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The Cover
April 4, 2001

The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2001;285(13):1677. doi:10.1001/jama.285.13.1677

While traveling in Greece in 1811, the English Romantic poet Lord Byron witnessed a horrifying incident. Turkish soldiers were about to fling a young woman into the sea. Why? Because she had committed adultery. Two years later Byron published The Giaour, a Fragment of a Turkish Tale, a long, narrative poem set in tetrameter couplets and quatrains. It takes place in 17th-century Greece, near Athens, and recounts the story of Leila, a slave in the seraglio of the caliph Hassan. When she fell in love with a young Venetian warrior (the "giaour" of the title, which is the Turkish word for infidel, or non-Musselman), she was condemned to be thrown into the sea. The giaour avenged her death by killing Hassan in hand-to-hand combat and then retired to a monastery where he spent the remainder of his life doing penance, not only for murdering Hassan, but also for the death of Leila for which he held himself responsible. It was a love story worthy of a Romantic age; within two years of its publication in 1813, it had gone into 14 editions.

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