41 Antinous The ancient world saw the birth of pantheons and singular gods who emerged as icons to be piously worshiped and duly feared (like the Greek word “thambos” suggests) but was particularly the heyday of mortals deified  by deeds of such audacious character or so astounding a trait people could not refrain eventually granting them supernatural statute. From the much-revered Osiris to the now less popular Asclepius,  faith elevated the extraordinary to heights unparalleled ever since and Antinous, reputedly the most handsome creature to have pleased the eyes of men, perhaps best exemplifies these hasty canonizations that were ultimately ensued by the plethora of mythological figures currently known.

But what did this ostensibly  common youth, whose  pulchritude seemed his sole distinctive  feature, to deserve being an object of veneration for a cult even our contemporaries perpetuate?

What they all do: make themselves fervently loved.

Apparently, Antinous, a Bithynian Greek of no aristocratic breed, stirred a most unlikely passion in the eminent Roman Emperor Hadrian that would not cease to consume him the whole span of his lengthy life, which turns the case quite similar to Alexander and Hephaestion‘s. Thus the story goes that the named Augustus from Nervan-Antonine dynasty, being a declared philhellene who took a liking to the old Greek habits, penchant for homosexuality included, so ardently cherished the boy that when he was found drowned in the Nile river a whole sophisticated mechanism of propaganda ensured his place between the immortals. Countless statues bearing his marvelously beauteous features were consequently produced, sanctuaries erected to commemorate him and at one point Hadrian had coins struck with Antinous’ profile, a prerogative previously resumed to the gods or their earthly representatives, the Imperial family.

Across time, this most handsome lover of royalty secretly inspired all the gay intellectuals and J.J. Winckelmann, reputedly the father of art history, is said to have more ore less been influenced by Antinous in his pursuit of Greek and Roman culture.

How do you feel about it, though? to learn it’s outrageously easy to ascend a heavenly reputation through a very humane sovereign’s obsessive infatuation?

39 Antinous

My, that’s love to shape destinies. Wonder what Freud would comment.

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Love triangles and promiscuity seldom flourished so exquisitely than at the Papal Court in Rome up to about 3-400 years ago. As some “The Borgias” fans might’ve already noticed, Vatican city was quite a den of lavish sins back in the days of Michelangelo and didn’t stop being one until long after Bernini’s days, which is why the following episode of his life should not come as a surprise.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the preeminent protege of the Popes Urban VIII and Alexander VII, like all reputed artists, had some apprentices to do his less important commissions in exchange for advice and guidance. And these anonymous apprentices, emphasizing one in particular, had wives. Female presences to whose charms the great sculptor could not frequently resist.

One such ravishing woman by law reserved for a single husband, was Constanza Piccolomini Bonarelli, spouse of Matteo Bonarelli and licentious lover of Bernini.

pin

So much was he enamored with her that, to fully convey his passionate sentiments, Gian Lorenzo produces the above bust, a Constanza he could caress in marble, the immortal, unwithering variant of his beloved. It was the zenith of their affection.

And soon they’d reach their nadir… one terrible way too.

Since Constanza was unfaithful to her hubby, cheating came natural to her and not long after her storming affair with Bernini commenced, she found herself involved with a second paramour, none other than Gian Lorenzo’s younger brother, Luigi.

Alas, a naturally suspicious Bernini soon felt her betrayal and thought a most basic scheme to catch the two in flagrant delicto: he simply announced his going to the countryside to tend to some business, insidiously expecting the couple to make a wrong move… which didn’t let itself waited.

Luigi, unconscious of any danger, immediately visited a lonely Constanza yearning for consolation to be “welcomed” by a furious Bernini who almost beat him to death.

