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Early Persian Verse Romances in Mutaqārib: Form, Structure, Contents

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 August 2022

Gabrielle van den Berg*
Leiden University, Faculty of Humanities, Area Studies, PO Box 9515, Leiden, 2300RA
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This article discusses use of the meter mutaqārib in Persian masnavī (narrative) poetry as related to its content from a comparative perspective. One of the aims is to demonstrate the various connections between a set of narrative poems composed in mutaqārib. The article questions previous assumptions about the form and style of early Persian verse romances and contributes to further discussion of approaches to Persian narrative poetry.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Association for Iranian Studies

In Saʿdī Shīrāzī's Būstān, completed in 655/1257, we find the following two verses written as a tazmīn, or quotation, of Firdawsī.Footnote 1

chi khvash guft firdawsī-yi pākzād
ki rahmat bar ān turbat-i pāk bād
mayāzār mūrī ki dāna kash-ast
ki jān dārad-u jān-i shīrīn khvash ast Footnote 2
How well the noble-born Firdawsī spoke
May there be mercy on his pure grave
Do not injure the ant that is carrying grain
For he has a life and a sweet life is beautiful.Footnote 3

These well-known verses appear in the second of the ten chapters of Saʿdī's Būstān, entitled Dar Ihsān (On doing good).Footnote 4 In the Shāhnāma, this is what Iraj says when Tūr is about to kill him, telling his brother not to abase himself by killing the weak. Saʿdī's verses appear in the story of the Sufi Shiblī (d. 945), who spots an ant in his grain storehouse.Footnote 5

This quotation, just as the choice for the meter of the Būstān, may be understood as a javāb, an answer to a literary predecessor.Footnote 6 The meter in which the Būstān is composed is the mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf, the meter Firdawsī used for his Shāhnāma about two hundred and fifty years earlier. From that time forward, the mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf was associated with the Shāhnāma. The Būstān even opens with verses almost identical to Firdawsī's own.

This article considers usage of the meter of the Būstān and the Shāhnāma, the mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf, “the eightfold apocopated mutaqārib,” in early Persian poetry.Footnote 7 In addition, I will discuss some issues relevant to the relation between content and meter in Persian poetry, a topic that has received relatively little attention in studies on Persian literature.Footnote 8

The Meter Mutaqārib and Other Narrative Meters

The basic form of the mutaqārib meter is the unit (rukn) faʿūlun, consisting of one short syllable followed by two long syllables. In the “sound” (sālim) form of the meter this unit is repeated four times per misrāʿ (hemistich), eight times per bayt (distich). In the most common form of this meter, the one under consideration here, the last unit of each misrāʿ is shortened by one syllable, rendering the fourth and the eighth unit faʿal instead of faʿūlun (thus: ᴗ - - / ᴗ - - / ᴗ - - / ᴗ -).

The mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf is usually described as “the heroic meter,” because the Shāhnāma is “a heroic epic.”Footnote 9 Categorizations like this, although useful, do not do full justice to the nature of the Shāhnāma or to its meter. The fact that Saʿdī chose this meter for his Būstān, a work that may be called a didactic rather than a heroic epic, is indicative of this. The categorization of epics, or narrative poems, in literary histories as heroic, romantic, or didactic is questionable and perhaps should be reconsidered.Footnote 10 Labels may limit the reader to a normative way of looking at narrative poems.

In The Persian Metres, published in 1976, L. P. Elwell-Sutton presents the following concise classification of meters used in narrative poems:

According to the prosodists, it is possible to tell the nature of the masnawī poem from the meter in which it is composed: meter 1.1.11 [mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf ] is used for razm (heroic epics) and bazm (festive poems), 2.1.11 [hazaj-i musaddas-i mahzūf, ᴗ - - - / ᴗ - - -/ ᴗ - - ] and 5.1.10 [hazaj-i musaddas-i akhrab-i maqbūz-i mahzūf, - - ᴗ / ᴗ - ᴗ - / ᴗ - -] for ˁešq (love poems), 2.4.11 [ramal-i musaddas-i mahzūf, - ᴗ - -/ - ᴗ - -/ - ᴗ - -], 3.1.11 [ramal-i musaddas-i makhbūn-i mahzūf, ᴗ ᴗ - - / ᴗ ᴗ - -/ ᴗ ᴗ -] and 3.4.11 [sarīʿ-i musaddas-i matwī-yi maksūf, - ᴗ ᴗ -/ - ᴗ ᴗ -/ - ᴗ -] for pand (homilies) and taṣavvof (Sufism), and 4.5.11 [khafīf-i musaddas-i makhbūn-i mahzūf, - ᴗ - - / ᴗ - ᴗ - / ᴗ ᴗ -) for bazm. Traditionally these were the only meters in which a matnawī might be composed, and a favourite ploy was to compose a set of seven poems (sabˁa) using each of them.Footnote 11

