East and West
In Byron's tales, a nonbeliever (Christian) from the West comes to
the East and disrupts the social order. The first tale, the story of
The Giaour or infidel, was written in 1813. It was based on an
experience Byron had in Athens, when he rescued a woman who
had been found guilty of adultery and sewn into a sack to be
In Byron's story Leila, a member of Hassan's harem, is killed by
Hassan for falling in love with the giaour. The giaour kills him in
revenge and enters a monastery in remorse.
Subsequent tales included The Bride of Abydos, written in the
same year, which tells the story of the love between Zuleika and
her half brother Selim.
The Corsair, published the next year, sold 10,000 copies its first
day in print. The tale of Conrad, a pirate captain who risks the
love of his wife Medora to save a slave in Hassanâ€™s harem, it
inspired an opera by Verdi, an overture by Berlioz, and a ballet by
Lara, also published in 1814, continued the tale of Conrad as the
mysterious Count Lara returns to his ancestral home. Both The
Siege of Corinth and Parisina were published in 1815.
Celebrities often travel to remote corners of the world, and Byron
was no exception. When the war in Western Europe and his own
limited resources made the typical Grand Tour impossible, Byron
ventured further afield into the Ottoman Empire. There he spent
time with Ali Pasha, who ruled Greece and Macedonia, and visited
the court of the Sultan in Constantinople. He is portrayed in the
painting above wearing a Turkish costume he purchased on that
Upon his return to England, Byron built on the fame of Childe
Harold by writing six wildly popular Turkish tales in verse,
expanding the popularity of the Byronic hero and pointing up
differences between eastern and western views of religion, sex and
law. In the process, he participated in and perpetuated another
fascination of the Romantic era, Orientalism.
Orientalism was the movement in art and literature which
emphasized the colorful and unfamiliar aspects of Asian
life--bazaars, harems, religion and customs.
Europe first learned about Muslim life when Napoleon took
scholars and artists along to document his findings during his
Egyptian Expedition (1798-1801). Though he lost the conflict, the
report of the expedition stirred widespread interest in Northern
Africa and the Middle East among Europeans.
By the time Byron arrived in 1810-11, the Ottoman Empire was
in decline, though the Turks still held parts of northern Africa, the
Middle East, and even Europe.
Constantinople had been a meeting place of East and West, with
conflicts between the two continuing since the Crusades of the
Middle Ages, through battles like the Siege of Vienna and naval
engagements like the Battle of Lepanto. These conflicts, as well as
Byron's Turkish tales, were fueled by the contrast between
Christian and Muslim views of love, sex, death and the afterlife.
The contrasts and conflicts between East and West which
characterized Byron's time continue to sow misunderstanding and
complicate peaceful relations even today.
Inspired by Byron's Giaour, the French painter Eugene Delacroix
painted The Combat of the Giaour and the Pasha. Delacroix
was the quintessential Romantic artist, a major figure spanning
Renaissance and Modern styles. A daring and original painter, he
is known for rich color, strenuous movement and rough, coarse
His Algerian Women in their Apartments now hangs in the
Louvre. It influenced Picasso.