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three pairs of lovers with space


Ali of Tepeleni (1741-1822), the despotic and charismatic Pasha of Janina (Ioannina) from 1788 until his death, was the almost independent ruler of his native Albania under the Ottoman sultan.  His pashalic included much of north-western Greece, his capital lying in Epiros.

He was also perhaps the most powerful European of his day to be much involved in Greek love, both as a boy and as a man. Wikipedia says with typical 21st-century dishonesty about the history of homosexuality that the “documenters … wrote that he kept a large harem of both women and men.” Here they shall speak for themselves.

Guillaume de Vaudoncourt, 1807

Ali Pasha & his favourite mistress by Paul Emil Jacobs

Frédéric François Guillaume de Vaudoncourt (1772-1845), later a brigadier-general and military historian, who visited Ali in 1807 his capacity as a colonel of artillery serving in the French army in Italy, wrote about him in his Memoirs on the Ionian Islands, Considered in a Commercial, Political, and Military Point of View; in Which Their Advantages of Position Are Described, as Well as Their Relations with the Greek Continent, including the Life and Character of Ali Pacha, the Present Ruler of Greece, translated from the original manuscript by W. Walton, London, 1816.  

In Chapter VIII on the “Character of Ali Pacha”, the following is listed as one of many instances of Ali’s “extreme avarice,” hoarding what he did not need:

"Notwithstanding he is almost exclusively given up to the Socratic pleasures, and for this purpose keeps up a seraglio of youths, from among whom he selects his confidants, and even his principal officers, he has 5 or 600 women scattered about in various harems, the principal of which are at Joannina, Tepeleni, and Kerkalopoulo." (p. 278)

Byron and Hobhouse, 1809

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), the romantic poet and later champion of Greek independence, and his Cambridge friend and travelling companion John Cam Hobhouse, later Lord Broughton (1786-1869) visited Ali's dominion for a month in the autumn of 1809, during their Grand Tour. Byron wrote about their stay in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and in letters to his mother, while Hobhouse recorded it in his diaries.  Here follow all their references to Greek love.

After describing their landing in Albania at Prevesa on 29th September, Hobhouse recorded:

Walked after dinner – three o’clock through the town – to Ali Pacha’s palace – large rooms with naked walls and some sofas. Shown it by the Albanese governor, a most merry man who laughed much with little Signor Bosari, and told him, as Mr. Barrow says, avec un sourire impudent, that one of the rooms was for the “boys”.[1]

Lord Byron by Thomas Lawrence

Describing drinks with the garrison at Vostitza on 1st October, Hobson said the Captain:

then took about eight small glasses of aniseed aqua vitæ of his own, being served by a pretty boy, one of the soldiers, about fifteen as he told us, who, we were told by Georgio, was the public good.  Indeed they remarked to us now and then he was καλος.  His name was Yatchee. ....[2]

On 2nd October Hobhouse spoke to one of the schoolmasters of Arta:

Of Ali Pacha, I heard that he had a scintum perineum[3] from making like Phaedo[4] the most of his youth.[5]

Writing on 6th October about Janina, where they had arrived the previous day, Hobhouse wrote:

The unmarried women are never seen, the bridegroom never sees his future wife till he puts on the ring – there are consequently no amours except with married women – and now and then a little contrabande, as the signor called it.  This is some excuse for pæderasty, which is practised underhandly by the Greeks, but openly carried on by the Turks.[6] 

Hobhouse had this to say of their first meeting with Ali Pasha on 20th October:

“He asked Lord Byron, whom I thought he looked a little leeringly at, how he could have had the heart to leave his mother. He said he considered us as his children (he sent us fruit after dinner and desired moreover that we might have every thing we wished.[7]

Byron gave a similar account of the meeting in a letter to his mother:

The Vizier … received me standing, a wonderful compliment from a Mussulman, … expressed himself pleased with my appearance & garb. He told me to consider him as a father whilst I was in Turkey, & said he looked on me as his son. – Indeed he treated me like a child, sending me almonds & sugared sherbet, fruit & sweetmeats 20 times a day. – He begged me to visit him often, and at night when he was more at leisure.[8]

The latter invitation was not extended to Hobhouse, who was two years older, short and did not share the good looks of his 21-year-old unbearded friend. Byron was probably hinting at the outcome of Ali’s apparent sexual interest in him in the following stanza to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage II, which was one of those cut as too daring on the advice of his editor:

