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0078 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 78 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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62   45. BACHU

Middle Ages « Sea of Bascon », from the «island of Abaskun », there had probably been a contamination between the two names

It is true that the name of «Sea of Abaskun [or Abaskun] » has sometimes been given in Persian, in Arabic and in Turkish to the whole or to part of the Caspian (cf. BARBIER DE MEYNARD, Dict. hist. I; QAZWiNÎ, Juwayni, II, 115; Ber, III, 66, 183; Mi, 386; BROCKELMANN, 240 [with an abnormal form « Abysgun »] ; HERRMANN, in Imago Mundi, 1935, 23, No. 13). But the «Sea of Bascon » is without authority. Odoric speaks of the « Sea of Bachuc »; CORDIER found in the French version of Odoric « Bascon » instead of « Bachuc » and supposed that « Bascon » stood for «Abaskun» ( Y, I, 59; Y1, II, 105); but Odoric's French version has no value independent of the original Latin text, and « Bascon » has been simply altered from « Bachuc ». As to « Abacu » or « Abaco », I hold it to be one of those copyists' errors to which we owe such readings as «Abraaman », etc., for « Braaman », « Amien » for «Mien », « Assara » for «Sara », etc. In some cases, misinterpretations of the Italian da as d'Ao may account for these errors. But I am convinced that Polo said «Bacu» like all his contemporaries, the only other form of the name being «Bacuc ». «Bacu» and «Bachu» are the forms used by Jourdain Cathala, a Genoese document of 1374, the Catalan Map of 1375, Fra Mauro, Clavijo, J. Barbaro, etc.; «Bachuch », «Bacuk », «Bacuc» are given by Odoric, Pascal of Vittoria, and Marignolli. The final -c (-k, -ch) of this second form remains unexplained; it can hardly be a survival of the ancient form Bâkûh with a final weak -h.

The oldest form of the name is Bâkûh; but the modern spelling (U Bâkû occurs at the end

of the 10th cent. in the I&udad   (Mi, 411) ; the naphtha wells were then already famous

(cf. also Y, I, 49; add Jourdain Cathala, ed. CORDIER, 94; LE STRANGE, translation of the geo-

graphical part of the Nuzhat al-Qulub, 198, 278; PETRUAEVSKII, in Izvestiya Ak. Nauk, 1937, 906). Polo also calls the Caspian the «Sea of Gel or Chelan » (see « Gel or Chelan »), and the «Sea of Sarai » (see «Sarai »).

The «Mare Abacuc sive Mare de Sala » on Waldseemüller's map of 1516 combines wrong forms of «Bacu» and «Sarai »; the name of the Prophet Habacuc helped perhaps in creating «Abacuc ».

Among mediaeval Western authors, Simon of Saint-Quentin and Rubrouck are the only ones to call the Caspian the « Sea of Shirvân », a name which, among Eastern writers, I have only met with in Hajji-Haifa's Jihän-numä (cf. DORN, Caspia, 100). The most common Eastern name is « Sea of the Hazar». The name of «Sea of Khvalis » in ancient Russian texts is a corruption for «Sea of Hwarézm ». Cf. DORN, Caspia, 44, 100-102; BARTHOLD, Zur Erforsch. des Orients, 100; Rev. des ét. slaves, Ix [1929], 120-123; FERRAND, in JA, 1924, I, 206; 1925, II, 112, 269; LS, 180-181.

The Chinese name in the 13th cent. is 31   L   leg «The K'uan-t'ien-chi-ssû Sea » (once

K'uan-ting[;1]-chi-ssû); cf. WANG Hui-tsu 2, 40, 11 a. T'ien-chi-ssû is of course Turk. tängiz, «sea »; I do not think that k'uan means here «broad»; it must be a transcription, theoretically kön or köl; köl means «lake» in Turkish, and *Köl-tängiz would be literally the «Lake-Sea ». A Mongolian form *Giro-dängis, « Deep Sea », good from a semantic point of view, is objectionable phonetically.