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Dimitrie CANTEMIR -
A Prince in Two Worlds

Book:
For the last three hundred years Prince Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723) continues to be acclaimed as a genius of historical and humanistic erudition, a unique paragon of intellectual curiosity and versatile creativity in philosophy, sciences and music. Cantemir lived in Istanbul between 1688 and 1710 under four sultans in a glamorous period for the Ottoman civilization that matched a New Renaissance transplanted on the banks of the Bosporus.
For the last three hundred years Prince Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723) continues to be acclaimed as a genius of historical and humanistic erudition, a unique paragon of intellectual curiosity and versatile creativity in philosophy, sciences and music.

by

Eugenia Popescu- JUDETZ

 

On the military and political scene, the Ottoman Empire had to face increasing challenges from the West that culminated in the peace treaty concluded at Karlowitz in 1699 and forced the Ottomans to turn their warlike attitude into a rather conciliatory disposition open to the West. The Ottoman capital of that time was developing into a cosmopolitan center keen to face the confrontation between Western currents of thought and the post-Byzantine, Islamic and oriental traditions blended with Turkish specificity. Above all, the imperial city of Istanbul was a world magnet attracting cultural glamour, intellectual effervescence and a diversity of creative ideas coming from East and West.

Dimitrie Beyzade came to the great city of the sultans as a hostage sent by his father Constantin Cantemir, Hospodar of Moldavia, then as an envoy of his brother Antioch, Hospodar of Moldavia for two times, and later as a candidate to the throne of Moldavia. Finally in 1710 he was nominated Hospodar of Moldavia. Soon after his installation in Jassy, Dimitrie Voivode switched allegiance to the enemies of the Ottomans negotiating with Tsar Peter the Great and concluded a secret treaty with the Russians to assist them in the military campaign against the Ottomans providing Moldavian troops and supplies. In return, he was promised independence from Ottoman suzeranity and hereditary dynasty for his family. After the debacle of the Russian army in the battle on the Pruth and their defeat by the Ottomans, Cantemir set out in exile to Russia with a squad of loyal Moldavians following the Russian army. There he was granted by Peter the hereditary title of Prince of Moldavia and Kneaz of Russia, was awarded high honors and estates, and was appointed member of the Russian Senate and personal counsel to the Tsar in oriental affairs. He never returned to his beloved Moldavia and died in Russia.

As a young boy Dimitrie was educated in Moldavia by Greek preceptors and mastered the sources of Greek-Latin classicism and the art of arms. When he came to Istanbul, he studied at the Academy of the Ecumenical Greek Patriarchate in Fener the foundations of Greek and western philosophy with illustrious teachers and philosophers, was introduced to the novel philosophy of neo-Aristotelians and became acquainted with the theory of natural sciences designed by Van Helmont that was to influence his historical thinking. Crossing over to the eastern domain of knowledge he devoted himself to the study of oriental languages and Ottoman history with the theologian Nefioglu and the astronomer Esaad Efendi. Since he had an exceptional talent for music, Dimitrie Beyzade immersed himself in learning the secrets of Turkish music and the art of playing on the tanbur for 15 years with Kemani Ahmed, a Greek renegate and the Greek Angeli, both music teachers at the saray school. Soon, he became famous in the Istanbul society of high rank Ottoman officials as a brilliant tanbur player. He also composed pesrevs and semais and created a new theory of Turkish music and a musical notation. The Turks delighted in his musical talents and surnamed him Kantemiroglu.

Dimitrie Beyzade entertained social relations in the opposite camps of the two worlds. The political scene of the Ottoman court was a dangerous place of intrigues where the heads of valuable servants to the sultans were falling rapidly under mere insinuations and the struggle for survival had no limits. The Prince was not a stranger to political games and imbroglios. He was an astute politician able to observe and draw practical wisdom from court intrigues. On the one hand he made friends amidst Turkish and Tatar high dignitaries, cultivated them inviting his guests to his palace in Ortaköy and treated them generously with wine and conversation. Some of them were his students in his new method of teaching music. On the other hand, he developed political friendships among the western ambassadors, in particular with the French ambassador Charles de Ferriol and the Russian ambassador Peter Tolstoy who used to advise him in his political schemes. With the latter, he oftentimes discussed the future of the Christian nations in the Balkans.

The Prince's social life in Istanbul was highlighted by diverse activities and involvement in the cosmopolitan panorama of intellectual and artistic creativity. The famous portrait of young Cantemir attributed to Vanmour, a French painter who settled and worked in Istanbul, depicts the embodiment of the Prince's two-fold personality poised in the two worlds. Dressed as a western knight, he wears a buttoned coat with a folded cravat, completed with a regal Ottoman turban over a European periwig.

