Who is Kubilai Khan?

Throughout our study of Marco Polo’s Travels thus far, we have heard of the many places Marco Polo has journeyed to while serving under the great emperor of the Tartans, Kubilai Khan.  Because Marco Polo was gathering information about these provinces to relay back to the Great Khan, it seems as if every description of a place somehow relates back to the glory of their great ruler.  These descriptions make it obvious that Marco Polo’s account was slightly biased toward what Kubilai Khan wanted to hear, but up until Chapter 3, we have no significant information about who this Kubilai Khan really is, besides the fact that he is the ruler of a vast empire.  Chapter 3 provides us with more information about the identity of the Great Khan.  The chapter begins by stating its purpose: to convince the reader that Kubilai Khan was the greatest ruler to ever live.  In a way, this purpose is somewhat fulfilled.  Marco Polo discusses the many achievements of Kubilai Khan, including his successes in battle, his ability to put down rebellions, his great palaces and many riches.  Kubilai Khan is described as a great and powerful ruler, but also one who cares about his subjects, through his charity and almsgiving to the poor, as well as his fair treatment of his subordinates.  However, throughout the many anecdotes told to describe the Great Khan, there are several that seem to characterize him as not so great. These include the stories of his many wives and mistresses, as well as the corruption caused by one of his close subordinates, Ahmed. Continue reading

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Secondary Literature Discussion Questions

Now that you have all been paired with a critical essay on Marco Polo’s Travels, it’s time to prepare for Tuesday’s group discussions. As you study your article, keep in mind what you have learned about academic writing from of They Say, I Say, and prepare some answers to the following questions:

(1) The authors whom you are reading all began their projects from the same position from which you will start your next papers: they had to figure out how to insert themselves into an academic conversation. Find the rhetorical templates they used to do so, and figure out how they described the consensus view of Marco Polo at the time at which they were writing. Are they trying to smash this consensus view? Expand it? Challenge only one of its central premises? How and when do they tell you?

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Secondary Literature Assignments for Tuesday

For Tuesday, we will be taking a break from our reading of Marco Polo to delve more deeply into our study of secondary literature and into the question of what kind of text exactly the Divisament dou monde might be.

In the right sidebar of this blog, you will find a link to the Sakai page for our course.  Once you log onto this page, you’ll be able to download PDFs of four different academic articles (because of copyright restrictions, I can’t make them accessible directly on this blog).

Your assignment for Tuesday is to pick ONE of these articles and read it very carefully – more than once, if possible.  I will post some discussion questions to help you think about what you have read on Sunday night. We will then gather as a group to discuss all four articles together.

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Asia in 1260

Here’s a copy of the map I showed you in class today, showing the geopolitical situation in central and Eastern Asia in 1260, Marco Polo’s father Niccolo and his uncle Maffeo set out on their first journey to the court of Kubilai Khan:

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Travelin’ Man

Ironically, although we’ve turned our backs on The Odyssey and started a new literary voyage in The Travels, I can’t help but make constant comparisons between these two works as I read The Travels. They are both books about traveling, and visiting strange, unfamiliar areas; however they do that in completely different styles.

I was struck mostly by the lack of a strong plot in The Travels. Most of the story is related in the prologue, and even that sounds more like a summary by a narrator than an actual tale: “In the year of Our Lord 1260…Messer Niccolo Polo, who was Marco’s father, and Messer Maffeo…were in that city, having come there from Venice with their merchandise.” Then the whole first chapter is basically a geography book. It focuses on descriptions rather than action, which makes sense; this story’s MO of entertaining is showing people places they’ve never seen, not giving pulse-pounding adventures. That’s not to say it’s not an interesting read; I particularly enjoyed the last bit about the  “Sheikh of the Mountains and his Assassins.” Especially how the narrator tops it off with “Let us now change the subject.” Just when it was getting interesting. Continue reading

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How much is too much?

