Friday, 6 July 2012


February 2012, 456 pages

A fascinating plunge into the exotic universe of the Asia of the great Khans presented by Marco Polo in his THE DESCRIPTION OF THE WORLD, the work that strongly influenced the West’s knowledge and perception of the world opening up to the East.
We know very little about Marco Polo, but his book, THE DESCRIPTION OF THE WORLD, reveals how a simple Venitian merchant transformed himself into an explorer. Most important, this text was the determining element that shaped the West’s knowledge of Asia at the time. 
Pierre Racine, the great specialist of the 13th century, has taken on the ambitious task of deciphering this text that first appeared in 1298. Attributed to Marco Polo, it was actually the fruit of a collaborative effort with a man named Rustichello. THE DESCRIPTION, also entitled IL MILIONE OR THE BOOK OF WONDERS, told the story of Marco Polo’s voyages with his father and his uncle to Asia, where he stayed for seventeen years. The highlight of these oriental adventures was his entry into the court of the great Kubla Khan and his role as ambassador from the Asian potentate to Pope Gregory X.
Basing his interpretations on the original text as well as all of the versions, translations, writings and commentaries it inspired, Pierre Racine distinguishes between the wonder of the traveller at the discovery of an exotic and unknown world and the places and events he chose to enrich this great descriptive panorama. In conclusion, Racine explores the repercussions of the international distribution of this unprecedented work which would ultimately inspire so many future explorers, among them Christopher Columbus.
Pierre Racine is a professor emeritus of medieval history at the Université Marc-Bloch of Strasbourg and member of the Institut Lombard. He has written numerous articles for specialized reviews and is the author of FRÉDÉRIC BARBEROUSSE: 1152-1190 (2009) and LES VILLES D’ITALIE, DU MILIEU DU XIIE SIÈCLE AU MILIEU DU XIVE SIÈCLE (2004).