three pairs of lovers with space

THE RULES OF SOCIAL GATHERINGS BY MUSTAFA ÂLI, 1599-1600

 

The Mevâidü’n-nefâ'is fî Kavâ'idi’l-Mecâlis (Tables of Delicacies Concerning the Rules of Social Gatherings) was the last book of Gelibolulu Mustafa Âli bin Ahmed bin Abdülmevlâ Çelebi (1541-1600), a prolific Ottoman writer (perhaps most important for his illustrated histories), who had also had a distinguished and wide-ranging career in government service. It was written in the last months of his life from December 1599, while he was governor of Jeddah in the Hejaz, though it expanded on his earlier book of etiquette, Kavâ idü l-Mecâlis (The Rules of Social Gatherings), written in 1587.

As Âli explained in his introduction, his reasons for writing were that he had been pained by the unsuitable behaviour of his fellow passengers on his voyage to Jeddah, and an Islamic scholar had praised his Kavâ idü l-Mecâlis, while lamenting that it was too brief. He therefore sought to write a definitive manual of etiquette in a style that would reach a wide audience. The result was an exceptionally important source of information on the Ottoman customs of his day. The widespread practise of Greek love was a prominent one of these, well attested by both Turkish and foreign writers, but what Âli had to say about it probably gives a more realistic picture of its place in society because he takes its existence for granted, rather than writing to condemn or extol it.

Presented here are all the passages alluding to Greek love, taken from the translation by Douglas S. Brookes,  The Ottoman Gentleman of the Sixteenth Century: Tables of Delicacies Concerning the Rules of Social Gatherings, published by Harvard University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization in 2003.

 

Chapter 8. Beardless Boys.

Nowadays there are more dishonourable men[1] who prefer beardless, smooth-cheeked, handsome and sweet-tempered servant boys than there are men who prefer pretty and charming women. This is because marriageable women from among the ranks of beauties are maintained in secret, out of fear of the police.[2]

Selim II, in whose court as prince and then Sultan Âli served, ca. 1570

Nowadays friendship with young men is a door in the gate of companionship, both clandestinely and manifestly, and is both open and flung back. What is more, beardless youths can be a companion whether at home or on journeys. But moon-faced members of the female sex can be neither friend nor companion in this manner.

Now, the delectable morsels among beardless youth whom these dishonorable men favor are mostly bastards from Arabia and fathered by Turks from Anatolia on leave from the military.[3] The true dancing boys[4] from the European provinces are gentle, and the big and fierce-looking lads from Bosnia-Herzegovina always provide obedient service. Truly the beardless lads of no other country stay beautiful and comely as long as do they. Some of them do not sprout a hair on their face even at the age of thirty, still causing distraction of the mind to whoever sees them in the mirror of beauty. Yet the sweet-faced comeliness of Turkish youths and the agile lads of Arabia is shorter-lived than that of all the others. By the time they are twenty, they are no longer an object of desire by lovers. 

Nonetheless, the lads of the Inner Provinces, that is, the narrow-waisted boys of Edirne, Bursa, and Istanbul,[5] surpass them in beauty, in perfection – in all ways. Those who lack in beauty and comeliness display a certain freshness and sweetness through the ingenious use of flirting and playfulness. And Kurdish boys, according to born roués, are said to be dedicated to submission and gentleness. Whatever request is proffered, they apparently fall over themselves in obeying.[6] 

Apparently they color the region below the waist with henna, down to their knees, and thus decorate themselves colorfully. The most-prized ones are narrow-waisted and tall. When submitting themselves, they are said to exhibit gentleness with every member of their body. However, any one of the handsome lads of the Inner Provinces is said to vanquish all of them in outward gentleness and in inward contrariness. They seem submissive, but when their disposition is soured, they apparently tend toward obstinacy. By this means they bring to the great personages of the state the blessings of intimacy. It is said that they keep the lovers who flutter around them unfulfilled, dispossessing them of wealth and power. It is also related that when the opportunity presents itself, two lads make use of each other, or the one gets the other drunk and gets the better of him, which is probably not an impossible assertion. 

And so, whoever yearns for popular, sweet-faced lads, and who really desires to put to good use the tall boy there across from him with the figure of a silver cypress and an elegant, well-proportioned gait, should not overlook the dancing boys of the European provinces. They must take care not to tire of the Slave Corps’[7] Joseph-faced[8] Circassians, and its Croatians whose breath is of musk. The ranks of sweethearts in the Inner Provinces do include some exquisitely beautiful lads, but most of them are untrustworthy and cruel young men who tend to torment and maltreat. Those who possess them rarely find comfort and peace of mind. 

