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Jan Schmidt, Ottoman Autobiographical Texts by Lami'i

Jan Schmidt, Ottoman Autobiographical Texts by Lami'i

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Published by Selim Karlitekin
Jan Schmidt, Ottoman Autobiographical Texts by Lami'i
Jan Schmidt, Ottoman Autobiographical Texts by Lami'i

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Published by: Selim Karlitekin on May 07, 2014
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AND OTHERS IN THE COLLECTION OF TURKISH MANUSCRIPTSAT THE LEIDEN UNIVERSITY LIBRARYJan SCHMIDT*During the past few years I have been busy cataloguing Turkish manuscripts. In thecourse of this work I have come across texts in many genres. I have always been fascinated byautobiographies and what struck me during my work was how rich Ottoman literature is inthis genre. I would like to share some of my experiences in this field with the reader. I willbegin by quoting (part of) a sentence from an unpublished work by Lämi'i (d. 938/1532), theintroduction to his translation of Fattäh-i Nishäbüri's
 Hüsn ü
At times... I weighed my melancholy circumstances and the things that were on mymind and I investigated the leaves of the records of my pious deeds... and I regretted anddeplored the days of my past and the years that have gone by, and I wept... ' Lämi continues- the passage in intricate rhymed prose is too long to quote here at length - that he was steepedin frivolities but repented and decided to forsake all fame and wordly endeavours.2 In anintroduction to another translation, this time Jämi's
 Nafahât al-uns
he wrote more soberly: Is so happened that one day a group of pure brethren and trusted friends - may Godbless their exertions and fulfill their desires - came to me and mentioned - one subject leads toanother - the book
 Nafahât al-uns
 and demonstrated to me that its translation would meanperfect progress and an increase in carefulness... 3Both passages are taken from the preface sections of the translations and we know thatthese were specifically used by Ottoman writers to display their literary skill and are nearlyalways filled, apart from some essential facts, with more or less elaborate literary clichés.Particularly the second case, which makes use of the
 'friends urged me to write thisbook; I excused myself for being too ignorant/inexpert; but they insisted and I gave in; mayGod help me with the difficult task etc' was perhaps the most popular statement an Ottomanwriter could make in a preface. I have encountered decades of them during my work. Could
 then, still call these fragments autobiographical passages, despite their mention of T, 'me'
* Leiden University Library' Leiden University Library Cod.Or. 14.510, f. 2b*.2 See Gunay Kut Alpay, 'Lämi'i Celebi and his Works', in
 Journal of Near
 35/2 (1976), p. 79.3 Printed edition (Istanbul 1289), p. 7.
196 JAN SCHMIDTand 'my' and, especially in the flrst case, their show of personal emotion (perhaps never reallyfelt)? What to say, for instance about this passage, not from an introductory section this time,from Mustafa 'Ali of Gallipoli's
 Nushatu s-selâtïn
 (of 1581)? -1 quote Tietze's translation -"It seems that the clumsy midwife of Time, while I was still a nondescript foetus in thedark depths of the mother, was already waiting with the tub of sorrows for my arrival, havingcome [there] with a thousand troubles. When, seeing that my food in that thorny bed was theblood of torture and my ever-ready nourishment day and night were the dregs of the cup ofheadaches, I descended from the hapless womb of my mother and touched the carpet of thesurface of the earth, she prepared me a bed of burning fire and clothed me in fetters of painand vexation...""*Again deep-felt emotions, despair this time, and the indignity of what had been done tohim after his birth during his chequered career, are expressed in grandiloquent rhymed prose.Such emotions remind one of another autobiographical focus point in Ottomanliterature: that of the
 distichs in
 thousands of which have been composedthrough the centuries. I give one example from the poet Vâlihî (d. 1008/1599-1600), a uniquecopy of whose
 is found in the collection of the Berlin
 Suffering fromthe infidelity of his beloved, who is described as a rapacious Tatar
 yagmaci Tatar),
 because hestole the poet's heart, the
 ends:"Your sorcerer's eyes made me weak and helplessI do not know what to do, you are a wizard I now understandYou turned away from Välihi, o love, and left himYou are sick of me, this distressed one, I have come to understand" ^Again 'I' and 'me', but we seem to even be further removed from a concrete historicalsituation than in the previous passages. Less realistic still
