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0043 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 43 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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The other case is no less embarrassing, though for another reason. The story of the nations walled in by Alexander at the eastern end of the Caucasus is an old tale, actually given in the Pseudo-Callisthenes and all the versions derived from it (see « Gate of Iron » and « Gog and Magog »). But Polo's text, taken at its face value, would imply that in the « Book of Alexander » the tribes shut in by Alexander's wall were called « Tartars »; this Polo qualifies by saying that there were no Tartars in Alexander's time, but Comans and the like (which is almost as wrong). Now, the Tartars were sometimes connected in the 13th cent. with the people « whom Alexander the Great shut up in the Caspian mountains », for instance by Richer of Senones (cf. ZARNCKE, Der Priester Johannes, it, 22), by the Emperor Frederic II, and in Polo's time by Ricold de Montecroce (cf. Y, t, 56-57) ; but I can find no version of the Romance of Alexander where the Tartars are mentioned; such a version, if it should exist, could not of course be older than c. 1240. Rustichello cannot well be held responsible for the present passage, where the remark on the Comans can only have been made by Polo himself. My impression is that Polo had heard of the Romance of Alexander, although he had never read it, and on the strength of statements which connected the Tartars with the shut-up tribes, erroneously attributed the mention of the Tartars to the Romance itself. If it be the case here, something of the same sort may have occurred with the Dry Tree, the mention of which was perhaps attributed to the Romance by mistake and not because it occurred in the additional matter inserted in some late version.

That most of Polo's information on Alexandre, derived from popular accounts heard in the East, should tally with the legends of the Pseudo-Callisthenes is not surprising if we remember that almost all the Eastern traditions relating to Alexander are indirectly derived from versions of the Pseudo-Callisthenes itself. There was practically no direct souvenir of Alexander in Persia or in India, not to speak of China where he had never been heard of before the Middle Ages. It was long believed that the acquaintance of the Mussulman world with the Pseudo-Callisthenes was due to some Arabic version of the early Mussulman period. But NÖLDEKE, in his remarkable Beiträge zur Geschichte des Alexanderromans (Denkschr. der kais. Ak. d. Wiss., Ph.-hist. CI., vol. 38, Vienna, 1890), has shown that there must have been first a now lost Pahlvi version of the early 7th cent., from which a Syriac translation which is still in existence was made at an early date. This is of some moment when we now pass on to India.

Alexandria is sometimes mentioned in Indian literature (see « Alexandre2 »), but Alexander the Great left in India still less of a souvenir than in Persia. The name « Alikasudara » or « Alikyasudala » in the inscriptions of Moka renders Alexander, but refers to a later individual, either Alexander of Epirus or Alexander of Corinth. S. LEvt was of opinion, however, that, in the middle of the 7th cent., the name of Alexander appeared as « alasa-Candakosa », « lazy Candakosa », in Bâna's romanced biography of King Harsa, the Harsacarita (cf. Mémorial Sylvain Lévi, 414). Lkvt considered his opinion confirmed by the fact that Bâna reproached « aiasa-Candakosa » for not having entered Strirajyam, the Kingdom of Women. This, according to Lkvt, could be no other than the story of the Amazons which, in the Pseudo-Callisthenes, marks the last stage of Alexander's advance before he turns back towards the West. « So Bâna's witty allusion », says Ltvt, « is the only sign, but a sufficient one, which proves that the Romance of Alexander was known in India, among scholars and at the royal Courts, in the 7th cent. of our era. »