The gods of Odysseus’ time had a much more ubiquitous influence than any twenty-first mind-set can fully grasp. The subjects of art (both visual and musical), the beneficiaries of countless sacrifices, and the recipients of ceaseless prayers and demands, the Greek deities commanded much attention from their loyal followers. In addition to fulfilling their spiritual needs, the gods and their interactions served as explanations for natural phenomena. They meddled far more often than is believed of the God of Judeo-Christian origin. Perhaps the god that best represents this pervasive omnipresence is “young Dawn with finger tips of rose,” (XII, 9) responsible for bringing forth each new day. Simply put, the gods, out of either necessity or desire, entangled themselves quite frequently in the goings-on of the mortal world.

While the gods may have interacted daily with the mortal realm as a whole, it was rare when they chose to concern themselves with a specific mortal, and even rarer still when they intervened on multiple occasions. And so when Athena chooses to insert herself so often, and so prominently in Odysseus’ life, she calls attention to the relationship. Usually in some sort of disguise – ranging from the old family friend Mentor to a humble shepherd – Athena never fails to assist Odysseus in his efforts to return home to Ithaka. Whether it’s pleading with her father Zeus, altering Odysseus’ appearance, or physically appearing to Odysseus, it is clear from the get-go that Athena’s sight never strays from this god-like mortal for long. Continue reading

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Disguises of Ambush vs. Disguises of Survival

In the Odyssey, it has been made clear that disguises and deception are important components of the Greeks’ way of living. Deception was used at Troy with the Trojan horse, allowing Odysseus and the Greeks to prevail. It is used by the gods and other divine characters, such as Athena who uses disguises to help Odysseus and his family. Even Penelope used deception to keep the suitors at bay by spinning her loom during the day and unraveling it at night. Most importantly, clever Odysseus is constantly coming up with disguises in order to protect himself and to overcome the obstacles he faces.

Thus far, most of these disguises could only be seen through once the character in disguise shed tears or showed powerful emotions. For example, Odysseus reveals his true self to Alkinoos and the Phaikians by crying during the minstrel’s song about Troy. The only big exception to this rule is when Odysseus called out to the Kyklops and told him his true identity only with words. However, this method of revealing disguise only brought trouble to himself and his crewmates. Even this exception, one could argue, is not so different since Odysseus’ joy and sense of pride overcame his senses, causing him to make this mistake. Continue reading

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Rare Photo of Mongolian Hordes Discovered

Allie was kind enough to share this picture from our excursion to the Chicago Field Museum.  Looking forward to our discussion of Marco Polo later this month!

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First Paper Conferences

For your convenience, I’m posting the schedule for the paper conferences on your rough drafts below.  If you’re not on the list yet, please send me an email and let me know whether you can make it at one of the times marked “EMPTY.”

Each one of you will meet with me for 15 minutes.  Please be punctual, as this is not a whole lot of time.  When you arrive, I’ll have a printed copy of your rough draft waiting for you, with some marginal annotations to point out awkward sentences, logical fallacies, and the like.  You can look over these at a later time; our conversation will focus instead on more global issues and on how you might improve the paper when you revise it.  At the end, I will tell you what grade I would currently give your essay.

It’s your responsibility to come prepared to discuss your argument, and to take notes.  Unlike all later assignments that you submit to me, I will not provide a whole lot of written feedback – that’s why we are meeting in person!

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Athena: Enforcer or Creator of Fate?

Although this blog post may seem a little untraditional, there’s one topic I am extremely interested in diving into: Athena and her role in the actions of the characters.

In Greek mythology, the Gods played an immense role in the lives of mortals on earth. One may feel that the Gods toy and manipulate humans solely for the fun of it. Athena, the daughter of Zeus has a large role in controlling Odysseus’s fate. After observing her rather spotty appearances through out the Odyssey, it seems that she presents herself at times to help Odysseus, such as saving him from drowning after Zeus struck down his ship. Athena plays a major role in controlling the actions and decisions of the characters in the Odyssey as seen in books 17 and 18. She mainly focuses on controlling Odysseus’s fate by directing the decisions of Odysseus himself and the people around him. Behind every twist and turn in the progression of the story, Athena seems to be right behind the source of the action. But why is Athena so invested in the happenings on earth if she is so far disconnected from mortal life? Is it simply because she enjoys controlling the actions of the mortals, because she enjoys pawning them around in her own game, or is there really such a thing as “fate”. Are the Gods the enforcers of “fate” or the creators, what is their purpose in interacting with life on earth?

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