A kulampara (lover of boys) caresses the face of his içoğlanı (boy servant)

As for boys of Albanian blood, some are worthy of taking as a lover, but far too many are terribly contentious and obstinate. On the other hand, Georgians, Russians, and Gurelians[9] are the excrement of the other harlots; compared to them, Hungarians are the most charming and pleasant of all peoples. This is because most of them betray their master. Everyone has witnessed their shameful behaviour.

Strangely enough, vulgar Egyptians prefer Abyssinians. They say that if it gets cold in the house, they’re everyone’s sable fur.[10] One hears that they are especially proficient at taking care of beds – they adore perfuming the bedclothes with incense and fluffing up and arranging the mattresses and pillows. Both their men and women are said to display great humaneness. Apparently their pleasant disposition and gentleness stand out wherever they may be sent. [pp. 28-30]

 

Chapter 25. The Various Classes of Seekers of Frivolity and Amusement.

[…] One group among them is the conjurors.[11] They like pretty sounds and harmonize with rhythms and melodies. In particular they put all kinds of clothes onto exceptional silver-faced youths whose camphor-white necks are adorned with gold necklaces, who would be desired by kings, and who glance about coquettishly. They show up in the costume of the running footmen of lords and governors[12] and in the pleasing decorous manner of messengers in the Ottoman domains.[13]

And so they bring misfortune onto many a hypocritical ascetic. They make pederasts of men who never in their lives fell for a young lover. Every now and then those winsome tempters sally out the door in order to attract audiences. They say witty things like, “Those who can’t afford to give money shouldn’t give anything!” […]

All in all, the parasites mentioned so far[14] are a gang of ill-fortuned sinners who are prisoners of the soul of evil repute and completely given over to lust. What they are aiming at in all these efforts is to break in beardless youths who form their corrupt means of earning a living. That is to say, in broad daylight they play to an audience with artifice and embellishment, at night they work to pass the goblet in pleasure and carousing. After gratifying their pleasure in this way, they clasp their darlings to their breasts and embrace them according to the demands of their lust.

Then, the managers of the circus say, “We are the champions!”[15] They promise, “One of these days very soon we’ll make you one of us.” They win over the young lads who are down on their luck. With their help they make money: and they put them under their control and use them. As is said, “May God curse them and destroy them, may he reveal their deeds on the Day of Resurrection.”

Verse by the author:

               The curtain they draw is the veil of wisdom;
                    That candle is the light of the strength of God.
[16]

               That is, behind the curtain of wisdom
                    Human forms are visible in turn

               But when the candle is extinguished, the shadows cease to exist;
                    Their human-like tasks are to recount and then to fade away.
[pp. 62-63]

 

Chapter 54. Wine Gatherings.

It is no secret that at gatherings where certainly take part in the festivities. Then, so too must the sought-after and eager beardless boys, who are in service as the saki,[17] and who keep an eye out for the needs of the guests at the banquet, as well as do whatever appropriate things they can to humor the mood of the host in charge of the festivities.

It is well for them to stand at the ready as the rich food and conversation are enjoyed,[18] lending a friendly hand to the other servants, so long as now and then they are offered a goblet after the guests’ heads have heated up a bit and softened with the flames of fire.[19] Indeed, the host should offer a goblet of wine with his own hands to the longtime servants who deserve a mark of favor. Since they cannot share in the festivities with the guests, let them at least be afforded a measure of comfort.  Thereafter, as a matter of courtesy, he should pretend not to see anything they do which offends his tastes. [pp. 111-112]

 

Chapter 56. Staring into the Faces of Servant Boys at Parties in Homes of Grandees.

Some mannerless people, and many fools ignorant of the truth contained in the adage, “The service of kings is half of spiritual wayfaring,”[20] consider it suitable, when they attend gatherings hosted by important people and leading figures, to fix a lustful stare at the beardless servant boys. They are neither shamed by the host of the gathering, nor do they believe that a lustful stare is truly forbidden. They derive satisfaction from looking, just like a cook’s dogs. But neither are they able to take pleasure in rendezvousing with them, nor do they ever get their fill of those delicious morsels. It is appropriate that the delights sampled by people like them should remain in the eyes, for the perfidy they display toward their host is truly astounding. 

