How are Rumi’s poems in Greek?

By: | Post date: 2017-01-12 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Literature, Mediaeval Greek

I swear, folks, I am not bribing Khateeb to ask me these questions!

So yes. Both Rumi, and his son Sultan Walad, wrote some verses in Greek and in Turkish. That he wrote in Greek is no surprise, given that Rumi means “of Rum = The (former) Roman Empire”, where Rumi settled (Konya).

I have linked to most of the Greek verses in Greek Verses of Rumi & Sultan Walad on my website. There is a more recent publication of some more of Sultan Walad’s Greek verses, which I have not included.

I put the page up, because I was concerned that the major source on the verses, the latest attempt to decipher the Greek by Dedes in 1993, was a small publication that I came across by accident: I met the author socially, he was the cousin of another scholar. Noone outside Greece would ever see it; so I decided to put it with its translation online, to make it accessible.

Rumi’s text is very difficult to decipher in particular. Both Rumi and Sultan Walad wrote in Arabic script, and Rumi used no vowel pointing. Rumi’s and Walad’s Greek is just OK, and neither sound to me as anything but second-language. I made a point of including previous attempts to read the text, so people could see how tentative the interpretations are. (There has been one or two comments on Dedes’ interpretations since, published in Byzantine Studies journals.)

I wrote four blog articles on the texts in 2009:

There are two possible answers to Khateeb’s question: how is the language of Rumi’s Greek poems, and how good are they as poems by Rumi.

I would dearly like for someone familiar with Rumi and Sufism to answer the latter. Are they representative of Rumi? Are there any surprises? I’m afraid I don’t know. Does anyone here?

For the language: most of Rumi’s verses are macaronic, switching between Greek and Persian (and in one instance, an imitation of Quranic Arabic). The Greek is archaic, maybe even a little more archaic than we’d expect by the 13th century; but no amazing revelations about the history of Mediaeval Greek. Quite possibly the first poems to rhyme in Greek: Christian Greek got rhymes from Italy a century later. The Greek is halting in places (I think there’s one or two wrong prepositions in Rumi, and Walad uses too many pronouns), but it is intelligible.

As poetry, I prefer Walad’s, simply because they are longer, in just one language, and coherent (though Dedes gave an extensive paraphrase in his edition of the longest poem, to help interpret the allusions Walad makes). The Rumi verses to me sound like you’re catching bits while tuning a radio.


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