Marco Polo, from Jay Pasch

March 28, 2012 |

 Laurence Bergreen has put forth a captivating contemporary accounting of the travels of Marco Polo in his book, Marco Polo, From Venice to Xanadu. Bergreen's research is a solid effort at corroborating and dispelling what the erudite trader actually did, and did not, experience in his 26-year longitudinal trek across Eastern Europe, Asia, India, Southeast Asia, and back again. One of the author's interesting assertions as to why Marco Polo's original Travels vacillates between acute observation and the fanciful and dreamlike is the traveler's use of Opium.

Speaking of fanciful and dreamlike, yesterday was a good example of working with false belief and untested ideas, trading against a strong gap-open spanning a four-day range and two open gaps. Marco Polo provides an apropos analogy after observing the behavior of Indian fishermen:

'Despite their superior technology, the sailors of India slavishly followed bizarre nautical superstitions. Marco was startled to learn how they predicted the outcome of a voyage. A ship, a strong wind, and a hapless drunk were required: "The men of the ship will have a hurdle, that is, a grating made of wickerwork, and at each corner and side of the hurdle will be tied a cord, so that there will be eight cords, and they will all be tied at the other end with a long rope," he explains. "They will find some stupid or drunken man and will bind him on the hurdle, for no wise or sane man would expose himself to that danger. When a strong wind prevails, they set up the hurdle opposite the wind, and the wind lifts the hurdle and carries it into the sky and three men hold it by a long rope… If the hurdle makes for the sky, they say that the ship for which that proof has been made will make a quick and profitable voyage, and all the merchants flock to her for the sake of sailing and going with her. And if the hurdle has not been able to go up, no merchant will be willing to enter the ship for which the proof was made, because they say that she could not finish her voyage and many disasters would afflict her. So that ship stays in port that year."'

One wonders how many rational fishermen chose to eschew such a belief and to plumb the depths for themselves, and how many erudite traders did their homework yesterday and profited handsomely as a result…



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