Sometimes it happens that this kind of discourteous conduct occurs at wine parties. Because this takes place when they are drunk, on occasion it leads to the spilling of innocent blood. That is, while that inauspicious person is staring, by chance one of the beardless servant boys is seen to laugh like a rose; or his rosebud-like ruby lips are seen in a sweet smile. Imagining that he is in league with that perfidious guest, his smile is taken to be a signal to him; thus it happens that both of them bring wrath and even death upon themselves. And so, the effects of the ill-omened gaze of that death-deserving man come to envelope the guiltless youth.

Lala Mustafa Pasha, a grand vizier whom Âli served as confidential secretary (from Âli's Book of Victory, 1580)

Extemporaneous verse:

               Let the eye of such a person be plucked out,
                    But let it not see the face of the beauteous object of
                    his desire.

               May the torture-filled fist of the executioner
                    In the end gouge out his two eyes.

One would usually associate that sort of shameless behavior with ignorant and feckless youths, or else with the common sort who are called musicians and singers. Indeed, some crude types from the ranks of devils, that is, uncouth sorts deprived of the nurture of intellect and judgement, now and again gaze at the ruby-red stone of someone whose lips are a signet ring.[21] Unaware of the ugliness of their lack of manners, they go right on staring at the gazelle-eyed boys, like an ox. Their intention is not carnal yearning and sensual staring, rather it is the inappropriate situations which result from acting like an animal; their intention is certainly not to taste the Water of Life.[22] And undoubtedly they ask forgiveness for the transgression of looking at someone in such an impudent way. Verily, they are not intelligent men but rather a gang of reprehensible reprobates for whom this verse is fitting.

Verse by the author:

               He who stares like an ox at each gazelle,
                    Especially he who salivates in awe,

               When asked, “What are you staring at,” the rogue
                    Is neither offended, nor reproached, nor sweats in embarrassment.

               No one think such an ass a man:
                    Cultivated persons do not bother even to curse him. [pp. 113-4]

 

Chapter 61. Respecting Proper Manners in the Homes of Grandees.

It is neither sensible nor acceptable to enter without permission the private living quarters in the homes of wealthy men, or the auspicious area where the servants live. Such a thing does not even happen among the dimwits who might count as a mahrem[23] and consider themselves part of the household. Furthermore it is unsuitable and unacceptable to enter the private apartments of notables[24] without pronouncing the word destur,[25] as well as to suddenly burst on purpose into chambers which do not have an attendant posted at them, without at least emitting a cough. It is exceedingly blameworthy, and an error, to discover the householder engaged in an unseemly act, and to cause him disgrace because of the inconceivable shame and embarrassment he would suffer from exposure of the active and passive sexual partners. 

One evening, someone who is currently a judge walked into the private apartments of one of the kazaskers. I mean to say, he suddenly entered his library without permission and without the knowledge of his servants. As it was, in accordance with the demands of fleshly nature, he was indulging in sexual intercourse in a veritable brothel of carnality. He was engaged in the utter destruction, through the boiling over of a flood of lust, of the exalted castle of one of the black-eyebrowed, beardless servant boys.

A man pedicating a boy, by Abdullah Bukhari, 18th century

 Through faulty reasoning, the intruder then felt himself risen above the person who should have served as his recourse and protector, by coming into awareness of his hidden flaw. It is true that the one hundred and fifty akçes in hush money he demanded brought him the proceeds of the judgeship as well as prosperity. However, it was well known that in his youth this brazen snipe had been the extreme example of a dedicated catamite, the standard-bearer of the pederasts once he sprouted two hairs in his beard,[26] of one temperament with the people of Lot, and the slave of lust. It was verified that he was a contemptible catamite who numbered among the dual indulgers[27] of those days.

Extemporaneous verse:

               Whoever is truly a believer of good conduct
                    Pays no heed to the faults of others.

               He enters not into a private chamber
                    So as to find himself privy to some unsavory business.

               Why does he not know he will be offended
                    Seeing one in the active role and another in the passive? [pp. 117-8]

 

Chapter 90. The Desire of Beardless Lads to Extend Their Knowledge and Improve Their Skills; Joining the Household of a Grandee; and Performing Service.

