History Of Persian Literature and Historical Background


What is the historical background of Persian literature? Information about Persian Literature from the beginnings of Firdausi and to the death of Hafiz.

From the Beginnings to Firdausî.

Owing to the lack of contemporary interest in its development, the earliest phase of Persian literature went almost unrecorded and can, therefore, be reconstructed only to a very limited extent.


The Arab conquest of Sassanid Persia (completed c.650 a.d.) made the educated Persian turn away from his national traditions, offering him, in exchange for his loss of independence, the splendid economic and political opportunities at the disposal of the greatest power of the day. The end of Iran’s political autonomy and her gradual Islamization deprived the native literature in Pahlavî (Pehlevi)— the Middle Persian language of the 3d to 7th centuries a.d.—of its spiritual basis as well as its national significance and an increasing number of Iranian converts came to participate actively in the cultural life of the Moslem (Muslim) state. But while the barriers to the non-Arabs advancement in the state were successfully surmounted after no more than a hundred years of subjection, the Arabic language remained the exclusive medium of Moslem civilization. Hence the fact that the main contribution of poets or scholars of Persian descent from c.700 until nearly 1000 a.d. (and in many instances till much later) was made in Arabic literature.

A considerable proportion of the greatest names of Arabic poetry and erudition, such as the poets Bassâr b. Burd (d. 783) and Abû Nuwâs (Abu-Nuwas, d. 810), the grammarian Sibawaihi (Sibawayh, d. c.793), and the historian al-Balâduri (d. 892), are those of Persians some of whom devoted themselves to translating or adapting Persian subject matter for the Arabic-speaking world. It is this self-identification of the Persian scholar and writer with the supranational Moslem civilization which, at the same time, increased immeasurably the effectiveness of his contribution and caused his almost complete neglect of his own tongue as a literary vehicle. Centuries later, when Persian literary prestige had reached its summit, Indian and Turkish authors, in turn, discarded their native language for Persian. The ceaseless interaction of Arabic and Persian literature is doubtless the most important influence in the development of Persian writing.

The earliest well-documented specimens of Persian literature are a few doggerel rhymes, clearly of popular origin, dating back to c.670 and 737 respectively. The true awakening of Persian poetry accompanied the slow resurgence of Iranian independence under the native dynasties of the Tâhirids (Tahirids, 820-872), the Saffârids (Saffarids, 867-903) and, in particular, the Sâmânids (Samanids) who for more than a century (874-999) held sway in most of northeastern Persia and in Transoxiana. Even before the rise of the Tâhirids, Persian seems to have been well on its way to recognition as a literary language since, in 809, the caliph al-Ma’mûn (al-Mamun), the son of a Persian mother, was welcomed with verses in Persian when he entered the city of Merv (Mary).


The compositions of the early Persian poets, of which only scant fragments remain, are noteworthy mainly as symptoms of Iranian nationalism on the one hand and of the paramount influence of Arabic literature on the other. The poems are written in Arabic meters, and in their content follow Arabic convention very closely. When they are compared with contemporary Arabic verse, some of them are distinguished by a most engaging freshness and simplicity; subsequent developments, however, show these qualities to be due rather to imperfect control of the apparatus of poetry than to deliberate choice. The activity of bilingual poets is characteristic for the 10th century. Many a littérateur is praised for his skill in handling both Arabic and Persian and quick translation of an Arabic verse (or a whole poem) into a Persian verse (or poem) remained a favorite feat of Persian writers for some time to come.

Kelileh va Demneh

Kelileh va Demneh (Source : wikipedia.org)

The quantitative Arabic metrical system was taken over without reserve. The Persians eliminated, however, some of the numerous licenses admitted by Arabic prosody, thus imparting a more striking and strict, although perhaps more monotonous, rhythm to their verse. In course of time they added not inconsiderably to the number of available meters. Another innovation is polysyllabic rhymes frequently extending over two or more words. Whether or not Persian rhyme continues Pahlavi tradition is still a moot question. The charming story of King Bahrâm Gôr (420-440) who is said to have evolved the rhyme in spirited dialogue with Dilârâm, his beloved, is as apocryphal as that introducing the singer Bârbad (c.600) as the “founder” of Persian poetry.

