All posts by Alasdair Watson

Preserving Hafiz, Poet of Shiraz.

 

or better or for worse, Special Collections Librarians have adopted the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) scheme to classify the subject matter of the Islamicate Manuscripts described in the Union Catalogue ‘Fihrist‘. By and large this works well for this material which was created in the medieval period. There are, however, some anomalies such as modern country names (e.g. Yemen (Republic) — History) having to be used rather than their more ancient equivalents, or Medicine, Arab, which does not do justice to an Avicenna or a Rhazes who, although they wrote predominately in Arabic, were Persians by birth. Fihrist lists more than 2000 subjects in current use in the catalogue which also includes personal names as subject matter of works.

When it comes to Persian Poetry, the LCSH provides 2 main headings: Persian Poetry — 747-1500, and Persian Poetry 1500-1796. The dates of 1500-1796 may be explained by the fact that the Safavid Dynasty ruled Iran with their brand of state-sponsored Shiism and Sufism beginning around 1500, after which from about 1722, the Afsharid Dynasty briefly rose to power until the Qajars established their rule fully over Iran in 1796, ushering in a period of modernization including that of literary forms. The beginning date of 747 is slightly more puzzling, coming as it does less than a century after the fall of the Sassanid Empire to the Arab Muslims and the death of the last King Yazdigird III in 651.

This Arabo-Islamic conquest by many accounts left Iran reeling, and in the (perhaps now outdated) words of Iranian cultural historian Abdol Hossein Zarrinkoub (d. 1999) caused Two Centuries of Silence during which no Persian literary production of note took place. Others, such as E. G. Browne (author of A Literary History of Persia), point out that on the contrary, ‘take from what is commonly called Arabian Science – from exegesis, tradition, theology, philosophy, medicine, lexicography, history, biography, even Arabic grammar- the work contributed by Persians, and the best part is gone.’ [Browne, Literary History, i:204].

Browne is referring to monumental works written by Persians in Arabic such as Tabari’s two famous books on Universal History, and Qur’anic Exegesis which take up to 30 volumes each in some printings; or volumes of Prophetic Traditions by Bukhari (of Bukhara, Transoxiana); or Sibawayh’s book on Arabic Grammar, and many more besides.

When it comes to poetry in the ‘New Persian’, it seems to be the 9th and 10th Centuries in the great central-Asian metropolis of Bukhara at the courts of the Samanids where the art flourished once more in the Persian tongue with minstrels such as Rudaki (860-940) singing and playing the lute. Dowlatshah of Samarqand, who wrote his Memorandum of the Poets in 1487, includes over 140 biographical entries beginning with Rudaki, before whom he says no other Persian poet’s work was recorded or written down, perhaps because of a ban on books written in Persian. With the advent of the Samanids and Saffarids, poetry in Persian re-emerged and became popular.

As for the date 747, that was the year of the beginning of the Abbasid revolt in Eastern Iran against the Umayyads who ruled the empire from Damascus. By 750 the Umayyads had been overthrown, and plans were made for a new capital at Baghdad, with a noble, learned, and influential Persian family – the Barmakids – acting as viziers. Think Barmecide feast! Many Persian administrative practices were introduced to the state bureaucracy by the Barmakids, but again, the State Registers were apparently still being written in Arabic until the time of the Samanids, or possibly even the Ghaznavids.

If we take our ‘Millennium’ of Persian Poetry to be 747-1796, the major poet who was flourishing in the middle of this period would  be Amir Khusraw of Dehli (1253-1325). If we take the date to be from 880, when Rudaki was in his flush of youth, then a much more well-known figure would be flourishing – none other than Hafiz of Shiraz (1315-1390) – which is why this cataloguer felt he had passed a milestone in his lockdown cataloguing work when he completed entries for the copies of the works of Hafez held by the Bodleian Libraries’ Oriental Special Collections.

The poet Hafiz (back right) with companions. [Bodleian MS. Elliott 163, fol. 55b]

The Libraries hold a total of 47 manuscript copies of the works of Hafiz plus a number of commentaries, making him the third most-represented poet in the Persian collections after Jami with 98, which is not surprising as he died 100 years after Hafiz, and many copies of his works were made in Safavid times, and Sa’di (who died 100 years before Hafiz) with 83, and whose Bustan and Gulistan have been ever-popular.

Two copies of the Divan (collected poetical works) of Hafiz are available to browse on Digital.Bodleian; MS. Ouseley Add. 175 – an exquisite copy made in 1571 by the acclaimed calligrapher Mir Ali the Scribe to the Sultan. This includes an introduction in the hand of Sir Gore Ouseley; and MS. Ouseley Add. 26, a less lavish version copied in 1538.

Catalogue records of the Bodleian’s holdings of the works of Hafiz may be browsed here.

The Divan or collected poetical works of Hafiz finds widespread use in Persianate lands for Bibliomancy or fortune-telling by books. Most families would have a copy of the Divan which, opened at random after an intention to seek omens, the reader would interpret the poem that appears to them in a way that lends meaning to their life. This is because Hafiz is seen to be an interpreter of the unseen realms and was known as lisān al-ghayb or speaker of the unknown.

