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Radu Voivode

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The Fair Irene: the Unfair Legend

Or Radu the Fair and Bad History – Not Fair.

     Between heteronormative myth and homoerotic history.

     I always knew that the story of the Greek woman Irene was a legend. It emerged along with wrong notes of Laonicos Chacocondyles on behalf of fate of Loukas Motaras, and along with the cruelties of sultan Mehmed described by Giovan Maria Angiolello considering a woman in the seraglio whom the sultan loved and then killed. Angiolello exaggerated the story along with the rumors about the decapitation of the slave before the eyes of artist Gentili Bellini and cutting the abdomen of a boy for eating the stolen cucumbers. I wrote along article about it in russian (so if you want it to be translated I’ll need more requests).

   In the beginning I’ve read the notes of the oreintalist prof. Franz Babinger who said that Irene was a legend, and the german professor whose statement was based on Joseph von Hammer Purgstall’s commentary on the story of Irene:

“Out of this incident has probably arisen the fable of Irene, which may well serve as material for an unhistorical tragedy (like that of Johnson’s), but deserves no place in history, least of all on the authority of a novelist like Bandello, whom the most recent editor of Leonardus of Chios, the Premonstratensian l'Ecuy, has not blushed in his notes to produce as an historical witness of this romantic episode”.

(Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches, том 2, стр. 555)

   But how disappointed and upset I felt when surprisingly I discovered how much of work was dedicated to Irene. Just listing a part of it here:

  • The earliest novel “Maometto imperator de’ Turchi” written in 1554, by Italian writer Matteo Bandello (1485-1561), which he passed off as truth, is centered around the story of Irene and the passion of sultan for her. Bandello transformed fiction into historical fact, and so the legend was considered real until the early 19th century. Bandello’s novel about Irene has inspired many authors in the 16 to 19th centuries;
  • English author William Painter in 1566 translated the novel of Bandello into English under the title “Palace of Pleasure”;
  • George Peele (circa 1594) wrote the play “Turkish Mahamet and Hyrin the fair Greek”;
  • Gilbert Svinhoe in 1658 wrote a play “The Tragedy of the Unhappy Fair Irene”;
  • In 1664 there was acted another play by an anonymous author, called “Irene Tragedy”;
  • Charles Goring in the 1700s wrote a story, “Irene, a beautiful Greek tragedy”;
  • “Irene” a Neoclassical tragedy was written between 1726 and 1749 by Samuel Johnson.
  • In the 16th century an unknown artist made a portrait of Irene which inscription reads “The wife of Turkish Mehmed”, this painting is kept in the collection of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914), (See above) 
  • In the 19th century it created many engravings by various authors depicted the execution of Irene by Mehmed.

   Not counting the separate novels on the subject of Irene in the modern time. There are enough of myths for inattentive authors to believe in this story like it was true, and to take Irene for the existing historical person.

    Even the famous English historian and orientalist Richard Knolles (1545-1610) refers in his book “General Historie of the Turkes” (ed. 1603), as if the story with Irene was actual, he only based on the English translation of the Bandello’s novel, and neither the latter, nor the Knolles warned that the story is a fiction.

   But how unfair is that, when in fact, many scholars agree that Mehmed’s relationships with women were more likely a political marriage, and worse than that many scholars know that Mehmed is known for his ardent love towards young men and his famous favorites such as Radu cel Frumos (1437\1438-1477) and Jacob Notaras (1439-1491) were the objects of his uncontrollable passion. I will not use more article space to list his other male lovers such as Suleyman Pasha and Hass Murad Pasha, because Mehmed has already expressed his love for men in his poetry which was fully homoerotic.

  But nobody will dedicate to this truth even one work of a talented art or writing. For I know that nobody needs attention for male love and beauty.

  People label it homosexuality, sodomy, sin, disgusting, weak, deliberately or not they call Radu a coward, a traitor, a looser, they judge Mehmed fir his ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, they putting on him a stigma of some kind of a gross womanizer and savage debauchee, and in the last an evil pederast.

  At least in the world of “tolerance” such figures as Mehmed or Radu deserve only the pathetic indulgence from the authors who write superficial works on them, which have nothing true and real about the culture and times of the East, nothing but some names, the rest is unhistorical events, unhistorical characters and descriptions. All seems so humiliating and even offensive. It really just not fair.

  Radu was beautiful, handsome, fair – indeed, Chalcocondyles in his chronicles describes him as “eron” (ἐρῶν) – the sensual beauty which captured the heart of the Emperor. But who will spare time and efforts to write about his beauty and the love of sultan for him? His looks only deserve a scorn ‘a despised whore’, while some of women which did NOT exist, are praised to the skies for beauty, character, strength, heroism, sensuality and those fable stories around them about passion and sex, love and romantic tragedy since 16 century till modern time are just countless.

The books, novels, stories and articles are being written more and more, but yet, the same things emerge from them. Still, all this old unfair story.

Original source: elveo-art.tumblr.com/post/1559…

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