|"The Arab Scribe" by J.F. Lewis, 1852|
|"The Bath" by J.L. Gerome, in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco|
|"Odalisque" by Max Nonnenbruch|
|"By order of the sultan" by Antonio Fabres|
|"Idle Moments" by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1875|
Obedience & Captivity; Beauty & Pleasure; Arts & Skills; Nakedness & Purdah
Nineteenth century Western painters and writers constructed an imagined world of the Near East, especially of Ottoman Turkey and Egypt, which appealed to their audiences' fantasies of sex, power, and sensual pleasures. The central figure of this world was the odalisque, a female slave in a harem, trained to serve her Master's pleasure, and assigned to sexual rather than domestic duties. Their work has been criticised as a distorting mirror which exaggerated some aspects of these Near Eastern cultures. However, it was also a deep and penetrating reflection of these often unacknowledged desires in Western audiences. This Odalisquian world has many themes which we would now identify with BDSM, especially D/s, M/s or O&P relationships, and this appreciation of Odalisquian imagery lives on within the modern BDSM scene.
"The Octagram" identifies eight themes which capture the essence of the Odalisquian world in a way which is relevant to modern consensual relationships of ownership or possession.
The first theme is obedience, which is the foundation of the rest. Odalisques are fundamentally eager to please their masters, but are subject to physical and other punishments if necessary to maintain discipline and curtail disobedience.
Odalisques are often compared to caged songbirds or beloved pets, and are frequently held in forms of captivity, whether that is bondage and restraints, cages, locked doors, or simply rules about leaving the harem rooms or the house itself. A locked collar is a symbolic form of that captivity, representing either a period of possession or enduring ownership.
A principal reason for possessing an odalisque is to enjoy the beauty of women, and odalisques have the time and the duty to take care of their appearance, to cultivate grace, and to seek out clothes and cosmetics which present their bodies to their master as a frame presents a painting.
Odalisques share the sensual pleasure of their minds and bodies with their masters, both as sexual servants and as entertaining companions. They have the opportunity to learn the preferences of the man they serve, and to discover how best to provide them. Odalisques also develop their own sensual tastes to enhance the joys they give by deepening their own sensitivity to pleasure.
Odalisques strive to become accomplished in arts and skills which are desirable to their master, such as visual arts, the performance or selection of music, belly dancing, cooking meals, baking cakes, or creating clothes. They see these arts and skills as another way of pleasing, rather than as household drudgery only suitable for maids and menial servants.
Nakedness is the natural state of an odalisque before her master. A newly acquired odalisque is traditionally examined naked, and her most intimate services are performed when stripped of all clothing. She learns to be comfortable with her body and with extended periods of nakedness. Even if she is usually dressed, she may be kept barefoot indoors or in certain rooms, and as a possession of her master, she is is emotionally naked and not entitled to privacy.
Purdah is the practice of concealing harem women from men other than their master, and is the final theme of the Octagram. Odalisques may be subject to seclusion in a dedicated area of the house, where they can be enjoyed without interruption; they may be subject to selective restrictions on their visibility and exposure to other men and women in public, perhaps with clothing rules about which revealing items are forbidden, permitted, or compulsory; and their behaviour may be constrained by protocols governing which types of interaction with other men and women are permitted.