Anna Della Subin & screening of Neïl Beloufa’s Kempinski
Friday, November 16, 2018, 8:00 pm


They slept the sleep of Endymion, but the moonlight, unrequited in her love, could not reach them. They slept in the place of the Dormition; they slept while Mary Magdalene, from her grave, kept watch. They slept while the great temple to Artemis was sacked. They slept surrounded by a vast necropolis of believers, believers in them. They slept near St. John; having dreamed the Book of Revelation, he lay in imageless exhaustion. Above his tomb the cracked earth rose and fell, in rhythm; his breath scattered the dust.

In 1869, Mark Twain posed for pictures in the ruins of Ephesus. “We do not embellish the general desolation of a desert much,” he wrote. “We add what dignity we can to a stately ruin with our green umbrellas and jackasses, but it is little. However, we mean well.”

They slept not in Ephesus but in Afsus, a town in Elbistan. They slept not in Afsus but in Fis, the village in Turkey where the Kurdish separatist group PKK was founded. “The cave that is in Ephesus does not comply with the definitions of the Qur’an,” declares KurdishSaladinTV, a YouTube channel. “Since Saladin [Fis] is officially recognized as the cave of Seven Sleepers.”

They slept in Amman, argues a scholar from Amman, who has done extensive research on this subject. In 1961, Jordanian archaeologists unearthed the jaw of the dog Qitmir, with one incisor and four molars intact.

They slept by the side of the Silk Road in Xinjiang, while raisins dried in the sun. They slept in a cave that once belonged to the Buddha. Some call it Apsus. When the Red Guards came to destroy the shrine, it is said a dog singlehandedly drove them off.

They slept on the outskirts of Paphos, where Aphrodite rose from the sea. Seven relics were found in the cave, variously claimed to be the seven martyrs or the fossilized remains of seven Cypriot dwarf hippopotamuses.

They slept in Nakhchivan, in the shadow of the Ilandag, a mountain whose peak was chipped by Noah’s Ark after the floodwaters receded. In the cave, no trace of the sleepers remains, except a meteorite worn smooth by the hands of pilgrims.

They slept in a nest in Tarsus, transformed into young birds. They fell asleep in Glastonbury, under the Chalice Well. They were weary from building a church out of twigs.

The whole of Europe thus, in one sense, answers the description of the cave, according to the website of the Lahore Ahmadiyya sect.

They slept in Gandia, south of Valencia, and in the hills of Granada at Loja. They slept in the crypt of the Marmoutier Abbey. They slept in every house on the Comoro Islands. They slept in Chenini, in southern Tunisia. When they awoke they were thirteen feet tall.

They slept in Marseille and in N’Gaous and in Nabk, in the monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian. They slept in the sky above Basra. The only sound was the footsteps of centuries entering and exiting the stage.

They slept over Damascus, in a cave on Mount Qasyun. The caretaker of their shrine carries a talisman: a photograph taken in the cave in 1954 of Louis Massignon, the Christian Islamicist who spent his life hunting traces of their sleep.

They slept in Vieux-Marché in Brittany, and in the cemetery of Guidjel, near Sétif. They were lost in God as they slept.

They slept in Cairo in the crypt of al-Maghawri, once occupied by the Bektashi Sufi order and now by the Egyptian military. They slept through the call of the muezzin who cries, Prayer is better than sleep. They slept on the marble altar of the Siebenschläferkirche in Rotthof, in positions of overwrought repose.

Had you seen them, you would have fled in fear.
(Qur’an 18:18)

This is an excerpt from Not Dead But Sleeping, a book-length essay on the cultural politics of sleep published by Triple Canopy in 2016. It traces the origins and incarnations of the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, often told during moments of political awakening, from the founding of the United States to contemporary Egypt. Subin considers the myth’s speculative uses and revolutionary potential, poetically pushing back against Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dictum, “There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”

Anna Della Subin

Anna Della Subin is a writer, critic, and independent scholar. She is the author of Not Dead But Sleeping (Triple Canopy, 2016), a book-length essay on the cultural politics of sleep. Her work has appeared in the London Review of Books, Harper’s, The New York Times, The White Review, and The New Yorker online, as well as in several artists’ publications. She is also a contributing editor at Bidoun, a publishing and curatorial initiative focused on the Middle East and its diasporas. Her book Accidental Gods, on men inadvertently turned into deities, is forthcoming from Metropolitan/Henry Holt.   

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