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Pietro della Valle: the limits of perception

  • J. D. Gurney


With few surviving chronicles and the loss of almost all the state archives, historians of the later Ṣafavid period have to rely to a disproportionate degree on the accounts of European travellers. Fortunately some of these, such as Chardin, Tavernier and Olearius, have left pre-eminent examples of the genre, but even so, few attempts have been made to explore their preceonceptions, prejudices or the extent of their understanding of Persian society. Almost all travelled for a well-defined purpose, as members of diplomatic missions, military advisers, missionaries or merchants, and their attitudes and the kind of information they recorded naturally were determined by these preoccupations. They did not necessarily ask the kind of questions that interest historians today and rarely reached levels of Persian cultural and intellectual life beyond the Court and provincial officialdom.



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1 There have been sevearl studies of della Valle's life and letters, of which these have been found most useful: I Ciampi Della vita e delle Valle, Florence, 1942;E. Rossi, ‘Pietro della Valle orientalista romano (1586–1652)’. Oriente Moderno, XXXIII, 1953, 49–64;P.G. Bietenholz, Pietro della Valle 1586–1652: Studien zur Geschichet der Orientkenntnis und des Orientbildes in Abendlande, Basel-Stuttgart, 1962;and Wilfrid Blunt'attractive study un English, Pietro's pilgrimage: a journey to India and back at the beginning of the seventeenth century, London, 1953. The most recent complete edition of his letters to Mario Schipano is still that of G.Gancia,Viaggi di Pietro della Valle Pietro della Valle, il Pellegrino, Brighton, 1843, but Bianconi, op. cit., isvaluable for the earlier letters and some of those from Persia have more recently been edited by F.Gaet and L.Lockhart,I viaggi di Pietro della valle: Letters dalla Persia, vol, I, Rome, 1972. For his unpublished correspondence, journals and papers, see Rossi, E., ‘Versi turchi e altri acritti inediti di Pietro della Valle’,Rivista degli Studi Orientali, XXII, 1947, 92–8; Amalgiả, R., ‘Per una conoscenza piủcompleta della figura e dell‘opera di Pietro della Vallez’, Rendiconti dell’Accademia dei Lincei, series VIII, vol. VI, 1951, 375–81.

2 This is a recurrent theme throughout the letters;for example, see Viaggi, ed. Gancia, I, 134–5, 164–5, 344,346,481–2;II, 95,165.

3 He later suggests the more interesting reason that he was bored with the luxury into which he had been born and always lived, wanted to deprive himself of it for a time, suffer some discomfort and so make life a little more praiseworthy, Viaggi, ed. Gancia, II, 187.

4 The Accademia di Umoristi in Rome and Naples, and the relationship with the Accademia di Oziosi, is described in M. Maylender,Storia delle Accademie d' Italia, v. Bologna, 1930, 369–81.

5 For further details on Schipano, Urrea Concs, and their friends, see G.Gabrieli, ‘I Primi Accademici Lincei e gli studi orientali’, Bibliofilia, XXVIII, 1926–27, 105–14.

6 The basic source for Gjovanni Battista Vechietti's life is still his brother Girolamo's letter of March 1620, printed in Morelli, J., I codici manoscritti volgari della Libreria Naniana, Venice, 1776, 159–91.Other useful details cand be found in Maclagan, E., The Jesuits and the Great Mogul, London, 1932, 211–12; Vida, G. Levi della, ‘Ricerche sula formezione del piủantico fondo du manoscritti orientali della Biblioteca Vaticana’, Harvard Theological Review, XLV, 1952, 7–17; Tucci, U., ‘Una relazione di Giovan Battista Vecchietti sulla Persia e sul regno di Hormuz (1587)’, Oriente Moderno, XXXV, 1955, 149–60; Palombini, B. von, Bϋniswerben abendlāndischer Mächte um Persien 1453–1600. Wiesbaden, 1968, 107–15.

7 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, I, 146–7, 149–50, 344, 521.

8 ibid., i, 208–9, 254, 310, 324.

9 ibdi., I, 324. This, however, was the ultimate destination of his library. See Ciampi, op, cit.177–81, and E.Rossi, Elenco dei manoscritti persiani della biblioteca vaticana, Vatican, 1948, passim.

