Multilingualism, Translation, Transfer

Multilingualism, Translation, Transfer: Persian in the Ottoman Empire

Philip Bockholt, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster; Hülya Çelik, Ruhr-Universität Bochum; Ludwig Paul, Universität Hamburg; Ani Sargsyan, Universität Hamburg
Forschungsbibliothek Gotha
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
27.04.2023 - 29.04.2023
Florian Riedler, Ost- und Südosteuropäische Geschichte, Universität Leipzig

The concept of the Three Languages – for example Arabic, Persian and Turkish as the main literary languages of the Ottoman Empire – is well established in Ottoman cultural and literary history. This is despite the fact that it is unclear by whom and when the Ottoman term for it, elsine-i selāse, was coined. The conference focused on the role of Persian in this trinity, which was not only used for poetry, as is sometimes assumed, but was more differentiated and dynamic than that.

The case of Persian is particularly interesting, because it had a special position in the linguistic ecology of the Ottoman Empire, as LUDWIG PAUL (Hamburg) pointed out: It was a language of high prestige, which was singled out from the general multilingual context, but without a group of native speakers, unlike Turkish and Arabic.

This is a reminder that the Ottoman Empire was part of a wider Persianate world that stretched from Central Asia to Eastern Europe, as STEFAN ROHDEWALD (Leipzig) stressed. The Tatars who settled in Lithuania/Belarus, Kazan' and Siberia's Tobol'sk, acted as its northernmost outpost, preserving a knowledge of Persian among the educated elite. Rohdewald argued that the use of Persian should be studied as a particular practice of a transregional migration society. While the conference focused on the Ottoman Empire proper, the topic clearly has a Transottoman dimension, which means including the Middle East and Eastern Europe in their mutual and global interconnectedness.

In his keynote lecture ANDREW PEACOCK (St Andrews) gave an overview of the use of Persian in Anatolia. While it was a widely used language of the literate elite in medieval Anatolia, its status was transformed with the rise of Turkish as a literary language. It was given a special function in the context of the Ottoman Empire as part of the search for a distinct Ottoman cultural identity. The following papers aimed at specifying and detailing this transformation, which can be called the Ottomanisation of the use of Persian, by focusing on manuscripts (with the exception of VERONIKA POIER (Vienna) who focused on inscriptions) from different fields of knowledge and literary genres.

One group of papers examined the importance of works in Persian in strengthening the legitimacy of Ottoman rule as the Ottoman state turned into an empire in the second half of the fifteenth century. RONNIE AGASSI COHEN (Jerusalem) presented the genre of Ottoman dynastic histories written in Persian in the style of the Shahname, the famous medieval work of Ferdausi. Beginning with Mehmed II, these histories were produced in and for the Ottoman palace to glorify the sultans, especially their military exploits. In the late sixteenth century, this tradition was Ottomanised by the use of Turkish and the emphasis on a more peaceful image of the ruler in this genre of texts.

Even on a less official level, the Persian tradition of political advice literature remained central in the Ottoman Empire. PHILIP BOCKHOLT (Münster) examined how a Persian mirror for princes, Kalila ve Dimna, originally based on an Indian text in Sanskrit, was received through translation in the Ottoman context. While earlier translations were forgotten, a sixteenth-century new translation gained widespread recognition and was copied many times throughout the empire as part of the Ottoman quest for imperial legitimacy.

The Persian moral advice literature was also subject to a similar process of Ottomanisation, as TOBIAS SICK (Münster) has shown. An important work of this genre was the Pandname, of which translations, commentaries and even versified commentaries were produced in large numbers from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.

SACHA ALSANCAKLI (Paris) paid particular attention to a peripheral geographical context, the Kurdish Emirate of Bitlis in Eastern Anatolia. While Persian had traditionally been the language of administration and literature in this region, the incorporation of the emirate into the Ottoman Empire after 1517 gave Turkish a boost. As a result, many Persian works were translated into Turkish and there was a loss of literacy in Persian among the elite. At the same time, Kurdish gained a foothold as a written language, especially in medrese education.

Traditionally, the transmission of poetry has been seen as the main site of Persian in the Ottoman Empire. A number of papers demonstrated how diverse the reception and transfer of Persian poetry actually was, going beyond copying and commenting on classical works. As ZAKIR HUSSEIN GUL (Birmingham) showed focussing on the work of Kemalpashazade, the early sixteenth-century Ottoman polymath, his imitation of classical Persian poetry was imbued with a contemporary Ottoman meaning. This was the real significance of the work at a time when stylistic originality was not a virtue per se.

