Classical Persian Literature - EIr (2)

Continuing on the last post ... now back to the original Encyclopedia Iranica article on classical Persian literature, this time citing the key appraisal in the article on the 22 authors listed in the last post. After the name of the author, in the bracket is the primary genre(s) the author is famous for, plus number of mentions in the article and its bibliography.


1. Rudaki (qaṣida, 10)

- At the fountainhead of Persian literary history stands the figure of Rudaki (860-940) as an archpoet. The extant works of this poet at the court of the Samanids in Bukhara contain the first masterpieces of Persian poetry. By its exemplary quality, this poetic corpus served as a model for subsequent generations. 

- The qaṣida already appears in a fully-fledged form in the 9th century in the extant works of Rudaki.


2. Daqiqi Ṭusi (epic, 2)

- The Persian poets also set off to work, basing their epic tales, even before Ferdowsi, on the Persian prose text mentioned above, entitled Abu Manṣur’s Book of Kings. Some of these texts have been lost; others were left unfinished. The most famous is by Daqiqi, who did not conceal his faith in Zoroastrianism. Eventually, Ferdowsi makes his entrance, and in doing so preserves Daqiqi’s poem, which contains a narrative account of Zoroaster’s life, by inserting it into his own vast masterpiece.


3. Ferdowsi (epic, 28)

- [The Persian epic's] usual form is a long narrative poem; and one monumental work dominates the entire genre: Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma.

- Ferdowsi’s magnum opus has exercised enormous influence on Iranian cultural history over the centuries. His work has served as a literary mold from which one can make fresh heroic and saintly paradigms. Inspired by Ferdowsi, many rulers in history have commissioned court poets to celebrate their reigns in eulogistic verse chronicles that have also served as valuable historical sources for later historians.


4. Farroḵi (qaṣida, 2)

- Improvisation (badiha-sarāʾi) could spell immediate recognition and advancement for a great poet such as Farroḵi. Art, technique, and improvisation were venues through which the poet encountered the expectations of his audience and, drawing on his own erudition to exert his authority, ventured to play a part in reshaping the prevailing poetic traditions.

- Among the most significant panegyrists of the 11th century, one may cite ʿOnṣori of Balḵ (d. 1039), Farroḵi of Sistān, Manučehri of Dāmḡān (d. 1040), and Moʿezzi of Nishapur (d. before 1127).

5. Manučehri (qaṣida, 1)

- Among the most significant panegyrists of the 11th century, one may cite ʿOnṣori of Balḵ (d. 1039), Farroḵi of Sistān, Manučehri of Dāmḡān (d. 1040), and Moʿezzi of Nishapur (d. before 1127).


6. Faḵr-al-Din Asʿad Gorgāni (novel, 4)

- Faḵr-al-Din Asʿad Gorgāni composed his literary masterpiece Vis o Rāmin around 1054 at the provincial court of the governor of Isfahan, who was a vassal of the Saljuq sultan Togrïl (1038-63). 

- Gorgāni’s novel provides a plot line and leitmotif to the whole lineage of Persian novels that it engenders, beginning with those of the master of this genre, Neẓāmi of Ganja.


7. ʿOnṣori (qaṣida, 1)

- Among the most significant panegyrists of the 11th century, one may cite ʿOnṣori of Balḵ (d. 1039), Farroḵi of Sistān, Manučehri of Dāmḡān (d. 1040), and Moʿezzi of Nishapur (d. before 1127). 

8. Sanāʿi (long Sufi[?] poem, 3)

- In the early 12th century, the already mentioned Garden of Truth by Sanāʿi served as a model for generations of poets. An unfinished work, composed in more than 10,000 bayts, it has an encyclopedic range and is the work of a remarkable storyteller with a sharp eye for the weaknesses and the corruption of his contemporary world. His verses are a testimony to his personal beliefs and spiritual thoughts as well as his attachment to the court at Ghazni. This mode of conduct, keeping one’s own entity separate and intact from centers of power and opulence but persisting in giving one’s opinion and offering advice to the court and its notables, became the modus operandi for many a Sufi poet.


9. Omar Khayyam (quatrain, 7)

- It was the poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam from Nishapur (d. 1123) who made the Persian robāʾi world famous, particularly through Edward FitzGerald’s adaptations into English. Khayyam’s bold spirit of enquiry and his questioning of accepted wisdom had a mixed and often hostile early reception in Persia.

- Gradually a Khayyamian corpus of robāʾis appears in which the themes of mutability and transience and the need for resigned fortitude in the face of the celestial wheel appear in the foreground.

- It is evident that Khayyam was the instigator of a way of thinking and an outlook which profoundly affected the course and content of Persian literature throughout its subsequent history.

