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three pairs of lovers with space


Osmân Agha  of Temeşvar (modern Romanian Timişoara), capital of the Ottoman province of that name, was an Ottoman soldier (and later an interpreter) of apparent Serbian descent who  spent eleven years of his youth as a captive in the Habsburg-ruled territories of south-eastern Europe, following his capture by an invading Austrian army in 1688.

In 1724, he wrote an autobiography, Prisoner of the Infidels, the first written in Turkish and the most detailed account of life in early modern Europe from an Ottoman perspective. It is preserved as a manuscript in the British Library (Ms. Or. 3213). In it, he describes a few occasions on which he received tempting amorous advances from girls and, in one instance recounted here, from a boy, all of which he resisted, though for different reasons.

In this passage, Osmân is describing his brief stay in 1691 in Kapfenberg in the German-speaking duchy of Styria, whither he was taken by the general Otto von Stubenberg, who was then holding him in captivity as his groom. Having been born in about 1671, Osmân was then aged about twenty.

The translation is this website’s, done from the one into French by Frédéric Hitzel in Prisonnier des infidèles (1998), pp. 101-2.

Kapfenberg in G. M. Vischer's Topographia Ducatus Stiria, 1681

It was a pretty little town on the banks of the river Mürz. […] A customs official was living in the palace, for the great road to Vienna crossed this locality and he took a toll fee on the vehicles entering and leaving as well as a tax on merchandise. […]

And now, we return to my affairs: my arrival at Kapfenberg with the general increased the number of servants and therefore there remained no place for me to sleep. I was advised, by order of our mistress, to go to stay for a few days with the customs official of whom I have just spoken. The customs official was a lad of barely fourteen to fifteen, straightforward and naïve; he was not angered by my intrusion in his home and even welcomed me with demonstrations of friendship. When evening came, he undressed, climbed into his bed without pants and issued me this invitation:

17th century sketch (The Louvre, Paris)

“Undress and come to bed!”

Willy-nilly, I undressed, including shirt and pants, and stretched out in the bed, which could only receive two people side by side.

Seen from a certain angle, this situation was extraordinary. If a profligate had been in my place, he would not have been able to restrain himself, so strong desire had been, for the lad was attractive and, moreover, one could approach ever kind of subject. He began by talking to me of this and that, interrogated me on the shameful customs of the Turks of which he had heard and wanted me to teach him, he who was naked by my side in the bed, how to proceed! But I controlled myself totally and even though I was sometimes very excited, I did not let myself go and did not fall into sin.



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