three pairs of lovers with space

THE PRESENT STATE OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE BY PAUL RYCAUT, 1666

 

Paul Rycaut: an engraving of ca. 1680 after a painting by Robert White

Sir Paul Rycaut (1629-1700) was an English diplomat who wrote The Present State of the Ottoman Empire, an analysis of Ottoman government and society, after serving for five years as private secretary to the English ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, with whom he had arrived in Constantinople in January 1661. It was published in London in 1666, won him election to the Royal Society in December that year and was soon translated into many languages.

Presented here is all that Rycaut had to say touching on Greek love, together with a portrait of him and three drawings that accompanied his text, all taken from the third edition (London, 1670).

Rycaut’s book was considered exceptional for the range and accuracy of its information, obtained from his contacts in the Ottoman bureaucracy. He says he had his “brief account” of the Sultan’s Seraglio, which includes most of what he had to say about Greek love, he says “from the mouth of one who had spent nineteen years in the Schools of the Seraglio.” (p. 42)

 

[BOOK I.]  THE MAXIMES OF THE Turkish Politie.

CHAP. V.  The Education of young men in the Seraglio, out of which those who are to discharge the great Offices of the Empire are elected.

[…] The Youths then that are designed for the great Offices of the Empire, called by the Turks Ichoglans, must be such as are of Christian Parents, taken in War, or presented from remote parts; as I have observed that the Algerians, always amongst their other gifts, present some Youths whom they have taken by Piracy; […] In the next place, these Youths must be of admirable features, and pleasing looks, well shaped in their bodies, and without any defects of nature; For it is conceived that a corrupt and sordid soul can scarce inhabit in a erene and ingenious Aspect; and I have observed, not only in the Seraglio, but also in the Courts of great men, their personal attendants have been of comely lusty Youths, well habited, deporting themselves with singular Modesty and respect in the presence of their Master: So that when a Pasha, Aga or Spahee travels, he is alwayes attended with a comely equipage, followed by flourishing Youths, well clothed and mounted in great Numbers, that one may guess at the greatness of this Empire, by the retinue, pomp, and number of Servants which accompany Persons of Quality in their journeys; [pp. 25-26]

 

CHAP. VI.  Of the method of the Turkish Studies and Learning in the Seraglio.

A page of the Hazoda

[…] But for their Amours to Women, the restraint and strictness of Discipline, makes them altogether strangers to that Sex; for want of conversation with them, they burn in lust one towards another, and the amorous disposition of youth wanting more natural objects of affection, is transported to a most passionate admiration of beauty wheresoever it finds it, which because it is much talked of by the Turks, we will make it a distinct discourse by it self. [p. 31]

 

CHAP. VII.  Of the Admiration and Affection which the Pages in the Seraglio bear each other.

SINCE in the fore-going Chapter we have made mention of the amorous disposition that is to be found among these youths each to other, it will not be from our purpose to acquaint the Reader, that the Doctrine of Platonick love hath found Disciples in the Schools of the Turks, that they call it a passion very laudable and virtuous, and a step to that perfect love of God, whereof mankind is only capable, proceeding by way of love and admiration of his image and beauty enstamped on the creature. This is the colour of virtue, they paint over the deformity of their depraved inclinations; but in reality this love of theirs, is nothing but libidinous flames each to other, with which they burn so violently, that banishment and death have not been examples sufficient to deter them from making demonstrations of such like addresses, so that in their Chambers, though watched by their Eunuchs, they learn a certain language with the motion of their eyes, their gestures and their fingers, to express their amours; and this passion hath boiled sometimes to that heat, that jealousies and rivalries have broken forth in their Chambers without respect to the severity of their Guardians, and good orders have been brought into confusion, and have not been again redressed, untill some of them have been expelled the Seraglio with the Tippets of their Vests cut off, banished into the Islands, and beaten almost to death.

Nor is this passion only amongst the young men each to other; but Persons of eminent degree in the Seraglio become inveigled in this sort of love, watching occasions to have a sight of the young Pages that they fancy, either at the Windows of their Chamber, or as they go to the Mosque, or to their washings or baths; offer them service and presents, and so engage them as to induce them to desire to be made of the retinue of him that uses this Courtship towards them, which they many times obtain, and being entertained in the service of a Master who so highly fancies and admires them, they become often sharers with him in his riches and fortune.