Cantemir's early works written in Turkey reflect his bicultural aspirations: the Divan redacted in Greek is a dialogue between the Wise Man and the World structured like a conventional medieval disputation between the soul and the body, interspersed with moralities and poetic passages from Saadi's Gülistan; the compilations in Latin on western philosophy Metaphysica, Logices Institutiones and van Helmont's Physices universalis doctrina are of no original value. By 1700 he composed in Turkish his celebrated treatise on Turkish music entitled Kitab-i ilmü'l musiki alâ vechi'l hurufat which is commonly known to the music scholars as Kantemiroglu Edvari. Dimitrie's theoretical discourse is completed with an alphabetical notation invented by him and a collection of pesrevs and semais of his time notated with his method of which some are his own compositions. Cantemir defines his theoretical ideas as the "new theory" in opposition to the "old theory" and by this he envisages a renewed practical theory of the Turkish music evolved from his innovative, progressive ideas, and based upon the experience of the Turkish performers of his time. By this he is not only a pragmatist innovator and assiduous researcher, but he sets the milestone of an authentic Turkish musical thought for the modern times.

In 1705 he authors in Romanian Istoria Ieroglifica (The Hieroglyphic History), a complicated polemic and hermetic novel with allegorical presentation of animals and birds describing the feuds between the Wallachian and Moldavian ruling families and their connections to the Ottoman Court. The mortal enmity between the two families, the Cantemirs of Moldavia and the Brancovanus of Wallachia is depicted with bitter virulence and partisan bias in the animal characters of the fables and their moral traits and behavior.

Whilst living in the shadow of the Ottoman court the Prince engaged in activities of opposite and contradictory nature. On one dimension he was constantly devising political schemes to obtain the throne and to destroy his enemies. On the other hand he was occupied with intellectual and creative pursuits, observing the events and customs, taking notes and studying rare books, acquiring useful diplomatic relations, building a new palace on his own architectural plan in Fener and making music. About mid-eighteenth century the French music connoisseur Charles Fonton writes that Cantemir had been one of the most celebrated musicians under Ahmed III who gave great glamour to oriental music and had composed successful Turkish melodies that continued to be performed.

In Russia the exiled Prince faced a political and intellectual environment quite different from the Ottoman court climate and felt the cultural void and lack of refinement of the Russian society. His political ambitions aimed to persuade Tsar Peter to begin a new war against the Ottomans so that he could be reinstated Voivode of Moldavia and even contrived to earn ruling power for his family in the personal life of the Tsar by encouraging the latter's romantic inclination for his daughter Maria, a plan which fell through due to the resistance of the Tsarina's entourage. Unable to achieve his goal in Russian politics he nurtured far-fetched hopes, maintained his own agents in the Romanian countries and in Istanbul to keep him informed about the court events and political maneuvers of his adversaries, and drew into strenuous relationship with the Moldavian boyars who had followed him in exile.

The new social and political setting of St. Petersburg and his counseling position induced the Prince to devote himself entirely to intellectual activities and to spend all his energy in studies. His merits as scholar, historian, and above all, orientalist reached the West and in 1714 the Academy of Berlin elected him as a member of their society for his eminent endeavors in sciences recognizing his talents and noble inclinations.

Cantemir produced his major works while in Russia, originally written in Latin. The History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire commonly known as History of the Ottoman Empire was composed between 1714-1716, first translated into English in 1734 had been published in many languages. The recent translation into Turkish enjoyed a great success in several editions. Cantemir's conception of world history was derived from the philosophy of natural evolution designed by van Helmont. The states go through periods of rise and fall, determined by the natural laws of the universe. Consequently the decline of the Ottoman Empire was inevitable and his argumentation was intended to present the West with the political realities of the East. Cantemir's approach to the history of the sultans consisted in an original method of paralleling the narratives of historical facts and events with a continuous flow of personal notes, anecdotes and stories, pieces of folklore and legends he had collected from written and live sources and stored them in his astounding memory. The characterization of the sultans and higher rank dignitaries he had known and his descriptions of social and cultural institutions and customs with vivid direct observations and comments make up a treasure-trove of data valuable to the present day.