Elwell-Sutton, however, immediately invalidates this classification in the remark that follows: “In fact the choice of neither meter nor subject was strictly observed, at any rate in early classical times.”Footnote 12 His study indicates that some sort of categorization of meters may have taken place, at least at a certain moment in time: probably after the twelfth-century poet Nizāmī. What is clear from Elwell-Sutton's list is that there is a strong preference for eleven-syllable meters in masnavī poetry. He is not very clear about the books on prosody on which he based his conclusions regarding the use of meters. He mentions a few early treatises, and refers to “innumerable later works.”Footnote 13 In the introduction to his own study he mentions the earliest books on prosody in Persian, the Tarjumān al-Balāgha by Rādūyānī (507/1113–14) and Rashīd al-Dīn Vatvāt's Hadā’iq al-sihr fī haqā’iq al-shiʿr (573/1177–78). Both works date from the twelfth century. However, as Elwell-Sutton also notes, these works do not deal with the study of meters (ʿarūż).

The thirteenth-century prosodist Shams-i Qays is one of the first to focus on meters in his al-Muʿjam fi maʿāyir ashʿār al-ʿajam (composed after 614/1217–18), alongside other formal aspects of poetry. Shams-i Qays and slightly later Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī in his Miʿyār al-ashʿār (649/1251) treat prosody by focusing on its technicalities, and hardly at all on its meter.Footnote 14 Shams-i Qays in his al-Muʿjam includes sometimes phrases, such as “this is the meter of Nizāmī's Khusraw-u Shīrīn and Fakhrī Gurgānī's Vīs-u Rāmīn,” but he does not say why poets chose a certain meter.Footnote 15 Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī in the classification of the mutaqārib meter in his Miʿyār al-ashʿār notes that mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf is the meter of the Shāhnāma and that speakers of Persian call this meter rāh-i aʿshā (the manner of al-Aʿshā) since this sixth- to seventh-century Arabian poet used it in his verses.Footnote 16

Before discussing a group of early narrative poems in mutaqārib meter that were composed prior to Nizāmī, I would like to briefly discuss Nizāmī's considerable role in the propagation of the mutaqārib meter, as well as in establishing a belief that certain meters were associated with particular subjects. Both parts of Nizāmī's Iskandarnāma (Sharafnāma and Iqbālnāma, completed in 590/1194) are composed in mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf. As Nizāmī's five narrative poems, or Khamsa, became a model for later poets, many narrative poems on Iskandar were composed in the same meter Nizāmī had chosen, the mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf. Nizāmī's successors, such as Amīr Khusraw and Jāmī, explicitly acknowledged Nizāmī's role, whereas Nizāmī himself credits Firdawsī for the composition of his Iskandarnāma, in one of the introductory sections of his Sharafnāma (see the table below). Jāmī acknowledges both Nizāmī and Amīr Khusraw.

There is a clear line from Firdawsī to Nizāmī, and even more explicitly from Amīr Khusraw to Jāmī and poets after them, such as Hātifī, who followed Nizāmī in adopting the mutaqārib for the Iskandar or, in the case of Hātifī, the Tīmūr romance.Footnote 22 All these poets created new stories by rewriting existing stories, and in this process of rewriting and recreating they based their work on the subject matter and form of earlier models.

What lies behind the choice of a certain meter? To what extent is this choice based on models of previous poets and part of a rewriting process, or of istiqbāl, literary reception? And what informed the choice of meter in the first place? These questions define potential for research into the function of meter in a given poem, and the relation between form and content. In previous studies, I focused on another meter in a different type of poetry: namely the rajaz-i musamman-i sālim meter in what are usually called lyrical genres, the ghazal and the qasida.Footnote 23 For a comparative perspective, I briefly return to this research on the rajaz and its relation to the content of poems in which it is used.

Meter and Content: Rajaz

The basic form of the rajaz is the unit (rukn) mustafʿilun, two long syllables followed by one short syllable and one long syllable.Footnote 24 The only variety of rajaz commonly seen in Persian is the rajaz-i musamman-i sālim, the sound of eightfold rajaz, eight units of mustafʿilun.