Amusingly (or tragically, depending on your point of view), this telenovela-like story didn’t stop here, but to continue it and learn the climax of the whole affair, I recommend the following documentary:

Perhaps because I have sadistic velleities or just an eccentric appetite for slightly scandalous deeds which delight me to such extent that I quite managed to become addicted, whenever I’m in need of spicy historical records I turn to Italy, whose patrimony of mischievous figures, rich criminals and lascivious damsels never ceases to quench my thirst. I don’t know if it has anything to do with living in the Boot and having mainly depraved popes, but they definitely put mediatized characters like bloody Elizabeth Bathory to shame.  Think Lucrezia Borgia– she could do more than kill helpless maidens and bathe in their blood to gain eternal youth (Naomi Campbell seems to have repeatedly attempted to test it unsuccessfully -boo, humdrum human rights disapprove-  which means it isn’t so astounding).

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Italians, on the other hand, have a certain something, a natural flair seasoned with one ravishing vice inherited as specific trait from their fiery ancestors, the Borgias, Orsinis, Medicis, Sforza and so on, unlike the French who were rather subverted by vanity, a particular section of generally named “vice” Italy’s inhabitants had (though I assume they still have) galore.  It’s suffice to say this enchants me (it does).

Returning to the main topic, to satisfy my perpetual desideratum for anecdotes I frequently resort to evidences from Rome, Florence or Napoli, the main gathering nests of the wealthy and infamous. Yesterday, to enlarge my research area, I was reading Staley’s “Lords and Ladies of the Italian Lakes”, a highly vibrant  compilation of rumors and stories set in the vividly painted Lombardy Lakeland  (rival to England’s similarly called region) and just stumbled across a single-paragraph biography of Adeliza de Borgomanero. Profession: part-time murderess, nothing unusual, in fact, for the gloomy Middle Ages, but still juicy and only good to savor today.

Adeliza de Borgomanero’s half-legend, pretty sad in the end, follows an interesting row of events and rumors embroidered around her numerous intriguing habits, culminating in her premature death.

Portrait of a woman, c.1400

She was born circa 1350 in a family of minor nobles, enough to secure her the proper background for marrying a local count from  Val d’Ossola region, elder and boorish, I assume, yet without documented evidence. We can scarcely imagine how the wedding might have been due to the complete lack of reports, but let me tell you it was ensued by a hearty feast and inexorably grand if we judge by the period’s traditions.

At any rate, Adeliza, the sinful child, couldn’t refrain her congenital iniquity and did a thing or two (again, unaccounted by history) apparently inappropriate because old, tedious hubby exiled the young girl to a remote Bellagio castle, situated in the vicinity of Lake Como (which will be a faithful accomplice to her atrocities).

Wrong move if he had any intention of rehabilitating his wife since it barely exonerated Adeliza, point from where she, officially discharged of marital duties, began to knock together her own personal court. For a graceful lady, with a small fortune (money speak, after all) at her complete disposition, I bet it wasn’t such a laborious job.

Lovers were definitely not missing from the jolly assembly and, as she gave the impression of having a weakness for both tall, muscular men or more romantic, effeminate boys  (exclusively gallant ones), soldiers and troubadours surrounded her castle. With them began the actual gossip about her disputable morals.

Countess Adeliza was said, inspired by Quenn Giovanna II of Napoli (who had promiscuous affairs with much younger men she then compelled to take their lives, threw over the balcony in the sea, assassinate, etc) to have demanded her paramours to commit suicide post the consumption of their sexual revels. The brave fools who refused obeying her desire were not much luckier: a servant was charged with dropping them through steel racked oubliettes in the lake below (remember I mentioned Como Lake’s implication in the murders) and none survived.

Queen Giovanna II of Napoli

 Either way, let’s remark she was a delicate lady who didn’t like to dirty her hands so those crimes were  more probably made to prove her authority, her sovereignity  over men (the thing women wand most, by Adeliza’s contemporary, Geoffrey Chaucer) and less to satisfy a devilish thirst of blood.

But she became a vampire-siren figure in the popular lore nonetheless, living in a metaphorical (or not?) charnel house.

More original than slaughtering your servants, right?

Adeliza passed away inexplicably at only 20 years of age, in 1370, leaving practically nothing historians can list apart from the legends.  And what beautiful legends.

A mocking Love Recipe

November 4, 2012

For today, just some brief comments on the art of deceitful courtship in the late Georgian England, all through sarcastic verses.

