In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marco Polo

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Life and Times
  • Authorship
  • Authenticity
  • Language and Linguistic Studies
  • Readerships and Influence
  • Modern Influences

Chinese Studies Marco Polo
Susan Whitfield
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0170


Marco Polo (b. 1254–d. 1324), from a family of Venetian merchants, was only one among many merchants and missionaries who visited east Asia during the 13th and 14th centuries, but the account of his journey—variously rendered into English as The Travels or The Description of the World—became one of the most influential books of its time. No original text survives, but around 135 manuscript copies of translations into many European languages made over the following centuries are extant. Both Marco Polo’s Authorship and the Authenticity of the text have been subject to much discussion. The book continues to be influential in the modern era, giving rise to a rich field of scholarship, inspiring literary works, and being used as a brand to encapsulate luxury travel to exotic destinations.

General Overviews

Olschki 1960, Larner 1999, and Ménard 2009 all provide detailed and reliable introductions covering the many aspects of Marco Polo studies. Heers 1983 is a modern translation with an informed introduction while Jackson 1998 reviews the book in terms of its editions and purpose. The papers in Akbari and Iannucci 2008 and in Masini 2006 give more detail on most Themes. Critchley 1992 sets the book in the context of Marco Polo’s time and place.

  • Akbari, Suzanne Conklin, and Amilcare A. Iannucci, eds. Marco Polo and the Encounter of East and West: Based on the Conference Held at the University of Toronto 24–26 May 2002. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

    Conference papers from 2002 containing eleven essays in three sometimes disparate but still useful sections: 1) Marco Polo and the experience of wonder; 2) the reception of Marco Polo; and 3) cross-cultural currents.

  • Critchley, John. Marco Polo’s Book. Aldershot, UK: Variorum, 1992.

    In this textual analysis, Critchley argues that Marco Polo’s text tells us less about Asia and more about the minds of Western Europeans.

  • Heers, Jacques. Marco Polo. Paris: Fayard, 1983.

    This is an accessible translation and introduction to Marco Polo, his life, his travels, and his work, as well as his influence on later travelers, placing the travels within the tradition of books of marvels and Marco Polo in the role of a tax official.

  • Jackson, Peter. “Marco Polo and His ‘Travels’.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 61.1 (1998): 82–101.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X00015779

    The author considers the editions and purpose of this book, arguing that it is a description of the world known to Europeans rather than an accurate account of Polo’s itinerary. Available online by purchase or subscription.

  • Larner, John. Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

    An excellent and informed introduction to Marco Polo. He considers the editions, the purpose and Authenticity of the account, the cultural world of Marco Polo, and the text’s circulation and reception in later times.

  • Masini, Federico, ed. Marco Polo 750 Anni: Il viaggio, il libro. il diritto: Atti del Congresso tenuto a Roma e Venezia nel 23–25 novembre 2004. Rome: Tiellemedia Editore, 2006.

    Three volumes of scholarly papers on a wide range of subjects from a conference on the 750th anniversary of Marco Polo’s birth. With the participation of Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata and La Sapienzia and Università Ca’Foscari di Venezia.

  • Ménard, Philippe. Marco Polo: À la découverte de l’Asie. Grenoble, France: Éditions Glénat, 2009.

    One of the most prolific scholars on Marco Polo, this is a general introduction to Marco Polo’s journey making use of illustrations found in collections worldwide.

  • Olschki, Leonardo. Marco Polo’s Asia: An Introduction to His “Description of the World” Called “Il Milione.” Translated by John A. Scott. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960.

    Taken largely from a lecture series, this gives a detailed and scholarly introduction to western travelers prior to Marco Polo, his relationship to Rustichello, and subjects covered in the text, including the natural world, religion, politics, and medicine.

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