Posted by Claire.
Does Kubilai Khan live for over-the-top affluence, or does Marco Polo have a knack for hyperbole? Take your pick, because something about the figures in this week’s reading seems skewed. Perhaps Khan does feast with 6,000 every night and then have his pick of over 20,000 prostitutes, but I’m more inclined to believe that Polo might be stretching the facts. And, if Polo fibs the numbers in this instance, what is to say that the whole recount isn’t doused in exaggeration? With one of Polo’s main tools throughout book being embellishment, the document can’t possibly be credible as a travel resource or trade manuel and must, in fact, have another primary purpose.
Take for example the description of the Khan’s city, and the fact that “every gateway must be guarded by 1,000 men.” (131) All right, go grab 999 of your closest friends and stand by a door. Feeling important yet? Probably not, after all that is 12 percent of the undergraduate population of Notre Dame.* How big is this gate, anyway? You tell me, overkill or exaggeration? Or how about “[Polo assuring us] for a fact that… the Great Khan receives gifts of more than 100,000 white horses… [and] elephants, fully 5,000 in number”? (139) That’s quite a herd. About the population of South Bend, actually.** Where is he keeping all those? One more example, the “two brothers [bound] by covenant to provide the Great Khan’s court every day beginning in October and continuing to the end of March, with a thousand heads of game.” (143) That’s 182,000 heads of game. One angus cow has 450 pounds of meat.*** One Big Mac is eight ounces. You do the math. Overkill or exaggeration?