Persian literature

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Kelileh va Demneh Persian manuscript copy dated 1429, from Herat, depicts the Jackal trying to lead the Lion astray.
Kelileh va Demneh Persian manuscript copy dated 1429, from Herat, depicts the Jackal trying to lead the Lion astray.
Nizami Mausoleum in the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Nizami Mausoleum in the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Persian literature ( Persian: ادبیات پارسی) spans two and a half millennia, though much of the pre-Islamic material has been lost. Its sources often come from far-flung regions beyond the borders of present-day Iran, as the Persian language flourished and survives across wide swaths of Central Asia. For instance, Rumi, one of Persia's best-loved poets, wrote in Persian but lived in Konya, now in Turkey and then the capital of the Seljuks. The Ghaznavids conquered large territories in Central and South Asia and adopted Persian as their court language. There is thus Persian literature from areas that are now part of Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia. Not all this literature is written in Persian, as some consider works written by ethnic Persians in other languages, such as Greek and Arabic, to be included.

Surviving works in Persian languages (such as Old Persian or Middle Persian) date back as far as 650 BCE, the date of the earliest surviving Achaemenid inscriptions. The bulk of the surviving Persian literature, however, comes from the times following the Islamic conquest of Persia circa 650 CE. After the Abbasids came to power (750 CE), the Persians became the scribes and bureaucrats of the Islamic empire and, increasingly, also its writers and poets. Persians wrote both in Arabic and Persian; Persian predominated in later literary circles. Persian poets such as Sa'di, Hafiz, Rumi and Omar Khayyam are well known in the world and have influenced the literature of many countries.

Classical Persian literature

Pre-Islamic Persian literature

Template:Also see Very few literary works remain from ancient Persia. Most of these consist of the royal inscriptions of Achaemenid kings, particularly Darius I (522–486 BC) and his son Xerxes. Zoroastrian writings mainly were destroyed in the Islamic conquest of Persia. The Parsis who fled to India, however, took with them some of the books of the Zoroastrian canon, including some of the Avesta and ancient commentaries (Zend) thereof. Some works of Sassanid geography and travel also survived albeit in Arabic translations.

No single text devoted to literary criticism has survived from pre-Islamic Persia. However, some essays in Pahlavi such as ‘’Ayin-e name nebeshtan" and "Bab-e edteda’I-ye" ( Kalile va Demne) have been considered as literary criticism (Zarrinkoub, 1959). Some researchers have quoted the Sho’ubiyye as asserting that the pre-Islamic Persians had books on eloquence, such as'Karvand'. No trace remains of such books. There are some indications that some among the Persian elite were familiar with Greek rhetoric and literary criticism (Zarrinkoub, 1947).

Persian literature of the medieval and pre-modern periods

While initially overshadowed by Arabic during the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphates, modern Persian soon became a literary language again of the Central Asian lands. The rebirth of the language in its new form is often accredited to Ferdowsi, Unsuri, Daqiqi, Rudaki, and their generation, as they used pre-Islamic nationalism as a conduit to revive the language and customs of ancient Persia.

In particular, says Ferdowsi himself in his Shahnama: بسی رنج بردم در این سال سی
عجم زنده کردم بدین پارسی
"For thirty years, I endured much pain and strife,
with Persian I gave the Ajam verve and life".

Poetry

So strong is the Persian aptitude for versifying everyday expressions that one can encounter poetry in almost every classical work, whether from Persian literature, science, or metaphysics. In short, the ability to write in verse form was a pre-requisite for any scholar. For example, almost half of Avicenna's medical writings are in verse.

Works of the early era of Persian poetry are characterized by strong court patronage, an extravagance of panegyrics, and what is known as سبک فاخر "exalted in style". The tradition of royal patronage began perhaps under the Sassanid era and carried over through the Abbasid and Samanid courts into every major Persian dynasty. The Qasida was perhaps the most famous form of panegyric used, though quatrains such as those in Omar Khayyam's Ruba'iyyat are also widely popular.

"Khorasani style", whose followers mostly were associated with Greater Khorasan, is characterized by its supercilious diction, dignified tone, and relatively literate language. The chief representatives of this lyricism are Asjadi, Farrukhi Sistani, Unsuri, and Manuchehri. Panegyric masters such as Rudaki were known for their love of nature, their verse abounding with evocative descriptions.

Through these courts and system of patronage emerged the epic style of poetry, with Ferdowsi's Shahnama at the apex. By glorifying the Iranian historical past in heroic and elevated verses, he and other notables such as Daqiqi and Asadi Tusi presented the " Ajam" with a source of pride and inspiration that has helped preserve a sense of identity for the Iranian peoples over the ages. Ferdowsi set a model to be followed by a host of other poets later on.

