The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xviii.

Of the Lions and Leopards and Wolves that the Kaan Keeps for the Chase.

The Emperor hath numbers of leopards1 trained to the chase, and hath also a great many lynxes taught in like manner to catch game, and which afford excellent sport.2 He hath also several great Lions, bigger than those of Babylonia, beasts whose skins are coloured in the most beautiful way, being striped all along the sides with black, red, and white. These are trained to catch boars and wild cattle, bears, wild asses, stags, and other great or fierce beasts. And ’tis a rare sight, I can tell you, to see those lions giving chase to such beasts as I have mentioned! When they are to be so employed the Lions are taken out in a covered cart, and every Lion has a little doggie with him. [They are obliged to approach the game against the wind, otherwise the animals would scent the approach of the Lion and be off.]3

There are also a great number of eagles, all broken to catch wolves, foxes, deer, and wild goats, and they do catch them in great numbers. But those especially that are trained to wolf-catching are very large and powerful birds, and no wolf is able to get away from them.4

NOTE 1. — The Cheeta or Hunting–Leopard, still kept for the chase by native noblemen in India, is an animal very distinct from the true leopard. It is much more lanky and long-legged than the pure felines, is unable to climb trees, and has claws only partially retractile. Wood calls it a link between the feline and canine races. One thousand Cheetas were attached to Akbar’s hunting establishment; and the chief one, called Semend–Manik, was carried to the field in a palankin with a kettledrum beaten before him. Boldensel in the first half of the 14th century speaks of the Cheeta as habitually used in Cyprus; but, indeed, a hundred years before, these animals had been constantly employed by the Emperor Frederic II. in Italy, and accompanied him on all his marches. They were introduced into France in the latter part of the 15th century, and frequently employed by Lewis XI., Charles VIII., and Lewis XII. The leopards were kept in a ditch of the Castle of Amboise, and the name still borne by a gate hard by, Porte des Lions, is supposed to be due to that circumstance. The Moeurs et Usages du Moyen Age (Lacroix), from which I take the last facts, gives copy of a print by John Stradanus representing a huntsman with the leopard on his horse’s crupper, like Kúblái’s (supra, Bk. I. ch. lxi.); Frederic II. used to say of his Cheetas, “they knew how to ride.” This way of taking the Cheeta to the field had been first employed by the Khalif Yazid, son of Moáwiyah. The Cheeta often appears in the pattern of silk damasks of the 13th and 14th centuries, both Asiatic and Italian. (Ayeen Akbery, I. 304, etc.; Boldensel, in Canisii Thesaurus, by Basnage, vol. IV. p. 339; Kington’s Fred. II. I. 472, II. 156; Bochart, Hierozoica, 797; Rock’s Catalogue, passim.)

[The hunting equipment of the Sultan consisted of about thirty falconers on horseback who carried each a bird on his fist. These falconers were in front of seven horsemen, who had behind a kind of tamed tiger at times employed by His Highness for hare-hunting, notwithstanding what may be said to the contrary by those who are inclined not to believe the fact. It is a thing known by everybody here, and cannot be doubted except by those who admit that they believe nothing of foreign customs. These tigers were each covered with a brocade cloth — and their peaceful attitude, added to their ferocious and savage looks, caused at the same time astonishment and fear in the soul of those whom they looked upon. (Journal d’Antoine Galland, trad. par Ch. Schefer, I. p. 135.) The Cheeta (Gueparda jubata) was, according to Sir W. Jones, first employed in hunting antelopes by Hushing, King of Persia, 865 B.C. — H. C.]

NOTE 2. — The word rendered Lynxes is Leu cervers (G. Text), Louz serviers of Pauthier’s MS. C, though he has adopted from another Loups simply, which is certainly wrong. The Geog. Latin has “Linceos i.e. lupos cerverios.” There is no doubt that the Loup-cervier is the Lynx. Thus Brunetto Latini, describing the Loup-cervier, speaks of its remarkable powers of vision, and refers to its agency in the production of the precious stone called Liguire (i.e. Ligurium), which the ancients fancied to come from Lync-urium; the tale is in Theophrastus). Yet the quaint Bestiary of Philip de Thaun, published by Mr. Wright, identifies it with the Greek Hyena:—

Hyena e Griu num, que nus beste apellum,

Ceo est Lucervere, oler fait et mult est fere.”

