The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter iv.

Concerning the Fashion of the Idols.

Now you must know that the Idols of Cathay, and of Manzi, and of this Island, are all of the same class. And in this Island as well as elsewhere, there be some of the Idols that have the head of an ox, some that have the head of a pig, some of a dog, some of a sheep, and some of divers other kinds. And some of them have four heads, whilst some have three, one growing out of either shoulder. There are also some that have four hands, some ten, some a thousand! And they do put more faith in those Idols that have a thousand hands than in any of the others.1 And when any Christian asks them why they make their Idols in so many different guises, and not all alike, they reply that just so their forefathers were wont to have them made, and just so they will leave them to their children, and these to the after generations. And so they will be handed down for ever. And you must understand that the deeds ascribed to these Idols are such a parcel of devilries as it is best not to tell. So let us have done with the Idols, and speak of other things.

But I must tell you one thing still concerning that Island (and ’tis the same with the other Indian Islands), that if the natives take prisoner an enemy who cannot pay a ransom, he who hath the prisoner summons all his friends and relations, and they put the prisoner to death, and then they cook him and eat him, and they say there is no meat in the world so good! — But now we will have done with that Island and speak of something else.

You must know the Sea in which lie the Islands of those parts is called the SEA OF CHIN, which is as much as to say “The Sea over against Manzi.” For, in the language of those Isles, when they say Chin, ’tis Manzi they mean. And I tell you with regard to that Eastern Sea of Chin, according to what is said by the experienced pilots and mariners of those parts, there be 7459 Islands in the waters frequented by the said mariners; and that is how they know the fact, for their whole life is spent in navigating that sea. And there is not one of those Islands but produces valuable and odorous woods like the lignaloe, aye and better too; and they produce also a great variety of spices. For example in those Islands grows pepper as white as snow, as well as the black in great quantities. In fact the riches of those Islands is something wonderful, whether in gold or precious stones, or in all manner of spicery; but they lie so far off from the main land that it is hard to get to them. And when the ships of Zayton and Kinsay do voyage thither they make vast profits by their venture.2

It takes them a whole year for the voyage, going in winter and returning in summer. For in that Sea there are but two winds that blow, the one that carries them outward and the other that brings them homeward; and the one of these winds blows all the winter, and the other all the summer. And you must know these regions are so far from India that it takes a long time also for the voyage thence.

Though that Sea is called the Sea of Chin, as I have told you, yet it is part of the Ocean Sea all the same. But just as in these parts people talk of the Sea of England and the Sea of Rochelle, so in those countries they speak of the Sea of Chin and the Sea of India, and so on, though they all are but parts of the Ocean.3

Now let us have done with that region which is very inaccessible and out of the way. Moreover, Messer Marco Polo never was there. And let me tell you the Great Kaan has nothing to do with them, nor do they render him any tribute or service.

So let us go back to Zayton and take up the order of our book from that point.4

NOTE 1. —“Several of the (Chinese) gods have horns on the forehead, or wear animals’ heads; some have three eyes. . . . Some are represented in the Indian manner with a multiplicity of arms. We saw at Yang-cheu fu a goddess with thirty arms.” (Deguignes, I. 364–366.)

The reference to any particular form of idolatry here is vague. But in Tibetan Buddhism, with which Marco was familiar, all these extravagances are prominent, though repugnant to the more orthodox Buddhism of the South.

When the Dalai Lama came to visit the Altun Khan, to secure the reconversion of the Mongols in 1577, he appeared as a manifest embodiment of the Bodhisatva Avalokiteçvara, with four hands, of which two were always folded across the breast! The same Bodhisatva is sometimes represented with eleven heads. Manjushri manifests himself in a golden body with 1000 hands and 1000 Pátras or vessels, in each of which were 1000 figures of Sakya visible, etc. (Koeppen, II. 137; Vassilyev, 200.)

NOTE 2. — Polo seems in this passage to be speaking of the more easterly Islands of the Archipelago, such as the Philippines, the Moluccas, etc., but with vague ideas of their position.

NOTE 3. — In this passage alone Polo makes use of the now familiar name of CHINA. “Chin” as he says, “in the language of those Isles means Manzi.” In fact, though the form Chin is more correctly Persian, we do get the exact form China from “the language of those Isles,” i.e. from the Malay. China is also used in Japanese.

What he says about the Ocean and the various names of its parts is nearly a version of a passage in the geographical Poem of Dionysius, ending:—

[Greek:

Oútos Okeanòs peridédrome gaîan hápasan

Toîos eòn kaì toîa met’ andrásin ounómath’ élkon] (42–3).

So also Abulfeda: “This is the sea which flows from the Ocean Sea. . . . This sea takes the names of the countries it washes. Its eastern extremity is called the Sea of Chin . . . the part west of this is called the Sea of India . . . then comes the Sea of Fárs, the Sea of Berbera, and lastly the Sea of Kolzum” (Red Sea).

NOTE 4. — The Ramusian here inserts a short chapter, shown by the awkward way in which it comes in to be a very manifest interpolation, though possibly still an interpolation by the Traveller’s hand:—

“Leaving the port of Zayton you sail westward and something south-westward for 1500 miles, passing a gulf called CHEINAN, having a length of two months’ sail towards the north. Along the whole of its south-east side it borders on the province of Manzi, and on the other side with Anin and Coloman, and many other provinces formerly spoken of. Within this Gulf there are innumerable Islands, almost all well-peopled; and in these is found a great quantity of gold-dust, which is collected from the sea where the rivers discharge. There is copper also, and other things; and the people drive a trade with each other in the things that are peculiar to their respective Islands. They have also a traffic with the people of the mainland, selling them gold and copper and other things; and purchasing in turn what they stand in need of. In the greater part of these Islands plenty of corn grows. This gulf is so great, and inhabited by so many people, that it seems like a world in itself.”

This passage is translated by Marsden with much forcing, so as to describe the China Sea, embracing the Philippine Islands, etc.; but, as a matter of fact, it seems clearly to indicate the writer’s conception as of a great gulf running up into the continent between Southern China and Tong-king for a length equal to two months’ journey.

The name of the gulf, Cheinan, i.e. Heinan, may either be that of the Island so called, or, as I rather incline to suppose, ’An-nan, i.e. Tong-king. But even by Camoens, writing at Macao in 1559–1560, the Gulf of Hainan is styled an unknown sea (though this perhaps is only appropriate to the prophetic speaker):—

“Vês, corre a costa, que Champa se chama,

Cuja mata he do pao cheiroso ornada:

Vês, Cauchichina está de escura fama,

E de Ainao vê a incognita enseada” (X. 129).

And in Sir Robert Dudley’s Arcano del Mare (Firenze, 1647), we find a great bottle-necked gulf, of some 5–1/2° in length, running up to the north from Tong-king, very much as I have represented the Gulf of Cheinan in the attempt to realise Polo’s Own Geography. (See map in Introductory Essay.)

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/polo/marco/travels/book3.4.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24