Created as highly illustrated manuscripts, these masterpieces of Persian poetry demonstrate the important place of literature, poetry, and bookmaking in the Persian-speaking world. From the tenth century to the sixteenth century Persian classical poetry developed as a literary language by adapting the meter and rhyme scheme of the Arabic poetic tradition. Even the written works by philosophers, historians, and scientists were often delivered in verse. During this period, three major styles of Persian poetry came to prominence: the epic panegyric Khorasani style, developed around the tenth century in eastern Persia; the Iraq-i ‘Ajami (Western Persian style) that emerged in the thirteenth century, a lyrical style that uses mystical Sufi concepts; and the Sabk-i Hindi (the Indian style), which emerged in the fifteenth century. Despite differences among the various styles, there remains continuity in the poetic and aesthetic styles of classical Persian poetry present in works produced as early as the tenth century by the poet Rūdakī up to the works of the fifteenth-century poet Jāmī.
Often referred to as the father of modern Persian poetry, the ninth-century Persian poet Abū ‘Abdallāh Rūdakī (858–ca. 941) is regarded as the first great literary genius of modern Persian and the founder of Persian classical literature. His name is based on his place of birth, the town of Rudak in Tajikistan. He is regarded as the national symbol and poet of Tajikistan. During his life, Rūdakī was highly favored in the Samanid court (819–999), and he helped launch a revival of the Persian language and the development of modern Persian in the modified Arabic script. The Tajik-Persian book on display commemorates the 1150th anniversary of the poet’s birth with lines of his poetry in Persian, Tajik-Persian in Cyrillic script, Russian, and English.
S. Fattoev, J. Sharifov, and S. Vorob‘eva. رودکی : کتاب مصور (Rūdakī: A Pictorial Book). Dushanbe, Tajikistan: Irfon, 2008. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (027.00.00)
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Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát
Only a few Middle Eastern poets, thinkers, scientists, and writers are widely recognized by average Western audiences. Along with Rumi, Omar Khayyam (1048–1131) is the best known Persian poet in the West. In the Muslim world, however, Khayyam is more often identified with his scientific works rather than his literary accomplishments. Khayyam’s love poetry, which urges readers to seize the moment has found a worldwide audience, primarily due to the translation of the Rubáiyát by Edward FitzGerald (1809–1883). Many highly illustrated editions have been produced over the last seven decades, and this rare edition features the work of Arthur Szyk (1894–1951), a Polish-born, Jewish American artist whose illustrations capture the essence of Persian miniatures.
Omar Khayyam. Rubáiyát. Translated by Edward FitzGerald with illustrations by Arthur Szyk. New York: Heritage Press, ca. 1946. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (028.00.00). Reproduced with the cooperation of The Arthur Szyk Society, Burlingame, California www.szyk.org
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Just as the Shahnameh represents the most celebrated example of Persian epic poetry, Rumi’s Mas̲navī is exceptional in the didactic Sufi tradition of Persian poetry. Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (1207–1273), often referred to by his honorary name Mawlana (Mevlana), was born in Balkh province (present-day Afghanistan) and over the course of his life lived in Nishapur, Baghdad, Damascus, and eventually settled in Konya (present-day Turkey). He left behind a number of works in prose, but his two masterpieces of Persian poetry, the Mas̲navī-i Ma‘navī (Spiritual Couplets) and his Divān-i Shams-i Tabrīz (Mystical Anthology) have come to represent the spiritual blueprints of Sufi thought to Persian speakers. This early fifteenth-century Mas̲navī manuscript is the Library’s oldest Persian-language copy of the work and includes all six books.