[The Abbé Armand David writes (Missions Cathol. XXI. 1889, p. 227) that there is in China, from the mountains of Manchuria to the mountains of Tibet, a lynx called by the Chinese T’u-pao (earth-coloured panther); a lynx somewhat similar to the loup-cervier is found on the western border of China, and has been named Lyncus Desgodinsi. — H. C.]

Hunting Lynxes were used at the Court of Akbar. They are also mentioned by A. Hamilton as so used in Sind at the end of the 17th century. This author calls the animal a Shoe-goose! i.e. Siya-gosh (Black-ear), the Persian name of the Lynx. It is still occasionally used in the chase by natives of rank in India. (Brunetto Lat. Tresor, p. 248; Popular Treatises on Science written during Mid. Ages, 94; Ayeen Akbery, u.s.; Hamilt. E. Indies, I. 125; Vigne, I. 42.)

NOTE 3. — The conception of a Tiger seems almost to have dropped out of the European mind during the Middle Ages. Thus in a mediaeval Bestiary, a chapter on the Tiger begins: “Une Beste est qui est apelée Tigre c’est une manière de Serpent.” Hence Polo can only call the Tigers, whose portrait he draws here not incorrectly, Lions. So also nearly 200 years later Barbaro gives a like portrait, and calls the animal Leonza. Marsden supposes judiciously that the confusion may have been promoted by the ambiguity of the Persian Sher.

Illustration: The Búrgút Eagle. (After Atkinson) “Il a encore aiglies qe sunt afaités à prendre leus et voupes et dain et chavrion, et en prennent assez.”

The Chinese pilgrim, Sung–Yun (A.D. 518), saw two young lions at the Court of Gandhára. He remarks that the pictures of these animals common in China, were not at all good likenesses. (Beal, p. 200.)

We do not hear in modern times of Tigers trained to the chase, but Chardin says of Persia: “In hunting the larger animals they make use of beasts of prey trained for the purpose, lions, leopards, tigers, panthers, ounces.”

NOTE 4. — This is perfectly correct. In Eastern Turkestan, and among the Kirghiz to this day, eagles termed Búrgút (now well known to be the Golden Eagle) are tamed and trained to fly at wolves, foxes, deer, wild goats, etc. A Kirghiz will give a good horse for an eagle in which he recognises capacity for training. Mr. Atkinson gives vivid descriptions and illustrations of this eagle (which he calls “Bear coote”), attacking both deer and wolves. He represents the bird as striking one claw into the neck, and the other into the back of its large prey, and then tearing out the liver with its beak. In justice both to Marco Polo and to Mr. Atkinson, I have pleasure in adding a vivid account of the exploits of this bird, as witnessed by one of my kind correspondents, the Governor–General’s late envoy to Kashgar. And I trust Sir Douglas Forsyth will pardon my quoting his own letter just as it stands1:—“Now for a story of the Burgoot — Atkinson’s ‘Bearcoote.’ I think I told you it was the Golden Eagle and supposed to attack wolves and even bears. One day we came across a wild hog of enormous size, far bigger than any that gave sport to the Tent Club in Bengal. The Burgoot was immediately let loose, and went straight at the hog, which it kicked, and flapped with its wings, and utterly flabbergasted, whilst our Kashgaree companions attacked him with sticks and brought him to the ground. As Friar Odoric would say, I, T. D. F., have seen this with mine own eyes.”— Shaw describes the rough treatment with which the Búrgút is tamed. Baber, when in the Bajaur Hills, notices in his memoirs: “This day Búrgút took a deer.” (Timkowski, I. 414; Levchine, p. 77; Pallas, Voyages, I. 421; J. R. A. S. VII. 305; Atkinson’s Siberia, 493; and Amoor, 146–147; Shaw, p. 157; Baber, p. 249.)

[The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetus) is called at Peking Hoy tiao (black eagle). (David et Oustalet, Oiseaux de la Chine, p. 8.)— H. C.]

1 Dated Yangi Hissar, 10th April, 1874.

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