Marco Polo (1254–1324) was a merchant from Venice, Italy who is famous for his 24-year, 15,000-mile camping trip.
In 1271 at age 17, Marco Polo left Italy for Asia with his father and uncle. They returned in 1295 to find Venice at war with Genoa. The Venetians had long given up the Polo merchants for dead.
Polo was captured and thrown into a Genovan prison for 4 years where he entertained his cellmates with stories of his travels. Prison was a godsend for Polo, because one of his cellmates was a writer who offered to document Polo’s journey. Polo dictated a detailed account to Rustichello da Pisa to produce
The Travels of Marco Polo.
Over the next several centuries the book stimulated great geographical discoveries, including Christopher Columbus’ attempts to sail to China by going west around the world. Polo’s book with handwritten comments was found among Columbus’ belongings.
Travels was the only “encyclopedia” of the East, and gave Europeans their first look at Asia. It served as a guide for mapmakers for 200 years, especially since Polo brought back a nautical and world map from China.
Polo’s journey preceded construction of China’s Great Wall by two centuries. Polo reported seeing fountains of oil (mineral oil springs), black stones that people burned for heat (coal), and paper money.
In 1275 Polo met Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis, in Beijing and served as Kublai’s emissary to Mongolia, India, and Sumatra.
One of his adventures involved a 2-year journey by sea accompanying a wedding party. Of the 600-person party, only 18 survived, including all three Polos.
Marco Polo Sees Dragons
One of the many unusual items in Travels is Polo’s account of ferocious beasts he encountered in southwest China in what is now Yunnan province bordering Burma, Laos, and Vietnam.
“Leaving the city of Yachi, and traveling ten days into a westerly direction, you reach the Province of Karazan which is also the name of its chief city…Here are seen huge serpents, ten paces in length, and ten spans in the girt of the body. At the fore-part, near the head, they have two short legs, having three claws like those of a tiger, with eyes larger than a fourpenny loaf and very glaring. The jaws are wide enough to swallow a man, the teeth are large and sharp, and their whole appearance is so formidable, that neither man, nor any kind of animal, can approach them without terror.”
“Others are met with of a smaller size, being eight, six, or five paces long; and the following method is used for taking them. In the day-time, by reason of the great heat, they lurk in caverns, from whence, at night, they issue to seek their food, and whatever beast they meet with and can lay hold of, whether tiger, wolf, or any other, they devour; after which they drag themselves towards some lake, spring of water, or river, in order to drink. By their motion in this way along the shore, and their vast weight, they make a deep impression, as if a heavy beam had been drawn along the sands.”
“Those whose employment it is to hunt them observe the track by which they are most frequently accustomed to go, and fix into the ground several pieces of wood, armed with sharp iron spikes, which they cover with the sand in such a manner as not to be perceptible. When therefore the animals make their way towards the places they usually haunt, they are wounded by these instruments, and speedily killed. The crows, as soon as they perceive them to be dead, set up their scream; and this serves as a signal to the hunters, who advance to the spot, and proceed to separate the skin from the flesh, taking care immediately to secure the gall, which is most highly esteemed in medicine. In cases of the bite of a mad dog, a pennyweight of it, dissolved in wine, is administered. It is also useful in accelerating parturition, when the labour pains of women have come on. A small quantity of it being applied to carbuncles, pustules, or other eruptions on the body, they are presently dispersed; and it is efficacious in many other complaints. The flesh also of the animal is sold at a dear rate, being thought to have a higher flavour than other kinds of meat, and by all persons it is esteemed a delicacy.”
(Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian, translated by W. Marsden, edited by Thomas Wright, pp 91-92)
What was this beast? Some think Polo recorded a myth; others believe he saw crocodiles. But it’s a factually presented description which the author clearly intends to be accepted at face value of something he saw himself. He’s not relating a second-hand account or legend.
It certainly does not fit a crocodile. Moreover, crocodiles were well-known in the Mediterranean having been familiar to Egyptians and Greeks. Ancient Rome had pictures and statues of crocodiles. Roman legionnaires used crocodile hide for armor. Polo would not have mistaken crocodiles for these astonishing beasts, and the people would not have been so terrified of large crocodiles.
How large were the fourpenny-loaf-size eyes Polo mentions?
Typical bought loaves today are 20-24 oz. In 1770 in Leicester, England, the food allowance in the county jail was a fourpenny loaf of bread, weighing from 2 lbs 8oz to 3 lbs 5oz. (See Leicester Prisons.)
So in 1290 a fourpenny loaf was in the neighborhood of at least 3 lbs. Homemade loaves of that time were usually round; 3-pound loaves were certainly as big as large dinner plates or medium pizzas and high. So the creature’s eyes were enormous–far, far larger than crocodile eyes.
The creature was likely some type of dragon–a now-extinct huge dinosaur or reptile.
Soli Deo Gloria.
©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3)
Friday August 12, 2011 A.D.
Read my August 2011 newspaper column:
Ark Encounter Park.
And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. … Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.