Azra Erhat and Blue Voyage

A pioneer of humanism in Turkish literature… Translation of Iliad and Odyssey, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Hesiod and many more, “Dictionary of Mythology”, which she wrote fables for the adults, her essays “Ecce Homo” and “Love Management”, “Blue Voyage” and “Blue Anatolia” on Anatolian culture and civilization, which are considered as one of the masterpieces of our travel literature… An intellectual, who made countless contributions to our literature, ideas and world of thought:   Azra Erhat…

What Is Blue Voyage?
“Blue voyage is difficult to tell, you need to live it… If you ask me what it means to be a blue voyager, I say that this is a matter of consciousness. This consciousness gives people a sense of privilege, superiority, but does not separate the blue voyager from their surroundings; on the contrary, it gives them the desire to adopt this ideal to others by infusing with a kind of morality. The greatest achievement for a blue voyager is to be able to organize a blue voyage and give her friends an adventure of blue voyage.” (from the “Blue Voyage”)

Beyond being an academic, writer and translator, Azra Erhat was an important sociologist, a true intellectual who was able to perfectly match the history of philosophy and thought with literary texts. One of the issues she was thinking over was that ancient traditions and habits nourished by the traditional heritage of humanity do not inherit the modern individual. According to her, the greatest disaster facing humanity in the late 20th century was the malady of alienation. Modern-day people have been alienated from their culture, history, language, literature and geography regardless of the geography or social class in which they belong. As a matter of fact, today’s maladies such as depression and loneliness hysteria, which were described as “chronic melancholy” have been among the modern diseases which appeared as a result of alienation. The monotonous lives, which seem to be blessing in big cities, had no meaning other than being trapped in a press, were the biggest human problems of the era. Erhat also saw that people who longed for fresh air and natural life fell into a swamp of tourism, which gradually turned into industry. She said that instead of working hard and pulling out all the stops all year round in order to participate in holiday tours with big ships and spend a few weeks in uproarious, blue voyages would make people more productive and healthy.

The blue voyage philosophy, about which Azra Erhat explained at great length, is a modest adventure far from splendor and luxury, free from detail and where the unnecessary left outside the boat. Comfort is not required in blue voyages; the boat has a toilet and a shower. Blue voyagers even cook their own food. The number of crew is minimum. Their job is to sail the boat according to the route of the voyage and the weather conditions. All sailing and fishing activities apart from the technical details are the responsibility of blue voyagers. This journey is to get rid of arrogance and individualism brought about by city life with a collective consciousness.

From Voyage To A Movement Of Thought: “Blue Anatolianism”
Azra Erhat attributed the benefit of physical journey to the condition of bothering the mental comfort. In the 1950s and 60s, a group of poets, writers, painters and intellectuals, including Sabahattin Eyüboğlu and the Fisherman of Halicarnassus, went to sea, bothering their mental comfort regardless of the difficult conditions and impossibilities of the period. The name of their boat is the same as their mood. Lightheaded… Their journeys starting from the North Aegean were always on the sea, coasts and ancient geographies. They traced the historical adventures of the Mediterranean civilizations in the fertile Anatolian lands. In fact, this adventure may be defined as an intellectual idea development, re-reading and interpreting history, and transferring the acquired intellectual development through literature, poetry, painting and philosophy. As a matter of fact, in Turkish intellectual history, this enlightenment movement pioneered by the same names (the Fisherman of Halicarnassus, Sabahattin Eyüboğlu, Azra Erhat, Vedat Günyol) is called Blue Anatolianism.

Translation and Importance Of Western Sources
We can easily say that as an expert of Classical Greek Philology, Azra Erhat is the person that contributes most to the Anatolian enlightment in introducing Western Sources into Turkish. In the scope of the project “Translations from World Literature”, which was put into practice with the prediction of Hasan Ali Yücel, Azra Erhat’s literary ability as well as command of language contributed to the introducing many basic works of Greek classics into Turkish. Peace from Aristophanes, Electra from Sophocles, Republic from Plato, Antigone from Anouilh were the first classical texts which were introduced into Turkish. Erhat, who began to gain experience in translation and became more and more aware of its importance, decided to translate Iliad and Odyssey from Homer and then works from Herodotus and considered it as a duty and obligation. She prepared a study program to introduce the epics of Homer, which are among the most important works in the history of Western literature, into Turkish, but she could have not predicted where to begin. And another important problem was that texts were poems. She consulted with Sabahattin Eyüboğlu with questions such as the difficulty of translating poetry, which one should she focus on as a priority. Eyüboğlu said that these epic texts, one of the most classic works in the history of literature, could only be well translated if she translated them together with a poet and added: “You must start from Iliad!”