10. Rašid-al-Din Waṭwāṭ (literary criticism, 6)

- For Rāduyāni in the 11th century, and Rašid-al-Din Waṭwāṭ (d. 1182) in the 12th, the first writers of treatises on Persian poetry, meter and rhyme were such all-embracing characteristics of Persian poetry that they did not think it necessary to dwell upon them. Their manuals (Waṭwāṭ drew mainly on Rāduyāni) deal with important rhetorical figures of Persian poetry and show signs of indebtedness to earlier Arabic treatises concerned with Arabic poetry.


11. Ḵāqāni (qaṣida, 3)

- The poems of two celebrated panegyrists dominated the 12th century and were regarded as the apogee of the form for later generations: the sophisticated odes of Anwari of Abivard (d. 1189), panegyrist at the court of Sultan Sanjar (1084-1157), and those of Ḵāqāni from Shervān (d. 1199) in the Caucasus. Towering figures in this genre, they both merit the title poeta doctus for being steeped in the sciences of their time. Ḵāqāni was able to use the qaṣida and its related poetic forms to compose a poem of some 3,000 bayts (Toḥfat al-ʿerāqayn) of great complexity. Remorseful for coveting gold from his patrons, the poet sends the Sun (his alter ego, emblematic of his own vices and virtues) on a pilgrimage to the sacred sites of Islam to sing the praises of the Kaʿba and the Prophet.


12. Neẓāmi Ganjavi (narrative poems, 25)

- By turning the Arabic tale of Leyli and Majnun into Persian verse of remarkable beauty, Neẓāmi of Ganja gave it its most sublime expression.

-  Gorgāni’s novel provides a plot line and leitmotif to the whole lineage of Persian novels that it engenders, beginning with those of the master of this genre, Neẓāmi of Ganja.

- He also left behind some fine lyrical poetry.

- Neẓāmi’s legacy. The work by the poet of Ganja had such a profound impact on the history of Persian classical literature that it can be regarded as a watershed in its literary history. His strength lies in his narrative techniques, the range and fecundity of his sources, and the masterly way he draws upon them and transforms them into a harmonious work of art.

- Over the centuries, there have been many imitators of Neẓāmi’s five poems (Ḵamsa). ...  Amir Ḵosrow Dehlavi at the end of the 13th century, Ḵwāju of Kermān and Ḥātefi in the 14th, Jāmi and ʿAlišir Navāʾi in the 15th century are among the most successful poets who embarked on an imaginative refashioning of Neẓāmi’s narratives to create new and fine narrative poems of their own.


13. Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār (Sufi narrative poems,8)

- His Divan, a vast collection of short and intensely spiritual poems, merits a study on its own. It has perhaps been overshadowed by the popularity of his long narrative poems describing the path of mystical initiation. These, most of which have been translated into French and English, include the Conference of the Birds (Manṭeq al-ṭayr), The Book of the Divine (Elāhi-nāma), The Book of Adversity (Moṣibat-nāma), and The Book of Mysteries (Asrār-nāma). As for The Memorial of the Saints (Taḏkerat al-awliyāʾ), it is the first major collection of hagiographic lives in Persian literature and a fine example of Persian prose of the 12th century.

- The ghazal flourished during the time of Rumi and Saʿdi. Both were indebted to Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār of Nishapur and Sanāʾi of Ghazna.


14. ʿAwfi (anthology of stories, 2)

- Other collections of stories too began to appear, containing short stories on different topics not necessarily restricted to strictly religious or mystical themes. The first work to have come down to us in this form was composed by Sadid-al-Din ʿAwfi slightly before 1233. His Collection of Stories (Jawāmaʿ al-ḥekāyāt) is noteworthy for its classification of anecdotes according to their subject matter (Nizámu’d-dín). In India, it served as an anthology introducing some of the best samples of stories from Persian sources and background.


15. Jalāl-al-Din Rumi (maṯnawi, 13)

- The ghazal flourished during the time of Rumi and Saʿdi.

- Another kind of anthology consisted of furnishing a more deliberate didactic introduction to a collection of appropriately chosen stories. Jalāl-al-Din Rumi’s Maṯnawi-e maʿnawi, a long work divided into six books, is the finest example.

- Jalāl-al-Din Rumi, rightfully claimed to inherit the mantle of Sanāʾi and ʿAṭṭār.

- His magnum opus, Maṯnawi maʿnawi-e mowlavi, an immense and somewhat unruly masterpiece, begins on a note of separation.


16. Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi (philosophy prose, 5)

-   The treatises by Fārābi, Avicenna, and Ebn Meskawayh are well known documents of ethics and moral philosophy. In Persian, Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi (1201-1274) excelled in this subject with his Nasirean Ethics (Aḵlāq-e nāṣeri).

-  The great historian of the Mongols, Joveyni (cited earlier), and the great polymath of his century, Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi (1201-74),  both  hail from this period. Both wrote in a literary style of the highest caliber.