The dominant forms of lyrical expression wère also borrowed from Arab tradition : the qasîda (kasida), a lengthy poem in which the same rhyme is kept throughout, the half-verses of the first line also rhyming ; the purpose of the qasîda usually is eulogy, also satire or lampoon, and sometimes elegy, but the subject is never broached before an elaborate introduction of an amatory and (or) descriptive character has testified to the poet’s ability. The qit’a, or fragment, is, so to speak, a part of the qajîda that has attained to independence and hardly ever exceeds a dozen lines. By shortening the qasîda to form 4-12 verses and having the poet name himself in the last line, the Persians modified it into the ghazal (gazel), used mainly for songs of wine and love, both earthly and divine. Another Persian development is the quatrain or rubâ’-î which sets up the two first verses of a qasîda as an independent unit of epigrammatic expression, the half-verses being treated as full lines. Precedents for this form in which the Persians excelled can be traced in Arabic 10th century poetry.

While the Persian poet, as a rule, strove to match and surpass Arabic achievement and thus frequently restricted himself to duplicating the subject matter of Arabic lyrics, his greater sensitivity to the pageantry of nature is as noticeable as is his readiness to abandon reality for flights of fancy and uninhibited hyperbole. More witty than profound, interested in form rather than ideas, addicted to bold metaphors and puns, the Persian poet sings to attract and preserve the favor of his patron sovereign on whose liberality his livelihood depends. The excessive adulation marring many of his qasîdas, as well as the emphasis on quick-witted improvisation, bespeaks his precarious position on the edge of court society that compelled the poet to anticipate and cater to his patron’s every whim.

The greatest figure of this period is Rudagi (d. c.954). It is characteristic of later Persian taste that his elaborate poems in praise of the Samanid prince, Nasr II (914-943), have been copied time and again, whereas his artless but charming verse presentation of the Indian fable-book of Kalila and Dimna was neglected and therefore lost but for a few fragments. His odes brought him not only fame but riches. When he does not laud his sovereign, he chants of wine and love, or laments the frailty of old age in melancholy reminiscence of his gay youth.

That national feeling that stimulated Persian poetry also prompted the first endeavors to create an adequate Persian prose style. Bal’ami, the vizier of Man§ur I b. Nuh (961-976), in 963 offered an abridged version of al-Tabari’s (Tabari, d. 923)—himself of Persian birth-monumental Arabic History of the World (Annals). During the same reign the physician Abu Man§ur Muwaffaq wrote a pharmacological tract, as far as we know the first original scientific work in Persian.


From Firdausi (d. c.1020) to Hafiz (d. 1389)

During this period Persian literature expanded into several new fields and perfected the treatment of the traditional kinds. With the end of the 14th century the formal development of Persian literature came to a close.

Strangely enough, the most outstanding document of Iranian national sentiment, and at the same time one of the truly great literary possessions of mankind, was completed only when the hopes for Persian independence had faded and the Turkish ruler, Mahmud (Mahmud) of Ghazni (998-1030), had become the paramount power in Iran. In 1010 Firdausi (Firdawsi) —it is their pen name under which Persian poets are known—finished the Shah Namah (Sah-Nama), or Book of the Kings, the product of 35 laborious years, which was destined to become the great classic of his nation. On the basis of various prosaic sources that in part can be traced back to the latter days of the Sasanian period, Firdausi told the history of the Iranians, grouped into 50 chapters of more than 50,000 couplets covering 50 reigns from the legendary King Gayomali, the first man, to Yazdegerd III, the unhappy prince who lost his realm to the Arabs and was treacherously slain in 651.