Assuming that you’re all acquainted with my peculiar infatuation with young, effeminate and excruciatingly gorgeous males, an aesthetic propensity I think I’ve previously expressed in my post about Oscar Wilde’s splendid lover, bawdy poet Bossie Douglas, my yet again developing a fascination for a historical pretty boy should not imply any trace of surprise on your behalf.

Allow me to repeat for better understanding: I have contracted, so to say, a great interest in the very foppish main character I bet you’ll also adore to this extent  if watching the really worth watching film “Stage Beauty”. In an age when, after the Greek inherited tradition, roles like Juliet’s or Desdemona’s had to be interpreted by adolescent lads (that is, until Margaret Hughes imposed herself in the domain during the Restoration), Edward Kynaston, my virtual crush, made the moast graceful lady, pretty talented and surprisingly flexible as he could play both a King and a Queen in the same act. Though this remarkable trait is omitted in the movie so to create a more intense drama, which doesn’t diminish its juiciness, Kynaston could fairly be considered an interesting person, not short of appeal and definitely not of theatrical aptitudes.

No wonder he was a high member of Rhode’s company at the Royal Cockpit, situated not far from the Whitehall Palace, thus very frequented by aristocrats. Edward’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s Henry IV brought him to join the King’s (Charles II) company.

His contemporaries, naval administrator Samuel Pepys and the actor-manager Colley Cibber prized Edward’s intriguing capacities, noting his most brilliant she-roles in renaissance productions as Ben Johnson’s “Epicoene” and John Fletcher’s “The Loyal Subject“, being clear that he was quite a sensational figure in 17th century London (he was born around 1640, commencing the acting career in his early 20’s ).

I find extraordinary the simultaneity with which he enacted characters of the two genders, like in the winter of 1660, when he filled the role of Otto in “Rollo Duke of Normandy” having played   Arthiope only the previous week. Such accurately managed shifts fascinate me; he must’ve possessed a huge imagination and a lot more psychological equilibrium to balance the characteristics of the two sexes inside him, pulling out the needed one at command, with awing credibility nonetheless.

Quotations of his coevals underline the strange ability, asserting that he had fabricated “a Complete Female Stage Beauty” who “performed his Parts so well, especially Arthiope and Aglaura” and “has since been Disputable among the Judicious, whether any Woman that succeeded him so sensibly touch’d the Audience as he” (Downes, “Roscius Anglicanus”).

He also finds appreciation in Pepys’ now notorious diary.

Saturday, 18 August, 1660     Captain Ferrers, my Lord’s Cornet, comes to us, who after dinner took me and Creed to the Cockpitt play, the first that I have had time to see since my coming from sea, “The Loyall Subject,” where one Kinaston, a boy, acted the Duke’s sister (Olympia), but made the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life, only her voice not very good. After the play done, we three went to drink, and by Captain Ferrers’ means, Kinaston and another that acted Archas, the General, came and drank with us.

Monday, 7 January, 1660/61    Saw “The Silent Woman.” The first time that ever I did see it, and it is an excellent play. Among other things here, Kinaston, the boy; had the good turn to appear in three shapes: first, as a poor woman in ordinary clothes, to please Morose; then in fine clothes, as a gallant, and in them was clearly the prettiest woman in the whole house, and lastly, as a man; and then likewise did appear the handsomest man in the house. (between brackets, I would’ve judge this way too 😉 )

Monday, 1 February, 1668/9    We find no play there; Kinaston, that did act a part therein, in abuse to Sir Charles Sedley, being last night exceedingly beaten with sticks, by two or three that assaulted him, so as he is mightily bruised, and forced to keep his bed.  (part which appears in the movie too, making me flinch as I have horror of attractive persons venturing into fights that may cause them lose their natural pulchritude; it’s nothing sadder to me than being deprived of a particularity thus addictive)

Tuesday, 2 February, 1668/9   At the King’s playhouse,  “The Heyresse,” not- withstanding Kinaston’s being beaten, is acted; and they say the King is very angry with Sir Charles Sedley for his being beaten, but he do deny it.

