tirsdag 19. mars 2024

In Retrospect: Did Marco Polo go to China? A Critical Appraisal by I. de Rachewiltz

In her book Did Marco Polo Go To China? (first published by Secker & Warburg, London, in 1995), Dr Frances Wood claims that Marco did not go to China and that he 'probably never travelled much further than the family's trading post on the Black Sea and in Constantinople'. Her thesis, leading to the above conclusion, is based on a number of principal arguments and a few secondary ones as props. It should be mentioned that most of these arguments have been 'aired' by various writers since the beginning of the 19th century, but were never taken seriously by Marco Polo scholars.

Frances Wood's thesis is so full of holes as to be untenable from whichever angle we look at it. One of its cornerstones is the 'Persian guidebook' hypothesis extrapolated from a casual remark made several decades ago by H. Franke. In a letter to me dated 28 July 1998, Professor Franke writes: 'Yesterday I received your article ... on F. Wood's misleading book on Marco Polo. I am pleased that you pointed out how she misquoted what I had said, very provisionally, in 1965. I think that you have definitely laid to rest her theory.'

There are, of course, still unresolved problems relating to the manuscript tradition of Marco's text, and the precise role of Rustichello and others in editing the same. Scholars in several countries are investigating these problems at present and we must wait for the results of their research.