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0037 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.2
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.2 / Page 37 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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212. DRY (LONE) TREE   633

had developed from a twig of it brought by Seth, or it was the staff of Adam, or of Moses. All this suggests a connection with some of the legends concerning similar dry trees in Mussulman countries, and also with the cypress of Zoroaster, but it must not be taken for granted that there has been here more influence from late Mazdaean or Mussulman tradition on Christian legend than vice versa. Of course, the Dry Tree has also been sometimes conceived in mystical reference to the tree of the Cross, and as such has entered the cycle of the Holy Grail. In this connection, it rejoins Polo's « Lone Tree » in the capacity of the µovaev8pov or µovo86v8p.ov of Byzantine sources (cf. A. N. VESELOVSKII, in Zurnal Min. Narodn. Prosy., Febr. 1904, 420). It must not be forgotten, either, that, according to Pseudo-Daniel, the decisive battle is to be fought by the Saviour King at a « Lone Tree » (cf. KAMPERS, Vom Werdegange, 118) ; Polo certainly did not know Pseudo-Daniel, but some similar notion may have been more or less current among Christians in the East.

But Polo does not merely say that Lone Tree was called Dry Tree by the Christians, he adds that it was so called in the Book of Alexander. As a matter of fact, no Dry Tree occurs in the ancient redactions of Pseudo-Callisthenes, and YULE ( Y, I, 132-133) had to resort to quotations which are not quite satisfactory. I am not in a position to solve the problem either. In the Romance of Alexander, I find a mention of the Dry Tree only in the branch known as Les vceeux du Paon (« Car les dieux du Sech arbre li ont, pièce a, promis »; cf. E. GACHET, quoted by CORDIER, Odoric de Pordenone, 25). But the poem Les voeux du paon is an interpolation, written after 1312 (cf. P. MEYER, Alexandre le Grand dans la littérature du Moyen Age, II, 221-222), consequently too late to be the source alluded to by Polo. Some one well versed in mediaeval literature ought to be able to provide the solution. I may just hint to a further link between the Trees of the Sun and the Moon and the Dry Tree. According to a belief which has`found expression in Maundevile, balsam, even in Mussulman countries, could only be grown by Christians; this was already stated in the Image du monde, a poem dated in 1246 A. D. (cf. LANGLOIS, La connaissance de la nature, 174). But Maundevile adds that balsam was said to grow also in Greater India, in the desert where the Trees of the Sun and the Moon spoke to Alexander. In a French prose romance of Alexander, Alexander first reached a forest of trees reminiscent of laurels and olive-trees, from which opobalsamum flowed in plenty, then passed a very high tree without leaves or fruit (the Dry Tree ?), and finally arrived at the Trees of the Sun and the Moon (cf. YI, I, 133). Now, on the Hereford map of. c. 1275, near the garden of Eden, there is a tree without leaves with the inscription : « Arbor balsami id est Arbor Sicca ». In Polo Mss., we find in V, after the mention of the Dry Tree, the addition that « of its wood balsam is made » (cf. Vol. I, 128).

Since the Dry Tree was located in the East, it was natural that people should look for it, and of course find it ; they even found several, which were not balsam-trees. As we have seen, Polo identified with the Dry Tree a Lone Tree which was an Oriental Plane and moreover not dry at all, probably because it was very holy and also because it stood at the further end of Persia, not far from the Amu-daryâ, for Polo the Jihûn, one of the four rivers flowing from Paradise. His Dry Tree was an Oriental Plane.

Maundevile speaks of a different one. According to one form of the mediaeval legend, Seth, when allowed to put his head in at the gate of Paradise, had received from the Angel three kernels