The Merchants of Venice
The Voyage Home
Man of a Million Lies?
A Note on Religion
A Note on the Texts
Map of Marco's Journey
The Voyage Home
A short conclusion rounds off the book of Marco Polo in most modern translations. It brings to an end in suitably praising terms the great journey that was undertaken and recounted. However, it was almost certainly added by a later author long after the original was first published. For anyone who reads The Travels today, it is not difficult to see why such a conclusion was felt necessary.
To reach the end of the book strikes a note of anti-climax with the reader. A return journey from China to Europe is undertaken but never concluded. The story appears to stop in mid-flow. The modern epilogue serves to end the journey by referring the reader back to the books prologue where in fact a brief account of the travels end is given. By modern standards it is not a wholly satisfying ending to an epic tale, and serves to add another deimension to the mystery that surrounds Marco Polo.
According to the prologue, the Polo's, having spent seventeen years in the Khan's service, yearned to return home. Kublai did not want them to leave but after several refusals, permitted it in return for completing one last mission for him. On their way back, they were to escort and deliver the princess Kokachin to another Mongol lord, Arghun. The journey took almost two years and of the six hundred who set out, it is said in one account that only eight survived including the princess and the Polo's. By the time they arrived, Arghun was dead and Kokachin was married off to one of Arghun's heirs.
In an account by Ramusio, an early translator, the Polo's went unrecognised on their return to Venice. They bore resemblance to the Mongols with whom they had lived for so long and were dressed in the Mongol fashion. They soon settled back into European custom and began to share their tales with their fellow countrymen. Many refused to believe their wild stories and nick-named Marco, Il Millione in view of his million stories or lies. The Polo's made a demonstration of ripping open their Mongol robes, emptying onto a large table the jewels and precious stones with which Kublai had paid them for their service.
In 1298, some three years after returning home, Marco was made a "gentlemen commander" of a Venetian galley. Venice was at war with neighbouring Genoa. Ramusio reports that Marco was wounded and captured at the Battle of Kurzola on 6 September, 1298 and taken as a prisoner-of-war. He was treated well by his captors and was probably released under the terms of a peace treaty on 25 May, 1299. In that time however, he had met Rustichello of Pisa in prison, the true author of the book of Marco Polo. Our knowledge of Marco Polo owes everything to this fateful encounter.
Marco Polo died in 1324. It is this event that leaves us with one of the most solid pieces of evidence for his story; his will. He had married a noblewoman named Donata and according to his will left three daughters named Fantina, Bellela and Moreta. To them he left his monies and estate. Most tellingly, he also granted freedom to a Mongol slave in his employ. It is a humanistic touch to a story about a man of whom we still know so little.