Ḥācım Sulṭān Fights a Dragon

Ident.Nr. I. 4 Sammlung- Museum für Islamische Kunst
Detail of a woolen rug, roughly contemporary with the account of Ḥācım Sulṭān and the dragon, depicting a dragon and phoenix in highly stylized fashion. Produced- probably- in the expanding Ottoman lands by Turkman weavers (and so related to the carpet in our previous visit with Ḥācım Sulṭān), the motif looks to both long-standing Chinese artistic renderings of dragons and phoenixes as well as to textile art current among Turkic groups in Anatolia at the time. (Museum für Islamische Kunst, Ident.Nr. I. 4)

We’ve met Ḥācım Ṣultān before, so I will not give an introduction here, as the following account comes from the same late medieval into early modern hagiography translated in my previous post. This is one is a little different, however, both in subject matter- a battle with a mountaintop dragon!- and in its style, which I have tried to reproduce here as much as possible. Quite frankly, there are sections of this story that I do not fully understand, some of which it is possible the sixteenth century copyist did not fully understand either. The feeling of orality is very strong here, the core story- in which a mountaintop is broken into strange rock formations and colored red- sounding very much like an etiological tale in origin. The hagiography has done a couple of interesting things with the story: it is nested within a larger narrative in which rival dervishes and saints of Western Anatolia spar with and test Ḥācım Ṣultān, having just sent a man named Alaca Altu (‘one of the piebald horse’) to strike down the saint. Upon finding Ḥācım Ṣultān, Alaca Altu dismounted his horse, then

took his weapon in his hand. He gave a loud cry. He set out for Sulṭān Ḥācım. He struck but did not cut. Again he struck but he did not cut. A third time he struck but did not cut! Then the venerable Sulṭān Ḥācım said, ‘You must know, Alaca Atlu, your blade is not going to cut me. But mount your horse and so that you can come and fulfill my intention, upon that hill you ought to go and eat some food! When you ride up there let the dervishes cook you some kebab. We will not slice you up!’

The ‘hill’ becomes the focal point of the following story, which probably originally stood alone. After fighting the dragon, the hagiography continues beyond my translation, Alaca Atlu did indeed come up the mountain and eat some kebab with the dervishes and Ḥācım Ṣultān- a happy ending for everyone (except the dragon!). But before we think further about this tale, here it is, translated as best I could manage- with a stronger than usual caveat about the contingency of a translation.

Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Persan 174 fol. 11v
Dragons have been fixtures of art and imagination in Anatolia for many centuries; this two-headed dragon (or, rather, the angel of the fourth station of the moon taking the form of a dragon!) hails from late 13th century Seljuk Anatolia, reflecting the absorption of Byzantine art and motifs into emergent Islamic art and culture in the region (BnF MS Persan 174 fol. 11v)

Now then that mountain was very densely forested. A bird flying in could not fly out. Some people were dissimulatory towards Sulṭān Ḥācım, saying, ‘In the region of Menteşe he turned a woman into a man, in Germiyan he held up the water, and Alaca Altu could not kill him! Come, let us go and slay the dragon that has come into this forest,’ they said [to him]. Sulṭān Ḥācım entered the path. Upon the path the dragon manifest itself. Out of fear neither human nor jinn would draw close to it, however, one of those dissimulatory towards Muḥammad Muṣṭafā, upon whom be peace, out of coarseness said, ‘Master, you approach it!’ Now, in order to shame the hypocrites God revealed to his most pious and perfect Beloved suras and verses. Muḥammad Muṣṭafā recited [them], and the hypocrites were shamed and saddened. One came to the faith. He said, ‘Ya Muḥammad, if we had not treated you unkindly who would have known you to be a prophet?’ Now, then, it is likewise with God’s saintly servants, God having commanded concerning obligation towards them, saying, ‘Verily, there is no fear in the friends of God nor do are they saddened.’ The saints know one another’s states, though one who but accompanies the dervishes might deny [them]. They make sainthood manifest.