The thirteenth century marks the ascendancy of lyric poetry with the consequent development of the ghazal into a major verse form, as well as the rise of mystical and Sufi poetry. This style is often called "the Eraqi style", and is known by its emotional lyric qualities, rich meters, and the relative simplicity of its language. Emotional romantic poetry was not something new however, as works such as Vis o Ramin by Asad Gorgani, and Yusof o Zoleikha by Am'aq exemplify. Poets such as Sana'i and Attar (who ostensibly have inspired Rumi), Khaqani Shirvani, Anvari, and Nezami, were highly respected ghazal writers. However, the elite of this school are Rumi, Sadi, and Hafez.

Regarding the tradition of Persian love poetry during the Safavid era, Persian historian Ehsan Yarshater notes, "As a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a young man. In the early centuries of Islam, the raids into Central Asia produced many young slaves. Slaves were also bought or received as gifts. They were made to serve as pages at court or in the households of the affluent, or as soldiers and bodyguards. Young men, slaves or not, also, served wine at banquets and receptions, and the more gifted among them could play music and maintain a cultivated conversation. It was love toward young pages, soldiers, or novices in trades and professions which was the subject of lyrical introductions to panegyrics from the beginning of Persian poetry, and of the ghazal."

In the didactic genre one can mention Sanai's Hadiqatul Haqiqah as well as Nezami's Makhzan-ul-Asrār. Some of Attar's works also belong to this genre as do the major works of Rumi, although some tend to classify these in the lyrical type due to their mystical and emotional qualities. In addition, some tend to group Naser Khosrow's works in this style as well; however the true gem of this genre is Sadi's Bustan, a heavyweight of Persian literature.

After the fifteenth century, the Indian style of Persian poetry (sometimes also called Isfahani or Safavi styles) took over. This style has its roots in the Timurid era and produced the likes of Amir Khosrow Dehlavi, and Bhai Nand Lal Goya .

Essays

The most significant essays of this era are Nizami Arudhi Samarqandi's "Chahār Maqāleh" as well as Zahiriddin Nasr Muhammad Aufi's anecdote compendium Jawami ul-Hikayat. Shams al-Mo'ali Abol-hasan Ghaboos ibn Wushmgir's famous work, the Qabus nama (A Mirror for Princes), is a highly esteemed Belles-lettres work of Persian literature. Also highly regarded is Siyasatnama, by Nizam al-Mulk, a famous Persian vizier. Kelileh va Demneh, translated from Indian folk tales, can also be mentioned in this category. It is seen as a collection of adages in Persian literary studies and thus does not convey folkloric notions.

Biographies, hagiographies, and historical works

Among the major historical and biographical works in classical Persian, one can mention Abolfazl Beyhaghi's famous Tarikh-i Beyhaqi, Lubab ul-Albab of Zahiriddin Nasr Muhammad Aufi (which has been regarded as a reliable chronological source by many experts), as well as Ata al-Mulk Juvayni's famous Tarikh-i Jahangushay-i Juvaini (which spans the Mongolid and Ilkhanid era of Iran). Attar's Tadkhirat al-Awliya ("Biographies of the Saints") is also a detailed account of Sufi mystics, which is referenced by many subsequent authors and considered a significant work in mystical hagiography.

Literary criticism

The oldest surviving work of Persian literary criticism after the Islamic conquest of Persia is Muqaddame-ye Shahname-ye Abu Mansuri, which was written in the Samanid period. The work deals with the myths and legends of Shahname and is considered the oldest surviving example of Persian prose. It also shows an attempt by the authors to evaluate literary works critically.

Persian story writing

One Thousand and One Nights ( Persian: هزار و یک شب) is a medieval Persian literary epic which tells the story of Scheherazade (Šarzād in Persian), a Sassanid queen who must relate a series of stories to her malevolent husband, King Shahryar (Šahryār), to delay her execution. The stories are told over a period of one thousand and one nights, and every night she ends the story with a suspenseful situation, forcing the King to keep her alive for another day. The individual stories were created over many centuries, by many people and in many styles, and many have become famous in their own right. Notable examples include Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.

The nucleus of the stories is formed by a Pahlavi Sassanid Persian book called Hazār Afsānah (Thousand Myths, in Persian: هزارافسانه), a collection of ancient Indian and Persian folk tales. During the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the eighth century, Baghdad had become an important cosmopolitan city. Merchants from Persia, China, India, Africa, and Europe were all found in Baghdad. During this time, many of the stories that were originally folk stories were thought to have been collected orally over many years and later compiled into a single book. The compiler and ninth-century translator into Arabic is reputedly the storyteller Abu abd-Allah Muhammad el-Gahshigar. The frame story of Shahrzad seems to have been added in the fourteenth century.