10 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, I, 137–8;Gaeta, op, cit., 479.

11 ibid., I, 131–3, 141–2.

12 ibid., I, 106.

13 ibid., I, 259, 267, 283, 291.

14 ibid., I, 149.

15 ibid., i, 217.

16 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, I, 348;II, 511–13.

17 ibid., I, 516–7.

18 ibid., 362–3. Della Valle's account forms the basis of an excellent monograph by G., L della Vida.George Strachan: memorials of a wandering Scottish scholar of the seventeenth century, Aberdeen, 1956.

19 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, II, 439.

20 The correct Arabic transliteration of her name is Ma'āni Juwayri, but della Valle's is used here throughout.

21 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, I, 398–9.

22 ibid., I, 784–5, 793;II, 30.

23 ibid., I, 860–1.

24 ibid., 860–1.

25 ibid., 645–9, 654–71, 707–8, 738–40, 755–6, 788–, 814;II, 84–94, 98. Much of his letter from Iṣfahān, dated 24 August 1619, describes ‘Abbās's participation in the festivities and cerenonies held in the capital, ibid., II, 1–53, passim.

26 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, I, 658–9.

27 ibid., II, 50, 107–8, 135–6. Later della Valle handsomely exonerated ‘ABBās that concludes with a generous vindication of his stature as a ruler and qualities as a man. See ibid., II, 192–8. and della Valle, Delle conditioni di Abbἀs re di Persia, Venice, 1628.

28 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, ii, 151–2. There is a great deal of information about the Georgians throughout della Valle's letters from Persia, and he subsequently complied in 1627 a separate account, Informatione della Giorgia, for Pope Urban VIII, printed in J.ThẸvenot, Relations de divers voyages curieux qui n'ont point estẸpubliẸs…, Paris, 1663.

29 Viaggi, ed, Gancia, I, 644, 679, 762, 788.

30 ibid., I, 759, 764–5.

31 Della Valle refers to few Persians by name. Most of his contacts were limited to formal acquaintances at Court, amongst whom he mentions: ĀqāMīr (MiīrzāTāhir Natanzī), vazir of the Shah'ghuīāms and tufangchīs and munshi-yi makhṣūṣ(Naṣrallāh Falasfi, Zindigāni-yi Shāh ‘Abbās-i avval, Tehran, 1344/, II, 607;Falsafi, op, cit., IV, 44, 55, 58, 62, 66, 199);SārīTaqu (MīrzāMuḥammad Taqi), at thet time vazir of Māzandarān (Falsafi, op. cit., III, 60–2, Viaggi, ed. Gancia, I, 629, 635–6); Tahkta Beg Ustājlīhis mihmaāndār at Ashraf, later appointed dārūgha of Iṣfahān and then envoy to Istanbul (Iskandar MunshīTārikh-i ‘ālamārā-yi 'abbāsi, Tehran, 1334 1956, II, 948, 957, 1043, 1050, 1066,), of whom della Valle speaks with affection, even if he found him at times ‘odd, a little disturbed in his reasoning, if not melancholic at least Pensive ’(Viagi, ed. Gancia, I, 609, 626; II, 102, 110–1).

32 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, I, 521; II, 7. For MullāJalāl, see Falsafī, op. cit., passim, Iskandar Munshi, op. cit., I, 474–5; II, 611, 638; and for an account of his Tārikh-i ĨAbbāsi, see Ghulām RiżāSalīm. –Tārikh-i Jalāl Munajjim’ Rāhnamā-yi kitāb, VIII, 1344/1965, 7–13.

33 Viaggi, ed, Gancia, I, 563–4.

34 ibid., I, 585.

35 ibid., I, 510, 521, 542.

36 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, I, 738;II, 188–9.

37 ibid., I, 770ģII, 183.

38 ibid., II, 188–9;E., Rossi, ‘Poesie inedite in persiano di Pietro della Valle’, Rivista degli Studi Orientali, XXVIII, 1953, 108–12.

39 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , I, 862; II, 51. Rossi, E., ‘Importanza dell' inedita grammatica turca di Pietro della Valle’, Atti del XIX Congresso Internazionale degli Orientalisti, Rome, 1938, 202–9.

