Marco Polo and the Encounter of East and West



Few figures from history evoke such vivid Orientalist associations as Marco Polo, the Venetian merchant, explorer, and writer whose accounts of the "Far East" sparked literary and cultural imaginations. The essays in Marco Polo and the Encounter of East and West challenge what many scholars perceived to be an opposition of "East" and "West" in Polo's writings. These writers argue that Marco Polo's experiences along the Silk Road should instead be considered a fertile interaction of cultural exchange.

The volume begins with detailed studies of Marco Polo's narrative in its many medieval forms (including French, Italian, and Latin versions). They place the text in its material and generic contexts, and situate Marco Polo's account within the conventions of travel literature and manuscript illumination. Other essays consider the appropriation of Marco Polo's narrative in adaptations, translation, and cinematic art. The concluding section presents historiographic and poetic accounts of the place of Marco Polo in the context of a global world literature.

By considering the production and reception of The Travels, this collection lays the groundwork for new histories of world literature written from the perspective of cultural, economic, and linguistic exchange, rather than conquest and conflict.

Table of Contents

Introduction: East, West, and In-between
Suzanne Conklin Akbari

Part One: Marco Polo and the Experience of Wonder

Text, Image, and Contradiction in the Devisement dou monde
Debra Higgs Strickland

Marco Polo’s Le Devisement dou monde and the Tributary East
Sharon Kinoshita

Marco Polo’s Devisement dou monde as a Narcissistic Trauma
Marion Steinicke

Currents and Currency in Marco Polo’s Devisement dou monde and The Book of John Mandeville
Suzanne Conklin Akbari

Part Two: The Reception of Marco Polo: Medieval and Modern

Plucking Hairs from the Great Cham’s Beard: Marco Polo, Jan de Langhe, and Sir John Mandeville
John Larner

The World Translated: Marco Polo’s Le Devisement dou monde, The Book of Sir John Mandeville, and Their Medieval Audiences
Suzanne M. Yeager

Calvino’s Rewriting of Marco Polo: From the 1960 Screenplay to Invisible Cities
Martin McLaughlin

From Alterity to Holism: Cinematic Depictions of Marco Polo and His Travels
Amilcare A. Iannucci and John Tulk

Part Three: Cross-Cultural Currents

The Perils of Dichotomous Thinking: A Case of Ebb and Flow Rather Than East and West
Susan Whitfield

Marco Polo: Meditations on Intangible Economy and Vernacular Imagination
Yunte Huang

Marco Polo, Chinese Cultural Identity, and an Alternative Model of East-West Encounter
Longxi Zhang

Available from University of Toronto Press.


“Sur cet ensemble de contributions on peut porter un jugement nuancé. Marco Polo devient parfois un prétexte à considérations générales sur la conception dominatrice des Occidentaux à propos de l'Orient, dénoncée par la plupart des auteurs.”

—Philippe Menard, Medieval REview

“The collection is helpful in that it contains concise summaries of facts and scholarship on Marco and his collaborator, Rustichello da Pisa, on other medieval geographical and travel writings, and on European and Asian perceptions of each other.”

—Matthew Boyd Goldie, Speculum