Sultan Mehmet IV

The Grand Signiors themselves have also been slaves to this inordinate passion. For Sultan Morat[1] became so enamoured of an Armenian Boy called Musa[2] as betrayed him, though otherwise a discreet Prince, to a thousand follies; and at another time preferred a youth for his beauty only from the Novitiate of Galata, to be one of the Pages of his Haz Oda or Chamber of his Royal Presence, and in a short time made him Silahter Aga or Sword-bearer, one of the greatest Offices in the Seraglio. And this present Sultan[3] became so enamoured of a Constantinopolitan youth, one of the Pages of his Musitians School, called Kulogli, or Son of a slave,[4] that he made him his chief Favourite, never could content himself without his Company, Clothed him like himself, made him ride by his side, commanded all to present and honour him, in the same manner as if he had made him Companion of the Empire. [pp. 33-34]

 

CHAP. IX.  Of the Eunuchs

This libidinous flame of depraved nature, is so common a disease amongst the Turks, and so ancient a Vice, that both for state and prevention of this unnatural crime, it hath not been esteemed safe or orderly in the Courts of Eastern Princes to constitute others for the Principal Officers of their Houfhold then Eunuchs: the like is observed in the Seraglio of the Grand Signior, where two Eunuchs especially have the Principal Command, and are persons of the highest and eminentest esteem, viz. the Kuzlir-Agafi, who is superintendent over the Women, and is a Black Eunuch. The other is Capa Agafi or Master of the gate, who is White, and commands all the Pages and White Eunuchs residing in the Court; [pp. 35-36]

 

CHAP. XVIII.  The several Arts the Turks use to increase their People, is a principal Policy, without which the greatness of their Empire cannot continue nor be increased.

[…] It is true, we have heard how in former times there have been particular men amongst the Turks, that have severally been Fathers to a hundred Sons; but now through that abominable vice of Sodomie, which the Turks pretend to have learned from the Italians, and is now the common and professed shame of that people, few fecundious Families are found amongst them; especially amongst the Persons of the greater Quality, who have means and time to act and contrive their filthiness with the most deformity. And in this manner, the natural use of the Women being neglected amongst them, and as St. Paul saith, Men burning in lust one towards another; so little is mankind propagated, that many think, were it not for the abundant supplies of Slaves, which daily come from the Black Sea (as before we have declared) considering the Summer-slaughters of the Plague, and destructions of War, the Turk would have little cause to boast of the vast numbers of his people: [p. 81]

 

BOOK II. OF THE Turkish Religion

CHAP. VI.  Of the Emirs.

Emir Basher or Head of Mahomets Kindrad

WE may here bring in the Emirs, otherwise called Eulad Resul, into the number of the Religious men, because they are of the race of Mahomet, […]

These are the most abominable Sodomites and abusers of Masculine youth in the world, in which sin against nature they exceed the foulness and detestable lust of a Tartar. [pp. 110-111]

 

CHAP. XXI.  Of Marriages and Divorces, and how far Concubinage is Indulged amongst the Turks.

Discussing the role of polygamy in leading to population increase:

But yet this course thrives not so well amongst the Turks as formerly; whether it be thought their accursed Vice of Sodomie, or that God blesses not so much this State of life, as when the paucity of Mankind induced a sort of necessity and plea for it. [p. 153]

 

[1] Murad IV (1612-40), who reigned 1623-40.

[2] Musa Çelebi, the Sultan’s favourite page, was murdered by rebellious janissaries in March 1632, “when he was just a boy” in the words of the Sultan himself, who described him as “my boon companion and intimate friend, who dispelled my woes.” (Robert Dankoff, An Ottoman Mentality. The World of Evliya Çelebi (Leyden, Netherlands, 2006) 40.

[3] Mehmed IV, who reigned 1648-87.

[4] Though meaning “son of a slave”, Kuloğlu generally referred to the son of an Ottoman soldier (Janissary), who was a servant of the Sultan.