40 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 97, 101–2, 182–3, 188.

41 ibid., II, 183–4.

42 Albert von Schilling was mentioned by della Valle in his later letters from India as being a friend from I๣fahān, The travels of Pietro della Valle in India, ed. E., Grey, London, 1892, I, 19, 22, 26–9, 46–7, 92–3, 116, 124, 130–1.

43 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 224–5, Rossi, E., Elenco dei manoscritti persiani, op. cit., 32–3. He called his Persian tract Risāla-i PitrŪs Dilāvālīal-rnuqaddasībegzāda az Rīm-i Pāpābi-jānib-i khuddām-i siydāat-panāh Mīr Muhammad ‘Abd al-Vahhābīdar ba‘żī'umūr-i din-i masīhiyān. He was wrong in thinking this was the first such work in Persian; Hieronymo Xavier had written the Ā'ina-i haqq-namā in India in 1609.

44 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 443. This was Mīr Muhammad Bāqir b. Shams al Din Muhammad, usually known as Mir Dāmād, whom della Valle said he had known in Isfahān. For a brief sketch of his life and works, see Khvānsāri, Muhammad Bāqir, Raużāt al-jannāt fi ahvāl al-‘ulamā’va ’l-sādāt, Tehran, 1347/1928, I, 114–6; Encyclopedia of Islam (2nd ed.), II, 103–4.

45 Rossi, E., Elenco dei manoscritti persiani, op. cit., 36–8. Ahmad b. Zayn al-‘Ābidīn's work was completed in Muharram 1031/mid-November, mid-December 1621, a few weeks after della Valle had left Iṣfahān.

46 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 443–5. It has been suggested that della Valle's tract contributed to the change in ‘Abbās I's attitude towards the Christians, though this is unlikely (A chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia, London, 1939, I, 261). On the other hand, Ahmad b. Zayn al-‘Ābidīn soon after wrote a riposte to Hieronymo Xavier called Misqal-i safādar tajliya va tasfiya-i ā'ina-i ḥaqq-namādar radd-i maຕhab-i nasārā, which in turn drew forth Christian rejoinders (E. Rossi, Elenco dei manoscritti persiani, op. cit., 66–9, 74). Della Valle's wish for religious dispute was certainly fulfilled.

47 For Lār, its earlier history, contemporary seventeenth century accounts and an excellent bibliography, see Jean, Calmard, ‘Lār, Lāristān’, Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.), v, 665–76, Calmard, Jacqueline, Les routes de Chiraz au Golfe Persique vues par les voyageurs européens (1640–1720), Paris, 1978, Aubin, J., ‘References pour Lar medievale’, Journal Asiatique, CCXLII, 1955, 491505.

48 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 326.

49 ibid., II, 326–53, passim.

50 Only one of his group can be identified with any degree of confidence: Qutb al-Dīn was probably Qutb al-Dīn Lārīb. ‘Izz al-Dīn b. ‘Abd al-Ḥayy, the author of several works on mathematics and astronomy, such as Ḥal va ‘aqd, Ḥal-i masā'il, and Risāla-i masā’il fi ahkām al-nujūmī (Ahmad Iqtidārī, Lāristān-i kuhan, Tehran, 1334/1955, 145–6, and additional notes by Muḥammad Amīn Khunjī, 196–7). The first work, finished in 1017/1608–9, but containing examples from 1027/1617–18, was an attempt to elucidate Ulugh Beg's astronomical tables for beginners; on fol. 90b of t h e Britsh Library MS, Or. 1573, he says he left Lār to study astrology in Shīrāz, but quickly returned as he had judicial functions and was known as the muftī (see Rieu, C., Catalogue of the Persian manuscripts in the British Museum, London, 1879–83, ii, 459).

51 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 328–30. For the Nuqṭavīs, see Ṣādiq Kiyā, Nuqṭaviyān yāpasīkhāniyān, Tehran, 1330/1951 and Naṣrallāh Falsafī, op. cit., III, 41–50. Delia Valle's comment provides useful evidence for the extent of this sect more than thirty years after its suppression had been ordered. At Bīrī, near Jahrum, della Valle had heard that the majority of the population were followers (Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 330).

