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0048 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.2
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.2 / Page 48 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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644   219. ERCOLIN

prepared « vair » was sometimes called « rampaille ». An assemblage in alternate « squares » of bluish backs and white bellies of vair was called « gros vair » (sometimes « grand vair ») or « menu vair » (> Lat. minutus varius, Engl. meniver and miniver), according to the size of the squares; at least, such is the definition of these terms given both by MONET and FURETIERE in the 17th cent.; FAUCHET'S description, according to which the « squares » of the « menu vair » were alternately made of ermine and « gris », though somewhat different, confirms that « gros vair » and « menu vair » were not in themselves the names of particular furs (cf. V. GAY, Glossaire archéologique, s. v. « écureuil », « gris », « menu vair », « vair », « rampaille »).

YULE says ( Y, II, 483) : « Vair, so often mentioned in mediaeval works, appears to have been a name appropriate to the fur as prepared rather than to the animal. This appears to have been the Siberian squirrel called in French petit-gris, the back of which is of a fine grey and the belly of a brilliant white. In the Vair... the backs and bellies were joined in a kind of checquer... ». EVANS, Pegolotti, 432, also regards vaio as « a quality of fur », and suggests that vair and gris are the back and belly respectively of the skin; in heraldry vair is a pattern of dove-tailed azure and argent. YULE'S view and EVANS'S is not confirmed by mediaeval use, where vair is decidedly the name of the animal as well as of its fur. Rubrouck (Wy, 166, 271) says « portant varium et grisium » and « moneta Rutenorum communis sunt pellicule varii et grisii », which shows that vair and gris were different; on the other hand, it seems probable that the gris is the modern « petit-gris » and the vair also is certainly a squirrel. This, however, is not the view adopted by the various translators of Rubrouck. HAKLUYT (BEAZLEY ed., 185, 306) gives « ermines and gray furres »; ROCKHILL (44, 202), « vaire and minever », but concludes in a note that the animals meant must be « marten and grey squirrels »; MALEIN (p. 66), « ermines and squirrels »; HERBST (4, 180), « variegated, grey... furs » (explaining that no one knows what Rubrouck really meant); RISCH (p. 25), « marten and petit-gris »; VAN DEN WYNGAERT (Wy, 166), while mentioning MATROD'S « vair and petit-gris », thinks probable that « squirrels and ermines » are intended. But MATROD'S rendering seems to be the only correct one. The only difficulty is to distinguish between « vair » and « gris », both being squirrels; they seem to have been mixed up by BUFFON under the name « petit-gris ».

That the vair was a squirrel, and really the name of the animal, is moreover established by a well-known work which Rubrouck's translators failed to adduce, the Codex Cumanicus (KuuN ed., 97; my readings are taken from the facsimile Codex Cumanicus published by GReNBECH, Copenhagen, 1936, 43 a), where we find vari rendered xyngaf in Persian, tein in Turkish; then venter de vari (= « belly of vair ») without translation; and afterwards scoyroli, rendered siagingiaf in Persian, caratein in Turkish; « marten » (martori) comes a little later, correctly rendered sausar in both Persian and Turkish. The Persian words intended are `,lam . sinjäb andsiâhsinjab, the Turkish ones, täyin and qara-täyin, meaning in both languages « squirrel » and « black squirrel » respectively. There is no reason to doubt that the distinction thus made by the Codex Cumanicus is in agreement with mediaeval usage; the « vair » was the light coloured squirrel, the « squirrel » properly so called was the dark squirrel.

The problem of the « ercolin » is more difficult. YULE (Y, II, 483), merely on account of a phonetic analogy, had thought of Rubrouck's « arcali », Mong. arïali (Turk. arqar), the Ovis Poli, but this was clearly a wild shot, since this mouffion of Central Asia does not occur in more northern