The Truth About Marco Polo's Trip To China?

Many scholars have questioned Polo’s account of his trip and residence in China. Some even claim that he never got to China at all-they say he got as far as Persia, and stopped. On the other hand, many of his descriptions of life at the Khan’s court ring true.
At any rate, I have a question. The Polo family were merchants-they made their fortune by importing and selling stuff-what would the purpose be of such a long (years) sojourn in China? I can see spending a few months, making business contacts, scoping out the local trades, etc…but why would they spend such a long time doing essentially nothing? And back home in Venice-who was minding the family business?
So was Marco a liar or did he tell the truth?

Wikipedia says that the revisionist argument is currently in disfavor.

To hear Marco tell it, they were guests of the Khan, which presumably was a pretty sweet deal. The downside was that they supposedly weren’t allowed to leave.

By the way, if you haven’t read it, The Journeyer, Gary Jennings’s historical novel about Marco Polo, is a hoot. it’s complete schlock, but it’s fun schlock from beginning to end.

You know you can read the book Marco wrote, (with the help of a hack, but still!), when he returned to Venice.

You’ll understand the logistics, of what you’re asking about, a bit better, if you do. It’s not great literature, and most every chapter starts with, ‘These people are idolators…’, (because they weren’t Christian’s, and had statues of other God’s, Marco had never heard of), but it’s not especially hard to read, or very long really.

Worth checking out if you’re interested in this topic.

The BBC Radio 4 show In Our Time devoted a program to Marco Polo back in May this year. The format of the show (if you don’t know) is to have three academic (usually) experts come on and talk about a topic - mostly expository, but with some debate - with Melvyn Bragg (himself pretty smart) introducing and chairing the discussion. It generally works well and is very informative. As I recall, the consensus of the experts who were present was that Polo’s story was probably true in outline and in many of its details, although considerably embellished, but they also acknowledged that others who think it to be completely or largely fictional have some good arguments. If you want to gain an understanding of the issues, in a relatively painless way, I recommend you listen to the streaming audio of the show (that can be found at my link, above). The show is about 40 minutes long.

I’ve read his book (and in comic book form as well – it was one of the Classics Illustrated). Polo’s more believable and convincing than John de Mandeville – and there’s a percentage who think that at least some of even his book is “for real”

If it turns out that Polo’s book is fraudulent, does that mean we have to shout something else in swimming pools?

More - the Mongols made a habit of employing foreigners as officials in China, because they did not trust the locals. The Polos were allegedly well-paid for their services.

In fact, the Venetians had a sort of secret deal with the Mongols - they happily sold the Mongols military, political and economic intelligence on the rest of Europe in exchange for trade privileges and the possibility of enhanced status if-and-when the Mongols invaded (source: The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe). Sort of like early medieval Quislings. :wink:

Anyway, these dealings explain why Venetian merchants were in high favour with the Mongols.

Moving to General Questions from IMHO.

No, but you’ll only pretend to close your eyes.

Why do people (actually, so far as I am aware, just Americans) shout “Marco”, “Polo” in swimming pools: I mean why are those particular words used for this game of find-me-with-your-eyes-shut?

Good question!

I was recently in Walmart, where all manner of weird things can happen, and apparently there was a little boy named Marco somewhere nearby. His brother and sister kept yelling his name, and for a moment I actually wondered if someone was playing Marco Polo in the aisles.

It’s a kids game sort of like tag, played with the eyes closed whilst swimming in either ocean or pool.

Wikipedia to the rescue:
The game was created after this was documented in The Travels of Marco Polo - Volume 1: " And I was swept down by the mighty torrent. I was snagged by a fallen tree a ways downstream. My father and uncle could not see me, as the morning fog had not yet lifted, and I could not see my hand when directly in front of my face. Then I heard a faint whistle in the wind, “Marco! Marco!” I heard my father crying. I responded with the only thing I could think of, “Polo!” I shouted. He then walked the bank of the river and found the tree I had been snagged on, climbing out to save me." - Marco Polo, from, The travels of Marco Polo

As I recall reading it (perhaps in some editor’s introduction to whatever edition I saw), Marco Polo went there with his merchant father, while he was but a wee lad. He lived there a good many years, and barely spoke Italian when he got back to Italy.

Italy at the time consisted of many city-states, which were always having little wars with each other. Marco found himself in the wrong city at the wrong time upon his return, and got thrown in jail. He composed his memoirs of his travels while in jail.

He largely dictated his memoir to his cell mate, who wrote it down. But the cell mate was inconsistent about it, apparently – if you read the story, you can see that some of it talks of Marco Polo in the first person (as if from Marco’s own mouth), while some of it talks about Marco Polo in the third person (as if the cell mate is writing Marco’s biography). I saw places where the text vacillated between first and third person even within a single paragraph.

No fucking way. That’s gotta be bullshit. And sure enough, if you look at the talk pages, it looks like people are constantly adding spurious origins for the game and its name. Marco Polo’s books are easily available on line. Try searching for part of that alleged quote. You won’t find anything.

It’s not just Americans - we play it here in South Africa and have at least since the 70s, so we likely didn’t pick it up though American media.

I was playing it here in the early 60s so you could well have picked it up from some media. Though we also played the game with “it” calling “blindman’s” and the chasees answering “bluff.” And we called the game “Blindman’s bluff” even though we more generally yelled “Marco” and “Polo”

I think the words are just a mellifluous phrase. Something to do with Articulatory Phoneticsmaybe. One person shouting “Jorge!” and the other responding “Álvares!” just wouldn’t be as good of a game.

Ah ha ha–busted! I had assumed nobody would be so brazen as to make up a quote from a book that would be so easy to verify, but it violates the first rule of etymology, which is that if an origin sounds too good to be true, it is.