Discovery of Unknown Countries
During the late 14th century, there were various pieces of literature available owing to the science of exploration and discovery of new lands by renowned European explorers and navigators. In the early 15th century, the Portuguese people were encouraged to explore the coast of Africa discovered by Christopher Columbus. He sailed through the West African coast to the Atlantic Ocean and discovered islands that he believed were close to Asia. A few years later, his fellow compatriot, Vasco da Gamma reached India by sailing across Africa. During the same century, several ships among the Magellan fleet returned to Europe and brought proof of the possibility of earth circumnavigation and exploration. This discovery transformed Europe into a new determinant of world socio-politics and religion. This essay examines a variety of travel writings as a literary genre and analyzes the travel texts in their social, political, religious, and cross-cultural implications.
The Travels of Marco Polo
The journey of Marco Polo began when he was still a teenager. In 1271, he set out from Venice and joined his father and uncle who were on a journey to China through the Great Silk Road. In the course of traveling, they traversed through the most exotic countries and hostile kingdoms such as Mongolia. Marco Polo served General Kublai Khan in his palace and represented him in various diplomatic missions in the Far East and Europe. The court of the great emperor of China accepted him; therefore, his services helped in integrating several kingdoms into China and Mongolia and preventing some of the frequently occurring territorial wars. He became General Khan’s representative and mediator in numerous forums in Asia and Europe. His service led him to the vast and dazzling Mongol Kingdom and to places like Burma and Tibet regions, which were the richest in gold and silk, but virtually unknown by the Europeans.
Subsequent accounts of Marco Polo’s travels offered the world and upcoming explorers a fascinating glimpse of what he encountered in Asia in terms of culture, unfamiliar religion, and new customs and societies. The book also illustrates spices, gold, the silk of the east, the precious gem, wild beasts of faraway lands, and exotic vegetation. In evoking the remote and long-varnished color and immediacy, Marco Polo’s literature revolutionized the western ideas and beliefs about the unknown East. Moreover, it remained the greatest travel account in the early medieval history. Based on the original medieval sources, Marco Polo translation of the Nigel Cliff presented a fresh and authoritative literature with notes and introduction that were more understandable for the Western world (Polo, Waugh, and Bellonci 38).
The Diario of Christopher Columbus’s First Voyage to America, 1492-1493
The book is an Italian translation of the firsthand accounts of Christopher Columbus and his activities in the Atlantic Ocean and the Americas. The book dwells on his contributions, challenges, and criticism during the voyage. In this book, the work of Columbus is rather challenging because the translation was based on the only document made by a person, not during the Columbus voyages. Christopher Columbus was born in the mid-15th century and was an Italian navigator, voyager, colonizer, and a Citizen of Genoa. Under the assistance of the Catholic Kings in Spain, Columbus completed some of the historical voyages in the Atlantic Ocean. The aim of the voyage was to establish the possibilities of having permanent land for settlement in the Hispaniola islands which initiated New World colonization by the Spanish people. The most noticeable mentor of Columbus was the work of Marco Polo.
The Spanish Crown, who saw the voyage as an opportunity to enter the spice trade in Asia through the western route, approved it. However, during the first expedition in 1492, Columbus did not reach Japan as originally intended but landed on the Bahamas archipelago San Salvador Island. Columbus made several voyages visiting the Greater and Lesser Antilles and the Caribbean coasts of Central America and Venezuela and declared them Spanish empires. Although he was not the first European traveler to reach the American Coast, his voyage resulted in a long lasting European interaction with the Latin and Northern America. Columbus inaugurated a period of lengthy European exploration, colonization, and conquest that lasted for several centuries. Thus, the Europeans had a lasting impact on North and South America through the narrative and lessons provided by Christopher Columbus.
Columbus had a huge influence on the chronological development of the Americas and the Western World. In fact, he spearheaded the worst of humanity crisis when he has led the transatlantic slave trade and was linked to initiating the genocide of several Hispaniola natives. It was through his contribution that the original inhabitants of the region came to be known as the red Indians. Columbus called the inhabitants of the region as indios (Indians in Spanish). However, during his stay in South and North America, his relationship with the Spaniard crown was strained as he appointed new colonial administrators. This factor caused the demotion of Columbus and subsequent arrest in 1500 (Columbus, Dunn, Kelley, and Casas 47).
According to Columbus and Luis (65), Columbus was more ethnocentric and he wrote several letters to the King and the Queen, describing how the new lands were full of resources and how the people could be turned into Christianity from their originally pseudo-religion. His strategy for people management and control set the pace for slave trade when he brought some people in the Western countries to work as slaves.
The Voyages of Sir John Mandeville
This book is an account of traveler’s tales of the 14th century generally known as the Travels of Sir John Mandeville. The tales present a collection from different genuine travelers embellished with Mandeville’s additions described as their adventures. Through translation into other languages that developed extraordinary popularity, the fantastical nature of the travel is described. Although the compiler of the stories is not known, he refers to himself as a knight-errant and states that he was born and brought up in England at St. Albans. Although the book is factual, it is highly believed to be the work of Sir John Mandeville.
In the body of the work, the narrator describes how he visited Paris and Constantinople and served as an Egyptian assistant to Pharaoh for a long time during the war with the Bedouin. He also narrates how he declined a princely marriage in a great estate under conditions that he could renounce his Christianity. The narrator left Egypt when the new Sultan Melech Madabron got into power. Although part of the historical account of Mandeville was mere inventions, there is no contemporary corroboration known about him (Mandeville 37). The attitude towards religion reveals the real worth of the explorer by detailing the context of the idol worship in the new land. However, the personalities of the residents of the new land do not commit others to barbarism and human sacrifice. Furthermore, their moral virtues were more virtuous than those of the Europeans were. As the doctrine of Islam is introduced, the comparison between the two faiths is the same.
Mandeville’s understanding of religion goes beyond the denunciation of Odoric’s offensive xenophobia. Mandeville explained the difference between simulacra, monsters, and idols. His reaction to the new world was culturally and religiously different. Unlike Columbus, who transformed the Americas to Spanish traditions culturally and politically, Mandeville adapted to the new environment softly. He was more flexible to the political, cultural, and religious environment he encountered. Mandeville cosmopolitan nature helped him relate with people of kingdoms of different religious beliefs. Each time he introduced the new land, he described in writing to the authorities the climate of the land and the effect of the environment on the people.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that the feud existed between the various countries during the 14th century. The antique accounts helped future explorers in making their choice of traveling and trade. For example, Christopher Columbus being the most recognized explorer of the time borrowed much from the exploration accounts of Marco Polo. Moreover, the work of another prominent traveler, Sir John Mandeville, although not fully updated at the time, helped future explorers in understanding the animosity that existed between Islam and Christianity and the existence of war between various states in Asia and Middle East.