HAREM, AND THE OTTOMAN WOMEN
were taught religion, and to sing and to play a musical instrument,
along with dancing, poetry and the complex arts of love. If they
gradu- ated from their apprenticeship, they went on to learn to
read and write and the skill of telling stories. Stories were important
everywhere in the empire and nowhere more so than in a harem. Every
night one of the One Thousand and One Nights was read, or so it
was said. The Nights include heroes and heroines and some noble
souls but, since such characters are often dull, the stories are
more often about vagabonds, promiscuous women, sorceresses, criminals
and unscrupulous judges, mountebanks and lying holy men. It is the
world upside down, which does not mean that it was an exact mirror
of the daily life of Baghdad or Istanbul.
at this level, failures still occurred but they could hope to be
sent out into the world with some recompense, including their possible
marriage to a failed student of the Palace School. The next promotion
was to gedik, or the 'privileged', who had been seen by the sultan
and who may even have had contact with him. They were not only beautiful
but also intelligent and amusing besides being skilled at making
love although they were still virgins. If a meteor like Hürrem entered
the Harem, and the sultan was a Süleyman, the whole system broke
down and the girl graduated immediately. Gediks were girls chosen
by the sultan. At various periods these girls ranked as gözde, or
'girls in the sultan's eye'. He might select them more and more
often so that they joined the elite ikbals or hassodaliks who were
in sight of the top of the pyramid, since to reach it they had only
to become pregnant and safely deliver a child, preferably a son.
These ranks varied over the years and were not always used.
Girls who had slept with the sultan graduated to their own rooms
with their own slaves and kitchen maids and their own eunuch. If
a female child was born, they moved to a larger apartment and became
a Hasseki Kadın, or mother of daughters. They had the right to remarry
upon the death of their sultan. They were the favourites who enjoyed
a handsome income compared with the pocket money that they had received
before. With motherhood they had crossed the frontier and were free.
If they bore a son, their ambitions were indeed achieved. At very
least they were the Hasseki Sultans, or mothers of younger sons,
but these royalladies were secluded and, if the boy should die,
they could not marry again.