The Book of the Kings, that exceeds the Iliad in length about seven times, is written in mutaqarib couplets which must have been the traditional meter of epical narrative long before Firdausi. It is obvious that Firdausi could draw on the resources of a definite epic style that tended to avoid Arabic loan-words so lavishly employed elsewhere in Persian writings, and to cultivate obsolete expressions of noble associations. Firdausi incorporated in his work about 1,000 verses left by an older poet, Dakiki (Daqiqi, d. c.975), who had embarked on the same enterprise by describing the conversion of Iran to the Zoroastrian faith. Firdausi may have been only too glad not to have to deal with that topic which was, for a Moslem, a rather delicate one, particularly since he was bent upon gaining by his poem the good graces of the fanatical Sunnite, Mahmud. Disappointment of his hopes for a due reward caused Firdausî to leave this ruler’s court and to launch against him a vicious and grandiose satirical attack intended to make the world forget that it was Mahmûd to whom he had dedicated his masterpiece.

Despite some comparatively dull stretches and some repetition in detail as suggested by epical tradition and rendered inevitable by the dimension of the book, Firdausi’s presentation is distinguished by beautiful and amazingly varied imagery and straightforward gripping narrative. The liberation of Iran from the foreign oppressor Dahhâk by Faredon and the smith Kâva, the long drawn-out strife between Iranians and Turanians, the stories grouped around Rustam, the miraculously strong national hero, including his fight with his own son, Sohrab (Suhrâb), whom he slays before recognizing him, the love episodes between Zâl and Rûdâba and Bezan and Maneza, the history of the conqueror Alexander who is made acceptable to Persian pride by being given a Persian mother of the blood royal, and the deeds and death of the rebel King Bahrâm Ğöbîn (a historical figure, 589-590) : these are a few of the high points of the book that show both the poet’s mastery and the richness of the national memories of the Persian people. Firdausi’s work soon became a national treasure and a model for many lesser men trying their hand at the heroic epic. None of his followers, however, even remotely reached Firdausi’s achievement, although some of their contributions such as the Garsâsp-Nâma (Book of Garsâsp) of the younger Asadi (fl. c.1050), the compiler of the oldest extant Persian glossary, deserve attention because they versify traditions not dealt with by Firdausî.

In his declining years repentant of having spent the best part of his life on a pagan subject, Firdausî turned the (biblical and quranic) Joseph story into an epic. Expressing renouncing his Shah Namah, he undertook in Yûsuf and Zulaikhâ (Zulaihâ), the name ascribed by Moslem legend to Potiphar’s wife, to write a poem of religious character. Actually, however, he laid the foundation of a tradition of romantic narrative. ‘Unşurî (d. c.1050), perhaps using a Pahlavi source, told the tragic love story of Wamiq and {Adra in this style; Fakhr (Fahr) ad-Din Gurgânî, in about 1048, that of Vis and Râmîn, whose plot recalls the loves of Tristan and Iseult. The public applauded the new genre: 13 poets treated the Joseph story after Firdausî; 6 poets retold Wamiq and (Adrâ’s adventures. The unchallenged master of romantic narrative is Nizâmî (d. 1203), who aside from the story of Khosrau (Qusrav) and Shîrîn (Şîrîn) and the seven romances centering on King Bahrâm Gör (the Haft Paikar, or Seven Pictures), introduced the Arabic love tale of Laila and Majnûn into Persian literature. These works, together with a heroic tale, the Book of Alexander, and a collection of moralia, Makhzan (Mahsan) al-asrâr (The Treasure House of Secrets), Nizâmî united in a Khamsa (Qamsa), or quintet, an arrangement imitated by Amîr Khosrau (gusrav, d. 1325), the most important Persian poet in India, and many others. Amir Khosrau was the first to choose contemporary events for some of his sentimental narratives. Somewhat later, (Ubaid-i Zâkânî (d. c.1370) parodied the well-worn form in his mock-heroic epic, Mûs u Gurba (The Mouse and the Cat).

A scene from the Shahnameh describing the valour of Rustam

A scene from the Shahnameh describing the valour of Rustam (Source : wikipedia.org)

In the lyrical field, Firdausî is surpassed in originality by his teacher, the elder Asadî (d. between 1030 and 1040), who secured a permanent place in Persian poetry for the tenson, or tenzon. First developed by the Arabs in elaboration of a Greek tradition, the tenson came to be cultivated mostly in Persia (but later also became a favorite of Provençal poetry to which it was introduced via Arab Spain). In The Arab and the Persian, Asadî seeks to prove the pre-eminence of his countrymen over the Arabs ; other tendons depict the rivalry of Night and Day, Heaven and Earth. The form has remained popular for many a century.

