SOPA negra, or the black soup

Representation of medieval Buda in Schedel’s Chronicle. The city looked more or less like this around 1500: unlike many other prints of Schedel, this is a rather true view of the castle and its surroundings.

We are living days of justified global turmoil because of the bill proposed some months ago in the House of Representatives of the United States, the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). This is a law which perhaps has some laudable purpose at first sight, but which in the truth deeply threatens the existence of the web as an open place, arbitrarily criminalizing the flow of knowledge and ideas, making insecure its use, and destroying one of the few revolutionary socio-cultural developments realized on a global scale in the last century.

Una SOPA muy negra, a very black soup served on our table by the U.S. lawmakers, we commented it the other day in Studiolum, in whose working language, the noble castellano, this pun offers itself spontaneously. Something like that μέλας ζωμός, (melas zomós, black soup) mentioned by Plutarch (Life of Lycurgus, 12) and prepared by the Spartans, which was so downright bad that once he tasted it, he immediately understood why they were always ready to die.

Turkish miniature on the occupation of Buda by Suleiman in 1541. From the chronicle of Seyyid Lokman
But permit us to also describe how the term “black soup” has for us one further, more precise and sinister meaning and threat. Since the early 15th century, the Turkish occupation of the Balkans, Hungary was in direct contact with the Ottoman Empire. It happened this way that the country got to know and began to consume the coffee, which at that time was called in Hungarian fekete leves, that is, “black soup”.

In 1526 the Ottoman army in the Battle of Mohács killed the young Hungarian king Louis II, whose wife, Margaret (later Spanish governor in Flanders) was of the house of Hapsburg. Ferdinand I of Hapsburg, brother of Emperor Charles V and husband of a sister of the late Louis II, immediately claimed his right to the Hungarian throne and was crowned. However, at the same time they also crowned as John I of Hungary the voivode of Transylvania John Zápolya who, after the devastating battle of Mohács, was virtually the only Hungarian baron with a powerful army.

In 1528 John I signed a treaty with Suleiman the Magnificent who in 1529 occupied Buda, sweeping away the remnants of the Hapsburg army, and pushing back Ferdinand I to Vienna. He then handed the city over to John I. In consequence, Hungary remained in a state of semi-independence until the death of John I.

17th-century woodcut representing the then separate cities of Buda and Pest, both under Turkish rule

The Hungarian king died in 1540, leaving a single newborn son, John Sigismund, who would later become the first Prince of Transylvania. Upon learning of his death, Ferdinand of Hapsburg marched again to Buda to claim his ancient rights. At the same time Suleiman, a fierce enemy of the House of Austria, also started to march to Buda. The Hungarian barons observed with obvious nervousness the proximity of two large armies with which they could not compete, and were not even able to negotiate about the continuity of the newborn king on the throne, but as former allies of Suleiman, they decided to remain faithful to the Ottomans.

Aerial view of the castle of Buda. Marked in red, the destroyed village of Logod,
where Suleiman set up his tent. In blue, the cathedral of the Virgin,
converted into a mosque. View in Google Maps.

Suleiman set up his rich tent right under the walls of the castle of Buda, in the little, destroyed village of Logod, and he invited there the widow queen (daughter of the Polish king Sigismund I) as well as the most influential barons to a solemn banquet. While they were eating and drinking, the Turkish soldiers – faithful allies of the Hungarians – as merely curious visitors surreptitiously and apparently in a peaceful way infiltrated in the streets of the fortress. When their number was enough, they simply had to dispatch the Hungarian guard, pulling down the cross of the cathedral of the Virgin Mary, and planting the crescent moon in its place. Immediately, a muezzin began to sing the first prayer (the mihrab is still today visible in the wall of the sanctuary). The barons, when hearing it (they were at less than four hundred meters from the church) attempted to run up to the castle. But the sultan, as if nothing happened, said to them smiling: “But where do you go, where so fast…? The black soup is yet to come!” and they slowly took the coffee. After having taken it, the sultan sent the queen and the infant heir, with a handful of courtiers, to Transylvania which in the following years became a semi-independent principality, reserving for himself the central part of Hungary as a new vilayat with its seat in Budin. And the barons were arrested and taken to Istanbul where they ended their days in the prisons of Yedikule (“the Seven Towers”), where a commemorative plaque was placed in the last century. Since then, the term “black soup” means in Hungarian: “expect the worst”.

Division of Hungary after 1541, the founding of the wedge-shaped vilayat of Budin.
The western part remained forever in the hands of the Hapsburgs, while
the east, by an agreement with Ferdinand, in the hands of John
Sigismund, first King of Oriental Hungary and from
1570/71, in terms of the Treaty of Speyer,
Principality of Transylvania.

And now, thanks to the free Internet, you have also got to know how the term SOPA negra is loaded with all kinds of sinister meanings throughout the history of many nations. We do not like this soup cooked by some American politicians. It is – to use another term whose intercultural sinister meanings should be discovered in another post – black as pitch.

Turkish woman taking coffee. Anonymous painter, Pera Museum, Istanbul

2 comentarios:

walter dijo...

As far as I know, PIPA, the protect IP Act, is still on the table, as is HR3699. The latter may seem arcane, but would reverse a small gain made for open-scholarship.

“The Research Works Act, also known as H.R.3699, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives at the 112th United States Congress on December 16, 2011, by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and co-sponsored by Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY). The bill contains provisions to prohibit open access mandates for federally funded research and effectively revert the NIH’s Public Access Policy that allows taxpayer-funded research to be freely accessible online.” (Wikipedia).

'Black soup' indeed. Whether the 'free flow of knowledge and ideas' is truly a flow, or rather a syphon into Google and Facebook vaults, we can leave for another time.

Happy New Year, by the way. May the dragon favour río Wang.

languagehat dijo...

"Black as pitch" -- no "a."