Re-orienting Empire: Polish Panegyrics and the Changing Vision of “the Turk”

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 3:10 PM
Room 302 (Hilton Atlanta)
Krzysztof Odyniec, University of California, Berkeley
At the imperial coronation of Charles of Habsburg (Bologna,1530), Johannes Dantiscus— Polish-Lithuanian ambassador to the Habsburg court—delivered a 536-line panegyric poem entitled De Nostrorum Temporum Calamitatibus Silva. While the poem  drew on many of the classical and Christian tropes that would have held currency just a generation previous, the rhetoric of crusade against the barbarous Turk was by now oddly out of touch with reality.

This paper examines the failure of Dantiscus’s exhortation against the backdrop of rapidly evolving in cultural attitudes and practices in diplomacy in Early Modern Europe. Specifically, it looks at the impact of the Polish-Lithuanian agenda into the Habsburg Empire, and the effect this had European perceptions of the Ottoman Turks. Whereas only a century earlier, the Turks were frequently depicted as an absolute Other, by the time of Charles’ coronation, they were seen as just another inimical neighbor. Once portrayed as destroyers and enslavers against Christ and Civilization, such categories of alterity were blurred by the practical experiences of a number of humanists who lived among the Ottomans as captives and subsequently escaped or were freed (including Konstantin Mihailović, Georgius of Hungary, and Dantiscus’s own friend and colleague in the Polish diplomatic corps, Jan Zambocki). The Turks came to be seen as pious rivals—or “semi-Christian,” as Erasmus put it—and European diplomatic policy came to reflect these changes, seen in the rather sudden willingness to make truces and even alliances with the Turks as equals.

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