Creating East and West
Renaissance Humanists and the Ottoman Turks
Publication Year: 2006
As the Ottoman Empire advanced westward from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, humanists responded on a grand scale, leaving behind a large body of fascinating yet understudied works. These compositions included Crusade orations and histories; ethnographic, historical, and religious studies of the Turks; epic poetry; and even tracts on converting the Turks to Christianity. Most scholars have seen this vast literature as atypical of Renaissance humanism. Nancy Bisaha now offers an in-depth look at the body of Renaissance humanist works that focus not on classical or contemporary Italian subjects but on the Ottoman Empire, Islam, and the Crusades. Throughout, Bisaha probes these texts to reveal the significant role Renaissance writers played in shaping Western views of self and other.
Medieval concepts of Islam were generally informed and constrained by religious attitudes and rhetoric in which Muslims were depicted as enemies of the faith. While humanist thinkers of the Renaissance did not move entirely beyond this stance, Creating East and West argues that their understanding was considerably more complex, in that it addressed secular and cultural issues, marking a watershed between the medieval and modern. Taking a close look at a number of texts, Bisaha expands current notions of Renaissance humanism and of the history of cross-cultural perceptions. Engaging both traditional methods of intellectual history and more recent methods of cross-cultural studies, she demonstrates that modern attitudes of Western societies toward other cultures emerged not during the later period of expansion and domination but rather as a defensive intellectual reaction to a sophisticated and threatening power to the East.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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TIME LINE OF KEY EVENTS IN THE OTTOMAN ADVANCE
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IN THE SPRING OF 1453 MEHMED II, the clever and ambitious young sultan of the Ottoman Empire, was laying siege to Constantinople, the still formidable capital of the waning Byzantine Empire. Despite some help from Western European fighters primarily from Venice and Genoa, the Greeks were heavily outnumbered: approximately seven thousand fighting men within the city faced an army of eighty thousand camped without and...
1. CRUSADE AND CHARLEMAGNE: MEDIEVAL INFLUENCES
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BECAUSE THE MIDDLE AGES WITNESSED the first European responses to Islam, Renaissance humanists naturally turned to this period for inspiration and authority on the subject of the Ottoman Turks, finding such sources as crusade histories, chivalric literature, sermons, and theological works.1 While the humanists' most original contributions to Western perceptions of Muslims may be found in their use of classical exempla, it is...
2. THE NEW BARBARIAN: REDEFINING THE TURKS IN CLASSICAL TERMS
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HUMANISTS USEDTHE CLASSICAL PAST as a guide for every subject on which they wrote; the Turks and crusade were no exception to this rule. Nor was this engagement with ancient texts a dry, academic exercise involving humanists laboring to extract eloquent turns of phrase or a fitting parallel from literature or history. As Kenneth Gouwens has argued, humanists felt an intimate association, or "active relationship," with the...
3. STRADDLING EAST AND WEST: BYZANTIUM AND GREEK REFUGEES
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BYZANTIUM PLAYED A CRUCIALROLE in the development of European attitudes toward the Turks and crusade. The empire's history of extensive contact and conflict with Muslim neighbors in the East enabled Byzantines to develop firsthand knowledge about Arabs, Persians, and especially Turks. As such, the Greek Empire functioned as mediator between the...
4. RELIGIOUS INFLUENCES AND INTERPRETATIONS
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WHILE HUMANISTS FOCUSED MUCH ATTENTION on the Turkish advance as a secular problem, they were also concerned with its impact on the Christian faith. After all, the Turks practiced a faith that was, in many ways, antithetical to Christianity, and crusade was, in theory, a "holy war." From simple descriptions of the Turks as "enemies of the faith" to more...
EPILOGUE: THE RENAISSANCE LEGACY
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HUMANIST RESPONSES TO THE OTTOMAN advance continued to influence Western views of the Turks and Islam for centuries; even today their impact is felt. In some ways the humanist legacy promoted a greater openness and understanding of Muslim cultures and religion. In other ways its hostile take on the Ottoman Turks only served to nurture incipient ideas of Western superiority to Eastern rivals. In all its richness and diversity humanism...
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...1. For a detailed account of the siege, see Kenneth Setton, The Papacy andthe Levant (I20S-IS7I) (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1978), 2:chap. 4. A highly readable, if somewhat less accurate, account of the siege is toldby Sir Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople I4S3 (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1965). See also Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire I300-I48I (Is ...
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OVER THE YEARS, many people have contributed to the creation and development of this book, from its beginnings at Cornell University to its final completion at Vassar College. I hope they will recognize the unique and positive imprints they have left on the work; I can certainly no longer imagine what this study would look like without all their advice...
Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2006