His narratives are pervaded by an earthy folk spirit and his popular view of incidents qualifies him at best as a modern ethnographer. He relentlessly places in contrast the relation of events and description of the virtues and vices of the sultans to incidents he was an eyewitness or stories and proverbs collected from oral tradition. By this devise he obliterates the barrier of time drawing the wisdom of passed events into the experienced present of his time. As such his historical accounts emerge from their historical frame and mix to contrasted pieces of commentary and anecdotes creating a dazzling effect of actuality reportages.        

Descriptio Moldaviae, written in 1716 for the West, deals with the geography, ethnography, social and political history of his homeland and the ideal of national independence. Historia Moldo-Vlachica written after 1717 in the same vein treats the common ancient origin of all Romanians and proclaims the ideal of their national unity; it also hints at the role of Romanians in history as defenders of the borders of European world. This novel idea voiced by Cantemir awakened the Romanian aspirations for national unity and continued to reverberate across the geopolitics of the present day.

At the time of Peter the Great's military campaign to Caucasus and Iran, Cantemir was ordered by the Tsar to write a book on Muslim religion in order to inform the Russian officers on the religion and beliefs of the peoples they would encounter in their campaign. Cantemir compiled a large book that was published in Russian under the title Sistima ili sostoianie muhammedanskoi religii in St. Petersburg in 1722. The work constitutes a complex though controversial presentation of Islamic beliefs, regulations and traditions from a Christian viewpoint, mainly applied to the Turks. The descriptions mix personal recollections, religious folklore and cultural data and above all allusions to the political mission of Russia to put an end to the Muslim rule. In spite of its polemical overtones, the book is a colorful resource that confirms again the bipolarity of Cantemir's political and cultural standing overseeing his attraction to opposite realms.        

In 1722 Cantemir joined the Tsar in his military campaign to Caucasus region. He translates official documents for the Muslim population of the area, explores the ruins of the Caucasus, takes sketches of monuments and writes down the findings in De Muro Caucaseo and Collectanea orientalis. In addition to these, the Prince authored some minor works on various historical subjects that all evidence his two-fold attitude in the historical thinking of his time and his far-reaching understanding of the creative dialectics of "the old" and "the new."

Unlike other contemporary thinkers Cantemir manifested a sustained encyclopedic spirit before the period of the Enlightenment, and experienced from inside the features of diverse cultures without blending their aspects. Having deep roots in the folk culture of his native land, he was a humanist of western model who measured up to the West and felt an immense attraction for the East. Notwithstanding, he neither assumed the approach of a western thinker nor analyzed events and institutions as an Ottoman, but fared along parallel streams and easily switched from one perspective to another. His exceptional intellectual versatility is reflected in all his activities and political actions. More than that, while he pursued scholarly and noble recognition according to the standards of the western civilization, he pretended to be a descendant of the Timur Lenk whom the Europeans know as Tamerlane, a military genius who exceeded in cruelty the acts of Genghis Khan. The Prince even contrived an imaginary genealogy of his family based on fantasy to prove this claim.

The pursuit of the two worlds has constituted a driving dynamics in Dimitrie Cantemir's life and work. He lived and created in search of western values and eastern realities. To achieve the synthesis of west and east was not his goal, but his insatiable intellectual curiosity led him to discover the values of the two worlds and to place their contrasting historical and cultural facts in a new perspective. His merits are mentioned in European writers and his name is inscribed in stone next to European illustrious philosophers on the façade of the Library Sainte Geneviève near the Pantheon in Paris. Moving ahead of his time, he left a unique legacy to Turkish history and music and became a guiding light on the winding road of the Ottoman civilization. To the very present, Prince Dimitrie Cantemir or Kantemiroglu as the Turks affectionately call him continues to be an enduring source of inspiration for Turkish and western intellectuals and musicians.

_ . _

 
Biography of Eugenia Popescu- JUDETZ

Eugenia Popescu-Judetz is an ethnomusicologist and art historian holding wide expertise in Turkish musical writings and performing arts of the Ottoman era. She is the author of several monographs and essays focused on the musical literature and translations of Turkish manuscripts. She has published several books and articles on Dimitrie Cantemir concerning the translation of his treatise on music, his novel theory of music and his role in the history and culture of the Ottoman world. In addition to her studies on Cantemir, she published in English and Turkish significant sources of Ottoman music ranging from late fifteenth century to eighteenth century such as Seydi, Panayiotes Chalatzoglu, Kyrillos Marmarinos, Kevseri and Tanburi Kucuk Artin.

Eugenia Popescu-Judetz was an adjunct professor at Duquesne University in Pittburgh and continues to write works on Turkish music and culture.

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