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The Anthology of Hāfiz
Khwāja Shams al-Dīn Muhammad Hāfiz-i Shīrāzī (ca. 1320–1390), better known as “Hāfiz” (the retainer of the Qurʼān) was born in Shiraz and is considered by many to be Persia’s greatest lyric poet. Hāfiz’s collected poems, known as Dīvān-i Hāfiz, are very popular with Iranians, and he is regarded as Iran’s national poet. His lyrical poems are often complex and open to a range of interpretations. The meaning of Hāfiz’s poems transcend the apparent simplicity of his verse, which has presented challenges to translators. This illuminated Dīvān-i Hāfiz, written in the Shikastih calligraphic style, is the finest Hāfiz manuscript in the Library’s Persian collections.
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The Complete Works of Sa‘di-i Shīrāzī
Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī (1210–1291/1292), known as Sa‘di-i Shīrāzī or Sa‘di, was born in Shiraz and lived during the tumultuous Mongol invasion of Persia. After lengthy travels throughout the Islamic world, Sa‘di returned to his hometown and wrote some of the most noteworthy panegyric Persian poetry. Considered to be one of the major Persian poets of the medieval period, Sa‘di’s most important works are the Bustān (Orchard), written entirely in verse and the Gulistān (The Rose Garden), which is primarily in prose but interspersed with short poems. Sa‘di is primarily recognized as a great lyrical poet and his Ghazaliyat and Qasa'id (lyrics and odes) include a famous ode lamenting the fall of Baghdad to Mongol invaders in 1258.
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Jāmī’s Haft Awrang
Nūr al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Jāmī, also known as “Jāmī” (1414–1492) was born in the city of Jam in present-day Afghanistan. He is the best-known Persian poet from the fifteenth century. His achievements include scholarly works on Sufism, historical and mystical works, and numerous idylls and lyrical poems in Persian. His best-known anthology is the Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones). Jāmī’s works were popular throughout the Persian-speaking world, and he has a huge following in Central and South Asia. This rare sixteenth-century Central Asian copy of the fifth book in the Seven Thrones, known as “Yusuf and Zulaykha,” tells the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife based on the tale told in the holy Qurʼān.
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The Book of Licit Magic
Very little is known about the poet Muḥammad Ahlī-yi Shīrāzī (1454–ca. 1535) who was born and died in the city of Shiraz. His works of Persian poetry were dedicated to a number of rulers and elites in the various Persian-speaking courts of the Āq Quyunlū, Safavid, and Timurid dynasties. This unique gold leaf illuminated manuscript is one of Ahlī’s most significant works and features a Safavid-era-style miniature painting.
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Sanā‘ī Ghaznavī (1080–1131 or 1141) lived in the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan. His masterpiece, Hadiqat al Haqiqa (Garden of Truth), is the first Persian-language mystical epic of Sufism and a well regarded classic. Along with the poets ‘Attār (1145–1221) and Rumi (1207–1273), Sanā‘ī is regarded as one of the great mystical poets of classical Persian literature. This collection of his poems, the Divān, is an Indian reprint of an Iranian lithograph from 1857. The heading is adorned with the words Bismillâhi ’l-rahmâni ’l-rahim (“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful”), the letters of which have been arranged in the shape of a bird. This form of calligraphic composition was particularly popular in the Ottoman Empire.
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The Quinary of Niẓāmī Ganjavī
Niẓāmī Ganjavī (1141–1209), born in Ganjah (Azerbaijan), is considered the master of romantic epic poetry. Ganjavī’s poems, written using colloquial language are admired throughout the Persian-speaking world, and he is regarded as a national symbol in Azerbaijan. Ganjavī’s major work is the Panj Ganj (Five Treasures), also known as the Khamsah (Quinary). In this collection of five long narrative poems, each poem pays homage to the works of earlier poets such as Sanā‘ī and Ferdowsi. The Khamsah became a popular subject in the Persian and Mughal Indian courts for manuscripts lavishly illustrated with miniatures. This page of a Kashmiri-Indian copy of a Khamsah, illustrates tales from the Haft Paykar (Seven Beauties) and depicts the love interest of the hero Bahram Gur.
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