The splendor of the literary entourage of Mahmûd, where Minôcihrî (d. after 1041), Farrukhi (Farruhî, d. c.1037), and Unşuri excelled among the panegyrists, was to be matched only a century later by the court of the Seljuk (Saljûq) prince, Sanjar (d. 1157). Mu’izzî, who was to be accidentally killed by his patron (1147 or 1148), and Anvari (d. between 1189 and 1191) raised the art of the encomium to a formerly unheard of level, unfortunately not without yielding to mannerism in crowding their verses with obscure allusions and far-fetched puns. Outstanding among Anvarî’s poems is his elegy complaining of the destruction wrought by the Ghuz invaders in Khurasan (Hurâsân), 1154— 55. Khâqânî (Hâqânî, d. c.1199) redeemed his affected court poetry by the warm sincerity of his elegies and of his famous poetical account of his pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, The Present of the Two iIrâqs, which contains many beautiful descriptions of nature and of the main cities on his road.

None of these poets attains to that immediate appeal to the Western reader which the quatrains of Omar Khayyam, ((Umar gayyâm, d. 1123) possess. The directness of approach characteristic of Omar is perhaps at least in part due to the fact that he was not a professional poet but a mathematician and astronomer, and thus free to follow his inclination without deference to contemporary taste. Recent criticism has recognized that many quatrains have been falsely attributed to Omar ; some of them are the work of the great philosopher, Avicenna (d. 1037). The strophes now admitted as genuine reveal him a disillusioned spectator of the comedy of human life, sceptical toward established religion and critical of Providence and the divine rule of the world, but passionately fond of the fleeting beauty and the fragile wonders of this world, of roses, of wine and sweet forgetfulness. It would seem that Fitzgerald’s famed translation, while emphasizing the resigned melancholy of the quatrains, somehow failed to render the almost cruel poignancy of Omar’s sentiment.

A moralistic strain has always been powerful in the Persian character. Like most Orientals, the Persian have been fond of wisdom literature, of advice put into the mouth of celebrated sages such as the Sassanian vizier, Buzurjmihr. Such advice, tendered in brief maxims and illustrated by fitting anecdotes, exhibits a thoroughly practical outlook ; it aims at guiding the individual toward a sound adjustment in his various social relations, and also at inculcating the correct polite behavior.

Books of this type had earlv been translated from Pahlavî into Arabic and the 11th century witnessed the resumption in Persian of this so-called adab literature. Its outstanding representatives are the Qâbûs-Nâma, composed in 1082 by the Prince of Tabaristân, Kaikâ’us b. Iskandar b. Qâbûs, and the Siyâsat-Nâma (On the Art of Government) by the famous Seljuk vizier, Nizâm al-Mulk (assassinated 1092). While the Qâbûs-Nâma concerns itself with private life, the regulation of family relations, love, diet, games, and the like, the Siyâsat-Nâma could be called a compendium of administrative and political experience. The three most popular systematic discussions of ethics are the Ahlâq-i Nâşirî (akhlaq = ethics) by Nâşir ad-Din Tûsî, a great scholar but rather objectionable personality (d. 1274) ; the Ahlâq-i Jalâlî by Jalâl ad-Din ad-Davânî (d. 1503) ; and the Aflâq-i Muhsinî by Husain al-Wâ(i<? al-Kâsifî (d. 1505). ‘ Al-Kâsifî’s fame rests even more securely on his Anwâr-i Suhailî (Lights of the Canopus), a flowery version of Kalîla and Dimna. This work with its alternate use of prose and poetry continues a very ancient Oriental tradition of moralist writing which was borrowed into Greek by the Menippean satire (from c.300 b.c.) and which in Persian is represented with particular felicity by Sa’di (d. 1291), incidentally the first Persian author to become known to the West in translations. Sa’di Bûstân (Garden) and Gulistân (Rose Garden) display—the first in verse, the second in prosimetric form—the detached and kindly attitude of an old man who has become reconciled to the unpredictable vagaries of fate. A born storyteller, Sa(di teaches his ethics of expediency through countless examples frequently taken from his own experience and put forward in engagingly simple and direct language.