Now, then, Ḥācım Ṣultān approached the place of the dragon. Dervish Burhān followed behind him. Along the way, Dervish Burhān could hear a voice, and the smell of corruption was wafting along. All of his limbs went limp, and his reason was on the point of fleeing. Sulṭān Ḥācım said, ‘What is the matter Burhān?’ Dervish Burhān said, ‘My sulṭān, there is a bad smell coming from that forest! My reason is on the point of departing!’ Sulṭān Ḥācım said, ‘Let us walk forward. Alongside Seyyīd Ghāzī we drew the sword against the infidels and waged holy struggle while opening [to Islam] this place. At the time [this dragon] was a serpent akin to a creeping reptile. It seems that now it has become a dragon. Will it attack a human?’

The dragon smelled human scent from him. He set to searching about, and came within a bowshot. His eye fell upon Sulṭān Ḥācım. He took a breath and opened his mouth wide, intending to swallow [Sulṭān Ḥācım]. But Sulṭān Ḥācım cried out as the serpent came, shaking the mountains and rocks. Fire was manifest from Sulṭān Ḥācım’s mouth. It flashed towards the dragon and entered his mouth and began to burn up the dragon! Out of misery the dragon in one moment cast himself into the air, at another moment circled around the rocks of the place so that they bubbled up like dough. His head struck a rock, and as if entering dough his head and ear were impressed in the stone. In short, having caught on fire the dragon gave a loud cry which caused Burhān to pass out and fall over. Sulṭān [Ḥācım]’s horse urinated blood and, in short, the rock became red.

Then, Sulṭān Ḥācım entered into [the spiritual state] of divine wrath. The dervishes quietly came up. ‘If the dragon swallowed him,’ they said to themselves, ‘we’ll return, accepting it as having been a sacrifice.’ One by one they came and gathered. They saw that the dragon had burned up, the rocks had bubbled like dough, the mountains had caught on fire and burned, Burhān had passed out and fallen prostrate, the horse had urinated blood, and the venerable Ḥācım had entered the state of divine wrath. All of the dervishes came and cast their faces upon his feet, and Ḥācım Sulṭān said, ‘Praise be to God! Let this [story] be a cause of remembrance for the lovers who come after us, and may my horse’s urine become stone, and let it be a remedy (dermān) for those friends who love us.’ Now, Sulṭān Ḥācım sat down with his back to an enormous pine tree that was growing atop the mountain. All of the dervishes came and there they cooked food and prayed.

BnF Persan 174 fol. 83
In another illumination from the Persian-language astrological and magical compilation Daqā’iq al-ḥaqā’iq (BnF MS Pers. 174), an angel slays a dragon- a reinterpretation of Byzantine Orthodox stories and iconography of saints fighting dragons (on this image see
Oya Pancaroǧlu, ‘The Itinerant Dragon-Slayer: Forging Paths of Image and Identity in Medieval Anatolia,’ Gesta, Vol. 43, No. 2 (2004)).

Of course Ḥācım Ṣultān was hardly the first saint of Anatolia associated with fighting dragons. St. George is by far the most famous saint to have slain a dragon, but there are other Christian saints known for such combat, with Khiḍr in Islamic traditions in Anatolia often replacing or merging with St. George or St. Theodore in such dragon-slaying. Locating and fighting dragons was very much an established part of the ecumenical saintly repertoire in late medieval Anatolia, retaining its charge into the early modern period. Our hagiographer, however, has turned Ḥācım Ṣultān’s encounter with a dragon into an opportunity to teach wider Islamic salvation history and to underline proper attitudes towards the saints. The story has been framed by some dissimulatory dervishes trying to get rid of the saint by having him fight the dragon on the mountaintop, but just as Muḥammad was able to rebuke the ‘hypocrites’ with divine assistance, so Ḥācım Ṣultān ultimately shames those who do not believe in his sainthood. Where Muḥammad had suras and verses, Ḥācım Ṣultān breathes fire and kills a ferocious beast. The story also establishes a local landmark as a permanent reminder of the saint, and in this way, like many other hagiographies of the period, the very landscape of Anatolia was marked with a new saintly presence in a distinctive and locally resonant Islamic form.


Ident.Nr. I. 4 Sammlung- Museum für Islamische Kunst

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