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Robert Elsie

Albanian Literature | Early Authors


Ottoman poet Figani and his cup-bearer, ca. 1532.

Ottoman poet Figani and his cup-bearer, ca. 1532.

Ottoman poet Figani and his cup-bearer, ca. 1532.





Yahya bey Dukagjini (ca. 1498-ca. 1582) was a sixteenth-century poet of Albanian origin who wrote in Turkish. He is known in Turkish as Dukagin-zâde Yahyâ bey or Taslicali Yahyâ bey, i.e. Yahya Bey of Dukagjini or Yahya Bey of Tashlidja (Pljevlja) A scion of the Dukagjini tribe inhabiting the barren Albanian alps north of the river Drin, he was taken as a child by the Ottomans, trained and sent to serve among the Janissaries. He is known as a young man to have taken part in the Battle of Chaldiran under Sultan Selim in 1514 and in the Egyptian campaign of 1516-1517. Indeed, he seems to have spent much of his early years on various Ottoman campaigns from Vienna to Tabriz. Yahya bey was not oblivious to his Albanian origin. He notes this in his verse, claiming that he stemmed from a land of cliffs and crags. He also tells us that he studied with the famed legal scholar, poet and historian Kemâlpâshâzâde, and presented his verse to Ibrahim Pasha and to the sultan. In the wake of the death of Prince Mustafa, who was executed in Konya in 1533 by his own father Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566), Yahya bey Dukagjini was exiled to the Balkans where he took up an estate (fief) near Zvornik in Bosnia. In 1565, at a ripe age, he served with the Yahyâli corps at the siege of Szigetvar. It was there that he composed a qasîde and presented it to his patron, Sultan Suleiman. He thereafter withdrew from worldly affairs and turned to mysticism, dying in his eighties around the year 1582.

Yahya bey Dukagjini is the author of a large divan of poems written in Ottoman Turkish and of a group of five mesnevî, long narrative verse-romances. The most popular of the latter is Shâh u gedâ (The King and the Beggar), which he tells us he finished in just one week. This much-appreciated metrical romance idealizes the pure love for an Istanbul youth of unequalled beauty (stylized as the king because he reigns over the heart) by a pious lover (stylized as the beggar because of his suppliant longing).