17 The Power of Poetry in the Ottoman Context

In: Rulers as Authors in the Islamic World
Fatma Sinem Eryılmaz
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This article examines poetry writing in the Ottoman environment between the late fourteenth to the late sixteenth centuries as an exercise with intertwined political and cultural functions. Within this period, the article focuses on the reigns of Murad II (r. 1421–1444, 1446–1451) and Süleyman (r. 1520–1566) and the literal activities of the members of the dynasty. Poetry writing in the premodern Islamicate world was an essential part of the sultan’s civilizing mission. This is intimately related to its conception as a discipline of the propaedeutical/training sciences (al-ʿulūm al-riyāḍiyya), a notion that formally entered the Ottoman intellectual world with ʿAbd al-Rahman al-Bistami’s (d. 858/1454) categorization of sciences, which, in turn, was based on the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ). The article seeks to display the parallelisms between training in the “science” of poetry and manual crafts. Just like poetry, manual crafts constituted a subdivision of the propaedeutical/training sciences and were included in the Ottoman princes’ education. Finally, on the political level, the article aims to demonstrate the flexible nature of poetry as a means of communication in the Ottoman environment, where poets expressed their personal sentiments while simultaneously using words to conjure public opinion for their cause, defend their interests and well-being, and launch ferocious attacks.

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