Just as there were for Joseph in Egypt, bidders abound for comely, smooth-cheeked lads and angelic-dispositioned, cheerful and pretty boys when they are in the freshness of bloom. On the other hand, until they are old enough to shave, rarely do they extend their education and complete the means which would lead them to prosperity. This is because they are conceited by their beauty and attractiveness and put on an air of disdain at the longing and desire exhibited toward them by a great personage. While they could realize their every wish when opportunity knocks, because of their unmindfulness they neither do so nor find a way to obtain what they desire.

Extemporaneous verse:

               If the hüma bird of fortune alights upon a man’s head during his lifetime,
                    It does so but once, if at all; a second chance will not occur.
               O Lad, there is no hope for the spent arrow to return
                    Even should you toil until hoary and double over like a bow.

Once they enter the service of a grandee, they neither seek to extend their knowledge nor do they strive with their peers and fellows to advance in rank. Why is it that they say, “How painful is the criticism of great men’s slaves!” and proclaim, “What unkindness is the disdain everyone nurtures toward us!”? They only strive to avoid suspicion with a man of high rank,[28] but scatter their good name into the dust by consorting day in and out with many a scoundrel. They never grasp that the result of the travail encountered in the company of grandees is the attainment of good fortune and comfort. It does not occur to them that the trouble they stir up by consorting with hooligans results in disgrace and dishonor.

Extemporaneous verse:

               Whosoever serves the sultan of the lands of knowledge
                    Remains not in the wilderness; he becomes a king whose symbol is eloquence
               Honor and ability confer upon him an uncommon Coin and Sermon.
                    Like Khusrau, he becomes a realm-conquering prince.

But some intelligent youths among them, while still attractive objects of desire, make appropriate preparations for their future. Having weighed their decision on the scales of intelligence, these ambitious ones enter the service of a man enjoying high prestige, a notable who observes in the mirror of his self, by means of lofty aspiration, a worthy rank with respect to knowledge and accomplishment and a similar degree of felicity and glory. They pay no mind to the idle chatter of wastrels, nor heed the reproaches of rabble who seek only to stir up trouble. It is certainly inconceivable that these wise and knowledgeable heart-ravishers could remain in the wilderness. For their upright nature, like their upright stature, reflects their embodiment of the aforementioned qualities, and is worthy of a couplet.

               Those moon-faced beauties drawn to the company of wastrels
                    Will find they begin and end but a bench for the rabble.

Moreover, there are some city boys who were dismissed from the position of beardless lad[29] and who now consort with insincere types, their formerly secure positions having dissolved. Many of them pass the time with a young man[30] out of the desire to acquire a degree of status. They cavort and carouse[31] as is the wont of heart-stealing beauties. Until such time as their beard begins to grow, they amuse themselves with deriding and mocking. When they sell that young lord for nothing,[32] right away they latch onto somebody else and start maliciously gossiping concerning him. They shoot their arrows hoping for favour, usually missing the mark.[33]

Inebriated youth: a miniature by Abdulcelil Levni, early 18th century

Nonetheless these spoiled young beauties do not realize the trick they[34] are pulling on them, and fail to understand where the meaning of their words is headed. They consider it an honor to stroll about together; or if they are able to coax him out of some money at each bayram[35] and buy a suit of clothes, they look upon it as if it were a robe of state. They do not realize that in being thus decked out, they expose themselves to vilification.

In this way their precious lives are wasted. The anecdotes about them from one social gathering to the next become the talk of the day. But there is no escaping the sorry state that awaits. They are unable to approach the object of their desires, unable to save themselves from misfortune and sorrow. [pp. 147-148]

 

[1] Nâ-merd, implying ‘unmanly, cowardly, despicable.’ [Translator’s footnote]

[2] Âli is implying that women were “encouraged” to stay at home as much as possible. The police patrolled the streets to ensure that women did not frequent the streets excessively, or did not go to places frequented by men. [Translator’s footnote]

[3] Ruhsat-zâde, literally  ‘child of one on leave.’ [Translator’s footnote]

[4] Reading the text’s kemcekleri or kimcikleri as köçekleri, the dancing boys who performed usually to accompaniment, typically in taverns. [Translator’s footnote]

[5] Chronologically, Bursa, Edirne, and Istanbul, consecutively the three capitals of the Ottoman state, in 1326, 1369, and 1453 respectively. Âli uses the term Iç El, ‘Inner Provinces,’ to refer to the region containing the three capitals. [Translator’s footnote]

