The Medieval Review 16.01.17

Gadrat-Ouerfelli, Christine. Lire Marco Polo au Moyen Age: Traduction, diffusion et réception du Devisement du monde. Terrarum Orbis, 12. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. pp. 516. €110.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-2-503-55280-4 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Markus Cruse
Arizona State University

Given all that has been written about Marco Polo, his journey, and his travel account in the centuries since he returned to Europe in 1295, it is hard to imagine that there is a need for a comprehensive study of his work's manuscript and early print tradition, or of its reception by late medieval and Renaissance readers. Yet in Lire Marco Polo au Moyen Âge, Christine Gadrat-Ouerfelli succeeds not only in providing a summary of past scholarship, but also in offering original analyses of the Polo tradition and in opening new avenues of research. Lire Marco Polo au Moyen Âge is not a study of Marco Polo's life, or an examination of whether or not his account is true, or a study of medieval trade and East-West contact. As the author states in the introduction, "Je n'ai pas cherché à savoir ce que l'auteur avait voulu dire, ou quelle pouvait être sa position sur tel sujet. Mon seul point de vue est celui des lecteurs médiévaux du texte" (8). This book is instead an analysis of the different versions of Polo's text as they survive in manuscripts and early print editions, and of the reception of these versions as evidenced by translation, compilation, patronage and ownership, citation in other works, and influence on geography and cartography.

The book is divided into three parts, the first of which, "La tradition textuelle du Devisement du monde" (13-111), provides an overview of the various versions of Polo's account that reviews, revises, and builds on preceding scholarship. Chapter 1 (19-35) examines the versions of the group A manuscripts (save for the Venetian version), whose most famous members are manuscript F (Bibliothèque nationale du France, MS Fr. 1116), the Franco-Italian copy considered the oldest extant (but not necessarily the closest to the ur-text), and the luxury copies made in France. Chapter 2 (37-61) discusses the Venetian version (group VA), which is important because this text and its descendants, in multiple languages, represent 70% of the surviving Polo manuscript corpus. Of particular interest here is Gadrat-Ouerfelli's collation of the manuscripts of the LA version (Liber de morum et gentium varietatibus), an original contribution that shows the interest and utility of studying little explored realms of the Polo tradition. Chapter 3 (63-94) analyzes Francesco Pipino's Latin translation of a VA text, which was "la version du livre de Marco Polo qui a connu le plus grand succès" (63) judging by the number of copies that survive and the translations that were made of it. The chapter discusses the biography and works of Pipino, before moving to an extensive analysis of the different stemmata of the Pipino corpus. Chapter 4 (95-109) examines the much smaller manuscript group B, which includes only two Venetian and two Latin versions. This group is nonetheless of great importance because it includes the Latin Z version of the text, which contains many passages not found in manuscript F or other Group A copies, and which might be the translation of a later authorial revision.

Part 2 (113-241) is entitled "La diffusion et la réception du texte dans l'Europe médiévale." Chapter 1 (117-146) provides an overview of the spread of the text across Europe: into France, England (the author discusses the French text's reception there, and the account's relationship to Mandeville), and Spain (from which there are few surviving manuscripts, but many inventory references). Also discussed is the diversity of the social groups that read Polo's account: clerics (monks, canons), princes (in France and Italy), princesses (mainly Francophone), merchants, and doctors. Chapter 2 (147-164) examines the status of the book and of Polo himself. There is a brief discussion of the different titles given the work and of the portraits of Marco Polo. The chapter's main focus is the use of Polo's account as a source for citations in epic (Entrée d'Espagne, Baudouin de Sebourc, Orlando innamorato), didactic, and travel literature. Chapter 3 (165-188) discusses the Dominicans' relationship to Polo's text. The author nuances Dutschke's argument that Pipino was not ordered to translate the account and that there is little evidence for a particular Dominican interest in Polo. Rather, the author finds "official," or at least widespread, interest in Polo in Dominican didactic literature, sermons, hagiography, and chronicles that borrow from the account. Chapter 4 (189-216) develops the observation that "L'un des domaines où le récit de Marco Polo a été le plus utilisé, en dehors de la géographie, est celui des chroniques ou des histoires" (189). The author discusses citations of and references to Polo in the Chronicon by Pipino, the Nuova cronica by Villani, the Historia aurea by John of Tynemouth, the Chronicon Sithiensis, and other late medieval historiographical works. Chapter 5 (217-241) examines the role of Venice in the text's diffusion: whether or not Polo revised the text once he had returned to Venice, the translations made in the Veneto, the presence of copies in Venice, and the use of Polo's account in geographical works produced in Venice (such as the mappemonde of Fra Mauro).

