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Persian Literature, Volume 1

Persian Literature, Volume 1

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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Persian Literature, Volume 1,Comprising TheShah Nameh, The Rubaiyat, The Divan, and The Gulistan, by Anonymous, et alThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.netTitle: Persian Literature, Volume 1,Comprising The Shah Nameh, TheRubaiyat, The Divan, and The GulistanAuthor: AnonymousRelease Date: November 26, 2003 [eBook #10315]Language: EnglishChatacter set encoding: ISO-8859-1***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK PERSIAN LITERATURE, VOLUME1,COMPRISING THE SHAH NAMEH, THE RUBAIYAT, THE DIVAN, AND THE GULISTAN***E-text prepared by Juliet Sutherland, Karen Lofstrom, Tom Allen, and theProject Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading TeamPERSIAN LITERATUREcomprisingTHE SHH NMEH, THE RUBIYT
THE DIVAN, AND THE GULISTANRevised Edition, Volume 11909With a special introduction byRICHARD J. H. GOTTHEIL, Ph.D.SPECIAL INTRODUCTIONA certain amount of romantic interest has always attached to Persia.With a continuous history stretching back into those dawn-days of
 
history in which fancy loves to play, the mention of its name brings toour minds the vision of things beautiful and artistic, the memory ofgreat deeds and days of chivalry. We seem almost to smell the fragranceof the rose-gardens of Tus and of Shiraz, and to hear the knight-errantstell of war and of love. There are other Oriental civilizations, whosecoming and going have not been in vain for the world; they have donetheir little bit of apportioned work in the universe, and have done itwell. India and Arabia have had their great poets and their greatheroes, yet they have remained well-nigh unknown to the men and women ofour latter day, even to those whose world is that of letters. But thenames of Firdusi, Sa'di, Omar Khayym, Jami, and Hfiz, have a place in
our own temples of fame. They have won their way into the book-stallsand stand upon our shelves, side by side with the other books whichmould our life and shape our character.Some reason there must be for the special favor which we show to theseproducts of Persian genius, and for the hold which they have upon us. Weneed not go far to find it. The under-current forces, which determineour own civilization of to-day, are in a general way the same forceswhich were at play during the heyday of Persian literary production. Weowe to the Hellenic spirit, which at various times has found its wayinto our midst, our love for the beautiful in art and in literature. Weowe to the Semitic, which has been inbreathed into us by religious formsand beliefs, the tone of our better life, the moral level to which weaspire. The same two forces were at work in Persia. Even while thatcountry was purely Irnian, it was always open to Semitic influences.
The welding together of the two civilizations is the true signature ofPersian history. The likeness which is so evident between the religionof the Avesta, the sacred book of the pre-Mohammedan Persians, and thereligion of the Old and New Testaments, makes it in a sense easy for usto understand these followers of Zoroaster. Persian poetry, with itslove of life and this-worldliness, with its wealth of imagery and itsappeal to that which is human in all men, is much more readilycomprehended by us than is the poetry of all the rest of the Orient.And, therefore, Goethe, Platen, Rckert, von Schack, Fitzgerald, and
Arnold have been able to re-sing their masterpieces so as to delight andinstruct our own days--of which thing neither India nor Arabia canboast.Tales of chivalry have always delighted the Persian ear. A certaininherent gayety of heart, a philosophy which was not so sternly vigorousas was that of the Semite, lent color to his imagination. It guided thehands of the skilful workmen in the palaces of Susa and Persepolis, andfixed the brightly colored tiles upon their walls. It led the deftlyworking fingers of their scribes and painters to illuminate theirmanuscripts so gorgeously as to strike us with wonder at the assemblageof hues and the boldness of designs. Their Zoroaster was never deified.They could think of his own doings and of the deeds of the mighty men ofvalor who lived before and after him with very little to hinder the freeplay of their fancy. And so this fancy roamed up and down the wholecourse of Persian history: taking a long look into the vista of thepast, trying even to lift the veil which hides from mortal sight thebeginnings of all things; intertwining fact with fiction, building itsmansions on earth, and its castles in the air.The greatest of all Eastern national epics is the work of a Persian. The"Shh Nmeh," or Book of Kings, may take its place most worthily by the
side of the Indian Nala, the Homeric Iliad, the German Niebelungen. Its
 
