One source in particular offers a very 'revealing' view on Turks in sixteenth-century Lyon. In Les quatre premiers livres des navigations et pérégrinations orientales, published in 1568, Nicolas de Nicolay, French soldier and geographer, dedicates two chapters to the bathing practices of the Turks [read: Ottomans].
In the twenty-first chapter of the second book, the practices of Turkish males are outlined. While the bathhouse’s servant took it upon himself to shave both the beard and the hair under the armpits of the guests, “[...] for the secret parts they hand you [the guest] a razor, or a depilatory (which they call Rusma) which is a cream that, if applied to the hairy parts, instantaneously makes all the hair fall out.” According to Nicolay, Turkish men and women often made use of this cream, because they were disgusted by hair in “such places”.
Furthermore Nicolay explains that the law of Islam commands all Muslims to wash themselves properly and purify themselves before entering a mosque. He expresses indignation at the fact that “these brutal Barbarians who wash their body on the outside” are allowed to enter, while those who wash the inside of their soul – probably a reference to Christians – must stay outside.
In short, while describing Turkish bathing practices, Nicolas de Nicolay succeeded in emasculating and feminising Turkish men, while simultaneously portraying their female counterparts as promiscuous and unreliable beings. At the conference 29 June, a set of other sources, also printed in Lyon some twenty to thirty years earlier than Nicolay’s text, will be discussed. By reconstructing past perceptions of the Turks (Ottomans), and by drawing comparisons between these various views, my research will uncover the discourse(s) surrounding these 'strangers' in sixteenth century Lyon.
Would you like Giel Maan to reveal more about the various French perceptions of Turks that he is currently researching? Please register here to secure your seat.
This blog is run by the students who organise the CMEMS Conference. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, one of the students will post a small sneak preview indicating the content of their conference presentation.