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0053 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 53 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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21. AMBERGRIS   37

burns a blue smoke floats in the air and gathers without dissipating. The guests can use scissors to divide the thread of the smoke. The reason for that is that the ambergris still retains some of the virtue of that dragon breath which produces buildings and terraces' (this is the end of the

quotation from the Ling-wai tai-ta).   Others yet say : ' [Ambergris] is the spittle ejected by the
dragon on the sea when he comes out or plunges in. There are three sorts [of it] ; the first is called « water-drift » (7J{, if< fan-shui); the second, « sand-leaked » (; 71 shên-sha); the third,

« fish-eaten » (A   -shih). The « water-drift » [ambergris] lightly floats on the surface of the
water; good seamen watch the coming out and plunging in of the dragon, and following him they pick it up. The « sand-leaked » is [ambergris] that has been drifted by waves and billows to main

lands and islands.   It is that which has coagulated and accumulated for many years, wind and

rain have soaked it, and all its scent has leaked into the sandy earth.   As to the « fish-eaten »

[ambergris], when the dragon emits his spittle (— ambergris), the fish vie with each other in eating it; when digested by them, it becomes dung which is scattered in the sandy desert (a somewhat curious location for fish excrements!); its smell is rank and dirty. Only the « water-drift » [ambergris] can enter into the [composition of] perfumes; the other two [sorts] are

inferior.   4   Têng Hao of Efli n Ch'ü-Chiang (in Shao-chou-fu, Kuang-tung), after comparing

the three opinions, said that the third one is nearest to the truth.   The sayings of the various
authors do not agree, and I do not know which one is correct. But according to my humble judgment, the first one must be fairly near the mark '.»

Later works, with one exception which will be noted below, have little to add to the information collected by Chang Shih-nan. «Ambergris» entered Chinese pharmacopoeia only in

the Ming dynasty, with il IA   Chi and after him with Li Shih-chên (cf. Pên-ts'ao kan


43, 7 a; Br, I, 152).   But Chang Shih-nan's text on the three sorts of « ambergris » finds a
remarkable counterpart in Barbosa (ed. DAMES, II, 106-109), who also heard of three qualities of « ambergris », which agree, as to nature and as to order, with the Chinese description.

Wang Ta-yüan's Tao-i chih-lio of 1349-1350 mentions an « Ambergris Island », Lung-hsienhsü pm, which also occurs on the Chinese map of the early 15th cent. and is made the subject of an independent paragraph in Fei Hsin's Hsing-ch'a shêng-lan of 1436. The island lay off the north-western coast of Sumatra. PHILLIPS (JNCB, xx, 221) identified it with Pub Way; FUJITA (Tao-i chih-lio's commentary, ed. Hsüeh-t'ang ts'ung-shu, 10-11) decided in favour of Pulo Bras;

-      ROCKHILL, going back to an ancient opinion of GROENEVELDT, pronounced in favour of Pub
Rondo (TP, 1915, 158); I think that the identification with Pub Bras is correct. The two notices on Lung-hsien-hsü have been translated by ROCKHILL (TP, 1915, 158-159), but the translation is sometimes incomplete and often inaccurate. The middle part of the Tao-i chih-lio paragraph in particular must be understood as follows : «The colour of the [dragon] spittle is sometimes blacker

than 'black incense', and sometimes it resembles pumice-stone.   If smelled, it has a somewhat
rancid scent. But if it be used in combination with various perfumes, then 'their aroma becomes extremely pure and penetrating. Even such perfumes as calambac-wood, crystal camphor

di      ('plum flower camphor'; cf. HR, 193), sandal, musk, gardenia flowers, gham-wood, and rose-
water must have some of it to bring out [their full scent]. » In other words, Wang Ta-yuan, like

k   some other earlier authors, maintains that «ambergris» is not a perfume in itself, but an excipient