52 E. Rossi, Elenco del manoscritti persiani, op. cit., 47–9. This untitled manuscript was copied in Lār by MullāJamāl b. Muḥammad Bahrāin Tabrīzīand finished on 25 Rajab 1031/5 June 1622, shortly before della Valle left the town.

53 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 343–4. No references have been found for MīrzāSharīf Jahān or Mīr ‘Abd al-Ḥasan, but there is evidence from the Carmelites in 1623 that Imām QulīKhān wanted texts of Plato and Aristotle in Greek and Latin, as well as Arabic-Latin dictionaries and the Bible in Arabic, for use in the madrasa library (A Chronicle of the Carmelites, op. cit., I, 279). Perhaps this was one result of della Valle's discussions the previous year.

54 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 443;E. Rossi, Elenco dei manoscritti persiani, op. cit., 91–2. Muhammad Qāsim b. ḤājjīMuḥammad KāshānīSurūrīfinished the Majma'al-Furs in 1008/1599ī1600, and subsequently enlarged it in about 1028/1617. Delia Valle's copy, made by Surūrī's nephew and checked by himself, was dated 12 Ṣafar 1031/27 December 1621, three months after della Valle had left Iṣfahān.

55 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 282, 337–8.

56 Muhammad Hādi, Karāmati, Tārīkh-i dilgushā-yi Ivaz, Tehran 1333/1955, 19; Aubin, J., ‘Les sunnites du Lārestān et la chute des Safavids’, Revue des Etudes Islamiques, 33, 1965, 156–7.

57 Fischel, W. J., ‘The region of the Persian Gulf and its Jewish settlements in Islamic times’, Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume, New York, 1950, 218–20, 227–30.

58 Aubin, J., ‘Les sunnites du Lārestān’, op. cit., 170–1. Two Lārīs in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reflect these wider horizons: Muṣlih al-Din b. Muḥammad Anṣārī(c. 1510–1572), author of Mir'āt al-advār va mirqāt al-akhbār and several other works, travelled to India, Aleppo, Istanbul and died in Āmid (see Iqtidārī, op. cit., 147, 193–5; Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.), v, 682); Muhammad (Mehmed) Lārī, executed for his atheism in Istanbul in 1665 (see Mehmed b. MuṣtafāRasid, Ta'rīkh, Istanbul, 1282/1865, I, 94; Wurm, H., Der osmanische Historiker Hüseyn b. Ǧa'fer, gennant Hezārfenn, und die Istanbuler Gesellschaft in der zweiten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1971, 68).

59 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, II, 407.

60 ibid., II, 419–20.

61 Della Valle had met Cristoforo Boro in Goa (Travels of Pietro della Valle in India, op. cit., I, 163, 169–70;II, 436) and completed his translation in 1624.

62 Rossi, Elenco dei manoscritti persiani, op. cit., 35–6. He addressed his friend in full as MaulānāZayn al-Dīn Lārīal-Munajjim and gave him the titles Mufakhkhar al-ḥukamāva al-‘ulamā’balad-i 'ajam. Shortly before della Valle left Bandar ‘Abbās for Goa, Strachan succumbed to another bout of the fever that seems to have occurred so frequently during his years in Persia (Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 458; Calendar of State Papers, Colonial: East Indies, China and Japan, 1617–21, ed. Sainsbury, W. N., London, 1870, 371). On this occasion, he was sent to recover in Lār, where with della Valle's introduction, he would have met Zayn al-Dīn, but, alas, no record survives of this encounter.

63 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 388–9.

64 ibid., II, 378–9. The lines to Sa‘di are not in Gancia’s edition, but have been published by E. Rossi, ‘Versi turchi e altri scritti inediti’, op. cit., 96.

65 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 414. For the Jang-nāma, see Bonelli, L., ‘II poemetto persiano Jang-nāma-i Kishm’, Rendiconti della R. Accademia dei Lincei, vi, Rome, 1890, 291302, and E. Rossi, Elenco dei manoscritti persiani, op. cit., 56–7.

66 Viaggi, ed. Gancia, , II, 438.

67 Hodgen, M. T., Early anthropology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Philadelphia, 1964, 451.


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