17 Şubat 2015 Salı

An Italian Ex-Jesuit's Impressions on Ottoman

After staying in Constantinople (Istanbul) between 1781 and 1786, Giambattista Toderini wrote Letteratura Turchesca in 3 volumes on Ottoman Literature in 1787. This work was translated into French and German under the title of De la Litterature des Turcs in 1789, and Litteratur der Türken in 1790, respectively. This important book on Ottoman intellectual history has not been translated into English yet. In 2012, its French version was translated into Turkish with many errors. Before this translation, the part of the third volume regarding typography had been separately translated and published in Turkish. The first volume of the work deals with sciences and arts in the Ottoman Empire, the second volume madrasas (higher educational institutions) and libraries, and the third volume the Ottoman typography and the books published between 1727-1787 in Istanbul. 

The cover page of Toderini's work

Evaluating narrations about the closing of Ibrahim Mutafarrika's press, he writes: “The pervasive and often repeated story that calligraphers stopped the press' service by putting pressure on the State is based on the gossip between the common people and is nothing but a baseless invention. It is true that many people make money from this occupation. But most of them copy mushaf (Quran), tafsir (Quranic exegesis), dua (invocation), hutba (sermon), tasawwuf (sufism) and religious books. At this time, these books are not published in the press. Moreover, if many manuscripts Turks order copied based on their need and pleasure are considered, it will become immediately obvious that one press in such a huge capital cannot damage the calligraphers. Turks like the hand-written books very much. It is easy to have Arabic and Turkish manuscripts, whose beauty and elegance are beyond the printed books. … Let me  state here that Baron de Tott's that the press was scorned and Ibrahim had to close his press is totally false” [1].

Toderini mentions the Ottomans' skills on arithmetic and geometry: “The Ottomans in Istanbul specialize in arithmetic. When young, they learn the fundamental concepts of this science in Arabic; after that they receive an education with thorough Arabic and Turkish arithmetic books under good teachers” [2]. “Geometry takes place in the Turkish syllabus, and there are mudarris (professor) in madrasas, who teach students this course. … Since Turks  have a strong tendency towards astronomy, they give much importance to geometry, which is essential for astronomical research. They also need this science in order to prepare their calendars, solar clocks, and maps” [3].


[1] Giambatista Toderini, Türklerin Yazılı Kültürü (Translation from French into Turkish by Ali Berktay, İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2012), p. 328, 330. 

[2] Ibid., p. 61.

[3] Ibid., p.65-67.

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