Tuesday, 23 March 2010

In the Kingdom of Ali Pasha

I've been working on the talk I'm giving tomorrow at the Theosophical Society, on Byron's meeting with Ali Pasha. There's an article about my trip to Ioannina, Ali's capital, now in Greece, in his time in the area known as Epiros, on Balkan Travellers.

The drawing is by Edward Lear, who visited Ioannina in 1849, and so it must have looked much the same then, as it did in Ali Pasha's and Byron's day.

Ali's statue is at Tepelene in Albania.

Helena Ghika [aka Dora d'Istria], a 19th century writer, wrote several books and many articles about the peoples of the Balkans. In her Women of the East, parts of which I'm translating into English, she describes at length not just Ali, but his mother Chamko, his sister Chainitza, and various other women Ali was involved with and this excerpt shows just how dangerous it could be to attract his attention.

The unfortunate Euphrosine was ..... a poignant victim of the scheming and malicious family of Ali Pasha. This beautiful young woman was the daughter of a rich Christian of Ioaninna. Her uncle Gabriel, the archbishop of the city..... was her only protector, as she was an orphan when she married one of the leading merchants of Ioaninna. This merchant was called to Venice on business and placed her and her two children under the pontiff's protection. But the archbishop was powerless to protect her from the passions of the ardent Mouctar-pasha, Ali's son. Mouctar frightened Euphrosine into overcoming her resistance and remorse. But the love she inspired in this spirited man became such a source of pride to the young woman that she imagined because she was loved by Mouctar she would become the queen of a vast empire. This kind of relationship however did not fit in with the vizir's plans. Like all dictators, Ali put himself above the laws of morality when it suited him, but if other people committed similar transgressions, he set himself up as a pillar of moral rectitude. To make matters worse, he had to put up with the jealous complaints of his daughters-in-law. So Ali decided to put an end to his son's disruptive behaviour. He sent Mouctar,.... to subdue Georgim, the pasha of Andrinople, who had risen up against the Porte. At the same time, he sent Vely-pasha, Mouctar's brother, to Tepelene to recruit the Tosks.

As soon as his sons had left, Ali took up their wives’ cause, condemning the bad affect that shameless mistresses had on their families, as well as on public morals. The self-appointed guardians of morality suspected Ali of having his eye on Euphrosine's wealth and so were quick to recommend a harsh judgement. Another reason for Ali's determination to find her guilty was his own failed attempt to be Mouctar's rival. Euphrosine, warned of the imminent danger, was in a state of turmoil when, on the night of the 20/21st January 1801, the doors of her house were forced open and Ali came in, flanked by two torch-bearing hired assassins. The young woman believed that he was motivated by greed and was looking for a pretext to seize her wealth, so she piled gold and jewels at his feet.
'Easy enough to return my own goods to me' Ali said in a harsh voice, 'but can you give me back Mouctar's heart?' And, heedless of her weeping and tearful appeals, he had her put in chains and dragged to the women’s quarters of his palace.

Immediately after her arrest, the vizir gave orders for fifteen Christian women belonging to the most notable families of Ioaninna, to be thrown into chains. This immoral and hypocritical tyrant had introduced into the town a moral laxity it had never known before. Yet he claimed to want to make such shocking examples of these women to show the importance he attached to the morality of the people submitted to his care.

At the hearing, he named the sixteen people who were to be offered as sacrifices to dishonoured virtue. Euphrosine and her companions....were condemned to death. For two days they waited in prison for their sentence to be carried out. In the middle of the night, Tahir, the chief of police, flung open the prison door. The executioners took hold of the seventeen young women and flung them into the lake. But when it came to Euphrosine’s turn, the waters of the lake swallowed up a lifeless corpse; she had already died of fright.

In the meantime, Mouctar, after toppling the pasha of Andrinople, was in a hurry to get back to his beloved Euphrosine as fast as possible. On the way, he received a letter from his brother, Vely-pasha. He called out her name 'Euphrosine' in an agonised voice, grabbed one of his pistols and shot the messenger, who fell dead at his feet. Once Mouctar had calmed down he made a vow never to see his wives again and condemned them to be widows for the rest of their lives. That was the only vow that Mouctar, a true son of his father, ever kept.

Dangerous times, for messengers as well as beautiful young women who crossed Ali. The strange thing was that Mouctar did not seem to blame his father for his lover's death. Perhaps Ali did not tell him the whole truth of course. Or perhaps Mouctar, even if he suspected the truth, knew that he could not cross his father and live to tell the tale.

1 comment:

three sea horses said...

thanks for your message - mouth still a bit sore but improving. be nice to see you, but maybe dont travel tomorrow (weds) as apparently it will still be gales and snow etc :(
text me when you come in tho! txx