In Iran, one can have one’s fortune told by Hafiz in street-stalls, but there are also many online faʾl-i Hafiz such as this one at the link below conveniently using an English translation!

Hafiz fortune-teller

[The Bodleian Libraries are not responsible for the content of external sites]

 

The Shāhnāmah of Ibrāhīm Sulṭān – Available Online from Digital.Bodleian

VIEW IBRĀHĪM SULṬĀN’S SHĀHNĀMAH ONLINE
The Shāhnāmah – Book of Kings (or King of Books) – is an epic poem written in Persian by Abū l-Qāsim Firdawsī of Ṭūs. Completed in about 1010 CE, the book is composed of some 60,000 verses which narrate the history of Greater Persia from mythical beginnings until the Arab conquests of the 7th century.

Said to be the longest poem ever to have been written by a single person, the significance of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah to the Persian-speaking world can be compared to that of the works of Homer to Greece.

No manuscript copies of the Shāhnāmah survive from the 11th or 12th centuries, and only two from the 13th century are still extant, but many copies from the Timurid and Safavid periods are preserved in Library collections today.

Three of the grandsons of Tīmūr (Tamerlane) are known to have had lavish copies of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah or Persian Book of Kings made for them. The Shāhnāmahs of Bāysunghur, Muḥammad Jūkī, and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān are preserved in the Golestan Palace, Tehran, the Royal Asiatic Society, London, and the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, respectively.

Left: Shamsah showing inscription dedicated to Ibrāhīm Sulṭān. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 12a). Right: Ibrāhīm Sulṭān holding court outdoors. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 1b).

Thought to have been made in Shiraz sometime between 1430 and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s death in 1435, this copy of the Shāhnāmah is known for its exceptional miniature paintings and exquisite illuminated panels.

The manuscript was acquired by Sir Gore Ouseley, a Diplomat and Linguist, during travels in the East in the early 19th century, and came into the Bodleian in the 1850s along with many other of Sir Gore’s collections. It is now preserved as MS. Ouseley Add. 176.

Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s Shāhnāmah is now digitally available online via Digital.Bodleian. Recently, its sibling Muḥammad Jūkī’s Shāhnāmah was published online by the Royal Asiatic Society; both in good time for Nawruz or Persian New Year on 20th March!

REFERENCES

Abdullaeva, F., & Melville, C., The Persian book of kings : Ibrahim Sultan’s Shahnama (Treasures from the Bodleian Library). Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2008.

Beeston, A. F. L., Hermann Ethé, and Eduard Sachau. Catalogue of the Persian, Turkish, Hindûstânî, and Pushtû Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library . Oxford: At the Clarendon, 1889.

Robinson, B. W.,  A Descriptive Catalogue of the Persian Paintings in the Bodleian Library. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958.

The Bodleian Libraries would like to thank the Bahari Fund for helping to make this digitization project possible.

Newly Digitized Arabic Astronomy Manuscript Now Online

The Bodleian Libraries’ important 12th-century copy of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī’s Book of Fixed Stars, an illustrated Arabic treatise on the Constellations is now available online via Digital Bodleian and Fihrist.

sufif1rdetail

MS. Huntington 212, folio 1r, detail

Bodleian Libraries MS. Huntington 212, an early copy of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī‘s book Kitāb Ṣuwar al-kawākib al-thābitah or Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars was made in 566 AH/1170 CE for the treasury of Sayf al-Dīn Ghāzī II, Zangid Emir of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq. This is attested to by a gilded dedication panel on folio 1r. The panel is virtually illegible now to the naked eye as it was apparently defaced by a subsequent owner; possibly to efface the memory of a rival (see left).

 

 

The manuscript, which is part of a large collection bought by the Library in 1693 from the Orientalist Robert Huntington, is believed to be the fourth oldest surviving copy of the treatise and has recently been the object of a large scale conservation project by Robert Minte of the Conservation team at the Bodleian Libraries.

This copy’s importance and significance has increased since doubts were raised about the authenticity of the date of Bodleian Libraries MS. Marsh 144, the colophon of which states that it was made in 400 AH/1009 CE. It is likely to have been made more than 150 years later than this.

Al-Ṣūfī’s treatise was originally composed in about 964 CE and contains images of most of the 48 Classical Constellations both as they appear on the celestial sphere and on the celestial globe – each being a mirror image of the other –  together with tables of data on the position (latitude and longitude) and magnitude of each star which makes up the constellation. Al-Ṣūfī’s observations represent an advance on those made by Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE.

The Huntington Collection copy also contains two rare images of so-called Bedouin Constellations superimposed over the Ptolemaic ones, and these appear on folios 40r-40v, and also on folio 74v, where a constellation in the form of a camel appears drawn in red ink alongside the classical constellation of Andromeda  (see below).

sufi74v

A Bedouin Constellation in the form of a camel alongside the Classical Constellation of Andromeda.

Thanks to the conservation work done on the manuscript it is now available for scholarly study once again, and will also travel to an exhibition in New York later in 2016.