Beginning with the 11th century the various forms of Persian literature are gradually put into the service of Şûfism (Sufism), the doctrine voicing the desire of the soul to achieve its salvation by union with the only reality, God, and laying out for the disciple the path on which, through ecstasy and annihilation of the barrier of the flesh, the goal of identification with the godhead could be reached. It is hardly an exaggeration to state that nearly all of Persian literature after perhaps 1050 bears in some way or another the imprint of this mystical (and frequently basically unorthodox) sentiment. Abû Sa’îd b. Abî’1-gair (d. 1049) chose the rubâ’-î as the vehicle of his pantheistic thoughts, and it is in his verse that we meet for the first time in Persian with that allegorical employment of the terminology of worldly love to express the unspeakable experience of the mystic. God appears as the beautiful beloved, the youthful cupbearer, or else the burning candle, whom the mystic approaches as the ardent wooer, the drunken toper, or the moth that throws itself into the flame sacrificing earthly life for oneness with the divine. Depreciation of dogmatic religion, asceticism, and sometimes scepticism and pessimism characterize the Şûfî’s outlook on this world. It is true that many a poet used the mystic’s language of symbols only to add to the richness of his presentation, but on the whole mysticism came very near to be, if not a national philosophy, at least a national attitude.

Soon Anşârî (d. 1088) introduced mysticism into prosimetrical writings; slightly later, Sanâ’î (d. 1141) set the style for the şûfic-didactic poem in his Hadiqat al-haqiqa (Garden of Truth). In this matnavî—the general term for a poem in couplets with rhyming half-verses—Sanâ’î sets

forth the essential doctrines of Sufism, interspersing theoretical discussion with winsome stories and anecdotes of a moralistic tenor. This mixture of theory and illustrative fiction remained typical of the innumerable mystical matnavîs that were to follow. The next great master of this form is Farid ad-Din ‘Attâr (Farid ud-din Attar, d. c.1229) amongst whose numerous writings the Pand-Nâma (Book of Advice), a treasure trove of simple wisdom, and the Mantiq at-tair (Speech of the Birds) have attained the greatest popularity. In the Mantiq at-tair—that has been aptly compared to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress—the Sûfî’s pilgrimage to his Lord is described under the allegory of a journey of the birds through seven valleys to the mountain qâf, the seat of their King, the all-wise Phoenix, who symbolizes Truth. ‘Attar’s prose Tadkirat al-avliyâ) (Memoirs of the Saints) is an invaluable source for the history of Çûfism.

The mystical epic culminates in Jalâl ad-Din Rûmî’s (Jalal-ud-din Rumi, d. 1273) Mal-navî-yi matnavî, or Mathnawî, (The Spiritual Matnavî). This enormous work may be called a poetical compendium of Sufism, presenting directly or through parables and other narratives its doctrines and traditions as well as legends about its principal adepts. Although heavily fraught with philosophical discussion the Matnavî is primarily a piece of poetry and contains numerous passages of moving beauty. Part of Rûmî’s lyrical poems, all of a pantheistic hue, have been published by the author himself under the name of his teacher, Shams-i Tabriz (d. 1247), after whose death Rûmî founded the order of the Mavlavî dervishes still directed by his descendants. ‘Irâqî’s (d. c.1288) Lama’-ât (Flashes) and Mahmûd Sabistarî’s (d. 1320) Gulsan-i Râz (Rose Garden of Mystery) best represents the mystical matnavî of the following generations.

