A History of Ottoman Poetry


Elias John Wilkinson Gibb (1857‒1901) was a Scottish Orientalist who was born and educated in Glasgow. After studying Arabic and Persian, he developed an interest in Turkish language and literature, especially poetry, and in 1882 he published Ottoman Poems Translated into English Verse in the Original Forms. This was a forerunner to the six-volume classic presented here, A History of Ottoman Poetry, published in London between 1900 and 1909. Gibb died in London of scarlet fever at the age of 44, and only the first volume of his masterpiece appeared before his death. His family entrusted to his friend Edward Granville Browne (1862–1926), a distinguished Orientalist in his own right who had made a special study of Babism, the task of posthumously publishing the five remaining volumes. Browne characterized the work as “one of the most important, if not the most important, critical studies of any Muhammadan literature produced in Europe during the last half-century.” The first volume contains a long and compelling introduction by Gibb on the entire subject, in which he argues that Ottoman poetry often rose and fell in tandem with Ottoman power. Gibb divides Ottoman poetry into two great schools, the Old or Asiatic (circa 1300‒1859), which generally was characterized by its deference to Persian influences; and the New or European (from 1859 onward), which was influenced by French and other Western poetry. According to Gibb, the Old or Asiatic School went through a four periods: a formative period (1300‒1450); a period (1450‒1600) in which works were modeled after the Persian poet Jami; a period (1600‒1700) dominated by the influences of Persian poets Urfi Shirazi and Saʼib Tabrizi; and a period of uncertainty that lasted until 1859. The European school that followed was inaugurated by Ibrahim Sinasi (1826‒71), who in 1859 produced a small but momentous collection of French poetry translated into Turkish verse. The influence of the collection was far-reaching and eventually changed the course of Ottoman poetry. Gibb is known for his masterful translations that brilliantly render into English both the meaning and the form of Ottoman, Persian, and Arabic poetry. For almost a century after his death, a family trust financed the Gibb Memorial Series of editions and translations into English of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish texts.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Luzac and Company, London


Title in Original Language

A history of Ottoman poetry

Type of Item

Physical Description

6 volumes ; 24 centimeters


  1. Edward Granville Browne, “A History of Ottoman Poetry. By E. J. W. Gibb, M.R.A.S. Vol. I. (London: Luzac & Co., 1900.),” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland (January 1901).
  2. Sidney Lee, editor, “Gibb, Elias John Wilkinson,” in Dictionary of National Biography. 1912, Supplement 2. (London: Smith, Elder & Company, 1912).

Last updated: March 23, 2017