GHDI logo

Observing the Ottomans – Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq in Istanbul (1552-62)

page 7 of 7    print version    return to list previous document      next document

You ask about my Greek books, and say that you have heard that I have brought back a number of curiosities, including some rare animals. As to the latter there is nothing of great interest. I have brought back a very tame ichneumon, an animal notable for its hatred of and internecine warfare with the crocodile and asp. I had a remarkably handsome weasel of the species called sable, but I lost it on the journey. I also brought with me several very fine thoroughbred horses—it is the first time anyone has done so—and six female camels. I have brought back hardly any plants or herbs, but I have some botanical drawings which I am keeping for Mattioli; I also sent him a good many specimens many years ago. Carpets and linen embroidered with Babylonian work, swords, bows, horse-trappings, articles of leather, chiefly horse-leather, finely worked, and other trifling examples of Turkish workmanship and ingenuity—of these I have, or to speak more accurately, I had an abundance. For I have but little left; in this vast assembly of princes and princesses at Frankfort, I make many presents of my own freewill to do them honour, while I am ashamed to refuse the many requests which are made to me by others. The rest of my gifts have, I think, been well bestowed; but there is one thing of which I regret that I have been so lavish, namely, the balm, on the genuineness of which the doctors have thrown doubts, on the ground that it does not seem to possess all the qualities which Pliny’s description demands. It may be that it has been extracted from very old plants, which have lost something of their strength, or there may be some other cause; of this, however, I am certain, that it was produced from the shrubs which grow in the gardens of Matarieh, near Cairo. [ . . . ]

I also brought back a large miscellaneous collection of coins, the best of which I intend to present to my master. I have also whole wagon-loads, whole shiploads, of Greek manuscripts. There are, I believe, no fewer than 240 volumes, which I have sent by sea to Venice, whence they are to be conveyed to Vienna. They are destined for the imperial library. Many of them are quite ordinary, but some of them are not to be despised. I hunted them out from all sorts of corners, so as to make, as it were, a final gleaning of all merchandise of this kind. One treasure I left behind in Constantinople, a manuscript of Dioscurides, extremely ancient and written in majuscules, with drawings of the plants and containing also, if I am not mistaken, some fragments of Cratevas and a small treatise on birds. It belongs to a Jew, the son of Hamon, who, while he was still alive, was physician to Soleiman. I should like to have bought it, but the price frightened me; for a hundred ducats was named, a sum which would suit the Emperor’s purse better than mine. I shall not cease to urge the Emperor to ransom so noble an author from such slavery (n). The manuscript, owing to its age, is in a bad state, being externally so worm-eaten that scarcely any one, if he saw it lying in the road, would bother to pick it up.

But enough of this letter; you may expect me in person before long. Anything else I have to say shall be kept for our meeting. But take care to provide men of worth and learning to meet me, the pleasantness of whose conversation and company may enable me to rid myself of any traces of boredom and depression that still cling to me as the result of my long sojourn among the Turks. Farewell.

Frankfurt, December 16, 1562.

Source of the English translation from Latin: Edward Seymour Forster, The Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, Imperial Ambassador at Constantinople, 1554-1562. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1927, pp. 34-42 (A); 231-43 (B).

first page < previous   |   next > last page