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Literature / The Travels of Marco Polo
aka: Marco Polo

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Marco Polo was a 13th century Venetian merchant who set out from Venice on a journey to the east. He stayed there many years serving The Emperor of China, Kublai Khan. Upon returning he set out as a warrior in the Venetian Fleet to meet the hereditary foe, the Genoans.

He was captured and apparently looked too rich for the Genoans to throw him overboard and waste a good ransom. In any case he was kept prisoner next to a professional storyteller and told his adventures to pass the time. This story was later published under the title Description of the World or Books of the Marvels of the World, but it has eventually become better known under its nickname Il Milione or, more simply, The Travels of Marco Polo. The Travels themselves are a surprisingly dull book but the idea of the story was so powerful that it became a classic, and Marco was nicknamed Il Millione for the "millions" of tales he brought back.

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Curiously, very little is known about Marco himself. For that reason, even though more than one "biography" has been written, large parts often come from the author's imagination.

And, contrary to the myth, he never introduced pasta to Italy.

Not to be confused with the videogame Marco Polo that was of course inspired by this adventurer.


Tropes in The Travels of Marco Polo a.k.a. Il Milione:

  • Bold Explorer: The book is a biographical (and somewhat confused) recounting of the Italian explorer's 13th-century expedition to the Middle-East and China. It was a block-buster hit in its time.
  • The Epic: A Real Life one, no less.
  • Going Native: According to one or two biographers.
  • Roc Birds: In what is quite possibly one of the earliest accounts of the creatures in Europe, Marco Polo describes rocs as eagle-like birds from Madagascar so large that their feathers alone are twelve paces long. They hunt by gripping elephants in their talons and dropping them to ground, before swooping down to feed on the smashed remains.
  • Travelogue Show: One of the oldest examples of the travel narrative.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Often regarded as this. He was a returned traveler telling yarns after all; someone just remembered to write his yarns down. Technically, Marco didn't write it himself. He told his stories to a romance author while imprisoned, who then added his own knowledge and other stories from various sources.
  • Verbal Tic: "Let me tell you...", "What more need/shall I say?", "What need to make a long story of it?", "Let us now..." and a lot more.
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Adaptations of Il Milione:

Comic Strip

  • Plays an important part in the Suske en Wiske album De Tartaarse Helm (The Tartarian Helmet).

Video Games


Alternative Title(s): Il Milione, Marco Polo

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