". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Magnificent Century -- Sulyeman Emperor of 16th Century Ottoman Empire

. . . .The Magnificent Century is extremely popular throughout Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Greece, Macedonia, Egypt and into Pakistan, as well as in the home country of Turkey.  Recall, that all or almost all these nations that watch the series avidly were under lengthy Ottoman rule. It has become popular along with many other Turkish television show in Chile.

[First post about The Magnificent Century here.]

    Finished watching the final episode of the 48 episodes of season one (2011) last night. 48 episodes or not, this was only the first season of four.  As far as I can tell, the entire series centers the trajectory of the survival in the murderous hothouse of the Ottoman Emperor's harem, of Hurrem, the captured, enslaved Ukrainian, Greek Orthodox concubine who becomes muslim and, eventually, Sulyeman's wife. So it is she who is the primary protagonist, though there are many plots and principal characters. The Magnificent Century is, above all, a soap opera. Thus, this 48th episode ends, of course, on a cliffhanger, as do many of the episodes within the season, for that matter.

Sulyeman's Valide Sultan

     Minutes earlier Hurrem and viewers learn she's pregnant with a fourth child from Emperor Sulyeman. She has immediately informed the Valide Sultan (Valide is the title of the queen mother who runs everything, and thinks this includes her son, the emperor), and his sister, Hatice, married to Grand Vizier, Pasha Ibrahim, of the anticipated fortunate event. 

   While guards, his mother and sister look on horrified in the garden, a knife is being held at Sulyeman's throat by Victoria, a Greek slave girl - spy, renamed by the Valide, Sadıka. Sadika was a princess who was married in a castle of the King of Bulgaria, who had stopped paying tribute to the Ottomans. While the wedding party is at the banquet table, Sulyeman and his army attack.  Sadika's groom was killed by Sulyeman in front of her eyes while they attempted to escape. The guards get the bride away.  Later, she takes on a secret mission to insinuate herself as a slave girl-concubine in the harem and assasinate Sulyeman. In the course of attempting to fulfill this mission she has murdered a couple of other harem concubines, gotten promoted to be the Valide Sultan's personal maid. 

Hatice Sultan, Sulyeman's sister
Later, the Valide gives Sadika to her daughter Hatice, when she marries the Grand Vizier, Pasha Ibrahim, who is also Sulyeman's beloved friend and adviser. They now live in their own palace, away from the Valide's oversight.

In the final episode very much goes on, which will, as seen from the description above, one will not have any comprehension, unless one has watched the whole thing.

   Pasha Ibrahim took Leo prisoner.  He has beaten the Ruthven (Ukraine-Hungary) artist, who stupidly tracked his childhood sweetheart, then fiancée down to Istanbul after the Tatars left him for dead and sold her into slavery. he only stopped because the emperor has ordered the artist be brought into his presence. Ibrahim's attempting to torture* Leo into admitting he's been having an affair with Hurrem. On the contrary, from the moment Alex/Hurrem lays eyes on Leo she's been trying to make him get the hell outta Dodge. She's entirely in love with the emperor.  Beyond that, the slightest hint they know each other would be her death and that of her children.  But Leo, selfish and self-centered doesn't care about the terrible threat his existence in the palace is for the woman he claims to love.

Mahidevran Sultan

Ibrahim, Hurrem, proved to be a traitor to Sulyeman, is rid of her influence over the emperor and will have Mahidevran Sultan, the previous most favorite of the harem, mother of the oldest son and heir-designate, forever in his debt.  Don't forget, the Pasha's managed to marry Sulyman's favorite sister, and is a very ambitious fellow.  I'd identified with im in the earlier episodes, but no longer! Unfortunately the series hasn't made it clear to this non-Turkish expert just why Ibrahim took on such a hate for Hurrem.

Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pargali
So, while Sadıka is holding a knife to Sulyeman's throat, Hurrem is holding a bowl of poisoned candy shoved into her hands by Ibrahim, instructed to eat it and take her own life (while presumably the pasha heads for the harem to strangle her children), or else Leo must, and this would prove, I'm not sure what. She's weeping, Leo is howling, Ibrahim is seething with EviLe, Hurrem's fingers are about to take a candy -- The End.

     More has to come since we have not yet had the precedent-breaking wedding, the Ottoman emperor taking a legally wedded wife! Will netflix get the rousing following 3 seasons? I want to see Ibrahim Go Down. I know from history that he betrayed Sulyeman, went to war on him, and was either beheaded or garrotted or poisoned, though I don't know why he turned on Sulyman.  This being a soap opera, presumably this happens after Sulyman marries Hurrem, and she persuades the emperor to do or not do something that Ibrahim doesn't want or does want? 

Sulyeman riding to war
   With success of the series, later episodes were more lavishly budgeted, with some set pieces as the endless celebration of the Grand Vizier's wedding to Emperor Sulyeman's beloved sister, and more scenes set outside the claustrophobia of the Istanbul palace and harem.  It does remain primarily a talking heads format, with the eyes of every character broadcasting enormous information about themselves and what issue / person / event is centered in a scene.  The clothes remain breathtaking. 

Over such long sequence of episodes, the skills of the actors, particularly that of the actor who plays Sulyeman, become more evident.

When will the next season be available?  I feel bereft, after living with these characters for two months.


*   Beating is standing in for serious torture, doubtless. But due to Turkey's standards and regulations for what can be seen on television, it couldn't be too graphic.

Leo the artist

Leo was surely tortured in real life -- if this happened in real life that is.  I have no idea -- this is a soap opera -- he would have been horribly tortured if taken by a Grand Vizier for his own nefarious purposes.  Nevertheless, the beating is bad enough to look at, though no skin is shown broken, despite the pounding of fists, cracking of head against stone cell wall, kicking in the gut and head as well. All we see then is a faintly bruised cheekbone and his velvet clothes are not dirty, torn or even disheveled. The most terrible part of this scene is the face of Ibrahim.  We've seen glimpses of this Mr Hyde face previously in the later episodes as he chokes with his hands the harem overseer, Nigar Kalfa (who for inexplicable reasons has been shown to be in love with him, upon which he learns, he spurns her in the most humiliating way), demanding she find evidence in Hurrem's rooms of adultery.

Evidently this is setting us up to see this character, with whom we have been so sympathetic, because of his love for the emperor's sister, which was impossible.  Hatice is so lovable herself and she was dying for love of him, so how could he be -- evil? As well, he writes beautiful poetry to her, and plays the violin and reads western literature and enjoys western culture of all kinds including art. I don't know enough about Turkey and its politics to know, but perhaps Ibrahim's affinity for western culture is supposed to signal the audience that he will turn evil and betray the empire?

I always keep in mind this is historical fiction and a soap opera to boot!

However, {NY TIMES PAY WALL} reading about this discovery of more than forty very well preserved ships in the shipping waters of Bulgaria spanning the 9th - 19th centuries in the Black Sea -- I was delighted for several reasons, including this frivolous one, since this is the route the ship carrying Hurrem / Alexandra to Turkey takes in the 16th century.

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