The Second Triangulation: Desire, Özenti, Envy

  • Bülent Somay
Part of the Studies in the Psychosocial Series book series (STIP)


The Ottoman Empire had a history of literalising metaphors, as was the case with the famous Italian proverb ‘Traduttore traditore’ (‘the translator is a traitor’). Of course, the proverb only means that no translation can be faithful; a certain amount of semantic leakage is unavoidable in any translation. The Ottoman case is rather more literal: in 1821, the Ottoman Empire decided that with the Greek War of Independence under way, the former translators employed in the diplomatic corps, most of them ethnic Greek subjects of the Empire, were not trustworthy anymore, and started an entire overhaul of the foreign office. This historical act can also be considered the moment of birth for the ‘modern’, secular Turkish (rather than Ottoman) intelligentsia:

In Istanbul, meanwhile, the same suspicions about Greeks in official service gave rise at the outbreak of the revolution to a general attack on the Phenariot elite. One phase of this was the overthrow of the last of the Greek translators of the imperial Divan and the creation in his place of a new Translation Office of the Sublime Porte (Bab-i Ali Tercüme Odasi). The purpose of the new office was to relieve the state once and for all of the need to rely on Greeks as translators. Since the responsibilities of this office included a typical mixture of educational and bureaucratic roles, it gradually began to yield the desired result, becoming in the process the principal center for the formation of a new type of Muslim scribal official and at the same time the most prestigious place of service at the Sublime Porte. Partly because of the initial lack of qualified Muslims, however, the new office had first to pass through a period of obscurity during which the continued reliance on ‘marginal men’ was one of its most prominent features.

(Findley 1980, pp. 132–133)


Primitive Accumulation Ideological Inclination Greek Translator Standing Army Enlightenment Thinker 
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© Bülent Somay 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bülent Somay
    • 1
  1. 1.Istanbul Bilgi UniversityTurkey

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