Harem4 by J.Frederick Lewis



Harem Women




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They 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.

Even 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.

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