Divan - Encyclopedia




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DIVAN (Arabic diwan), a Persian word, derived probably from Aramaic, meaning a "counting-house, office, bureau, tribunal"; thence, on one side, the "account-books and registers" of such an office, and, on another, the "room where the office or tribunal sits"; thence, again, from "account-book, register," a "book containing the poems of an author," arranged in a definite order (alphabetical according to the rhyme-words), perhaps because of the saying, "Poetry is the register (diwi n) of the Arabs," and from "bureau, tribunal," "a long seat, formed of a mattress laid against the side of the room, upon the floor or upon a raised structure or frame, with cushions to lean against" (Lane, Lexicon, 93 o f.). All these meanings existed and exist, especially "bureau, tribunal," "book of poems" and "seat" 1; but the order of derivation may have been slightly different. The word first appears under the caliphate of Omar (A.D. 634-644). Great wealth, gained from the Moslem conquests, was pouring into Medina, and a system of business management and administration became necessary. This was copied from the Persians and given the Persian name, "divan." Later, as the state became more complicated, the term was extended over all the government bureaus. The divan of the Sublime Porte was for long the council of the empire, presided over by the grand vizier.

See Von Kremer, Culturgeschichte des Orients, i. 64, 198.

(D. B. MA.) 1 The divan in this sense has been known in Europe certainly since about the middle of the 18th century. It was fashionable, roughly speaking, from 1820 to 1850, wherever the romantic movement in literature penetrated. All the boudoirs of that generation were garnished with divans; they even spread to coffee-houses, which were sometimes known as "divans" or "Turkish divans"; and a "cigar divan" remains a familiar expression.

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