Part 3 (243-349), "Le livre de Marco Polo et les discussions géographiques de la fin du Moyen Age," opens with the observation that geographers, like historians, cited Polo more than is traditionally assumed. Chapter 1 (247-277) examines the place of Polo's account in early humanism. Among the works that cite Polo are the Fons memorabilium universi by Domenico Bandini (1374-1418); the De insulis et earum proprietatibus (1385-1406), by Domenico Silvestri; and the Liber de figura mundi by Luis de Angulo (1456), dedicated to René d'Anjou. This chapter also addresses Polo's use by cartographers, some of whom ignored or did not know him, while others tried to reconcile his geography with that of Ptolemy. Chapter 2 (279-318) focuses on the reception of Polo's account in the work of Flemish and German geographers. This chapter revisits the studies of Lucien Gallois and Dana Bennett Durand concerning the status of geography in Germanophone realms in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. The author examines examples of geographical works influenced by or drawing directly on Polo: a manuscript of 1447-1455 from the monastery of St. Emmeram in Regensburg; the map of Andreas Walsperger (1448); the Burgundian humanist Nicolas Clopper; the work of the Carthusian theologian Heinrich von Dissen, who wrote in the 1470s in Cologne; and the globe of Martin Behaim (d. 1507). Chapter 3 (319-348) reconsiders the evidence for Polo's influence on Columbus by looking at the explorer's projects for discovery, his letter to the Florentine humanist Toscanelli, the annotated texts he left behind, his letter of 1493, and his travel journals. This chapter also examines the reception of Columbus' accounts by figures such as Peter Martyr d'Anghiera (1457-1526), and in sixteenth-century maps.

The text is followed by twelve annexes (355-449): 1) a list of all Polo manuscripts with basic information (i.e. not complete catalogue entries); 2) a list of the manuscripts by version; 3) a partial transcription of the Latin LB version of the text; 4) a presentation of the stemmata of the Latin LA version; 5) a presentation of the stemmata of the Latin L version; 6) a comparison of Pietro Calo's Life of Saint Thomas the Apostle and the Latin Z version of Polo; 7) a comparison of the chronicle of Jacopo d'Acqui and the Latin LB version of Polo; 8) excerpts from the chronicle of Jacopo d'Acqui; 9) excerpts from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 196, a copy of the Pipino version; 10) a comparison of the De omnibus rebus naturalibus by Giovanni de Fontana and the Pipino version; 11) marginal annotations in London, British Library, MS Add. 19952, a copy of the Pipino version; and 12) an excerpt from Heinrich von Dissen's Oculus fidei. Concluding the volume are a bibliography, separate indices for manuscripts, names, and toponyms, a table of contents, and thirteen color plates.

This book represents a significant contribution to the study of Marco Polo's travel account. It will be of interest to those who study the text and its transmission, and to those who study any of the many domains or works that the account influenced. Gadrat-Ouerfelli has discovered eight new manuscripts, bringing the total to 141. Throughout the study, Gadrat-Ouerfelli examines or points to manuscripts and versions of the Polo text that have been more or less ignored, and argues convincingly for their importance. Such is the case with the LB version (43-45), a Latin translation produced early in the text's diffusion that surely merits attention, but which has essentially been ignored. Another example is the little studied TB version, a second Tuscan translation of the Franco-Italian text that survives in seven manuscripts, and whose German translation survives in three manuscripts (45-49). By focusing on these (and other) versions, by discussing them as equals in the Polo corpus, and by emphasizing their unique characteristics, Gadrat-Ouerfelli usefully reminds us that seemingly marginal copies and stemmata can offer important insights into a work's history.

This book also offers a wealth of information for those more interested in the Polo text's Nachleben. I suspect that many readers will be surprised by the extent to which Polo's text was present in late medieval literary and scientific culture. As Gadrat-Ouerfelli notes, one still often encounters the assertion that Polo's account was considered dubious or downright false by late medieval readers and therefore had few echoes. Gadrat-Ouerfelli has doggedly pursued Polo down many different, and at times thoroughly surprising, avenues, and as a result has made several interesting discoveries. For example, she is the first to notice that three manuscripts, two containing Polo, were annotated by Heinrich von Dissen and were almost certainly sources for his Oculus fidei. Her discussions of how and why various authors used Polo are truly illuminating, and should certainly contribute to the ongoing re-evaluation of genre, epistemological categories, and intercultural contact in late medieval Europe.

While Gadrat-Ouerfelli must inevitably summarize previous scholarship, she does so in a judicious and useful manner that contextualizes her own insights and contributions without bogging down in distracting disputes. This even tone is especially welcome in a field in which so many contentious and fundamental questions remain. Many of these questions are left unaddressed here: readers will not find anything new on the iconography of the Polo manuscripts, on the debates concerning the identity and role of Polo's amanuensis Rustichello, or on the production of manuscripts F or Z, to name a few outstanding issues. Which is really to say that there can be no definitive study of the Polo corpus, or that such a study is a long way off and will require digital tools for computation and visualization. By focusing on Polo's account as a bookbound artifact, Gadrat-Ouerfelli invites the reader to reconsider the evidence as it is--to seek (and savor) the myriad of textual connections both within the Polo corpus, and between the corpus and the literary and scientific works to which it contributed.

Copyright (c) 2016 Markus Cruse

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