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three pairs of lovers with space


Bernhard Stern-Szana (1867-1927) was a versatile cultural historian of German Baltic origin specialising in Russia and Turkey. His
Medizin, Aberglaube und Geschlechtsleben in der Türkei. Mit Berücksichtigung der moslemischen Nachbarländer und der ehemaligen Vesallenstaaten. Eigene Ermittelungen und gesammelte Berichte was published in two volumes in Berlin in 1903. The second volume only was translated by David Berger M. A. as The Scented Garden: Anthropology of the Sex Life in the Levant, New York, 1933.  Presented here is most of the one chapter in it of Greek love interest.

“Levant” in the full English title is clearly misleading, as Stern’s title had “Turkey”. In any case, what follows regarding pederasty is almost entirely concerned with Turkey apart from brief references to Bosnian songs and an Albanian proverb. Bosnia and Albania were predominantly Moslem, but not Levantine, parts of the Ottoman Empire.

Berger’s translation of names is decidedly unorthodox, which has made some identifications difficult.

Chapter Eighteen. Pederasty and Sodomy

The loving of boys among the Greeks and Romans — In 1001 nights — In the Old Testament — In the Koran — Abdul Wahib against lewdness — Loving of boys in the Osman history — At the court of the Sultan Bajesid — At the court of the Usurper Mohammed II — Christian boys a sacrifice to lewdness — Pages of the Sultans — From the beloved of the Sultan to the Grand-vizier — A chief justice as seducer of boys — Murad IV and his beloved page Musa — Seduction of boys in the baths — Moslem opinions on pederasty — Bosnian songs — Depravity in Constantinople — Licentious fellows in the coffee houses — Loving of boys in Chorasan and Albania — Unchastity with animals — Biblical restrictions — Old-Egyptian — Modern-Egyptian — Ethnographic parallel from Russia and Sicily — In Bosnia — Bosnian sodomy songs — Osman doctors permit unchastity with animals — Parallels from Algeria and from the Balkan states — A reminiscence from a journey in Alexandria.

Title page of The Scented Garden showing a "Sixteen-year-old Girl from Barbary"

The depravity of loving boys was nowhere so widespread as among the ancient Greeks and Romans. Catullus and Tibullus sang the praises of their beloved boys with an intimacy which only a poet could express in order to arouse his beloved maiden. According to Catullus, pederasty was quite general in his time in Rome, and particularly in the army. Xenophon relates that to be sure, they forbade the soldiers the companionship of slaves and booty, as it made the march more difficult: but they could not help permit each soldier a boy. The source of the depravity can easily be sought in the Orient. The original stories of 1001 Nights is a conglomeration of pederastic and sodomistic practices.

Ommitted here is Stern’s lengthy recitation (without elucidation) of the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom from the Book of Genesis and the Koran, together with the injunctions against male homosexuality of both the latter and the Book of Leviticus. ...

Following the example of the Bible, the Koran also prescribes punishments for this wickedness in chapter IV 20: "And if two of you commit the like wickedness, punish them both." But how severe this punishment shall be is not said. Yes, it is expressly provided that in certain cases there shall be no punishment. And these cases are: merely repentance! . . . "but if they repent and amend, let them both alone; for God is easy to be reconciled and merciful."

The teachings of Abdul Wahib[1] preached fearfully against this unnatural lust, which was all too popular among the Turks. Almost all of the Sultans were guilty of this depravity which had blossomed in the Osman kingdom since the time of Bejesid.[2] Bajesid, says Hammer, elevated through the wings of war and plundering, began to neglect the kingdom and himself also, in that he, the first of the Osman princes, drank wine against the laws of Islam, and assisted his Vizier Ali-pascha in luxurious and unnatural activities.

The entry of Sultan Mehmed II into Con-stantinople by Jean-Joseph Constant, 1876

Sultan Mohammed, the usurper of Constantinople,[3] was a notorious lover of boys. On the day after the capture of Byzantia, he arranged a festive meal in the royal palace and partook inordinately of wine. Half drunk, he commanded the chief eunuch to bring to him the fourteen year old son of Notaras, the last of the great rulers of the Byzantine Empire, whose beauty had kindled a fire in him. The father, amazed at the tyrannical command, replied that he would never of his own free will have his son submitted to such shameful lust, that he would rather have the Sultan send his hangman. The eunuch returned with this answer, and Mohammed sent his hangman for Notaras and his entire family. Notaras followed him with his sons and with Cantacuzen. The hangman left them standing on the threshold, and he dragged the youth forth as a sacrifice to the sultanly lust, the others he put to death.

