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A Knight to Remember

There are times, reading this assured biography of Sir Steven Runciman, when one’s attention swerves from the life and times of the great Byzantinist to focus on his biographer. Who is the young Proteus of research, balanced judgment and feline wit? Runciman was famously a stylist; so is Minoo Dinshaw. Historian, gossip and queer, Runciman was a mine of anecdote, much unprintable and often dealing with crowned heads (having encountered the Almanach de Gotha early in life, he never let it go). Dinshaw can certainly keep up, memorialising the relationship between Bloomsbury members as deftly as he analyses an academic manoeuvre or the thrust of a istorical argument. But of him we are told nothing: only that he lives in London, and that this is his first book. His picture makes him look terribly young.

Runciman, who died in 2000 aged 97, remained at some level a boy himself, mischievous and as full of wheezes when he was helicoptered into Athos for a last hurrah as when he and a sister developed a complete religion, equipped with rites and the contents of a dressing-up box, in the gloomy family seat at Doxford before the First World War.

To read the full article, purchase Issue 55

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 55
  • Puppetmaster of Pera

    Yusuf Franko Kusa used brush and pen and position to lampoon and pull the strings of Ottoman high society. Unseen for 60 years, his caricatures are now the subject of a fascinating exhibition in Istanbul, writes K Mehmet Kentel

  • The great defender

    At one time all roads led to Erzurum, a key stop on a great caravan route and a strategic bastion against invasion. Today it is a remote city on Turkey’s Asian frontier with an important history crying out to be discovered. In Part 2 of Cornucopia’s Beauty and the East series, the photographer Brian McKee continues his tour of eastern Anatolia in Erzurum as Scott Redford leads us from Turkic citadel to Mongol minarets.

  • Man, myth and mastic

    It was for centuries the preserve of sultans, extolled by the ancients, sought after in the harem, a staple of palace kitchen and pharmacy. More precious than gold, mastic brought fortune and fame to the island of Chios, today the world’s sole source of this ‘Arabic gum’. Now, thanks to a pioneering initiative, the Turkish shores across the water will be green with mastic groves. Text and photographs by Berrin Torolsan

  • Melting hearts

    An ambitious new work of classical music – based on Howard Blake’s enchanting score for ‘The Snowman’ – has just received its world premiere. This concert is just one of many achievements by Talent Unlimited, a Turkish charity that gives budding young virtuosi a helping hand. Tony Barrell tells the story. Photographs: Monica Fritz

  • Golden globes

    And the award for most versatile, most nourishing and best-loved ingredient goes to… the humble chickpea. Berrin Torolsan explores its history and its limitless talent to entertain us in a multitude of different roles

  • Citizen canine

    A fascinating exhibition at the Istanbul Research Institute that explores a dog’s life in Ottoman Istanbul and the transformation of attitudes as Westernisation takes hold

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