Harem  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Coming from the Arab tradition, the harîm حريم (compare haram) is the part of the household forbidden to male strangers. The world knows the harem by way of the Ottoman Empire. The word itself means privacy that is very respected and honored.

In Western languages such as English, this term refers collectively to the women in any polygynous household as well as to the "no men allowed" area, or in more modern usage to a number of women followers or admirers of a man.

In other Western languages, the term seraglio - from an Italian variant of Persian saraay, meaning 'palace, enclosed courts' - has much the same connotations.

Contents

Etymology

The word has been recorded in the English language since 1634, via Turkish harem, from Arabic ḥaram 'forbidden', originally implying 'women's quarters', literally 'something forbidden or kept safe', from the root of ḥarama 'to be forbidden; to exclude'. The triliteral Ḥ-R-M is common to Arabic words denoting forbidden. The word is a cognate of Hebrew ḥerem, rendered in Greek as anathema when it applies to excommunication pronounced by the Jewish Sanhedrin court; all these words mean that an object is "sacred" or "accursed".

The 'harem' does not refer to a sanctuary for the wives of a polygynous person. It is simply a resting quarters for women. Female seclusion in Islam is emphasized to the extent that any unlawful breaking into that privacy is ḥarām "forbidden". A Muslim harem does not necessarily consist solely of women with whom the head of the household has sexual relations (wives and concubines), but also their young offspring, other female relatives, etc.; and it may either be a palatial complex, as in Romantic tales, in which case it includes staff (women and eunuchs), or simply their quarters, in the Ottoman tradition separated from the men's selamlık. The zenana was a comparable institution.

It is being more commonly acknowledged today that the purpose of harems during the Ottoman Empire was for the royal upbringing of the future wives of noble and royal men. These women would be educated so that they were ready to appear in public as a royal wife.

Depictions in Western culture

Literature

The institution of the harem exerted a certain fascination on the European imagination, especially during the Age of Romanticism (see also Orientalism), due in part to the writings of the adventurer Richard Francis Burton. Many Westerners imagined a harem as a brothel consisting of many sensual young women lying around pools with oiled bodies, with the sole purpose of pleasing the powerful man to whom they had given themselves. Much of this is recorded in art from that period, usually portraying groups of attractive women lounging nude by spas and pools.

A centuries-old theme in Western culture is the depiction of European women forcibly taken into Oriental harems - evident for example in the Mozart opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail ("The Abduction from the Serraglio") concerning the attempt of the hero Belmonte to rescue his beloved Konstanze from the serraglio/harem of the Pasha Selim; or in Voltaire's Candide, in chapter 12 of which the old woman relates her experiences of being sold into harems across the Ottoman Empire.

The same theme was and still is repeated in numerous historical novels and thrillers. For example, Angélique and the Sultan, part of the bestselling French Angélique series by Sergeanne Golon, in which a 17th century French noblewoman is captured by pirates, and sold into the harem of the King of Morocco.

In Leonid Solovyov's well-known Russian novel "Tale of Hodja Nasreddin" (translated to English as "The Beggar in the Harem: Impudent Adventures in Old Bukhara"), a central plot element is the protagonist's efforts to rescue his beloved from the Harem of the Emir of Bukhara - an element not present in the original tales of the Middle Eastern folk hero Nasreddin, on which the novel was loosely based.

H. Beam Piper used the theme in a science fiction context, portraying a gang which kidnaps girls from a Western-dominated, technologically advanced timeline and sells them to a Sultan's harem in an Asian-dominated timeline (see [1]).

Art

White slavery in orientalist art

white slavery, harem painting

In film

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Harem" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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