Tuesday, 9 February, 1668/9   Saw “The Island Princess” which I like mighty well, as an excellent play: and here we find Kinaston to be well enough to act again, which he do very well, after his beating by Sir Charles Sedley’s appointment.

A part I have further enjoyed was his travesty carriage-trips with the “Ladies of Quality” who “prided themselves in offering him a ride through Hyde-Park” just to see with their own goggled eyes the testimony of his virility… by slipping a bold hand under his many skirts. Really an awkward scene but doubtlessly pleasurable for the naughty Kynaston boy.

He did have big on and off stage success.

Even I, the girl from the future, was charmed by his ambiguous personality.

What do you think about him?

I’ve always though of the renaissance French nobles as illustrative epitomes of bawdiness mixed with incomparable lascivious tastes draped in luxurious silk and velvet, never short of nightly lecherous affairs or adulterous depravations inspired by the Holly Pope’s own bed adventures. They seemed to me quite a colorful exponents of a highly artsy and bohemian world where culture tangled with unrestrained vices as naturally as the members of debauched lovers. So yesterday, when I ‘ve stumbled across this very delineative paragraph on the less innocent revels at Francis I’s court in my current reading revolving around Henry VIII’s second foxy wife, notorious Lady Boleyn, titled “Mistress Anne” by Carolly Erickson, my favorite biographer of the Tudors personalities, I knew I just had to reproduce it here.

It’s a juicy story about a vulgar goblet passed from hand to hand and table to table with a very specific meaning…

Everywhere they looked the courtiers saw reminders of sexual passion- even in the platters they ate from and the goblets from which they drank their sugared wine. One goblet in particular was handed around at the French court as a sort of touchstone of sexual sophistication. The goblet’s interior surface was engraved with copulating animals, and as the drinker drained it he or she saw, in its depths, a man and woman making love. It amused the prince who owned the goblet to have his servants present it to various women to drink from, so that he could watch their reactions. Some blushed, others whispered to one another in mild astonishment, still others tried to keep their eyes closed while they drank- while at the same time trying to ignore the loud laughter of the prince and the other men present.

Newcomers to court, or the youngest and most innocent women, Brantôme recorded, “maintained a cold smile just at the tips of their noses and lips and forced themselves to be hypocrites” about the goblet, realizing that they had either to drink from it- for the servants refused to serve them from any other- or perish of thirst. But those who had been part of the courtly circle for even a short time laid aside their scruples and drank from the titillating chalice  greedily enough. And often it was those who protested vehemently over the unseemliness of the goblet who were observed to take longer and deeper drinks from it than anyone else. “In a word,” Brantôme wrote, “there were a hundred thousand jokes and witticism tossed to and fro between the gentlemen and the ladies at table about the goblet,” and no doubt it served to when the appetites of all present for the love play that went on after the banqueting was over.

(Carolly Erickson, “Mistress Anne“, 1984)

Isn’t it charming?

 

That Hamilton Woman

April 17, 2012

Today I was in a totally unexpected Vivien Leigh mood if you take to consideration  I’m spending my time torn between writing the ending of my modern second novel whose characters have not quite the historic depth one might assume and reading biographies of Renoir, Caravaggio, studies of Freud on Leonardo’s behavior and Delacroix’s diary in a very weird combination and order… Either way, I couldn’t resist pausing whatever of the above I was doing at the time to watch a more in-theme “That Hamilton Woman” (1941), an utter delight despite being one of those silver-screen movies still not brought to color.

The atmosphere, the lines, the ornaments, the costumes, every little thing was absolutely charming, “stupendous” as Lady Emma Hamilton (aka Vivien Leigh) tended to exclaim half of the film with her lovely, velvety and extremely joyous voice! And the historic truth was, well, nicely restored to life, especially the central affair which brought the protagonists, Emma and the oh-so brave Lord Nelson (Laurence Olivier) to pitiful ruin. What incurable romance lead the lives of the two heroic lovers to tragedy! I nearly cried when he died in the ship battle in 1805 and couldn’t refrain shedding few tears when, the the end, Emma, now poor, marked by the drama she had passed through, says “there’s no then, there’s no after”. Makes one meditate a little…

Very wittily done!

