10 January 2008

I have a beard, so listen to what I'm saying

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Asırlar Boyunca Istanbul (Istanbul Throughout the Centuries) by Haluk Şehsuvaroğlu is a Turkish book from the 1950s that was given out free by the newspaper Cumhuriyet. As was often the case with books published in Turkey during that period, it has no publication date anywhere on it as far as I can see. But one of the artists who drew some of the many pictures in the book luckily put the year 1954 after his name, giving us an idea of approximately when the book may have been published. The copy I have, a legacy from my father, is in a bad shape: the covers are ripped, the pages have been yellowed, are coming loose and worst of all, crumbling.

As its name implies, this 250-page, folio-sized book is about the history of Istanbul. It is quite informative, but one problem with it is that for many of the essays no literature sources are given. So you just have to take the author's word for what he is claiming to be true stories. The book consists of a rather haphazard collection of articles, some several pages long, while others covering only a few sentences, on topics ranging from the tombs of Ottoman sultans to the various types of beards that were once popular in the city.


According to Şehsuvaroğlu, during the Ottoman times, a beard was considered to be a symbol of wisdom and experience and those who were assigned to certain government positions were required to grow a beard. Thus, there was an appropriate saying: Sakalım yok ki sözümü dinleteyim (I don't have a beard to make people listen to me). Another saying along the same lines was sakalı ele vermek (literally, to give your beard to someone), which meant to become subservient to someone.

Şehsuvaroğlu claims that the candidates considered for the position of şeyhülislam, the head of the religious affairs in the Ottoman Empire, were required to have at least some patches of white hair in their beards. In that case, a relevant saying would have been sakalı değirmende ağartmak (to let one's beard turn white in a flour mill), which meant to grow old without becoming wise, presumably the implication was that what was making the person's beard white was only flour.


Şehsuvaroğlu lists the names of popular beard styles, including: top (ball), çember (wheel), süpürge (broom), tahta (wooden), torba (bag), yelpaze (fan), tinton (your guess is as good as mine) and kaba (coarse). Apparently, this is what a kaba beard was supposed to look like:


Would my beard (and ring) have given me any clout if I had travelled back in time to the Ottoman period?


John said...

a beard was considered to be a symbol of wisdom and experience

Sounds good to me!

Anonymous said...

Actually the saying is "bu sakalı değirmende ağırtmadık" which leterally translated is "my beard did not turn white at the [flour] mill". The person sayinbg that conveys the meaning that he has been around for a long while and has experience.


Well, there are different versions of that saying. The TDK dictionary has "sakalı değirmende ağartmak". But, I've heard of your version too.