Saturday, February 16, 2008

Marco who?

The name is legendary, but do any of us have more than a vague idea of the actions and events that made Marco Polo such a renowned public figure? Aside from the whole introducing Italy to macaroni myth - which, according to Laurence Bergreen's book Marco Polo: from Venice to Xanadu, is a myth - what do we know? Well, by sifting through original source material in more than half a dozen different languages, and by traveling over the same silk trading routes that Marco Polo himself crossed, Bergreen manages to put together a very thorough, very readable biography of one of history's most intrepid merchants. What an amazing experience it must have been for Marco Polo to travel through China during a period of great cultural, economic and military wealth, especially coming from the dark squalor of 13th century Venice. As he becomes a trusted diplomat of the Kublai Khan and travels throughout the Mongol kingdom on the Khan's business, Marco Polo not only gained an enormous amount of information and experience, he also developed a deep appreciation and respect for the cultures he saw. When you think that his fellow Europeans were busy burning one another at the stake for marginal heresies, Marco Polo's humility and adaptability were truly remarkable.

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