Leaden curiosity, sclerotic wonder: these are the afflictions of the individual in the modern age. Literature is their most potent cure. Letters are not so much a panacea for the mind — though it is that, too — as a remedy for the soul.
The Ottoman traveler and writer Evliya Çelebi (1611-1673) is a kind of anti-modern: insatiable in his curiosity, omnivorous in his travels, capacious in his wonder. In his travelogue the Seyahatname — perhaps the longest book of travels in any language — he spoke to Muhammad in dreams, gaped at the ferocious hawks of Central Asia (which could kill horses!), battled and bargained with highwaymen, toured ancient cities from Athens to Jerusalem, and even dared to explore the Egyptian Pyramids, where he was disappointed to find mummies instead of treasure. Evliya tells us all about how he witnessed a woman give birth to an elephant and the secret lives of birds. And he even takes us on a fantastical journey through the Netherlands, which he almost certainly never saw in reality: he complained that he was too busy plundering to take proper stock of the country.
Among Evliya’s most detailed accounts is a description of a way of compounding a theriac — a universal cure — out of venomous snakes near Cairo. He talks about the drying of the snakes, the pounding of them, the mixing of their poisons, and the many people who have been cured by the “theriac of Faruq,” from ordinary Cairenes to the monarch of the world. Evliya himself was cured of impotence!
Literary Laundry is like Evliya Çelebi. We gather theriac from wherever it is found. We inquire; we scour the literary reaches of the world.
We hope you enjoy.