Event INSTITUT-SoMuM International symposium - Marco Polo and the Devisement of the World: 700 years of readings and representations (March 21-23, 2024)

International symposium - Marco Polo and the Devisement of the World: 700 years of readings and representations (March 21-23, 2024) This symposium is supported by the Institut Sociétés en Mutation en Méditerranée (SoMuM), as part of SoMuM’s Call for Projects 2024 - Support for scientific events.

Marco Polo is one of the few men of the Middle Ages who, without being a king or pope, is known to all’and is part of our historical and literary heritage. A fixture in our cities and daily lives, used by many restaurants and travel guides, his name is known even to children, who are told of his adventures. This fame, acquired during his lifetime, has continued to develop, shape and enrich itself over the seven centuries since his death in 1324.

Over the course of these seven hundred years, Marco Polo has never ceased to fascinate, and his story to inspire dreams or, on the contrary, incite incredulity. Translated into numerous languages and distributed throughout Europe from the 14th century onwards, the Devisement of the World met with rapid success, which continued over the centuries, as evidenced by the large number of surviving manuscripts and printed editions. At the end of the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, its testimony was put to good use by authors interested in the history of the Mongols, as well as by geographers and cartographers wishing to describe Asia and the Indian Ocean. Long considered a unique source for remote and little-known regions, this account was not forgotten when Europeans once again set out to discover Asia. The Jesuits continued to include it in their library, but not so much as a source of information as as a historical record, while providing new insights into China and Japan.

From the 19th century onwards, interest in Marco Polo and his book multiplied. While his descriptions of Asia fueled colonial ventures and the cartography of regions still relatively untouched by Europeans, scholars set off in search of the manuscripts and attempted to rediscover the original version of the text. Editions, more or less critical, multiplied, as did philological quarrels. Historians also began to write the history of Marco Polo and his family, and, based on his book, the history of relations between the West and the East, of commercial and cultural exchanges, of representations of the Other, and so on. Following on from this perspective, Le devisement du monde is naturally one of the works studied by "post-colonial studies". Today, the figure of Marco Polo is invoked in connection with relations between China and the West, and in particular with the "New Silk Roads" and their geopolitical and economic implications.

At the same time, literature has seized on the myth, with the emergence of plays (from Eugene O’Neill’s Marco Millions in 1927 to Eric Bouvron’s Marco Polo et l’hirondelle du khan in 2017), novel rewrites - including children’s literature, which couldn’t fail to be inspired by the adventures of this young Venetian who set off across Asia at the age of 15 - and comic strips. Modern travelers and reporters (such as Michael Yamashita) take up the routes taken by the Polo family, seeking to relive their adventures. And let’s not forget the cinema, which has repeatedly brought Marco Polo’s travels to the screen, even inspiring ballets (Marie-Claude Pietragalla in 2008).

Over the course of this long history, the image of Marco Polo and his tale has evolved, while each era and each milieu has found its own interest in it: new and first-hand information, descriptions of unknown regions, testimony to a bygone era, material for dreaming and travelling in reading... It is these different perceptions and multiple uses that we aim to explore, through both case studies and diachronic analyses. Without necessarily wishing to draw up an exhaustive picture of the representations of the Venetian traveler and the reception of his book from 1324 to the present day, we will propose studies spread throughout these seven centuries of history.


March 21 to March 23, 2024


Aix-en-Provence, Michel Vovelle library and archives (March 21-22)
Aix-en-Provence, room 201, Le Cube (March 23)


Master’s students, PhD students, researchers, teacher-researchers