The  authentic flirt of Emma Hamilton would have undoubtedly approved the representation former “Scarlett O’Hara” gave in her role, remaining probably like in the portrait above, masterpiece executed by painter George Romney whose muse she had fancied to be.

Who do you find more alluring? Dear talented Vivien or the real deal, adulterous yet intelligent and keen Emma?

Perhaps the actress looks more cunning and prone to attract gentlemen today but old Emma is rather sensuous too, although seems to have the face of a porcelain doll little too plum for our tastes…

Certainly this type of woman made history so juicy and interesting! Beauty, passion and some proud vanity can build the most arresting characters!

I’m not always mean and judgmental with high positioned women as I utterly admire their inclusive  success few would support, but on the rare occasions when I collect a bunch of heavy reasons to backup my maliciousness I become the acid nightmare of all antipathic ugly ducklings belonging to the highest echelons who surely thank God for having been born hundreds of years apart from pretty-little Patricia’s sharp teeth. And just so you know, I do admit my unjust comments and unfounded spite yet they’re completely veiled by my growing venom. After all, c’est la vie! You can’t have everybody look upon you with awe and worship whatever petty thing you perform.

So, the lady I virulently criticize this week, one of the rare animosities I bear against an otherwise compassionate title holder appreciated by objective historians is the plain Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, boring wife of Tsar Alexander II who didn’t even attempted to conceal his numerous extra-conjugal affairs on obvious basis.

Can you blame him?!

I bet the diary of Maria Alexandrovna (8 August 1824 – 8 June 1880) would’ve reassembled the following lines:

1838- What a luck stumbled over me this particular year! God knows how, I succeeded to charm the Tsarevich Alexander Nikolayevich during his European tour and, though my position doesn’t compare with most of the good parties proposed to my beloved fiancee by his authoritarian mother, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (who, between brackets, doesn’t appear to sympathize me), I still managed to trick him into marrying me, my young age of 14 rising tenderness in most men that become oblivious of my flaws.

Alas, the court is repugnant and finds me austere and extremely dull, tasteless, stiff, a Nordic Duchess too simple for the opulent world Russia encompasses, and I miss terribly my Darmstadt home where I could be shy and none would’ve misinterpret it! State duties weary my feeble complexion and the agitation around affects it further, keeping me away from any festivity or ball my dear husband attends, which threatens to alienate us despite my continuous care to provide him heirs. I cough and am mostly feverish! To make it worse, I start to believe I’m getting uglier by day, tired and weakened of these unfriendly factors, if you consider the dreadful portrait commissioned from Ivan Makarov…

1849-I think I’ll ask darling Christina Robertson to paint me and thus commemorate the death of my older daughter, Lina, an angel raised to Heaven. She’ll understand that a woman must be embellished through art, not depicted faithfully and in concordance with reality.

1850- Christina Robertson did the greatest of jobs and her work enthralls me so I plan to pay her twice the amount of money given last year to make me look on canvas exactly as I’m inside my head, delicate, sensuous, a real vixen beauty to eclipse mu husband’s many mistresses!

And because the new representation of my stunning self restored my confidence, I will command Makarov to imitate Robertson’s benevolence, illustrating me in the plenitude of my pulchritude most of the court contests but I’m very aware of.

How royal, rich and elegant I give the impression of being here! A century from now, when those who knew me will no longer testify my fairness, people would actually think I was the character artistically described in this picture!

But no! Photography appeared and it can’t forge a little altered vision of me!

This is a moment of grief! The stroke of a brush soaked in oil no longer enhances my features’ symmetry like in the miniatures I’m so proud of, revealing my true face to a public most repellent. Oh, the gorgeous days when one could resolve this problem with some golden rubles!

