My Tears Flowed Like Water Because of this Gracious Cypress: Imagery and Meaning in the Third Divan of Sultan Süleyman the Lawgiver

28.04.2015, Seminar, OI Beirut

Public research seminar by Dr. Christiane Czygan (Universität Hamburg).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015, 6-8 pm, Orient-Institut Beirut



It is a tiny manuscript that shimmers when one opens its brittle cover. This poem collection written by one of the most prominent Ottoman rulers was discovered by Petra Kappert in the 1980’s in Hamburg. Completed in 961/1554, this highly elaborated product of art is the oldest known existing poem collection by Sultan Süleyman. Questions about its content, its production and the ruler behind the lyrical persona continue to challenge scholars to this day.

Sultan Süleyman commanded an extraordinarily powerful army that enlarged Ottoman territory far beyond the realm inherited by his father Selim I. Ongoing struggles for political and religious hegemony resulted in military encounters between the powerful Safawids and the Ottomans (1548-1550, 1553-1555) and bloody revolts in Anatolia took place during this period as well. Contention over the imperial thrown even led to the strangulation of two of Sultan Süleyman’s sons.  

In the midst of all of these struggles, Süleyman devoted himself to ambitious lyrical creations. At that time, poetry referred to medieval models which depicted the world as part of a far more complex system of cosmic intersections. Images played a fundamental role in providing a link between the divine and the earthly realms, the Third Divan’s use of images such as the lock of hair, the zephir and the cypress establish this connection in an exemplary way. Even as they refer to conventional topoi, they obtain a further, more implicit meaning. However, it remains unclear to whom these images were meant to appeal. This paper proposes a viable answer to this question. 

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