Saturday, May 16, 2015

Train Reading - Introducing The Travels of Marco Polo

My train reading used to be very disciplined. There was one simple rule. I had to pluck a book of my shelves that I had not read before and then read it until it was finished. No matter whether or not I liked it, it had to be finished.

It's taken me down some interesting by-ways. However, in the last few years my train reading has become spasmodic, less rigorous.

There are particular reasons for this. My main reading time is too and from work. It's hard to train read in the traditional sense when you are deeply embedded in, to take a current example, the late Pleistocene and what it meant for the Aboriginal settlement of New England. Material connected with that topic tends to dominate the brief case. Random reading is crowded out.

Feeling in need of something different this week, I plucked The Travels of Marco Polo off the shelves.Yes, no doubt I should have read it before, it's a famous travel piece, but I hadn't. I was far more familiar with the game Marco Polo, something I used to play with the kids and their friends. Mmmm, I wonder whether I will ever do that again?  It was fun.

My copy of  The Travels is the Penguin Classics edition translated and introduced by Ronald Latham. I don't know a lot about Ronald Latham, although he was clearly a well known classicist.
By melding various accounts together into a coherent story, he created what appears to have become something approaching a best seller. First published in 1958, the book was reprinted in at least 1959, 1965, 1967, 1972, 1974 and 1978 (my copy).

Marco Polo was born in Venice on 15 September 1254. Wikipedia reports that he learned the mercantile trade from his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, who travelled through Asia, and met Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice to meet Marco for the first time. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years. The map shows their journey.

There has been some controversy about the accuracy of The Travels. It was written after Polo's return to Venice, dictated to a fellow inmate Rustichello da Pisa while they were prisoners of the Genoans (1296-1298)  Rustichello da Pisa, described by Ronald Latham as a romance writer, incorporated tales of his own, as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China.

I'm not sure the accuracy question matters greatly. It remains one of the great travel epics, painting a picture of a vast world that was then little known to those who lived in Europe.

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