In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg
BBC Radio 4
First Played, May 24, 2012
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the celebrated Venetian explorer Marco Polo. In 1271 Polo set off on an epic journey through Asia. He was away for more than twenty years, and when he returned to Venice he told extraordinary tales of his adventures. He had visited the court of the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, and acted as his emissary, travelling through many of the remote territories of the Far East. An account of Marco Polo’s travels was written down by his contemporary Rustichello da Pisa, a romance writer he met after being imprisoned during a war against the neighbouring Genoese.
The Travels of Marco Polo was one of the most popular books produced in the age before printing. It was widely translated, and many beautifully illustrated editions made their way to the collections of the rich and educated. It was much read by later travellers, and Polo’s devotees included Christopher Columbus and Henry the Navigator. For centuries it was seen as the first and best account of life in the mysterious East; but today the accuracy and even truth of Marco Polo’s work is often disputed.
Frances Wood – Lead Curator of Chinese Collections at the British Library
Joan Pau Rubies – Reader in International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science
Debra Higgs Strickland – Senior Lecturer in the History of Art at the University of Glasgow