AskDefine | Define odalisque

Dictionary Definition

odalisque n : a woman who cohabits with an important man [syn: concubine, courtesan, doxy, paramour]

User Contributed Dictionary



French adoption of the Turkish odalik — “chambermaid” from oda — “room”.


  • /ɒdælˈiːsk/
  • (US)


  1. A female, virginal slave in the Ottoman Seraglio.
  2. A representation of an odalisque in a painting.

Extensive Definition

''This article is about the concubine. For the novel by Fiona McIntosh, see Odalisque (novel).
An odalisque () was a virgin female slave who could rise in status to be a concubine or a wife in Ottoman Seraglios. Most were part of the harem of the Turkish sultan.


The word appears in a French form, and originates from the Turkish odalık, meaning "chambermaid", from oda, "chamber" or "room". Some writers spell the word as, odahlic, odalisk, and odaliq.


An odalisque was not a concubine of the harem, but it was possible that she could become one. Odalisques were ranked at the bottom of the social stratification of a harem, serving not the sultan, but rather, his concubines and wives as personal chambermaids. Odalisques were usually slaves given as gifts to the sultan, although some Georgian and Caucasian families urged their daughters to enter a harem as an odalisque, hoping that they might become a palace concubine, favored slave, or wife of the sultan.
Generally, an odalisque was never seen by the sultan, but instead remained under the direct supervision of the Valide sultan. If an odalisque was of extraordinary beauty or had exceptional talents in dancing or singing, she would be trained as a possible concubine. If selected, an odalisque trained as a concubine would serve the sultan sexually, and only after such sexual contact would she change in status, becoming thenceforth a concubine. In the Ottoman Empire, concubines encountered the sultan only once—unless she was especially skilled in dance, singing, or the sexual arts, and thus gained his attention. If a concubine's contact with the sultan resulted in the birth of a son, she would become one of his wives.

Later Usage

In popular use, the word odalisque also may refer (rather inappropriately, given the virgin nature of these slaves) to a mistress, concubine or paramour of a wealthy man.


odalisque in Breton: Odaliskenn
odalisque in Bulgarian: Одалиска
odalisque in German: Odaliske
odalisque in Spanish: Odalisca
odalisque in French: Odalisque
odalisque in Icelandic: Ódalíska
odalisque in Italian: Odalisca
odalisque in Hebrew: אודליסק
odalisque in Dutch: Odalisk
odalisque in Polish: Odaliska
odalisque in Russian: Одалиска
odalisque in Turkish: Odalık

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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