Author: Avani (Page 1 of 2)

Marco Polo Map Comparison

Unsurprisingly, it was extremely difficult to map out the locations that Marco Polo had traveled to on the medieval map. On the modern map, it is much easier to visualize the distance that Polo had traveled, but due to the lack of labeling, or at least its visibility that the online version of the map had, it was hard to determine the route of his journey, therefore I was only able to determine the general region of the Middle East.

The Ebstorf Mappa Mundi goes into great depth of the mythological figures that were thought to be present in the world at the time, which contrasts the modern maps that are featured today. In seems to be that medieval maps, like that of the Ebstorf Mappa Mundi, were less fixated on accuracy, but more so a communication of culture, due to the lack of knowledge that the time had of the world. This goes along with the inclusion and focus on Christianity within the Ebstorf Mappa Mundi. Depicted in the medieval map is an image of Jesus embracing the world, with his head, hands, and feet, along with the inclusion of the Garden of Eden. The Ebstorf Mappa Mundi illustrates the key theme of religion that seem to reign during this time period, as the contents of the map are skewed in a Christian direction, as seen in having Jerusalem in the center of the map. There is no indication of any religious or political influence for the modern map, it simply consists of the geographic types of lands and the locations of countries, seas, etc.

I am very uncertain in the placement of the region in which I believe the Middle East is located, because even though the Ebstorf Mappa Mundi includes landmarks that were mentioned in Polo’s account, it was extremely difficult to read the tiny lettering of cities on the map, which is what I had to look for. I could only make out Sicily and India, and the general areas of Europe and Asia and Africa based on how T-O maps function. Since the Ebstorf Mappa Mundi is a T-O map, the direction and perspective is completely different to that of the modern day, as East is point towards the top, which helped in determining this. Due to the inaccuracies of the mappa mundi, it is hard to fully grasp the extreme distances that Polo traveled on this journey, which places less importance on the strife that he and other travelers had to deal with.

Finally, as previously mentioned, the Ebstorf Mappa Mundi, does a great job in illustrating culture, especially that of European origins, since it displays myths, landmarks, and religious inclusions that could assist individuals, like Marco Polo, in grasping the significance of certain locations and historical understandings to a specific region and community of people. The Ebstorf Mappa Mundi also assisted in sharing certain narratives about place and people within the world, since it had the ability to make judgements, such as dog-headed people living in a certain area, which caused these narratives to proliferate and thrive within the communities in Europe, but also reach other areas in the world.

The Travels of Marco Polo: Japan

The final section of The Travels of Marco Polo that I would like to analyze is his time in Japan. Polo starts his description of Japan, much like other sections of his narrative, starting with an detailed account of the people. He goes into great depth in describing the people and uses similar adjectives that we have before, such as “fair-complexioned”, “good-looking”, and “idolaters”, but he introduces some new descriptors in this section: “well-mannered”, “wholly independent”, and “exercising no authority over any nation but themselves” (Polo 244). It is interesting to note the pattern of fair skin being tied to a superior and more attractive appearance, as we have seen before in many travel narratives in this class, but this is one of the first instances that Polo uses the word “nation” in his personal account. He does not define the characteristics of a nation for us, however we can assume that religion and geographical location are two factors a part of his understanding of separate nations, as Marco Polo constantly uses them to differentiate between the places on his travels. It is interesting to note that Polo describes Japan to be independent and “exercising no authority over any nation” because that insinuates that there is a lack of knowledge available for international community about Japan, since there are less cultural connections between this country and others. This is certainly supported when reading rest of Polo’s account on Japan, since there is so much false information about the country that is just not believable.
First, Marco Polo does not include many details of Japan at all, compared to the locations that he has traveled, simply focusing on the riches and religion of the nation. He mentions that Japan has a great deal of gold and pearls available and then goes into a long summary of how the Great Khan took control over the country, before ending the section with a brief description of their religion. The lack of information that Polo has on Japan, since he was never able to actually travel to it, is supplemented by stories that he has heard, which we have seen before like in the section on India, however for Japan these stories are less believable due to their generic nature. As we have stated in class before, the trope of cannibalism was one that was extremely popular, especially for highlighting how a culture or community was strange and unusual. In the last couple of sentences of the section, Polo mentions “they kill their captive and make meal of him with their kinsfolk. You must understand that they first cook him; and this human flesh they consider the choicest of all foods” (Polo 248). He does not mention any other substantive details, but emphasizes the idolaters preference for human flesh, which reveals Polo’s ignorance towards the country and his choice to view them as strange and unusual due to his lack of information on the country. As we can see in this section, there is a pattern in the amount and kind of information, as well as a change in tone, when Marco Polo speaks of locations that he has not visited versus the ones that he has visited, which takes away from his reliability as a narrator, as he is trying to provide information for the reader, without highlighting that this information is based off rumors or stories that he has learned.

The Travels of Marco Polo: Male and Female Island

In the beginning of his section on the Arabian Sea, Marco Polo starts his narration with the description of two islands, named Male and Female Island. As a modern reader, the names of these islands of these islands immediately made me curious, particularly the reason as to why the inhabitants of these islands decided to separate by gender, however it was only vaguely mentioned that the men would not be able to live with their wives for the entire year (295). There is no description surrounding Polo’s stay on these islands, nor anything to do with its physical description, which indicates that Polo did not visit these islands, but instead heard stories of these locations in passing during his travels.

Polo first describes the religion of the inhabitants of the islands, which once again reinforces the notion that religion was one of the key factors in differentiating individuals. He states that the individuals on the island follow Christianity and all the residents are baptized. Due to their following of the Old Testament, Polo does not speak of the inhabitants in a negative manner. If this were a community of a different religion, Polo would not only speak of this decision to separate and the residents in a negative manner or one that highlights the differences between their customs and his own, but he would go into depth on other aspects of the community, like their death practices. Polo does not describe much about the community besides this anomaly, which insinuates that the other aspects of these islands are normal to him and his own cultural standards and practices.

Marco Polo mentions that the men of Male Island are only allowed to be on Female island for three months, solely for the purposes of reproduction, and are not able to have sex with their wives when she becomes pregnant, but are able to do what they desire when she is not. Polo describes that children stay with their mothers, but sons would have to leave at the age of twelve years old to live with their fathers on Male Island. The implications of reproduction and sex is hard to read as a modern reader, as women on Female Island simply existed to give birth and raise children. The fact that they only meet their husbands after nine months, probably after the possibility of childbirth, only to do the whole process over again is frustrating. Polo states that fact that husbands have control of their wive’s bodies as an unsurprising custom, revealing the underlying meaning of consent, or the lack thereof, as an accepted standard for Polo and his society.

I was surprised to read about the type of interdependence that the two islands had on each other. The men provided on fishing and other physical practices, while the women only managed agricultural work, on top of their duties to childrearing. I assumed that their would be a more equal distribution of labor in order for sustenance, since the groups are separated for most of the time, but it seems that this is a way for men to be in control of their wives in a different manner, forcing them to be reliant on their husbands for basic needs like food.

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