CONCERNING THE PERSON OF THE GREAT KAAN.
The personal appearance of the Great Kaan, Lord of Lords, whose name is Cublay, is such as I shall now tell you. He is of a good stature, neither tall nor short, but of a middle height. He has a becoming amount of flesh, and is very shapely in all his limbs. His complexion is white and red, the eyes black and fine,[NOTE 1] the nose well formed and well set on. He has four wives, whom he retains permanently as his legitimate consorts; and the eldest of his sons by those four wives ought by rights to be emperor;—I mean when his father dies. Those four ladies are called empresses, but each is distinguished also by her proper name. And each of them has a special court of her own, very grand and ample; no one of them having fewer than 300 fair and charming damsels. They have also many pages and eunuchs, and a number of other attendants of both sexes; so that each of these ladies has not less than 10,000 persons attached to her court.[NOTE 2]
When the Emperor desires the society of one of these four consorts, he will sometimes send for the lady to his apartment and sometimes visit her at her own. He has also a great number of concubines, and I will tell you how he obtains them.
You must know that there is a tribe of Tartars called UNGRAT, who are noted for their beauty. Now every year an hundred of the most beautiful maidens of this tribe are sent to the Great Kaan, who commits them to the charge of certain elderly ladies dwelling in his palace. And these old ladies make the girls sleep with them, in order to ascertain if they have sweet breath [and do not snore], and are sound in all their limbs. Then such of them as are of approved beauty, and are good and sound in all respects, are appointed to attend on the Emperor by turns. Thus six of these damsels take their turn for three days and nights, and wait on him when he is in his chamber and when he is in his bed, to serve him in any way, and to be entirely at his orders. At the end of the three days and nights they are relieved by other six. And so throughout the year, there are reliefs of maidens by six and six, changing every three days and nights.[NOTE 3]
[Illustration: Portrait of Kublai Kaan. (From a Chinese Engraving.)]
NOTE 1.—We are left in some doubt as to the colour of Kublai’s eyes, for some of the MSS. read vairs and voirs, and others noirs. The former is a very common epithet for eyes in the mediaeval romances. And in the ballad on the death of St. Lewis, we are told of his son Tristram:—
“Droiz fu comme un rosel, iex
vairs comme faucon,
Des le tens Moysel ne nasqui sa facon.”
The word has generally been interpreted bluish-grey, but in the passage just quoted, Fr.-Michel explains it by brillans. However, the evidence for noirs here seems strongest. Rashiduddin says that when Kublai was born Chinghiz expressed surprise at the child’s being so brown, as its father and all his other sons were fair. Indeed, we are told that the descendants of Yesugai (the father of Chinghiz) were in general distinguished by blue eyes and reddish hair. (Michel’s Joinville, p. 324; D’Ohsson, II. 475; Erdmann, 252.)