Thursday, October 1, 2015

1841. And Latin. And The Ottoman Empire

I have not been able to find much information about the knowledge or use of the Latin language in the Ottoman Empire in 1841. This of course should by no means be understood as indicating that there is little or nothing to be found out. In the 1840's the Empire was in the midst of a massive program of reform, re-organization and modernization which involved some imitation of Western Europe in things such as legal codes, finance, modes of dress and also education. Whether the latter included the great emphasis on Classical scholarship to be found at the time in Western universities, I do not know.

Here is a report by an Englishman who inspected the Seraglio collection of Greek manuscripts in 1907; his report, disappointing, to say the least, to anyone who had imagined a vast store of such manuscripts, includes one 15th-century "Lexicon Latino-Graecum et Graeco-Latinum."

Every now and then a Westerner would publish an account in Latin of his sojourn to the exotic Ottoman east, from Pierre Gilles' De topographia Constantinopoleos: et de illivs antiqvitatibvs, published in 1561,

to Victor Guerin's thesis De Ora Palaestinae: A Promontorio Carmelo Usque Ad Urbem Joppen Pertinente, published in 1856, in which descriptions of what Guerin himself had experienced in Palastine in 1852 and 1854 only very seldom interrupt the flow of quotations from ancient Greeks and Romans, the Bible and Crusaders.

I have mentioned before on the blog how Lord Charlemont, on his visit to Constantinople in 1749, asked his guide, whom he described as a "sensible Turk," whether the Seraglio library had by any chance preserved the lost books of Livy. Such anecdotes make one very curious about what such "sensible Turks" might have had to say about the eccentric Westerners who occasionally popped up in their midst. Who knows how much more I could tell you about things like that if I were fluent in Turkish or Arabic.

There appear to have been no railroads anywhere within the Empire in 1841; the earliest I have been able to find is the Alexandria to Cairo line, in operation from 1856. It seems that large-scale building of railways in the Ottoman dominions did not get underway until the 1880's. The lines dynamited by Lawrence of Arabia and his followers during WWI would've been 30 years old or less at the time.

The borders of the Ottoman Empire never advanced further eastward than the western shores of the Euphrates river and the Caspian Sea, about 1000 miles away from the Khyber Pass in a straight line by air, somewhat more than that by train and/or car.

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