Notaras, who had not conducted himself honorably at the capture of Constantinople, at this moment again discovered the lost dignity of soul and spirit, and he reminded his sons to die like Christians, and he finished his speech with the words: "Thou art right, O Lord!" The sons were decapitated before the eyes of their father; Notaras asked the hangman for several moments of prayer, which he said near the guillotine, after which he also was beheaded and he fell on the still trembling corpses of his sons. The bodies were thrown away naked and unburied.[4] The heads were brought to the tyrant who thirsted not only for wine but also for blood, just as Marius had the head of the Consul Antonius brought to him at mealtime. Mohammed's natural cruelty was again inflamed through a stranger whose daughter the tyrant loved passionately, and to please whose father he commanded the execution of all Greeks whose lives he had granted several days before.

Mehmed II and Iakobos Notaras by Elveo

For the satisfaction of their shameful lust the Osmans enticed the crowd of Christian boys, who were no longer merely recruits for the Janitshares, as up until this time, for "Adschemoghlan," but were brought into the innermost service of the court as Pages, as Itschoghlan," because of their beautiful bodies and exceptional spirit; and from now on they were demanded for this career for the possessors of income bringing fiefs, and the first officers of the army and the state. So the unnatural demoralization of the East, whose origin even in ancient times was blamed by the Greeks on the Persians and by the Persians on the Greeks, insinuated itself into the Osman domain; it throve not only through the example of Sultans and viziers, but also through those learned in the law, particularly through the position of the judges, so excessively that it became the most excellent favorite depravity of the court, the army, and the people, the most remarkable means of honor and wealth, and not rarely the secret reason for war with the Christians, the booty of which was said to fill the thinned ranks of recruits and pages with a new growth of power and lust. Notwithstanding, the law of Islam could never be twisted so as to tolerate such shamefulness, for it is damned as unnatural, in open defiance of everyone in the Turkish realm engaged in this demoralizing practice.

If, as indications from Herodot and other historians do not permit of contradiction, the shameful custom of boy-loving is originally Persian, or even Medician, and intimately bound up with the luxury of eunuchs,[5] it enervated them in their long Medician wanderings as well as the Persians: so the Turks invoked a new manly class, in that they lifted the ancient Medician tie of this groups with the eunuchs, and divided the original Persian luxury into two, one group merely for service in the harem, and the other for service in the city. The Medicians and the Persians castrated the most beautiful boys not only as unnatural watchers of the harem but also for the practice of their unnatural lust, and thus sinned doubly against nature, against the freedom of woman and the dignity of man.

The ancient Greeks praised the unnatural in the Theban host of the loving and in the Macedonian host of the immortal as a more lofty and more pure union with youth for freedom and country; the Turks profited by this arrangement, debasing their Janitshare boys and pages; but with few exceptions these remained uncastrated, and the numbers of white eunuchs were mostly replenished with Georgian and Circassian slaves, and not with European.

Greek, Serbian, and Hungarian boys were not castrated as eunuchs, but circumcised as Moslems and instructed in the use of weapons; and after they had satisfied the lust of their lords and masters, the road was open for them to the first place in the state and the army through favor and capability. The greatest men of the Osman domain came from this school. The son-in-law of the Sultan Suleimus,[6] Rustem, elevated to that position and to the position of Grandvizier, was a former pupil of the page's chamber of the Sserai and won the favor of Suleimus as a subject for his lust. Rustem was born a Croatian.

The demoralization of the Ulema and judges was ever worse than that of the sultans, the paschas and the viziers. As the "greatest violation of the law" Osman history considers the act of the chief judge Tschiwisade, "infamous for his ignorance and shameful conduct with boys." The Grandvizier once dared to address the Silihdar Jusuf Pascha, the "war-wealthy plutocrat of the kingdom" and pilferer of Egypt, in a high- strung unrespectful tone with the following words: "It is time you stopped being a young man," an unrespectful reference to the fieldmaster's relation to the Sultan, but just as inappropriate as unrespectful in the mouth of a Grandvizier who had attained his position and power in the same manner. The Grandvizier received an apropriate punishment for his unthinking expression. As he went as usual after this transgression to seat himself at the table in the divan, the head chamberlain came to demand the seal of the kingdom from him.

