Five Reasons Why Marco Polo Remains Fascinating

tags: Marco Polo

John Man is the author of “Marco Polo: The Journey That Changed the World” (HarperCollins). His other books include “Genghis Khan,” “Attila,” “The Great Wall,” “Samurai” and “Ninja.”

Marco Polo was, of course, the world’s most famous traveler. He was the author of the first real travel book – written in about 1300 – in which he describes his journey from Venice across Asia and his 17 years in the service of China’s emperor, Kublai Khan.

But fame is not a reason to care. History is full of famous people we really couldn’t care less about. Marco is different. Here are five reasons why:

1. Marco’s great adventure is a real-life fairy tale, an archetypal story, one of the “Seven Basic Plots” (the title of a masterly analysis of narrative by Christopher Booker). Marco’s life is a rags-to-riches tale of “some humble and disregarded little hero or heroine being raised up to a position of immense success or splendor.” An ordinary teenager is plucked from his home and taken across the world to an unknown kingdom. He is presented to the richest and most powerful man in the world – Kublai being nominal head of the Mongol Empire, which included all China and stretched from the Pacific to southern Russia. Wonderful to relate, the emperor employs him. He responds with near-adoration. He acquires wealth and status. Finally, on his return, he writes his book, winning universal fame. We care about Marco, as we care about Cinderella, because his story touches our collective unconscious...

Read entire article at WSJ

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