The poem the prosodist Shams-i Qays quotes to illustrate rajaz-i musamman-i sālim is a qasida by the court poet Muʿizzī, who lived in the second half of the eleventh century and the early twelfth century and whose patrons were the Saljuq sultans Malikshāh and Sanjar. Muʿizzī's poem in rajaz was clearly a favorite of the prosodists, as it also appears in later books on prosody.

ay sārbān manzil makun juz dar dīyār-i yār-i man
tā yak zamān zārī kunam bar rabʿ-u itlāl-u diman
rabʿ az dilam pur khūn kunam khāk-i diman gulgūn kunam
itlāl-rā jayhūn kunam az āb-i chashm-i khīshtan Footnote 25
Oh camel-driver, do not halt but in the realm of my beloved, that I may lament a while over the abode, the ruins and the traces left.
With my heart I will make the abode full of blood, I will make the traces left behind rose-red with my tears, I will turn the ruins into the river Jayhun by weeping.

Muʿizzī's qasida is musajjaʿ, that is, it displays an internal rhyme: a poetic device that can be applied in eightfold meters, and specifically in poems written in rajaz, as confirmed by Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī.Footnote 26

This qasida clearly inspired Saʿdī, whose poem Ay sārbān āhista raw has the same internal rhyme, meter, and motif.

ay sārbān āhista raw k-ārām-i jānam mīravad
v-ān dil ki bā khud dāshtam bā dilsitānam mīravad
man mānda-am mahjūr az ū bīchāra-u ranjūr az ū
gū’ī ki nīshī dūr az ū dar ustukhānam mīravad Footnote 27
Oh camel-driver, ride slowly, for my soul's rest is leaving; and the heart that I had with me, is leaving with the one who stole my heart.
I remained, left behind by my beloved, helpless and full of pain because of my beloved; it is as if a sting goes into my bones from being separated from my beloved.

Sayfī of Bukhara, in a work known as ʿArūz-i Sayfī, composed in 1491, is more elaborate on the nature and background of rajaz than his predecessors Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī and Shams-i Qays, saying the following:

īn bahr-rā azān jihat rajaz gūyand ki rajaz dar lughat iztirāb-u surʿat ast va ʿarab bīshtar ashʿarī ki dar maʿraka-hā va jang-hā va dar mufākhirat az mardānagī-yi khud va qawm-i khud mīkhānand dar īn bahr ast va dar chunīn awqāt āvāz-i muztarab va harakāt-i sarīʿ mībāshad pas az īn jihat īn bahr-rā rajaz nām kardand. Va baʿzī gufta-and ki rajz ba fath-i-rā va sukūn-i jīm shuturī-rā gūyand ki dar raftan larzad va chun harakat kunad bāz sākin shavad.

This metre has been called rajaz, i.e., commotion [iztirāb-u surʿat], because the Arabs use this metre chiefly for war poems, and for songs expressing personal pride, or the glory of the tribe, which subjects require agitation in voice and gestures. Some derive the name of the metre from rajz, a camel, which trembles when running, or which moves on, and then halts.Footnote 28

The rajaz is not a very common meter in Persian poetry, and it is connected to an idea of “Arabness” and jāhiliyya (pre-Islamic Arabic) poetry.Footnote 29 This also is clear in the Muʿizzī and Saʿdī examples above. Their verses reflect a certain topos that may be connected to the rajaz meter. In contrast to rajaz, mutaqārib may be seen to represent “Persianness”: Shams-i Qays points to the non-Arabic origin of the mutaqārib in al-Muʿjam.Footnote 30 This Persian background of the mutaqārib is the topic of seminal articles by Jan Rypka and Gilbert Lazard.Footnote 31

Meter and Content: Mutaqārib and Hazaj

Sayfī is much less informative on the mutaqārib meter and does not elaborate beyond the usual technical description.

īn bahr az ānjihat mutaqārib gūyand ki awtād-u asbāb-i ū ba ham nazdīk-and chirā ki har vatadī-rā sababī dar pay ast – va taqārub dar lughat ba yakdīgar nazdīk shudan ast va baʿzī gufta and īn bahr-rā az ānjihat mutaqārib gūyand ki awtād-i ū ba yakdīgar nazdīkand chirā ki dar mīyān-i har du vatad yak sabab-i khafīf ast.