(note: it is this last sentence that makes me include this name in the list.)


17. Saʿdi (multiple genres,23)

-  In his prosimetrical masterpiece, the Golestān, Saʿdi initiated a return to clarity and precision in syntax, while maintaining a poise of erudite sophistication, creating a movement and many imitators in the process.

- The divan of Saʿdi of Shiraz contains a number of accomplished panegyrics, but he also wrote ghazals of great beauty, excelling in this poetical form to such an extent that his successors took him as their model and master.

-  The ghazal flourished during the time of Rumi and Saʿdi.

- As the successor to Saʿdi in the art of the ghazal, Hafez surpassed his master.

Classical literature in its maturity: the work of Saʿdi. ... Saʿdi’s work represents a peak in the historical development of Persian literature.

- Saʿdi’s work in Shiraz is at the confluence of different literary genres and approaches, narrative, moral, and political, as well as the most classical literary expression of Sufism. His major works, the Saʿdi-nāma (later named the Bustān) and the Golestān, are a faultlessly seamless tapestry of anecdotes and stories with commentary. Without the ghazals of his Divan, we would not have those of the following century, especially of Hafez. Without the ribaldry of his facetious remarks (Ḵabiṯāt), ʿObeyd-e Zākāni would not have had a worthy predecessor. During his lifetime his reputation extended far beyond Fārs. With Saʿdi, a seemingly effortless but meticulously crafted diction, influenced by Arabic but firmly grounded in the everyday Persian of the time, rediscovered its authentic power and verve and served as a model of clarity and aesthetic virtuosity for the subsequent generations. Like Neẓāmi, Saʿdi, was a fervent believer in the power of speech and the inestimable value of language. His work was in ways a summation of the cultural achievements of the previous three centuries. For a long time, the cultured Iranian individual recognized himself in the mirror of Saʿdi, the sage.


18. Faḵr-al-Din ʿErāqi (Sufi ghazals, 4)

ʿErāqi contributed to the eastward expansion of Persian Sufism, which was then flourishing in Anatolia. Ghazals by ʿErāqi are among the most often sung today.


19. ʿObayd Zākāni (satire, 3)

-  Without the ribaldry of his [Saʿdi’s] facetious remarks (Ḵabiṯāt), ʿObeyd-e Zākāni would not have had a worthy predecessor.

- Later, in the 14th century, a period of intense political turmoil, ʿObeyd-e Zākāni’s (1300-1371) satirical work managed to create the most radical expression of a morality turned immoral in order to unsettle and lampoon a society and depict it in a way which would have been unrecognizable to previous generations.


20. Ḥāfeẓ (ghazals, 11)

-  In the poetry of Hafez of Shiraz in the 14th century (b. ca. 1325-d. ca. 1390), lyrical Persian poetry reached its apogee.

- In the 14th century, Hafez used the ghazal almost as his sole medium for the manifestation of his poetic genius.

- Hafez of Shiraz. As the successor to Saʿdi in the art of the ghazal, Hafez surpassed his master.

- His divan, a monumental collection of poems (nearly five hundred ghazals), is the product of fifty years of intense creativity. So impassioned is his expressive style that his words at once turn into a captivating song. A virtuoso of analogical language ...


21. Jāmi (poems,12)

-  The widespread popularity and influence of the voluminous poetry of ʿAbd- al-Raḥmān Jāmi (1414-92), spreading from Herat to India and into the Near East is a remarkable illustration of this cultural propagation.

-  One such example is the story of Salamān and Absāl, which was translated early into Arabic and was used by Avicenna in one of his philosophic tales. It was later turned into a magnificent narrative poem by Jāmi in the 15th century, based on an account by Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi in his commentary on Avicenna’s Ešārāt.

-  Jāmi’s The Book of Alexandrine Wisdom (Ḵerad-nāma-ye eskandari) is a successful poetical exercise in the genre of a mirror for princes.

-  Jāmi’s literary output at the court in Herat during the 15th century was accomplished under the influence of the Andalusian master [Ebn al-ʿArabi] and determined the principal direction of Sufi thought in Sunnism to this day.

- In Timurid literature two figures stand out: Jāmi (1414-92) and Waʿeẓ-e Kāšefi (circa 1415-1504). These men, who graced almost the entire century, were linked to each other by Naqšbandi Sufism; they took an avid interest in all the sciences and learning of their time and produced literary works of the finest quality.

-  In Persia, Shiʿism sought to guide literature towards its own goals and aspirations. The consequence of this was a kind of internationalization of Persian literature, toward India, as well as towards Ottoman-dominated countries and Central Asia. However, this process had already started owing to the widespread popularity and circulation of works by Jāmi in these cultural spheres.


22. Ṣāʾeb Tabrizi (ghazals, 1)

- A prolific poet, he especially favored the ghazal and showed much originality in its composition.




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