion portrait on the wall of the Sala dello Scudo in the ducal palace, which has become a kind of type; but it is a work of imagination no older than 1761. The oldest professed portrait is one in the gallery of Monsignor Badia at Rome, which is inscribed Marcus Polus 'uenetus totius orbis et I miie peregrator primus. It is a good picture, but evidently of the 16th century at earliest. The Europeans at Canton have absurdly attached the name of Marco Polo to a figure in a Buddhist temple there containing a. gallery of “ Arhans ” or Buddhist saints, and popularly known 1 H

as the “temple of the five hundred gods. The Venetian municipality obtained- a copy of this on the occasion of the geographical congress at Venice in 1881.

The book indited by Rusticiano is in two parts. The first, or prologue, as it is termed, is unfortunately the only part which consists of actual personal narrative. It relates in an interesting though extremely brief fashion the circumstances which led the two elder Polos to the Khan's court, together with those of their second journey (when accompanied by Marco), and of the return to the west by the Indian seas and Persia. The second and staple part consists of a series of chapters of unequal length and tin systematic structure, descriptive of the different states and provinces of Asia (certain African islands and regions included), with occasional notices of their sights and products, of curious manners and remarkable events, and especially regarding the Emperor Kublai, his court, wars and administration. A series of chapters near the close treats of sundry wars that took place between various branches of'the house of lenghiz in the latter half of the 13th century. This last series is either omitted or greatly curtailed in all the MS. copies and versions except one (Paris, National Library, Fonds Fr. 1116).

It was long doubtful in what language the work was originally written. That this had been some dialect of Italian was a natural presumption, and a contemporary statement could be alleged in its favour. But there is now no doubt that the original was French. This was first indicated by Count Baldelli-Boni, who published an elaborate edition of two of the Italian texts at Florence in 1827, and who found in the oldest of these indisputable signs that it was a translation from the French. The argument' has since been followed up by others; and a manuscript in rude and peculiar French, belonging to the National Library of Paris (Fonds Fr. III6), which was printed by the Société de géographie in 1824, is evidently either the original or a close transcript of the original dictation. A variety of its characteristics are strikingly indicative of the unrevised product of dictation, and are such as would necessarily have disappeared either in a translation or in a revised copy. Many illustrations could be adduced of the fact that the use of French was not a circumstance of surprising or unusual nature; for the language had at that time, in some points of view, even a wider diffusion than at present, and examples of its literary employment by writers who were not Frenchmen (like Rusticiano himself, a compiler of French romances) are very numerous.