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The Impact Of Expectations Upon Marco Polo And Hernan Cortes

2525 words - 10 pages

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, which was dominated by wonder and charm, because of the sense of disgust that they felt towards the natives. Unlike Polo, Cortes knew very little about the Aztecs and their great culture. As a matter of fact, he only knew about the rumors of the great city that lay somewhere to the east. Cortes and his men had merely seen “a few large towns very passably laid out” . The result of this would set the stage for a momentous shock, as Cortes’ frame of reference was limited to those small settlements that the Spanish had come across during their exploration of the islands on the Caribbean and parts of modern day Mexico. This meant that he got to the coast of Mexico believing that he would only find what the Spanish had already labeled as savages; lowly beings who were committed to beliefs that were radically different to European values. Hence, it is obvious that curiosity was not the driving force for Cortes’ expedition. Instead, Spanish conquistadores were driven by greed for the riches that they fervently desired to find, and strong aspirations to “[instruct] in the holy Catholic Faith,” as he thought it certain that the natives “should serve God with that same faith, fervor and diligence” they demonstrated in praising their...

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