It fell to the lot of Hâfiz (Hafiz, d. 1389), one of the greatest lyrical poets of all times, to lead Persian poetry to the peak of its development. His favorite form was the ghazal in which he excels because of the perfection of his diction rather than the newness of his ideas. He freely uses the imagery of mysticism to cloak worldly emotions and it would seem that he deliberately phrased his verses so as to permit a literal and a spiritual interpretation of his glowing wine and love songs. In this he was motivated by the conviction that every thought and every action is meaningful in two contexts at the same time so as to allow his lines to embody, as it were, two truths : one descriptive of erotic, and the other of theosophic experience. Soon after Hâfiz’s death, Bushâq (d. 1424 or 1427) parodied his style (as well as that of Firdausî, Rûmî, and others) by imitating it in poems discussing culinary subjects—a striking testimonial to Hâfi’z’s quickly won popularity.

Under the influence of Arabic models and in every respect dependent on their method, the Persians began at a very early stage the study of prosody and rhetoric, the first treatise on the subject being owed to Farrukhi (Farruhi, d. c.1037). Better known than his Tarjumân al-balâgha (Interpreter of Eloquence) are the Hadîqat as-sihr (Garden of Magic) by the poet Rasîd (Rash’id) Watwât (d. ‘ 1182) and the Mu’jam (The Clarified, i.e. Book) of §ams-i Qais (written c.1230). Perhaps contrary to their authors’ intentions, these studies contributed greatly to the ever-growing emphasis on elaborate figures of speech and artificial presentation in general. The first part of the 13th century saw the beginnings of that kind of literary history that has remained characteristic of the copious Persian scholarship in this field when Muhammad ‘Aufi compiled his Lubâb al-albâb (Pure Intellects), a collection of poets’ lives, rather meager in biographical data and extremely vague as to its terms of artistic appreciation, but of the utmost value for the rich selections of verse that conclude each article.

Much higher rank Persian historiography and geography. In both fields the Persians achieved a measure of independence from their Arabic models which they excelled in some respects. From the middle of the 11th century when Gardizi wrote his Zain al-ahbâr (Ornament of Chronicles) dealing with Persian history down to his own time, outstanding source books accompany every major turn of events. The later Ghaznevids found an able chronicler in Baihaqi (d. 1077) ; the Seljuks, in Muhammad b. (Ali ar-Râvandî (wrote c.1203). Particularly well treated is the Mongol period with (Atâ Malik Juwaini’s Jahân-Gusâ (World Conqueror), completed in 1260, and the vizier Rashid al-Din’s (Rasid ad-Din, d. 1318) Jâmi( attavârîfj, (Compendium of Histories). Rashid al-Din worked along entirely «modern» lines enlisting the aid of Chinese, Indian, and European assistants in the collection of his universal history. Hamdullah Mustaufi (c.1330) preserved much valuable information about contemporary events as well as about the topography of the Mongol era in two works, a compendium of history and a famed cosmography, the Nuzhat al-qulûb (Delight of the Hearts). The tradition was continued for the Tîmûrid (Timurid) period by (Ali Yazdi (wrote in 1424), ‘Abdur Razzaq Samarqandi (d. 1482), and Mirkhond (Mirhwand, d. 1498), whose world history Rauzat-us-Safâ or Raudat aş-şafâ (Garden of Purity) is a truly monumental accomplishment. The author of the oldest Persian geography is unknown, but his work, Hudûd al-(âlam (Regions of the World) must have been composed before 1000. The Safar-Nâma (Travel Book) of thd sectarian propagandist and poet, Nâşir-i Khosrau (Husrav, d. 1088) who gained fame through his philosophical matnavi Rawsanâ’î-Nâma (Book of Enlightenment), is of great interest for contemporary conditions as is the geography of Hâfiz Abrû (wrote c.1420) who inserted historical notes in his topography of parts of Persia.

Since Persians mostly wrote their scholarly studies in Arabic, any survey restricted to books in Persian will appear to detract unduly from the Persian contribution to medieval research and speculation. This is particularly true of the theological and philosophical fields. A noteworthy exception is Abû’1-Ma’âlî Muhammad’s Bayân al-adyân (Explanation of the Beliefs), written in 1092, a comparative description of the tenets of various religious bodies.

From the Death of Hâfiz (14th Century) to the 1940’s.

