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The Gaelic abridgment of the Book of Ser Marco Polo (Author: [Marco Polo])

List of witnesses


The following text is taken from the Book of Lismore, an Irish manuscript of the fifteenth century, now belonging to the Duke of Devonshire, and kept in Lismore Castle, co. Waterford. The text, of which no other copy is known, begins, imperfectly, on fo. 79 recto and ends, incompletely, on fo. 89 verso. It is abridged with great freedom from the Latin version of Francesco Pipino, as to which see the introduction to the late col. Yule's The Book of Ser Marco Polo, London 1875, pp. 64, 79, 92.

Our text has been noticed by Todd, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy June 22, 1840: by O'Curry, MS. Materials of Irish History, pp. 25, 200, and by Yule, op. cit. vol. 1, pp. 100, 101 of the introduction. But no part of it has been edited save (1) four lines (absurdly misspelt)1 cited by Yule, p. 101: (2) the beginning and the end, cited in the preface to Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, Oxford 1890, pp. xxij–xxiv; and (3) the first two pages, printed in the appendix to Part III of the Facsimiles of National Manuscripts of Ireland, London 1879.

It is needless here to enlarge upon the desirability of printing the Celtic translations of Latin and French2 texts. They are the best evidence that the mediaeval Irish and Welsh were in touch with the literary life of the Continent: they add considerably to our vocabularies; and in the case of many words and idioms they enable Celtists to ascertain meanings which would otherwise remain unintelligible or ambiguous. They also throw some light on the condition of the Continental texts at the respective dates of the translations.


¶1] [...] to the kings and chieftains of that city. There dwelt then in that city a king's brother in the habit of S. Francis. He was skilled in many languages, and his name was Franciscus (Pipinus). So he is brought to the place wherein yon nobles were, and they request him to turn the book from the language of the Tartars into the Latin language. ‘I am afraid’, saith he, ‘to spend mental labour on the works of Jews and unbelievers.’ They entreat him again in the same wise. ‘It shall be done’, saith he; ‘for though tidings of non-Christians are here made known, these are marvels of the true God; and whosoever shall hear this much against the faith of the Lord will pray fervently for their conversion, and he who will not pray will spend the strength of his body in defeating them. I am not afraid of this book of Marco's, for there is no lie in it. Mine eye beheld him bringing with him the relics of the holy Church; and he left, while tasting death, (his testimony) that it was true, and Marco was a godly man.’

¶2] Howsoever Franciscus (Pipinus) translated this book of Marco's out of Tartar into Latin ; and the years of the Lord at that time were fifteen years, and two score and two hundred and a thousand years (i. e. A. D. 1255).