Dead(ly) uncertainties

Plague and Ottoman society in the age of the Renaissance 1

Authored by: Nükhet Varl?k

The Routledge History of the Renaissance

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138898851
eBook ISBN: 9781315226217
Adobe ISBN: 9781351849463


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While recounting the events of the summer of 1584, the Ottoman chronicler Selaniki Mustafa Efendi (d. after 1600) mentions the following incident. Hüseyin Agha, the Equerry-in-Chief, contracted the plague as the epidemic was ravaging Istanbul. While he was sick and enduring the pains of disease, another man from the court, also named Hüseyin Agha, approached the Grand Vizier to plead for the post held by the sick man. The Grand Vizier dismissed the request, saying that the post could not be re-assigned while the office-holder was still alive. He was baffled to hear this demand, for he did not understand how the post could be granted to someone else before the death of the current office-holder. He was right to be taken aback by this request, since according to Ottoman bureaucratic custom a post became vacant only through the death of the office-holder or by his dismissal. Neither was at issue here. Upon hearing the Grand Vizier’s refusal, the ambitious Hüseyin Agha exclaimed: “I doubt that he will recover!” When the Grand Vizier heard this, he replied in exasperation: “It is possible that you [will] die before him.” Indeed, according to our chronicler, the latter Hüseyin Agha soon contracted the plague and passed away four days before his namesake. 2

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