John Cam Hobhouse

Childe Harold with that chief held colloquy,
Yet what they spake, it boots not to repeat,
Converse may little charm strange ear, or eye –
Albeit he rested in that spacious seat
Of Moslem luxury, the choice retreat
Of sated Grandeur from the city’s noise,
And were it humbler, it in sooth were sweet;
But Peace abhorreth artificial joys,
And Pleasure, leagued with Pomp, the zest of both destroys.[9]

The zest referred to was perhaps Byron’s own long-established passion for boys, rather than men.[10] He had already shown more interest in Ali’s grandsons than in the “Vizier” himself.[11]

What might have been Hobhouse’s version of what happened is tantalisingly the one page to have been torn out of his diary, but he seems to be alluding to it in this entry of 22nd October:

Translation of an Italian stanza
written in the window of a Turkish Harem

Dear Youth, whose form and face unite
To lead my sinful soul astray;
Whose wanton willing looks invite
To every bliss and teach the way.
Ah spare thyself, thyself and me,
Withold the too-distracting joy;
Ah cease so fair and fond to be,
And look less lovely or more coy.[12]

The most explicit remark that either Englishman made about Ali’s sexual interests was in this description of him by Byron:

“a fine portly person with two hundred women and as many boys, many of the last I saw and very pretty creatures they were.”[13]

Byron also alluded to Ali’s preference for boys in this original, unexpurgated version of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage II stanza 61:

Here woman's voice is never heard: apart,
And scarce permitted guarded, veiled, to rove,
She yields to one her person & her heart,
Tamed to her cage, nor feels a wish to move:
For boyish minions of unhallowed love
The shameless torch of wild desire is lit,
Caressed, preferred even woman’s self above,
Whose forms for Nature’s gentler errors fit
All frailties mote excuse save that which they commit.[14]

Pouqueville, 1813

François Pouqueville in front of Janina by H. Lorimier 1830

François Charles Hugues Laurent Pouqueville (1770–1838) was a French diplomat, writer, and physician, who knew Ali Pasha very well from being Napoleon’s consul-general to his court 1805-15.  In the edition of his Travels in the Morea, Albania and other parts of the Ottoman Empire translated from the French by Anne Plumptre (London, 1813), he had this to say about the Albanians and “their chief” (Ali) in his Chapter XXXV on their “Customs and manners” (p. 405):

“Why am I forced here to notice the deep offence against morality with which, in one respect, these people are to be charged? But it seems as if a passion disowned by the first laws of our nature is one of the ordinary concomitants of barbarism. The Albanian is no less dissolute in this respect than the other inhabitants of modern Greece, without seeming to have any idea of the enormity of his crime; especially since, far from seeing it discredited, he finds it rewarded by the chief to whom he is subjected. The wandering lives led by these people, their days passed chiefly amid camps, perhaps encourage this revolting passion. It is general among all classes. The women are not shut up under lock and bars, but in the mountains may be seen walking about perfectly free and unveiled. Interest has no part in the marriages conducted in this country; and the matrimonial tie once formed is seldom cancelled by divorce. A man among the common classes has rarely more than one wife; and the number kept by some of the great is rather a matter of etiquette than of taste.”


Hughes, 1815

     Ali Pasha by by Louis Dupré, 1819

The English historian Thomas Smart Hughes (1786-1847) stayed as a travelling tutor in Janina from January to May 1815, where he was hospitably received by Ali Pasha and his family.  The following excerpts are from his book, Travels in Sicily, Greece, and Albania (2 vols. London, 1820).

Describing a shooting excursion on the lake, on which he was invited by Ali’s eldest son Mouchtar Pasha, of whom he earlier reported (I 457) that “his lust is so ungovernable that he has often been known to violate women in the public streets of Ioannina”:

A young Albanian Ganymede, with flowing hair and embroidered apparel, stood behind Mouchtar, with a pitcher of wine and goblet, from which he helped his master and the rest of the party.” (II 47)

Describing a “splendid feast” at which he was honoured to be sat at Ali’s table:

We stopped for a short time in a large ante-room, where the vizir's band was playing to a troop of dancing boys, dressed in the most effeminate manner, with flowing petticoats of crimson silk, and silver-clasped zones around the waist: they were revolving in one giddy and interminable circle, twisting their pliant bodies into the most contorted figures, and using the most lascivious gestures, throwing about their arms and heads like infuriated Bacchanals, and sometimes bending back their bodies till their long hair actually swept the ground, illustrating thereby a distich of Claudian which has not unfrequently been misunderstood by his commentators.

 Veli Pasha's sons Ismail & Mehmet, by Louis Dupré 1819

Quis melius vibrata puer vertigine molli
Membra rotet verrat quis marmora crine supine?
       - In Eutrop. ii. 359.

