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The Persian Literature, Comprising The Shah Nameh, The Rubaiyat, The Divan, and The Gulistan, Volume 1   By:

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Revised Edition, Volume 1


With a special introduction by RICHARD J. H. GOTTHEIL, Ph.D.


A 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 to our minds the vision of things beautiful and artistic, the memory of great deeds and days of chivalry. We seem almost to smell the fragrance of the rose gardens of Tus and of Shiraz, and to hear the knight errants tell of war and of love. There are other Oriental civilizations, whose coming and going have not been in vain for the world; they have done their little bit of apportioned work in the universe, and have done it well. India and Arabia have had their great poets and their great heroes, yet they have remained well nigh unknown to the men and women of our latter day, even to those whose world is that of letters. But the names of Firdusi, Sa'di, Omar Khayyám, Jami, and Háfiz, have a place in our own temples of fame. They have won their way into the book stalls and stand upon our shelves, side by side with the other books which mould our life and shape our character.

Some reason there must be for the special favor which we show to these products of Persian genius, and for the hold which they have upon us. We need not go far to find it. The under current forces, which determine our own civilization of to day, are in a general way the same forces which were at play during the heyday of Persian literary production. We owe to the Hellenic spirit, which at various times has found its way into our midst, our love for the beautiful in art and in literature. We owe to the Semitic, which has been inbreathed into us by religious forms and beliefs, the tone of our better life, the moral level to which we aspire. The same two forces were at work in Persia. Even while that country was purely Iránian, it was always open to Semitic influences. The welding together of the two civilizations is the true signature of Persian history. The likeness which is so evident between the religion of the Avesta, the sacred book of the pre Mohammedan Persians, and the religion of the Old and New Testaments, makes it in a sense easy for us to understand these followers of Zoroaster. Persian poetry, with its love of life and this worldliness, with its wealth of imagery and its appeal to that which is human in all men, is much more readily comprehended by us than is the poetry of all the rest of the Orient. And, therefore, Goethe, Platen, Rückert, von Schack, Fitzgerald, and Arnold have been able to re sing their masterpieces so as to delight and instruct our own days of which thing neither India nor Arabia can boast.

Tales of chivalry have always delighted the Persian ear. A certain inherent gayety of heart, a philosophy which was not so sternly vigorous as was that of the Semite, lent color to his imagination. It guided the hands of the skilful workmen in the palaces of Susa and Persepolis, and fixed the brightly colored tiles upon their walls. It led the deftly working fingers of their scribes and painters to illuminate their manuscripts so gorgeously as to strike us with wonder at the assemblage of 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 of valor who lived before and after him with very little to hinder the free play of their fancy. And so this fancy roamed up and down the whole course of Persian history: taking a long look into the vista of the past, trying even to lift the veil which hides from mortal sight the beginnings of all things; intertwining fact with fiction, building its mansions on earth, and its castles in the air.

The greatest of all Eastern national epics is the work of a Persian. The "Sháh Námeh," or Book of Kings, may take its place most worthily by the side of the Indian Nala, the Homeric Iliad, the German Niebelungen... Continue reading book >>

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