The Ottoman Empire and the Classical Tradition at the Turn of the Eighteenth Century
Karen A. Leal, Division of Social Sciences, College of Professional Studies
By the nineteenth century, philhellenic Europeans had appropriated the classical Greek world as their peculiar cultural patrimony. However, prose sources composed in the late 1600s and early 1700s by Ottoman bureaucrats, Greek Orthodox intellectuals and French and English travelers reveal a more fluid period when the Greco-Roman tradition exerted an influence over the perceptions all these (sometimes overlapping) groups had of themselves and one another.
I am examining how new interpretations of the classical tradition in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries affected not only European perceptions of the Ottoman empire but also trends among intellectuals within the empire. Most notably, beginning in the late 1600s, it is possible to discern significant developments in how certain Greek Orthodox leaders conceptualized their community, both in relation to contemporary Ottoman society and to the classical past that was assuming an increasingly larger role in Europe’s evolving cultural identity.
During this period, Greek Orthodox subjects known as Phanariots were being incorporated into the Ottoman state apparatus without conversion to Islam. Leading Greek Orthodox were thus becoming leading Ottomans as well. Well-versed in Ottoman Turkish and Greek (both modern and classical) as well as other European languages, the Phanariots provided an important link between the Ottoman empire and Europe, diplomatically, through the office of the grand dragoman (a position akin to that of deputy foreign minister); geographically, through their administration of the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia; and economically, through their commercial connections across the Balkans and the Black Sea littoral, as well as in urban centers such as Venice. These members of the Greek Orthodox elite were in turn influenced by the intellectual trends they encountered as a result of their connections throughout Europe and the principalities.
This study utilizes Ottoman Turkish as well as Greek and European literary sources, such as prose fiction, chronicles, geographies and travelogues, to address the matter of the cross-cultural currents and ties connecting members of the Ottoman (Greek Orthodox and Muslim) intelligentsia with their counterparts, particularly in Paris and London, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.