Byron and Ali Pasha
By far the most notorious male acquaintance of Byron’s was Ali Pasha (1740-1822), a vicious warlord known as âthe Lion of Yannina’ who ruled part of Albania. Byron travelled to Albania, reputed to be a savage and dangerous country, in 1809, on the tour immortalised in Childe Harold. Few were brave enough to cross Albania’s beautiful mountains, but this just made it all the more appealing to Byron, whose aforementioned-philosophy of life was pursuing âSensation – to feel that we exist’. Landing at Prevasa in scarlet uniforms, Byron and his companion, John Cam Hobhouse, did not know what to expect.
Byron and Hobhouse received an introduction to Ali Pasha via William Leake, the British ambassador in Albania. Pasha was keen to meet the young Englishmen, being a keen-minded politician who saw the diplomatic potential of entertaining foreign aristocrats. Byron and Hobhouse were warmly received, and enamoured with the splendour of Pasha’s court and the traditional Albanian dress (see portrait above). Byron claimed that Pasha kept a large harem of both men and women, and thus it is no surprise that they got on like a house on fire, Pasha complimenting Byron on his beauty and generally leering at him.
âHe treated me like a child, sending me almonds & sugared sherbet, fruit & sweetmeats 20 times a day’, remembered Byron. As we saw in the episode with Augusta Leigh, Byron was susceptible to being treated âlike a child’, but modern Byron-scholars believe it unlikely that Ali Pasha managed to seduce Byron, who preferred younger men, and described his host in unflattering terms in a letter to his mother as âvery fat and not tall, but with a fine face, light blue eyes and a white beard’. Unquestionably, however, Byron was flattered by the powerful warlord’s advances and compliments.
The other side to Ali Pasha, a man known for impaling and roasting his enemies, was not lost on Byron. In the same letter to Catherine Gordon, he observed that âhis manner is very kind and at the same time he possesses that dignity which is universal among the Turks. He has the appearance of anything but his real character; for he is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, and so good a general that they call him the Mohametan Buonaparte [Islamic Napoleon Bonaparte]’. The visit to Ali Pasha had been a ripping adventure.