Dictionaries

Dehkhoda names 200 Persian lexicographical works in his monumental Dehkhoda Dictionary, the earliest, Farhang-i Avim (فرهنگ اویم) and Farhang-i Menakhtay (فرهنگ مناختای), from the late Sassanid era. The most widely used Persian lexicons in the Middle Ages were those of Abu Hafs Soghdi (فرهنگ ابو حفص سغدی) and Asadi Tusi (فرهنگ لغت فرس), written in 1092. Also highly regarded in the Persian literature lexical corpus are the works of Mohammad Moin.

In 1645, Ravius and Lugduni completed a Persian-Latin dictionary. This was followed by J. Richardson's two-volume Oxford edition (1777) and Gladwin-Malda's (1770) Persian-English Dictionaries, Scharif and S. Peters' Persian-Russian Dictionary (1869), and 30 other Persian lexicographical translations through the 1950s.

In 2002, Professor Hassan Anvari published his Persian-to-Persian dictionary, Farhang-e Bozorg-e Sokhan, in eight volumes by Sokhan Publications.

Currently English-Persian dictionaries of Manouchehr Aryanpour and Soleiman Haim are widely used in Iran.

Persian phrases


PERSIAN PHRASES
* Thousands of friends are far too few, an enemy is too much. *
Hezaaraan dust kam and, yek doshman ziaad ast.
* The wise enemy is better than the ignorant friend. *
Doshman daanaa behtar az dust e naadaan ast.
* The wise enemy lifts you up, the ignorant friend casts you down. *
Doshman e daanaaa bolandat mikonad. Bar zaminat mizanad naadaan e dust.

The influence of Persian literature on World literature

Sufi literature

William Shakespeare referred to Iran as the "land of the Sophy". Some of Persia's best-beloved medieval poets were Sufis, and their poetry was, and is, widely read by Sufis from Morocco to Indonesia. Rumi (Maulānā) in particular is renowned both as a poet and as the founder of a widespread Sufi order. The themes and styles of this devotional poetry have been widely imitated by many Sufi poets. See also the article on Sufi poetry.

Many notable texts in Persian mystic literature are not poems, yet highly read and regarded. Among those are Kimiya-yi sa'ādat and Asrar al-Tawhid.

Areas once under Ghaznavid or Mughal rule

Afghanistan and Central Asia

Afghanistan and the Transoxiana can claim to be the birthplace of Modern Persian. Most of the great patrons of Persian literature such as Sultan Sanjar and the courts of the Samanids and Ghaznavids were situated in this region, as were writers such as Rudaki, Unsuri, and Ferdowsi. As such, this rich literary heritage continues to survive well into the present in countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Indian subcontinent

With the emergence of the Ghaznavids and their successors such as the Ghurids, Timurids and Mughal Empire, Persian culture and its literature gradually moved into the vast Indian subcontinent. Persian was the language of the nobility, literary circles, and the royal Mughal courts for hundreds of years. (In modern times, Persian has been generally supplanted by Urdu, a heavily Persian-influenced dialect of Hindustani.)

Under the Moghul Empire of India during the sixteenth century, the official language of India became Persian. Only in 1832 did the British army force the Indian subcontinent to begin conducting business in English. (Clawson, p.6) Persian poetry in fact flourished in these regions while post- Safavid Iranian literature stagnated. Dehkhoda and other scholars of the 20th century, for example, largely based their works on the detailed lexicography produced in India, using compilations such as Ghazi khan Badr Muhammad Dehlavi's Adat al-Fudhala (اداه الفضلا), Ibrahim Ghavamuddin Farughi's Farhang-i Ibrahimi ( فرهنگ ابراهیمی), and particularly Muhammad Padshah's Farhang-i Anandraj (فرهنگ آناندراج). Famous South Asian poets and scholars such as Amir Khosrow Dehlavi and Muhammad Iqbal of Lahore found many admirers in Iran itself.

Western literature

Persian literature was little known in the West before the nineteenth century. It became much better known following the publication of several translations from the works of late medieval Persian poets, and it inspired works by various Western poets and writers.

German literature

  • In 1819, Goethe published his West-östlicher Divan, a collection of lyric poems inspired by a German translation of Hafiz (1326–1390).
  • The German essayist and philosopher Nietzsche was the author of the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–1885), referring to the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster (circa 1700 BCE).