As another aspect of the adaptation to the Ottoman cultural context, KAMELIYA ATANASOVA (Lexington) showed how Persian poetry was sometimes transplanted into other genres. One example is Bursevi's late seventeenth-century commentary of the Koran, in which the author uses Persian poetry to explain religious concepts and thus popularise their Sufi interpretation.

At the literary micro-level, too, there was a constant process of adaptation to Ottoman life and culture. RENAUD SOLER (Strasbourg) examined the transmission of the classical metaphor and imagery of the grilled heart and liver, which, as kebab, became very popular in Ottoman poetry and culinary culture.

Finally, a number of papers focused on Persian dictionaries, an understudied but fundamental textual genre. ANI SARGSYAN (Hamburg) presented the development of Persian-Turkish dictionaries from the late sixteenth to the late seventeenth century. The works analysed built on each other and were constantly updated in their didactic approach and adapted to the contemporary knowledge of Persian among Ottoman students.

A strand of early modern European Orientalism also depended on Ottoman dictionaries, as NIL PALABIYIK (London) showed. The heavily annotated working copies of Persian-Turkish dictionaries owned by a number of Dutch, French and English orientalists showed how much they owed to the works of Ottoman scholarship discussed above.

In the case of the early seventeenth-century Viennese court librarian Sebastian Tengnagel this debt goes even further. HÜLYA ÇELIK (Bochum) highlighted the contribution of a Turkish prisoner of war, one Derviş İbrahim, to the librarian's project of compiling a Persian-Turkish-Latin dictionary. The prisoner provided annotations and word lists to assist the librarian's studies of the dictionaries already in the library's possession.

The conference vividly demonstrated that the use of Persian was deeply embedded in the multilingual practices of the Ottoman Empire such as the reproduction, emulation and translation of works and concepts from the received corpus of Persian literature. As one of the Three Languages, the high status of Persian was granted, but its function changed along with the Ottomans' cultural identity. The received texts and methods of learning Persian were constantly updated and adapted to the tastes of new generations of students.

The Three Languages, Arabic, Persian and Turkish, are best studied in relation to each other, focusing on the ways in which they have influenced each other. The different disciplines that study these languages and their cultures should work closely together. Otherwise, it will not be possible to understand the complex cultural developments of the past that crossed linguistic boundaries, contemporary political borders and disciplinary boundaries.

Conference overview:


Andrew Peacock (St Andrews): Persian in the Lands of Rum: Texts, Translations and Transformations

Panel 1: Ottoman Historiography and Persian Poetry

Ronnie Agassi Cohen (Jerusalem): Persian Epic Poems in the Service of Ottoman Historiography of the 15th and 16th Centuries

Veronika Poier (Vienna): Who decided? Arabic and Persian Inscriptions in the Context of Political and Artistic Agency in the Green Mosque of Sultan Mehmed I in Bursa (1419–1424)

Zakir Hussein Gul (Birmingham): Kemālpaşazāde’s Nigāristān: A 16th Century Ottoman Emulation of Saʿdī’s Gulistān and Jāmī’s Bahāristān

Panel 2: Ottoman and Persian Poetry

Renaud Soler (Strasbourg): To Have a Heart Like a Kebab: History of a Metaphor in Persian and Ottoman Literature (11th–19th Centuries)

Kameliya Atanasova (Lexington): Persian Poetry and Sufi Authority: A Look at an Early Modern Ottoman Qurʾān Commentary

Panel 3: Literature in Translation

Sacha Alsancakli (Paris): Reading Mustawfī in Turkish: On a Translation of the Nuzhat al- Qulūb Produced in 17th-Century Bidlīs

Philip Bockholt (Münster): Mirrors for Princes and the Emergence of an Empire: On the Production of Hümāyūnnāme Manuscript Copies in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Tobias Sick (Münster): Translating and Reading Persian Advice Literature in the Multilingual Ottoman Context: Tracing the Reception of the Pandnāma-yi ʿAṭṭār

Panel 4: Transottoman Perspectives

Ludwig Paul (Hamburg): The Linguistic Ecology of the (Trans)ottoman Area

Stefan Rohdewald (Leipzig): Transottoman Perspectives on Usages of Persian North of the Ottoman and Persian Empires

Panel 5: Ottoman Lexicography

Ani Sargsyan (Hamburg): (Re-)Writing and/or Editing Tuḥfetü s-Seniyye ilā l-Ḥażreti l- Ḥaseniyye: The Trajectories of Learning Persian in the 16th–18th Centuries

Hülya Çelik (Bochum): Viennese Court Librarian Sebastian Tengnagel’s Persian-Turkish- Latin Dictionary Project and a Turkish Captive’s Multilingualism in 1614

Nil Palabıyık (London): English Orientalists and their Persian-Turkish Dictionaries