The Travels of Marco Polo was a book conceived in a prison cell in Genoa (Italy) in 1298. A few years earlier, in 1292, after a twenty-four year journey, Polo had returned to the West from Kublai Khan’s Eastern empire. Polo’s book was an account of this vast empire having a stage of civilization far more advanced than anything Europeans could imagine.
In medieval times, Europe was plagued by inept and corrupt leaders, misguided Crusades, the Black Death, hunger and lack of hygiene. To this grim reality, Polo introduced Kublai Khan, a model statesman who presided wisely over a huge empire with fantastic cities, advanced technology and transportation systems. This was a place where everything that Europe did not have and greedily desired could be found. However, many people questioned the authenticity of Polo’s accounts and even took them to be fairytales. But much of what Polo wrote, regarded with suspicion in medieval times, was confirmed by travellers of the 18th and 19th centuries, and most of the detail has since been corroborated by historians and geographers.
Fiction or not, Polo’s book has captured readers for centuries. Although its author received little recognition in life, he was capable of comprehending cultures completely alien to his own. Today no one can fail to appreciate the book’s celebration of the heterogeneity of nature, geography and, above all, people. Races are differentiated but not denigrated and the customs of different cultures are met with enthusiastic curiosity, not with the prejudice prevalent in Europe at that time.
I. READING COMPREHENSION
1. Are the following statements TRUE or FALSE? Copy the evidence from the text. No marks are given for only TRUE or FALSE.
a) Marco Polo wrote his book during his famous journey to the East.
b) Experts have proved that all the information included in Polo’s book was invented.
2. In your own words and based on the ideas in the text, answer the following questions.
a) Describe life in the Middle Ages for Europeans.
b) Why was Marco Polo’s attitude to different cultures important?
II. USE OF ENGLISH
3. Find the words in the text that mean:
- a) description (paragraph 1) account
- b) terrible (paragraph 2) grim
- c) foreign (paragraph 3) alien
- d) common (paragraph 3) prevalent
4. Complete the following sentences. Use the appropriate for m of the word in brackets when given.
- a) Marco Polo, who was born in Venice, went to China with his father and uncle when he was seventeen years old.
- b) While the West was governed (govern) by corrupt leaders in the Middle Ages, a wise emperor ruled (rule) the East.
- c) Marco Polo’s book dealt with a world whose products were highly valued in the West.
- d) Rewrite the following in reported speech.
- Marco Polo said, “I have only told half of what I saw!”
- Marco Polo said that he had only told half of what he had seen.