English literature

  • A selection from Ferdowsi's Shahnameh (935–1020) was published in 1832 by James Atkinson, a physician employed by the British East India Company.
  • A portion of this abridgment was later versified by the British poet Matthew Arnold in his 1853 Rustam and Sohrab.
  • The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was another admirer of Persian poetry. He published several essays in 1876 that discuss Persian poetry: Letters and Social Aims, From the Persian of Hafiz, and Ghaselle.

Perhaps the most popular Persian poet of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was Omar Khayyam (1048–1123), whose Rubaiyat was freely translated by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859. Khayyam is esteemed more as a scientist than a poet in his native Persia, but in Fitzgerald's rendering, he became one of the most quoted poets in English. Khayyam's line, "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou", is known to many who could not say who wrote it, or where.

The Persian poet and mystic Rumi (1207–1273) (known as Molana in Iran) has attracted a large following in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Popularizing translations by Coleman Barks have presented Rumi as a New Age sage. There are also a number of more literary translations by scholars such as A.J. Arberry.

The classical poets (Hafiz, Sa'di, Khayyam, Rumi, Nezami and Ferdowsi) are now widely known in English and can be read in various translations. Other works of Persian literature are untranslated and little known.

Swedish literature

During the last century, numerous works of classical Persian literature have been translated into Swedish by baron Eric Hermelin. He translated works by, among others, Farid al-Din Attar, Rumi, Ferdowsi, Omar Khayyam, Sa'adi and Sana'i. Influenced by the writings of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, he was especially attracted to the religious or Sufi aspects of classical Persian poetry.

More recently Rumi, Hafiz and Fakhruddin 'Iraqi are available in translation by Ashk Dahlén, scholar in Iranian Studies, who has made Persian literature known to a wider audience in Sweden.

Contemporary Persian literature

History

Some leading figures of Iranian literary intellectuals: (L to R) Morteza Keyvan, Ahmad Shamlou, Nima Yooshij, Siavash Kasraie, and Hushang Ebtehaj
Some leading figures of Iranian literary intellectuals: (L to R) Morteza Keyvan, Ahmad Shamlou, Nima Yooshij, Siavash Kasraie, and Hushang Ebtehaj

In the nineteenth century, Persian literature experienced dramatic change and entered a new era. The beginning of this change was exemplified by an incident in the mid-nineteenth century at the court of Nasereddin Shah, when the reform-minded prime minister, Amir Kabir, chastised the poet Habibollah Qa'ani for "lying" in a panegyric qasida written in Kabir's honour. Kabir saw poetry in general and the type of poetry that had developed during the Qajar period as detrimental to "progress" and "modernization" in Iranian society, which he believed was in dire need of change. Such concerns were also expressed by others such as Fath-'Ali Akhundzadeh, Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, and Mirza Malkom Khan. Khan also addressed a need for a change in Persian poetry in literary terms as well, always linking it to social concerns.

The new Persian literary movement cannot be understood without an understanding of the intellectual movements among Iranian philosophical circles. Given the social and political climate of Persia (Iran) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which led to the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906–1911, the idea that change in poetry was necessary became widespread. Many argued that Persian poetry should reflect the realities of a country in transition. This idea was propagated by notable literary figures such as Ali-Akbar Dehkhoda and Abolqasem Aref, who challenged the traditional system of Persian poetry in terms of introducing new content and experimentation with rhetoric, lexico-semantics, and structure. Dehkhoda, for instance, used a lesser-known traditional form, the mosammat, to elegize the execution of a revolutionary journalist. 'Aref employed the ghazal, "the most central genre within the lyrical tradition" (p. 88), to write his "Payam-e Azadi" (Message of Freedom).

Some researchers argue that the notion of "sociopolitical ramifications of esthetic changes" led to the idea of poets "as social leaders trying the limits and possibilities of social change."

An important movement in modern Persian literature centered on the question of modernization and Westernization and whether these terms are synonymous when describing the evolution of Iranian society. It can be argued that almost all advocates of modernism in Persian literature, from Akhundzadeh, Kermani, and Malkom Khan to Dehkhoda, 'Aref, Bahar, and Rafat, were inspired by developments and changes that had occurred in Western, particularly European, literatures. Such inspirations did not mean blindly copying Western models but, rather, adapting aspects of Western literature and changing them to fit the needs of Iranian culture.

Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub, master of Persian literature and literary criticism
Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub, master of Persian literature and literary criticism

Following the pioneering works of Ahmad Kasravi, Sadeq Hedayat and many others, the Iranian wave of comparative literature and literary criticism reached a symbolic crest with the emergence of Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub, Shahrokh Meskoob, Houshang Golshiri and Ebrahim Golestan.