 are. fahrïye
 ('self-glorification')sections in
 In Sünbülzäde Vehbi's brilliant
 on words (with a
 rhymeending in
 'words'), written for the grand vizier Halil Pa§a in the 1760s, he presents thereader with a 126 distich-long exposé of the decline of Ottoman poetry. There was howeverone exception: Vehbi himself (I quote from Kemal Silay's translation):Let those new to poetry write poems in imitation of
 for every word of mine is abook unto itself full of great words[...]In order to prove myself I went to Shiràz and engaged in a batde of poetry with theboastful 'Urfi[...]There Häfi:z and Sa'di became my competent witnesses, and it was judged in myfavour, that I satisfied the claim to poetic skill
Counsel for Sultans
 II (Vienna 1982), p, 49,MS Diez A, 80, 30, The odginal text reads:
{remel) sihrle cädü
 ben bidili
 z.ebäncare bilmem
 neyleyeni sahhärmi§sin
 sen añladum
Välihl den
 cevirüb eyledUñ
 bicäreden blzämii^sin
 sen añladum.
An edition of the
 by Edith Ambros and myself is under preparation,TUBA
 26/1 ,
 2002 : 195-201
OTTOMAN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL TEXTS BY LÄMIT... 197What wonder is it that I am famed as the divine Vehbi; the gifts of poetry to me arethe gift of divinely granted talent^It goes without saying that Vehbi never went to Shiräz nor were the poets mentionedalive in the 18th century. This is not autobiography, despite the repeated T.It has indeed been maintained by some scholars that 'Autobiography... expresses aconcern particular to Western man... (I quote Georges Gusdorf)'. So were 'Orientals', to usethe somewhat antiquated term, able to become explicit in a serious, as opposed to a purelyliterary-ornamental, way about their lives at all? I think they did'' and I would like to illustratethis with a number of texts I found in manuscripts of the Oriental Collection of the LeidenUniversity Library, hitherto incompletely and misleadingly, even disparagingly, cataloguedand consequently, I am afraid, unread and unstudied.Autobiographical passages are sometimes found in places and in contexts where youwould not always expect them. On the last flyleaf of a copy of 'Azmi's
 we read: I obtained the post of
 of the town of Izmir... on Sunday, 25
 1012 after the hijraof the Prophet [25 April 1604]. My letter with the Sultan's order arrived in the afternoon ofthe Festival of Sacrifice [10
 10 May] and I took to sea on [the following] Monday. Iarrived in Gallipoli... on 2
 May]... ^
 This matter-of-fact note is written inArabic by an anonymous owner of the manuscript, possibly the
 kazi asker
 Ebülfäzl MahmudKara Çelebizâde (d. 1063/1653),^ whose inscription is found elsewhere in the samemanuscript (f. 2a). He continues by describing how he visited the tombs of MehmedYazicizâde and Shaykh 'Alä'uddin and finally arrived, after stopping at the Dardanellesfortresses and Bozcaada, in Izmir on the ninth (7 June). Although autobiographicalannotations by owners of manuscripts are not rare, this one is exceptional for its length and itslanguage.A more obvious source for autobiographical material is histories - a famous case isMust;afä 'Ali's
 Künhü l-ahbar
 which contains fragments similar to the one quoted before fromhis
 Nushat -
 but also in less well-known works. The Library owns a what appears to be uniquemanuscript of a history of Baghdad during the reign of Sultan Murad IV by an author whouses the pen-name of §eyhogli - the work contains a number of his poems, mainly
inserted into the prose text. In his preface the poet-historian tells us that one day, while he wasreading a history book, it occurred to him that he could write one
and so he did,namely on the 'indescribable' events that occurred in Baghdad during its siege and occupationby the Safavids (in 1033/1624). The work, written in quite unadorned prose, contains sometouching eyewitness accounts. I will give one example. Describing how the besieged townsuffered from lack of food, he continues: One day I came across some Khazars who grabbed acat by its throat, lit a heap of dry dirt and threw it into the flre. They wanted to cook the cat.However hard I tried, I was unable to free the cat from their hands .i
 Nedim and
 Poetics of the Ottoman
 Medieval Inheritance
 Need for
 (Bloomington, Indiana1994), pp 134-5. ^ See for a survey of the genre, not acknowldged as such, in Arabic literature, Georg Misch,
 Geschichte derAutobiographie
 III/2 (Frankfurt am Main 1962), p. 905 ff.
 Leiden University Library Cod Or 895
^ cf. N. Göyünc, 'Kara-Celebi-zäde', in
 of Islam,
 second edition.10 Cod.Or. 1278, pp. 11-2.TUBA 26/n, 2002 : 195-201

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