1857- Two years ago my father-in-law passed away, obliging us to undertake the role of Tsar and Tsarina of the Russian Empire, a status I would  most obviously reject if I had a chance to chose and correct the mistake of my girlhood, espousing Alexander, that is. The demands are higher and make me ill, supplemented by the horrible death of my favorite son, Nicholas, an erroneous punishment from the Providence I don’t remember wronging with anything in my whole christian life!

So it’s high time to order a portrait celebrating the grace I’m about to lose in this situation.

I’m considering popular Franz Xaver Winterhalter, who did the most splendid works, for this job… Queen Victoria and Queen Eugenie are impressively delineated as great personalities by his talented hand hence why wouldn’t I? If I pay him well he may even fix the damaged provoked by photography through a flattering enough representation in my special white tulle gown, pearls galore braided in my silky hair and around my swan neck …

Gorgeous, isn’t it? A souvenir I leave for my ancestors to admire decades from now!

Unfortunately, Firs Sergeyevich Zhuravlev and Heyn had to come and reestablish cruel truth:

 

Bella Swan, I presume that I’ve found your ancestor.

 

And before you can accuse me of being heartless mocking a poor woman marked by so many hard experiences I’ll inform you that I have no respect for her futile behavior as she had proven to be just an unimportant aristocrat unable to do something significant with her life apart from providing an heir. She swallowed all the rudeness of her husband and tolerated his amorous adventures not obedient but emotionally inert, tedious, pitiful, far from being  praiseworthy. In fact, I better like her love rival, Catherine Dolgorukov, the one who was to be Alexander’s morganatic wife due to Maria Alexandrovna’s death.

At least she wasn’t grotesque with her lizard eyes wide apart and her blunt mouth frozen in an exceedingly horizontal grimace…

Exactly when you assumed that you’ve seen or experienced all the possible scripts in which you’re firendzoned, seemingly the romantic horror of our century, here comes the Middle Ages feminist and patented poet, French-Italian Christine de Pizan (1363 – c. 1430) with a brand new formula of expelling her male suitors: if poems, she mused, are chief means of expressing borderless love to one’s own sweetheart, why not turn them into torture tools by sending through them messages like “I’d rather we remained pals” ? According to my humble judgment, coincidentally elaborated by historians too, sounds legit.

manuscript

Here’s the juicy example I found browsing an old manuscript available on internet courtesy to my favorite digital library, Gallica:

Long temps a que je perdi
Tout mon soulas et ma joye,
Par la mort que je maudi
Souvent; car mis m'a en voye
De jamais nul bien avoir;
Si m'en doy par droit blasmer;
N'oncques puis je n'oz vouloir
De faire ami, ne d'amer.  

Ne sçay qu'en deux ne fendi
Mon cuer, du dueil que j'avoye
Trop plus grant que je ne di,
Ne que dire ne sçaroye,
Encor mettre en nonchaloir
Ne puis mon corroux amer;
N'oncques puis je n'oz vouloir
De faire ami, ne d'amer.  

Depuis lors je n'entendi
A mener soulas ne joye;
Si en est tout arudi
Le sentement que j'avoye.
Car je perdi tout l'espoir
Ou me souloie affermer.
N'oncques puis je n'oz vouloir
De faire ami, ne d'amer.

And, as I bet you haven’t been able to comprehend much, let me enlighten you with the approximate translation: I was hurt and men trifled with my poor, feeble heart so you, dear, loyal buddy, you, who bear for me these strong, steady feelings… have no chance but remain my platonic friend. The repeating syntagm “de faire ami, ne d’amer” (make friends, not lovers”) gives both the tone and the title of the composition and were doubtlessly a delight for the unfortunate guy to whom she had addressed them.

These are the lyrical words with which gracious Christine shuddered all her admirer’s hopes like the merciless widow she was, excusing her insensibility by the contrary, too much sentiment engaged in previous affairs that, ending disastrously due to unrecorded factors, traumatized the poor woman to such extent she refused to adventure walking once more on the risky wire of love. You’d be tactless to insist proclaiming your adoration after being dedicated this, right?

Smart woman.

christine de pizan

Don’t you consider it a great example of friendzoned in the Middle Ages?