Persian literature in Afghanistan

Persian literature in Afghanistan has also experienced a dramatic change during last century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Afghanistan was confronted with economic and social change, which sparked a new approach to literature. In 1911, Mahmud Tarzi, who came back to Afghanistan after years of exile in Turkey and was influential in government circles, started a fortnightly publication named Saraj’ul Akhbar. Saraj was not the first such publication in the country, but in the field of journalism and literature it launched a new period of change and modernization. Saraj not only played an important role in journalism, it also gave new life to literature as a whole and opened the way for poetry to explore new avenues of expression through which personal thoughts took on a more social colour.

In 1930 (1309 AH), after months of cultural stagnation, a group of writers founded the Herat Literary Circle. A year later, another group calling itself the Kabul Literary Circle was founded in the capital. Both groups published regular magazines dedicated to culture and Persian literature. Both, especially the Kabul publication, had little success in becoming venues for modern Persian poetry and writing. In time, the Kabul publication turned into a stronghold for traditional writers and poets, and modernism in Dari literature was pushed to the fringes of social and cultural life.

Three of the most prominent classical poets in Afghanistan at the time were Qari Abdullah, Abdul Haq Betab and Khalil Ullah Khalili. The first two received the honorary title Malek ul Shoara (King of Poets). Khalili, the third and youngest, was drawn toward the Khorasan style of poetry instead of the usual Hendi style. He was also interested in modern poetry and wrote a few poems in a more modern style with new aspects of thought and meaning. In 1318 (AH), after two poems by Nima Youshij titled "Gharab" and "Ghaghnus" were published, Khalili wrote a poem under the name "Sorude Kuhestan" or "The Song of the Mountain" in the same rhyming pattern as Nima and sent it to the Kabul Literary Circle. The traditionalists in Kabul refused to publish it because it was not written in the traditional rhyme. They criticized Khalili for modernizing his style.

Very gradually new styles found their way into literature and literary circles despite the efforts of traditionalists. The first book of new poems was published in the year 1957 (1336 AG), and in 1962 (1341 AH), a collection of modern Persian poetry was published in Kabul. The first group to write poems in the new style consisted of Mahmud Farani, Baregh Shafi’i, Solayman Layeq, Sohail, Ayeneh and a few others. Later, Vasef Bakhtari, Asadullah Habib and Latif Nazemi, and others joined the group. Each had his own share in modernizing Persian poetry in Afghanistan. Other notable figures include Leila Sarahat Roshani, Sayed Elan Bahar and Parwin Pazwak. Poets like Mayakovsky, Yase Nien and Lahouti (an Iranian poet living in exile in Russia) exerted a special influence on the Persian poets in Afghanistan. The influence of Iranians (e.g. Farrokhi Yazdi and Ahmad Shamlou) on modern Afghan prose and poetry, especially in the second half of the twentieth century, must also be taken into consideration.

Prominent Afghanistani writers like Asef Soltanzadeh, Reza Ebrahimi, Ameneh Mohammadi, and Abbas Jafari grew up in Iran and were influenced by Iranian writers and teachers.

Persian literature in Tajikistan

The new poetry in Tajikistan is mostly concerned with the way of life of people and is revolutionary. From the 1950s until the advent of new poetry in France, Asia and Latin America, the impact of the modernization drive was strong. In the 1960s, modern Iranian poetry and that of Mohammad Iqbal Lahouri made a profound impression in Tajik poetry. This period is probably the richest and most prolific period for the development of themes and forms in Persian poetry in Tajikistan. Some Tajik poets were mere imitators, and one can easily see the traits of foreign poets in their work. Only two or three poets were able to digest the foreign poetry and compose original poetry. In Tajikistan, the format and pictorial aspects of short stories and novels were taken from Russian and European literature. Some of Tajikistan's prominent names in Persian literature are Golrokhsar Safi Eva, Mo'men Ghena'at, Farzaneh Khojandi and Layeq Shir-Ali.

Novels

Laiq Sher-Ali, prominent Persian poet from Tajikistan
Laiq Sher-Ali, prominent Persian poet from Tajikistan

Well-known novelists include:

  • Simin Daneshvar
  • Bozorg Alavi
  • Ebrahim Golestan
  • Zoya Pirzad

Satire

  • Iraj Mirza
  • Ebrahim Nabavi
  • Kioumars Saberi Foumani
  • Hadi Khorsandi
  • Obeid Zakani
  • Dehkhoda
  • Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi
  • Emran Salahi

Literary criticism