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0052 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 52 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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36   21. AMBERGRIS

I do not have at my disposal. The quotation given in the Tz'u yican offers no original information.

The next Chinese source of importance has not yet been made use of by Western scholars;

it is the notice on « ambergris » compiled by 11 l fj Chang Shih-nan in his i    Yu-huan

chi-wên of 1232 (Chih-pu-tsu-chai ts'ung-shu ed., 7, 4 b-5 b).   I think it is worth translating here.

The text is as follows : « Of all perfumes, ambergris (lung-hsien) is the most appreciated. At Kuangchou (Canton), its market value per ounce is not under a hundred thousand (coins) ; the second quality

itself is worth fifty to sixty thousand (coins) ; it belongs to the [class of] goods which are a State

monopoly among the barbarians (cf. DEVic, Le pays des Zendjs, 189, on the handing over of stranded

'ambergris' to the local authorities in Arabia).   It is produced in the country of the Ta-shih

(Arabs; see 'Arabie').   Near the coast of the sea, when there is a cloudy vapour that hangs over

the land lying between mountains, one knows at once that a dragon is asleep below. It (i. e. the vapour) lasts half a year, or two, [or] three years; men in turns keep it under observation and wait

until the cloud dissipates; then they know that the dragon is gone. They go and look, and are
certain to obtain 'ambergris' (lit. 'dragon-spittle'), either five or seven ounces, or more than ten

ounces; and they divide (the quantity) equally according to the number of men who have kept

observation.   If they did not do it equitably, there would be a fight between them and murder.

Others say that dragons coil in great numbers on big rocks in the ocean; while lying, they let out

spittle; the fish assemble and swallow it; and when the natives see it, they instantly dive and

take it.   0th rs again say that in the great ocean there is a whirlpool, at the bottom of which

there is a dragon.   His spittle gushes out and, heated by the sun, coagulates in pieces which the

wind drifts floating to the shore.   People then take it and hand it over to the officials.   I have

questioned the perfume-makers (' j ff A ho-hsiang jên) of Ch'üan [-chou] (see 'Çaiton') and
Kuang-chou (Canton) and they have said : ' When ambergris is added to perfumes, it can present

the scent of camphor and musk; even after several decades, the scent is still there'.   The state-

ments of the â l   Ling-wai tsa-chi (= Ling-wai tai-ta) are as follows : 'Ambergris

(« dragon spittle ») is produced in the [country] of the Ta-shih (Arabs).   In the Western Ocean,

there are many dragons. When one falls asleep while resting on a rock, his spittle floats on the

water, and on accumulation it hardens. The fishermen (chiao jên) gather it as a most valuable

substance. When it is fresh, its colour is white; after some time, it becomes purple (   tzû;

not « red » as in HR, 237); after a long time, it becomes black.   Others again say that the white

ambergris is like   _' hfx po-yao-chien, with unctuous stripes; the black one is inferior to it; it

is like 3    wu-ling chih, but brillant; its scent is almost rancid (nothing of the present sentence

occurs in the Ling-wai tai-ta; at the same time, the text shows that the comparison with the

po-yao-chien and with the wu-ling-chih, which I had first found in a work of 1520 [TP, 1933,
415], and afterwards in another of 1388 [TP, 1936, 222], actually goes back to Sung times; the

wu-ling-chih is the dung of the bat; the po-yao-chien has not been identified).   It resembles

pumice-stone, but is lighter. Some say that it has an extraordinary scent, others that its smell is rank [or that it] can bring out the scent of other perfumes, but all that is erroneous. [Ambergris] does not improve or spoil [other] perfumes, it has merely the power of preserving their fumes together. If one in mixing perfumes employs genuine ambergris, when [the prepared perfume]