Imperfect bodies perfect companions? : dwarfs and mutes at the Ottoman court in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
Dikici, Ayşe Ezgi (2006) Imperfect bodies perfect companions? : dwarfs and mutes at the Ottoman court in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. [Thesis]
This thesis is a preliminary study that aims to understand the roles and functions of dwarfs and mutes at the Ottoman court with the symbolic and practical dimensions. In this study, the mute and dwarf employment at the Ottoman court is considered both within the context of the world-wide practices of keeping court jesters and their common origins, and with regard to its relation to the peculiar conditions of the Ottoman court in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The question whether there existed in the Ottoman case the type of court jester who was able to criticize and mock the monarch is discussed in the thesis to display the nature of dwarfs’ and mutes’ role as the sultan’s boon companions. On the symbolic level, especially dwarfs were kept as a mark of royalty, and mutes ensured the ceremonial silence around the semi-sacred sovereign. In daily life, they entertained the sultan, actively took part in the communication within the court and with outside, and penetrated into state affairs in informal ways. Mutes, serving in confidential meetings and strangling princes and officials upon the sultan’s order, constituted a uniquely Ottoman variant of the tradition of keeping disabled people at courts. The thesis points at the indications that especially eunuch dwarfs and mutes increased their power and wealth thanks to their contacts in and out of the palace at the time of the ascendancy of the imperial harem, discussing how they entered the discourse of decline as a source of concern and complaint.
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