Hi To Homer In Turkish
Thus, she and poet A. Kadir began the translation adventure of these huge texts, which would last for fifteen years. Azra Erhat won Habib Törehan Science Award in 1959 for the first volume of translation of Iliad, and Turkish Language Institution Translation Award in 1961 for the third volume of translation of Iliad. Azra Erhat sees the relationship between history and literature from a very illuminating perspective. The triangle of Mesopotamian Basin, Anatolia and Mediterranean, which is the oldest settlement in the history of mankind, is a paradise of legends, epics, migrations and fairy tales. The reason why these narrations were attributed to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations is just that they were written in the language of the local authors, Ancient Greek and Latin. However, all these ancient stories took place in Anatolia, the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia and Egypt. They multiplied with a cultural vortex and existed by being told to the next generations. They are the common products of all these geographies. Languages are symbolic tools for telling them and carrying them into the future. They should not turn the narrative into a cultural belonging.

The Sea Will Always Recommence… (Valéry)
We read the reflections of her “humanist” philosophy in her books “Blue Voyage” and Blue Anatolia” from beginning to the end, which Azra Erhat extended the boundaries of the genre of travel, and wrote by benefiting from many disciplines from philosophy and anthropology to archeology and mythology. The reflection of her this kind of thoughts is felt in all of her essays and travel writings, except for her memoirs, even in her translations even though she remains loyal to a text. The narrator in the books is the voice of “me” that reflects a deep life and love of human to their style by abstracting it. It is fueled by the air, water, mountain, rock, sea, land of Anatolia and the Mediterranean, and above all, the human heart. Let us salute the writer who spent her whole life with love of human and nature just like her writings, with the verse of Orhan Veli, quoted in her book Blue Voyage.

There are days when I pack
up and leave, In the smell of
the nets pullet out of the sea.
Drifting from this island to that,
In the trail of the shearwaters.
                                       Orhan Veli


Biography Of Azra Erhat
Azra Erhat, who was born in Istanbul in 1915, completed her primary and secondary education in Brussels, Belgium. After graduating from the Faculty of Languages, History, and Geography at Ankara University in 1939, she became an assistant in the Department of Classical Philology and became an associate professor in 1946. Her writings were published in newspapers Yeni Istanbul and Vatan between 1949-1956. Erhat, who worked in the library of the International Labour Organization for many years, was known for her translations from French, German, English, Latin and especially Greek. Azra Erhat passed away in Istanbul in 1982.

Translations Of Azra Erhat
Iliad (1967, w/ A. Kadir); Odyssey (1970, w/ A. Kadir); Hesiod-Works and Resources (1977, w/Sabahattin Eyüboğlu); Aristophanes-the Wasps, Lysistrata and Other Plays (w/Sabahattin Eyüboğlu); François Rabelais-Gargantua (w/Sabahattin Eyüboğlu and Vedat Günyol); Homeros-In the Cave of Cyclops (w/A. Kadir); Home-Interview with Rose; Piri Reis-Seven Seas (w/A. Kadir); Plato- Symposium (w/Sabahattin Eyüboğlu); Aeschylus-Prometheus Bound (w/Sabahattin Eyüboğlu); Antoine De Saint Exupery-South Courier, Le Petit Prince; Colette-the Cat, Chéri

Humanity Is A Happiness Problem
“I walked back and forth. I read and thought. I came to the conclusion that humanity is a problem of happiness. That is, a person becomes a human only when he is happy. Moreover, the main aim and end goal of the teachings that tend to be humanism or humanitarian are to ensure the happiness of the human.” (Azra Erhat, from her book “Love Management”)

Azra Erhat And Humanism
Azra Erhat explains her deep understanding of humanism and her humanistic perspective in her book “Ecce Homo”: “Humanism is to work that will take humanity further on the path of humanity by seeing, finding and loving the whole humanity in a human chosen as an example.” Seeing and loving the whole society in individual, loving by finding adequate to be human and keeping away from pragmatism is a true humanist approach. At the heart of her works is this sense “humanitarian” (in Turkish: “insancı”).

Works Of Azra Erhat
Blue Anatolia (1960-travel writing), Blue Voyage (1962-travel writing), Ecce Homo (1969-essay), Dictionay of Mythology (1972-mythology), Letters of the Halicarnassus Fisherman (1976-letter), Love Management (1978-essay), Blue Cruise from Karya to Pamphylia (1979-travel writing), Troy Tales (1981-fairy tale), From Ottoman Intellectual to Turkish Savant (critique), Gülleyla Memories (memoir), Thought Articles, Halicarnassus Fisherman (editor in the name of Halicarnassus Fisherman)

By: Necati Bulut

*This article was published in the September-October issue of Marmara Life. 

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