The Ottomans

Eulogy of Istanbul

From The Counsels of Nabi Efendi to his Son Aboul Khair

   O moon that lights the eye of hope, and adorns the days of your aged father! It avails you more to cultivate your talents than to break the seal of a treasure. Knowledge and instruction have no surer asylum than Istanbul, which has no equal for the flavor of its intellectual fruit. May God prosper this abode of all greatness, the home and school of all great men, and the seat of administration for all people! There merit always finds consideration. Every perfection, every talent, is esteemed there at its just value. There are all the degrees of honor and of nobility; everywhere else life is lost and wasted. There everything has its peaceable course, and merit has not the injustice of fortune to fear. There are found all places, all dignities, and all careers. Heaven in vain revolves around the world, it sees nowhere a city like Istanbul. There are seen paintings, drawings, writings, and gold, dazzling and gleaming beyond belief. All possible kinds of arts contribute their own brilliancy and splendor. See how she gleams with a beauty all her own, as the sea languidly caresses her!

   At Istanbul all arts and all professions are esteemed and honored, and one finds here talents whose names even are unknown elsewhere. Does he who is outside the house know what is within? Does he who stands on the shore see what is hidden by the depth of the sea? There also they excel in archery and the names of conquerors are immortalized on stone. Without mention of the rest, how pleasant and charming it is to fly over the surface of the sea, to reign at the same time over the air and the waves, like Solomon on his throne, and to recline luxuriously on a cushion with eyes fixed on a mirror of silver! There are combined at once music, song, and all pleasures. There, riding on the wings of the wind, the eyes perceive a great number of cities. Tranquilly resting on the breeze, one traverses the earth without fatigue. There are marvellously reflected the most gorgeous spectacles, which seem to mirror one another and give an enchanted aspect to the shores. The qaiqs glide lightly over the water, with their wind-filled sails like a bird's wings. How can so beautiful a sight be described? what need has it of eulogy?    Behold Saint Sophia, marvel of the world, whose cupola might be termed the eighth celestial body. Nowhere has she her equal, save, perhaps in paradise. Contemplate the imperial seat of the sultans of the world, the dwelling of the kings of time, the court of the Ottoman Empire, and the center of the rule of the khans. In this ever-blessed region is found all that is desirable. Whatever you can imagine, she possesses in the highest degree. She combines the elect of the beys, of the pachas, and the efendis, the most illustrious warriors and the most renowned wise men.

   All the world's difficulties there find their solutions: all efforts are there crowned with success. The mind cannot conceive all the charms she contains. If she were not afflicted with all kinds of disease and the abominable plague, who would consent to leave this celestial abode whence care is forever exiled ? If her temperature were more equal, would she not cause the rest of the world to be forgotten ? Whoever has an established fortune should not establish his home in any other country. No city, no country, resembles or is comparable to her. She is the asylum of all sciences: everywhere else study is neglected for gain, commerce, agriculture, or usury, so that all vestiges of knowledge have disappeared. Money takes the place of talent in a province, and it seems as if merit could be extracted from it. In the provinces scientific men have become extinct and books are forgotten. Poetry and prose are both held in aversion, and even a Persian phrase is tabooed. The study of Arabic has vanished as snow without consistency, and the principles of grammar and syntax are entirely neglected. Luxury and presumption have intoxicated all hearts, and there is no worship but that of dignities and employments. There one finds neither virtue nor knowledge, and morality is outraged.

   The ambition to secure vain honors leaves no time for the labor for perfection. How many do not lift up their voices unto the Lord except when their fortunes are threatened by reverses! It is by a special dispensation of Providence that God has withdrawn learning from the provinces. If he had not first chained them in ignorance, who could have governed such men? The seat of power belongs to the great, but pride is the part of provincials. He who is high placed is not vainglorious; but these wretches are filled with arrogance. They constantly compare their dignity and importance to that of tlie representatives of authority.

   But what would it be if they possessed learning? They would not deign to look at their fellows. They know not their value, and take no account of their worth.

   Nothing teaches the inferiority of the provinces more than the sight of Istanbul. In the gatherings of the capital he who passes elsewhere for a wisest man of the century is but a blockhead; the strong-minded loses his assurance, and the fine talker has no longer a tongue. They who boasted so loudly of their rank and nobility are only admitted to the most commonplace circles. The arrogant, who knit his brows so disdainfully, eagerly seeks the door-keepers. He who bore a title so pompously cannot even obtain the honor of kissing the hem of a robe. He who occupied the first place is not even deemed worthy to remain at the door. What city can be compared to Istanbul? Is not the prince above him whose homages he receives? After the capital, there is no place so charming as Halep. Halep! honor of the province, illustrious and flourishing city; the resort of Indians, Europeans, and Chinese; object of the envy of the whole universe; the market of all merchandise; haven of joys and wealth, with thy delicious waters and climate, your vast plains and magnificent buildings.

Translated by A.P. de Courteille and Robert Arnot in Turkish Literature, New York, 1901, pages 182-185

World Cultures

1996, Richard Hooker

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Updated 6-6-1999