plan is laid out on a scale worthy of its contents, and its execution isequally worthy of its planning. One might almost say that with itneo-Persian literature begins its history. There were poets in Persiabefore the writer of the "Shh Nmeh"--Rudagi, the blind (died 954),
Zandshi (950), Chusravani (tenth century). There were great poets duringhis own day. But Firdusi ranks far above them all; and at the verybeginning sets up so high a standard that all who come after him musttry to live up to it, or else they will sink into oblivion.The times in which Firdusi lived were marked by strange revolutions. TheArabs, filled with the daring which Mohammed had breathed into them, hadindeed conquered Persia. In A.D. 657, when Merv fell, and the lastSassanian king, Yezdegird III, met his end, these Arabs became nominallysupreme. Persia had been conquered--but not the Persian spirit. Eventhough Turkish speech reigned supreme at court and the Arabic scriptbecame universal, the temper of the old Arsacides and Sassanians stilllived on. It is true that Ormuzd was replaced by Allah, and Ahriman bySatan. But the Persian had a glorious past of his own; and in this theconquered was far above the conqueror. This past was kept alive in themyth-loving mind of this Aryan people; in the songs of its poets and inthe lays of its minstrels. In this way there was, in a measure, acontinuous opposition of Persian to Arab, despite the mingling of thetwo in Islam; and the opposition of Persian Shiites to the Sunnites ofthe rest of the Mohammedan world at this very day is a curious survivalof racial antipathy. The fall of the only real Arab Mohammedandynasty--that of the Umayyid caliphs at Damascus--the rise of theseparate and often opposing dynasties in Spain, Sicily, Egypt, andTunis, served to strengthen the Persians in their desire to keep alivetheir historical individuality and their ancient traditions.Firdusi was not the first, as he was not the only one, to collect theold epic materials of Persia. In the Avesta itself, with its ancienttraditions, much can be found. More than this was handed down andbandied about from mouth to mouth. Some of it had even found its wayinto the Kalam of the Scribe; to-wit, the "Zarer, or Memorials of theWarriors" (A.D. 500), the "History of King Ardeshir" (A.D. 600), theChronicles of the Persian Kings. If we are to trust Baisonghur's prefaceto the "Shh Nmeh," there were various efforts made from time to time
to put together a complete story of the nation's history, by Farruchani,Ramin, and especially by the Dihkan Danishwar (A.D. 651). The work ofthis Danishwar, the "Chodainameh" (Book of Kings), deserves to bespecially singled out. It was written, not in neo-Persian and Arabicscript, but in what scholars call middle-Persian and in what is known asthe Pahlavi writing. It was from this "Chodainameh" that Abu Mansur,lord of Tus, had a "Shh Nmeh" of his own prepared in the neo-Persian.
And then, to complete the tale, in 980 a certain Zoroastrian whose namewas Dakiki versified a thousand lines of this neo-Persian Book of Kings.In this very city of Tus, Abul Kasim Mansur (or Ahmed) Firdusi was born,A.D. 935. One loves to think that perhaps he got his name from thePersian-Arabic word for garden; for, verily, it was he that gatheredinto one garden all the beautiful flowers which had blossomed in thefancy of his people. As he has draped the figures in his great epic, sohas an admiring posterity draped his own person. His fortune has beeninterwoven with the fame of that Mahmud of Ghazna (998-1030), the firstto bear the proud title of "Sultan," the first to carry Mohammed and theprophets into India. The Round Table of Mahmud cannot be altogether afigment of the imagination. With such poets as Farruchi, Unsuri,

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