The literature of this period has added very little either in form or approach to the inherited stores of accepted subjects and styles. Even Jâmî (d. 1492), frequently acclaimed as the best classical poet, despite his amazing versatility did not concern himself with any theme for which he would have lacked a precedent. His numerous writings include a cycle of seven epical poems, Haft Aurang (The Seven Thrones), amongst them a highly allegorized version of Yûsuf and Zulaikhâ, no less than three collections of lyrics, the Bahâristân (Abode of Spring), modeled on Sa’di’s Gülistan, and a valuable collection of Şûfi biographies in prose, Nafahât al-uns (The Breaths of Fellowship). Jâmî’s nephew, Hatifi (d. 1521), successfully revived the historical epic with his Tîmûr-Nâma (Book of Timur). But in the main it is the mystical matnavi, such as Fattâhî’s (d. 1448) Husn u Dil (Beauty and the Heart), ‘Ârifî’s (d. 1449) Gûy u Cögân (Ball and Polo-Stick) and Hilâlî’s (d. 1532) Sâh u Gadâ (King and Beggar), which deserves most attention.

The national revival under the Şafavids (Safawids), c.1500, and the great reign of (Abbâs (Abbas) I (c,1586-c.l628), while chronicled by able historians, did not inspire any notable achievements in poetry. Sâh Tahmâsp’s, (Shah Tahmasp, d. 1576) prose Memoirs may be mentioned because of the rarity of autobiographical works in Persian. It is rather strange that the prestige abroad of Persian poetry, as that of Persian civilization in general, stood highest during this very period of barrenness. The constant political tension between the two nations, notwithstanding Turkish authors, even including Sultan Selim (Selim) (d. 1520), vied in composing Persian odes and epics, and mostly preferred Persian to Turkish in their historical writings as well. In India, Persian poetry dominated at the court of Akbar the Great (1556-1605), with


The movement of Bâbism (Babism), a communistic and universalistic development of Şûfism, preached by Mîrzâ (Ali Muhammad (Ali Mohammed of Shiraz, executed in 1850), gave rise to a fairly voluminous religious literature. The Bâbîs, so called for their master who had proclaimed himself the bâb (gate) to truth, were cruelly persecuted in Persia, but their doctrine, in the modified form of Bahâ’ism (Bahaism) spread even to win a foothold in :he Western World. Sâh Nâşir ad-Din (Nasred-Din, 1848-1896), who was assassinated by two members of the sect for whose oppression he had been largely responsible, is remarkable for having introduced a simple and lucid prose style in his widely read Diaries of his three travels to Europe.

Simplicity of expression characterizes also the ta^ziya, or Passion Play, a popular development first reported around 1800. These plays which may be compared to the medieval «mysteries» of Europe commemorate the violent death of Husain, the main martyr of 5i(ite (Shiite) islâm, at Karbalâ (in 680). They are enacted in a manner conducive to outbursts of fanaticism as part of the mourning ceremonies for Husain, his father “Ali (Ali), and his brother Hasan that are conducted every year in the month of Muharram. Public lamentations over these religious heroes held in Baghdad as early as 963 appear to have been the starting point of the modern ta{ziya.

Western ideas spread by translations and the press since the last decades of the 19th century have given rise to a strong nationalist movement culminating in the reforms of Sáh Ritfá Pahlavi (Riza Shah Pahlavi, 1925-1941). The government tried to stimulate a revival of Persian literature, arranging for editions of the classics and furthering talented writers as long as they stayed politically innocuous. A purist movement under official sponsorship endeavors tO’ eliminate as many Arabic loan-words as possible—lists of terms to replace customary expressions of Arab origin are published regularly. The present generation of writers already has some respectable accomplishments to its credit, such as Jamál-záda’s collection of tales Yaké büd, yaké nabüd (The True and the False), published 1922, and a number of experiments in the sentimental and the historical novel. S. Hedáyet and M. M. Hejazi appears to be the most promising author in this genre. Whether this new nationalism will engender a literary renaissance as powerful as that of a thousand years ago it is as yet too early to say.


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