[6] Âli has begun to qualify his verbs with the suffix –mis, indicating hearsay evidence as opposed to knowledge one has gained from personal experience. So, at least, Âli would have his readers believe. [Translator’s footnote]

[7] Kul cinsi, the Christian boys brought into imperial service (predominantly into the Janissary Corps) through the devşirme. Pakalın 1971, s.v. “Kul.” [Translator’s footnote]

[8] As handsome as Joseph is described in the Quran (12:4). [Translator’s footnote]

[9] Or “Gurians,” the Caucasian peoples on the southeast shore of the Black Sea, under Georgian overlordship until the Ottomans established suzerainty, after circa 1559. Pitcher 1972, 78 and 140. [Translator’s footnote]

[10] Which is, of course, black. [Translator’s footnote]

[11] Kâsebaz, performers of tricks with bowls and plates. Gökyay, 363, s.v. “Kâsebaz.” [Translator’s footnote]

[12] Since ancient times in the Middle East, men of high rank employed attendants to run ahead of their carriage or horse n town, so as to announce their coming and clear a path through the crowd. Uzunçarsılı 1988b, 445-46. [Translator’s footnote]

[13] Peykler, the running attendants who delivered messages; bedecked in splendid and unique costumes, they also accompanied the monarch in processions. Uzunçarsılı 1988b, 439ff. [Translator’s footnote]

[14] Besides conjurors, this implicitly includes other classes of seekers of frivolity and amusement mentioned, such as strongmen, jugglers, “bowl clowns” and “somersault turners.”

[15] Pehlivan, the general term applied to the wide variety of performers at a circus. And 1964, 130-131 reproduces Evliya’s use of the term in this sense. [Translator’s footnote]

[16] The metaphor is to shadow plays, wherein candlelight projects translucent figures onto a thin curtain. Just as God gives life and intelligence to humans, so the candle does the same for the shadow-play figures. [Translator’s footnote]

[17] ‘Cupbearer,’ the attendants who distribute the libations. [Translator’s footnote]

[18] An interpretative reading of the phrase, semîn safâda, ‘during pleasure which is rich/elegant (as in food/conversation respectively).’ [Translator’s footnote]

[19] Reading the text as ve rahşeler-I ateş ile nerm oldıqdan soñra. [Translator’s footnote]

[20] Another Sufi adage, meaning “behave toward powerful persons as one would toward God: in fear, and with conscious concern for one’s deeds” (my thanks to Professor Algar). As Âli opines that the men under excoriation in this chapter exhibit gross unconcern for their deeds. See also Şeker (405 n. 69) for a citation of the adage. [Translator’s footnote]

[21] I.e., gaze at his small, round, and brilliant red lips. [Translator’s footnote]

[22] I.e., certainly not to pursue a lofty goal. This sentence simply gave the author a chance to pun on the dual meanings of ab-ı-hayvanî, ‘Water of Life’ and ‘water of animals.’ [Translator’s footnote]

[23] A person allowed access to the private living quarters due to his being a relative of the householder, legal custom afforded the same access to dull-witted or insane persons because they are not held accountable to the law. [Translator’s footnote]

[24] Evsai-i nas, literally ‘the middle ranks of the people’ but denoting a person of some social standing. For a subsequent use of the term see chapter 81. [Translator’s footnote]

[25] ‘Permission; by your leave.’ [Translator’s footnote]

[26] Le., once he reached puberty.  [Translator’s footnote]

[27] Dü-zevkîler, those who take pleasure in both active and passive sexual roles. [Translator’s footnote]

[28] I.e., they disdain the overtures of the high-ranking gentlemen, as Âli mentioned earlier in the chapter, preferring the company of “scoundrels,” as Âli is about to mention. [Translator’s footnote]

[29] As still a young boy, they have been dismissed from service in a household due, according to the following phrase, to an affair with someone who has now forsaken them. [Translator’s footnote]

[30] Civan, implying here a young man older than these beardless boys and, as Âli mentions shortly, possessed of some degree of standing in the “city boy” community. [Translator’s footnote]

[31] Following Gökyay’s suggestion (307 n. 646) that çekib çalmak formed a now obsolete idiom meaning, ‘to drink and make merry.’ [Translator’s footnote]

[32] Ie., when without a thought they drop their companion. [Translator’s footnote]

[33] Ie., their efforts reach no goal. [Translator’s footnote]

[34] Their city-boy companions. [Translator’s footnote]

[35] The two major religious holidays each year. [Translator’s footnote]

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