Murad IV, Sultan 1623-40

Under Sultan Murad IV, the troops, during an uprising, desired the head of the betrayed Musa, the Sultan's most beloved personal youth. The Sultan turned over the threatened youth to two high officials in Obhut; these, however, Redscheb[7] and Dschanbulasade Mustafa Pascha, delivered Musa to the rebels. When the Sultan discovered Redscheb's shameful part in the death of his beloved youth Musa, he took terrific revenge on Redscheb, his brother-in-law and Grandvizier, for this "crime against insulted majesty." The Dschanbuladsade was not punished for the outrage until later. The Sultan seized upon the slightest occasion to order his execution. In spite of his many accomplishments in the field, in spite of the hand of the Sultana Aische, whom Dschanbuladsade had married, Murad's unreasonably implacable revenge could not pass him by, for he, with the Grandvizier Redscheb had at first vouchsafed the life of the favorite Musa and had then sacrificed him as a prize to the madness of the rebels.

The Grandvizier Silihdar Mohammedpascha[8] in his youth had been a page in the Sserai and a favorite of the Sultan, and as such rose to bearer of the table cloth, the horn, the cloak, and the sword, and soon after the ascension of Sultan Mustafa to the throne he was honored with the hand of the Sultana Aische, and, after he had passed through the pathway of Viziers, he was elevated to the greatest dignity of the kingdom. But forgetting his own past, in 1771 he formulated, during the Danube expedition, in order to establish better breeding, strict laws to deprive all the rascals of this situation. There then took place in the public divan the following circumstance which the historian of the kingdom discussed under the heading, "Extraordinary tale," and must truly appear in the mouth of a historian of the kingdom as a strange example of ruling demoralization and total lack of breeding. The Grandvizier reproved the general of the edge-tool makers, Gurd Aga, with harsh words because of his overstepping the compulsory laws; the master of the petitioners, Munib Efendi then said: "What does this mean? When the Padischah strongly forbids the wearing of jewels, the ministers and nobles nevertheless permit themselves small knives set with stones which catch the eye; and this is overlooked without even taking notice of it. Who will prevent me from keeping in my service a small boy of eight years, who grants me additional days of life and serves as a health amulet, as a child of the soul to wind a band about my head, instead of expelling him as a sacrifice to the lust of another?" All were silent, the historian adds, no one contradicted the under-state secretary, and those who agreed with him secretly rejoiced.

Almost all over the orient youths were the masseurs in the baths, who offered themselves for pederasty, and never in vain. To be sure, the Moslem law says: "If a man engages in pederasty, his wife may demand a divorce if she so desires," but there is no example of such divorce.

The Turk Omer Haleby likewise condemns pederasty and declares: If onanism is banned, how much more must be coitus in anum, whether it be with a man, with a woman, with a eunuch, or with an animal. If you are told: Everything which can satisfy the senses is permitted — then answer: this is profanity and untruth; this is an unclean coitus. And have intercourse in this manner neither with humans nor with animals."  Omer Haleby, however, recognizes so many exceptions, that the rule becomes entirely abrogated. He says: "But whatever occurs to your own wives in case they themselves agree, you can practice coitus in anum only in case sickness prevents you from entering the vulva, and if you have only one wife. Then you engage in sodomy with her only for the reason that you wish to remain true to her, but not as a perversion; and if you sin, then God is merciful towards the repentant and he forgives." At another place Omer Haleby contends that it is also permissible for a man to engage in sodomy with negro women if he is afflicted with a venereal disease; whether these be believers or unbelievers, fetish or devil worshipers. One must nevertheless never forget at the moment of the emission to cry out: "In the name of the merciful and gracious God!" for this formula eases the healing and protects the negress employed from catching it.

Bosnian songs sing the praises of pederasty with men and women:

"O little boy in cloak of cloth,
Let me enter in your anus!"