Another Latin poet describes these dances so accurately, that I cannot forbear quoting the lines.

Juvat et vago rotatu
Dare fracta memba ludo,
Simulare vel trementes
Pede, veste, voce Bacchas.[15]

 … No liquor was drank at this entertainment but wine, which several beautiful youths from the vizir’s seraglio stood to pour out from pitchers into glass goblets. (II 48-52)

On “Ali’s harem”:

Before age had chilled his blood his sensuality was unbounded. Wherever his satellites heard of a beautiful child, of either sex, they dragged it from the paternal roof, and massacred the family or burned the village if any resistance was offered. (II 66)

Summarising Ali’s character:

In the year following year [1817[16]],one of those young Albanian pages whom I have before mentioned as belonging to the Seraglio, stole some article of trifling value. The chief eunuch reported it to the vizir, who ordered the poor youth to be cast into the leopard’s den at the entrance of the Kiosk. This cruel command was immediately put into execution ; but the animal, by constant association with the guards had become so tame, that he began to fawn upon his victim, and play with him, instead of tearing him in pieces. The circumstance was reported to Ali ; and the tyrant, more ferocious than the beast of prey, ordered the wretched boy to be cut alive into small pieces, and then thrown back to be devoured. (II 218)


Secondary sources

One of Veli Pasha's pages, by Louis Dupré, 1819

Christowe, Stoyan, The Lion of Yanina, (New York, 1941) p. 77, describes the dance of a circle of more than forty “Ganymedes" staged by Ali for Frederick North, the philhellene and later fifth Earl of Guildford. Although it was "limited in its variety of movement, nevertheless it was full of tantalizing turns and postures, calculated to exhibit the contours of the body to the best advantage".  He does not give his source, but North is named in Hughes’s account above as the one foreigner before him to have been seated at Ali’s table.


Plomer, William. 1936. Ali, the Lion. London: Jonathan Cape, 1936, reports, without giving his source, that Ali's son Veli Pasha, vizier of Morea (southwestern Greece) emulated his father's appetites for money and for boys:

Veli, like his father, was in bad odour with the Porte. The inhabitants of Morea were continually presenting petitions and complaints against his government. They said that he was ruining them by his monstrous extortions and was altogether  behaving exactly like his father; that no parents felt safe about their children, for whenever Veli heard of any beautiful boys or girls he had them seized at once and shut up in his palace to serve his pleasures.[17] (p. 162)

[1] British Library Add.Mss. 56527.

[2] ibid.

[3] Meaning apparently a ruptured fundament.

[4] Phaidon (Latin Phaedo) was a beautiful pupil of Sokrates who served as a slave-boy in a Athenian brothel. The implication is that Ali had been willingly pedicated in his youth, hardly surprising given what is known about the prevalence of Greek love in Albania.

[5] British Library Add.Mss. 56527.

[6] ibid.

[7] British Library Add.Mss. 56527 f.59r

[8] Byron’s Letters and Journals, edited by Leslie Marchand, 13 vols., 1973-94) I 226-8.

[9] Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage II stanza 64, original from British Library Egerton 2027 f.49v.

[10] For copious references to Byron’s love of boys, see Fiona MacCarthy’s magisterial biography of him, Byron: Life and Legend (London, 2002).

[11] Byron and Hobhouse had called upon Mukhtar's ten-year-old son son Hussein and Veli's slightly older son Mehmet in Janina before they went on to meet Ali further north in Tepeleni. Byron wrote that "they are totally unlike our lads, have painted complexions like rouged dowagers, large black eyes and features perfectly regular. They are the prettiest little animals I ever saw." Byron’s Letters and Journals, op.cit., letter to his mother of 12 November 1809.

[12] British Library Add.Mss. 56527 f.61r.

[13] A sentence expunged from Byron’s letter to letter to Francis Hodgson of 4 July 1810 and found in lot 19 of Books and Manuscripts from the English Library of Archibald, 5th Earl of Rosebery and Midlothian, K.G., K.T., Sotheby’s, London, 29 October 2009.

[14] Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage II stanza 61, original from British Library Egerton 2027 f.49r.

[15] The lines are from Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters, IX 13 v, and mean “in mazy rounds our languid limbs shall know disport; by step, by garb, by voice, each shall play the quivering Maenad.”

[16] This story was reported to the author after his visit.

[17] According to Henry Herbert in Travels in the Ionian Isles, Albania, Thessaly, Macedonia, &c During the Years 1812 and 1813 (London, 1815), p. 262, Veli Pasha was removed as vizier of Morea through the intrigues of its inhabitants in the summer of 1812.




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