The Impact of Expectations Upon Marco Polo and Hernan Cortes

Powerful Essays
Human history is filled with the names of bold explorers who ventured into the great unknown, only to come out basked in glory as some of the great heroes of their day. Among the grandest are Marco Polo, who provided little known information about the Far East to Europeans, and Hernan Cortes, the great Spanish conquistador who is given credit for the defeat of the Mexica Empire. These two famous explorers are also ideal case studies to analyze the influence of expectations, interests, and of reality on the accounts of the places and people that these men encountered during their voyages.

Exploration is an activity that is held in high esteem because of the mental challenge that comes with willingly surrendering the safety of certainty to venture into unknown land. This act is seen as reflecting the utmost courage. Although this may be true, it is important to realize that more often than not, explorers had certain expectations regarding the places they were traveling to. This fact was strongly reflected in the nature of their accounts. In Marco Polo’s case, his father and uncle had observed “many things worth of admiration… in the progress of their journey,” which took place several years before Marco Polo set off from Venice . Marco Polo surely heard about the great things they had come across. He came in knowing that, despite the risks of such long travel, the things that he would see would be unlike anything that he had ever met before. Perhaps, this was Polo’s motivation. It is never explicitly stated, but it may be that Polo was driven by curiosity. He merely wanted to learn more about the great culture he had heard about.

Cortes’ attitude and that of his men present a stark contrast to Polo’s account, whi...

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...ver been capable of.

The accounts of great explorers like Marco Polo and of the various Spanish conquistadores are important not only because they introduced things that the Western World had been unaware of for centuries, but because they show many of their preconceived ideas. Polo’s admiration is overwhelmingly present in his writing, which shows that what he had found clearly exceeded his expectations. On the other hand, the Spanish abhorrence of the Aztec culture shows that they had many preconceived ideas, which were too powerful to be overcome by the reality they found, which was far more amazing than they could have ever imagined.

Works Cited

Polo, Marco, and Rustichello da Pisa. The Travels of Marco Polo. 1926.

Schwartz, Stuart B. Victors and Vanquished: Spanish and Nahua Views of the Conquest of Mexico. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000.
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