A Sarajevoen song describes the pain of a boy plagued with pederasty. Another Bosnian song runs:

"Three reins, three strings,
Three penes are at her anus,
I pulled on the string,
The penis rode into the anus."

Smokers in a Turkish coffee-house (lithograph, 1840)

In all the cities of the orient boys of various nationalities peopled the public houses in no smaller number than girls. In Turkish baths boys are offered to one. On holidays one sees such boys in their striking rich womanly costume, with false hair, singing and dancing, parading about in the streets and enticing wastrels. In Constantinople one meets them with pale haggard faces, in wide gold embroidered pantaloons, usually in the coffee houses of Galatea.

In Stambul there exist separate houses of prostitution, called the houses of Imam, in which boys only practice the functions of prostitutes. The Russian physician, Dr. Rafaelwitsch, in the year 1846 recalled ten such institutions of unnatural debauchery. Since that time, according to a report made to me by a Turkish police official, the number has increased threefold. The "loving of boys of Chorasan" is an old pass-word in the orient. According to Saalebi, the Arabs use this expression for the reason that the inhabitants of Chorasan,[9] because they were warlike and restless and remained apart from their wives for a long time while on their journeys, became involved in this perversion. An Albanian proverb says: "Whoever drinks 40 oka of Skutari water becomes a rascal; but whoever drinks 40 oka of Tiranean water becomes a lover of boys." As Hahn[10] assures us, the frightful depravity is not equally intrenched in all regions; while among the Tuscans[11] sexual love is the rule and unnatural love of boys the exception, it is quite the reverse in the neighboring region. Here the loving of boys among the unmarried men is a national passion. Just as elsewhere men vie for the affection of a lovely maiden, here they woo the favor of the boys, and it happens occasionally that there occurs murder and a death struggle between men on account of the rivalry over a boy. The depravity is widespread in violation of law among the Christians as well as among the Moslems. It is remarkable, however, that it is encountered only among unmarried men, and that this unnaturalness usually sees its finish at the moment of marriage.

The rest of this chapter is given up to bestiality except for one sentence:                                          

In my book "The Romanoffs" I gave a description in passing of the customs under the Romanoffs from Peter the Great and his dispensing with the uniformity of war; in the fourth chapter I said: "Indecent assault is inevitably followed by the penalty of death," and the fifth chapter says: "Unnatural chastity between men and men, the ravishment of boys, and lewdness with animals is punished with burning at the stake."

[1] Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92) founder of the puritanical and reformist Islamic movement known after him as Wahabbism.

[2] Bayezid I, Ottoman Sultan from 1389 to 1402.

[3] Mehmed II “the Conqueror”, who captured Constantinople in 1453.

[4] Stern’s version of this story is inaccurate and sensationalised, suiting his hostile stance towards pederasty, as may be seen by comparing it with the primary sources, the relevant bits of the most important of which, Doukas’s Decline and Fall of Byzantium and Chalkokondyles’s Histories, are on this website. The Sultan did not send for Notaras’s “entire family.” On the contrary, Notaras bade farewell to his wife when summoned. No source claims the Notaras boy was “dragged … forth as a sacrifice to the sultanly lust”, though he is known to have joined the Sultan’s seraglio. It needs to be borne in mind that, however good his reasons for refusing the Sultan’s command may have been, Notaras was insufferably and unnecessarily rude in his manner of doing so, especially considering the extraordinarily generous manner in which he had hitherto been treated.

[5] This assertion is utterly bizarre.  Herodotos (Histories I 135) actually said the Persians learned pederasty from the Greeks, and he made no link between it and eunuchs.

[6] Sultan Suleiman I “the Magnificent”, who reigned 1520-66.

[7] Recep Pasha, Grand Vizier in 1632, when he was executed.

[8] Silahdar Mehmed Pasha, Grand Vizier 1770-1. As he was born in 1710, he had presumably been the favourite of the Sultan Ahmed III, who reigned 1703-30.

[9] Khorasan was the north-easternmost province of Persia.

[10] Johann Georg von Hahn, Albanesische Studien, Jena, 1854, qv. on this website.

[11] The translator’s strange word for the Greek Orthodox people of southern Albania, better known as Tosks.




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