Mahmut Efendi, a müftü working in Athens during the first half of the 18th century, composed a history of that city covering, ironically, the city’s classic, most brilliant period down to its conversion to Christianity in the first century A.D.. Mahmut writes in his introduction that he was helped by two priests, Kavallaris and Sotiris, who translated for him passages from various classic authors such as the fifth-century B.C. Thucydides. In fact the two priests were fooling Mahmut: they relied on a Greek-language History of Athens by another priest, Kontaris, published in Venice in 1675: it is in reality Kontaris who collected and synthesised the classic sources. Kontaris provides the basic scheme for Mahmut’s work: from time to time his informants amplify a given passage in Kontaris: on the other hand some sections of Kontaris have been cut, for example parts of the Peloponnesian War narrative.
Beside the cuts and amplifications just mentioned, there are additions of completely new subject-matter, and notably the long passage concerning Alexander the Great. In Mahmut’s narrative it is a Greek tradition that is being followed; the version in Mahmut Efendi is one of a number of popular versions which were in circulation by word of mouth at the time. Mahmut then adds information from the Qur’anic and other Islamic sources.
A further section of text purports to take the story of Athens up to Mehmet II’s capture of the city in 1456, then to the seizure of the Peloponnese in 1686 by Venetian forces and the attack on Athens in 1687: Mahmut was evidently shocked by the deliberate shelling of the Parthenon, then a mosque, which cost hundreds of lives. This further section of text presents Venice as a pirate state which seized the whole Byzantine empire: the whole section is based on popular tradition.
I argue essentially that the version of Athenian history down to the first century A.D. which appears in Mahmut Efendi represents a wide-ranging metamorphosis of Kontaris on the part of Mahmut’s informants, which is then translated quite faithfully into Ottoman; secondly we argue that the further section of text is added to the principal narrative for the purpose of denigrating Venice for its perfidy, particularly in bombarding the Parthenon, and so for that of flattering the memory of Mehmet II and, no doubt, the whole Ottoman dynasty.