Women of the Harem

February 16, 2012

harem

The loftiness of the Ottoman Empire captivated and excited my imagination ever since I first stepped into the balmy scented, richly adorned Topkapi Palace, the very core of  the former world power, with its slim columns sustaining the low roofs and a general medieval feeling which doubtlessly made half its charm. Another world, really. Gold everywhere, lush vegetation, slim shapes full of majesty and a winding whisper, somehow projected from the depths of time, dominating over the general silence… The official residence of the Sultan for more than 400 years, Topkapi is a tad similar with the surreal places vividly depicted in Scheherazade’s 1001 stories and a great example of Muslim architecture: I’ve seen artists drawing its laboriously detailed buildings from the cool shades of old trees, inspired by the mellifluous ambiance. It quite felt like inside a Turkish baklava, metaphorically, of course.

My favorite section of the Topkapi complex was doubtlessly the Harem (which means “forbidden or sacrosanct place” in Arabic), where the prevalent stillness was taking another flavor,  immersing the visitors who, thought many in number, didn’t make any noise, with the reminiscences of a life long extinguished but still lingering over the paved walls and marble floors. How amusing to watch the otherwise garrulous tourists strolling in complete silence through the beauteous chambers once belonging to the highest esteemed concubines of the Paddishah (a courtesy title for the obese, bearded Sultan) when nothing but the stately view imposed it to them!It was something dignified about it, a haughtiness none could expect to perceive in the house of slave courtesans.

I would later learn the muteness induced to those walking across the Harem was just an ancient trick employed by the most experimented concubines to hear every murmur, plot, gossip, every step of their rivals. Oddly enough, its echoes subsisting over centuries as if maintained by veritable  ghosts. Well, that’s disputable.

kadin

Anyway, I became  keen on the Harem life and the women who, prisoners in a jeweled cage, had to constantly and respiteless resort to diligence for their survival. These female characters, so vivid and strange to the western mind, are the most bizarre examples of metamorphosis as they’re obliged to pass from one initial identity (the pure girl of a merchant, the precocious daughter of a huntsman), abandon their native language, lifestyle, clothes and even name to undertake the Ottoman traditions and become odalisque, the wealthiest slaves we know. They suffer a forced reincarnation and transform in what’s inflicted, forgetting their roots or remembering them through a curtain of mist, illusory memories loosing, in time, any tangency with  reality; the arcane women.

I couldn’t help to do some research about them, remove their veils and reveal the real human beings, not just the cryptic projection. It was in vain  for the only materials I’ve found presented the same enigmatic essence: brief facts, synthetized biographies, the ambiguity remaining unsolved.

harem

In a generation of concubines in the Paddishah’s Harem, the sole registered by history is his mother, former Hasaki (favorite to the dead Sultan), who successfully succeeded to protect her child from her rival’s poisons and murder attempts, sustaining him to snatch the title of Oriental King. They weren’t women, but atrocious hunters filled with grace, fighting to obtain supremacy and gain even the slightest amount of liberty, achievable only by being Valide Sultanas. Mistakes could cost their whole struggling.

Just look at the ingenious plans made up by the most powerful Valides: Nur-Banu (ca. 1525 –  1583), consort of  Selim II, concealed his corpse in an icebox for approximately 12 days, until her son,  Murad III, came to Istanbul from Manisa, where he had occupied the function of governor; she also corresponded with Queen Catherina de Medici and, assisted by the Grand Vizier, held a great political influence over the Sultan’s decisions; her daughter in law, Safyie (ca. 1550 – fl. 1603), previously Sofia Baffo of Venetian nobility, ensued Nur-Banu as Valide and reigned with an iron hand, aiding Queen Elizabeth to secure the trading treaties with the Porte and gaining such domination over her servants she could earn thrice more than the next valide, Handan (ca. 1574 – 1605), until the end of her days.

Harem

True, old-fashioned manipulation at its highest: women with a brilliant knack have always been able to trick faith and overpass any state, be it slavery or other. Here you had the paradigm.

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