This meter is called mutaqārib because its “pegs” (watads) and “ropes” (sababs) are close to one another, since every “peg” is followed by a “rope.” And taqārub means to be close to one another. And some have said that this meter is called mutaqārib because its “pegs” are close to one another, since between every two “pegs” there is one light “rope” (sabab-i khafīf).Footnote 32

If we look at the occurrence of mutaqārib in Persian poetry, we see that it is used in narrative (masnavī) poetry much more than in other genres.Footnote 33 Examples of narrative poems in mutaqārib (the mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf variant) are:

  • Firdawsī, Shāhnāma.

  • Shāhnāma-related epics: Asadī, Garshāspnāma; Sāmnāma, Barzūnāma, etc., including Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā, ascribed to Firdawsī.Footnote 34

  • On the basis of the Iskandar episode in Firdawsī's Shāhnāma, the Iskandarnāma by Nizāmī and Iskandarnāma-related epics by Amīr Khusraw, Jāmī, and other authors, written as a response (javāb) to Nizāmī's Iskandarnāma. Footnote 35

  • Saʿdī, Būstān, 655/1257.

  • Khvājū Kirmānī, Humāy-u Humāyūn, 732/1331 (part of his Khamsa).

The masnavīs listed here are related to one another, inasmuch as many of them are responsive to Nizāmī's Khamsa and Firdawsī's Shāhnāma. The mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf may have obtained its heroic quality in a later period; this also may be tied to later perceptions of the Shāhnāma as predominantly a heroic epic.Footnote 36 The adoption of the mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf in the Būstān may reflect an appreciation of the equally important didactic qualities of Firdawsī's Shāhnāma and its perception as a work of wisdom literature (andarz) in Saʿdī's time.

Khvājū Kirmānī's Humāy-u Humāyūn can be seen as the odd one out on this list. Although Khvājū Kirmānī's Khamsa, of which Humāy-u Humāyūn is a part, has been described as an early javāb to Nizāmī's Khamsa and Firdawsī's Shāhnāma, no acknowledgment of this can be found in Humāy-u Humāyūn.Footnote 37 The title of this masnavī, composed in 1331, refers to prince Humāy, son of the king of Syria, and his beloved, the Chinese princess Humāyūn.

Humāy and Humāyūn form one of the many couples after whom masnavīs, usually called “romantic masnavīs,” have been named. However, by the time of Khvājū Kirmānī two variants of the hazaj meter, rather than mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf, had become specifically associated with this type of masnavī (often referred to as “romantic epics” or “verse romances”). The variants were hazaj-i musaddas-i mahzūf (ᴗ - - - / ᴗ - - - / ᴗ - -) and hazaj-i musaddas-i akhrab-i maqbūz-i mahzūf (- - ᴗ/ ᴗ - ᴗ - / ᴗ - - -), a reflection of two masnavīs from Nizāmī's Khamsa, Khusraw-u Shīrīn and Laylī-u Majnūn.Footnote 38 Nizāmī in turn explicitly acknowledged his predecessor Fakhr al-Dīn Gurgānī, composing his Khusraw-u Shīrīn in the same meter as Fakhr al-Dīn Gurgānī's Vīs-u Rāmīn (ca. 1050), namely hazaj-i musaddas-i mahzūf. Footnote 39

In choosing the mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf as the meter for Humāy-u Humāyūn, Khvājū Kirmānī (consciously or not) follows the model of a number of early narrative poems named after their hero-lovers, namely Varqa-u Gulshāh by ʿAyyūqī, Vāmiq-u ʿAzrā by ʿUnsurī, and the anonymously written Humāynāma, named after its hero, prince Humāy.Footnote 40 These masnavīs were composed in the early to middle eleventh century, prior to both Fakhr al-Dīn Gurgānī's and Nizāmī's verse romances.

Three Early Verse Romances

Varqa-u Gulshāh, Vāmiq-u ʿAzrā, and Humāynāma do not have merely their meter in common, but also their attested age and survival as single copies in the Persian manuscript tradition. Of these three, Vāmiq-u ʿAzrā is the shortest, since only an incomplete version of 380 verses has been preserved; nevertheless this poem has been the subject of much study over many decades.Footnote 41 The verses of Vāmiq-u ʿAzrā were found by the scholar Mohammad Shafi in 1950 in a manuscript that was part of the binding of a theological book dated 526/1132: an extremely early Persian manuscript, copied within a century after the death of ʿUnsurī, the author of the work. Mohammad Shafi worked extensively on the text during the 1950s and early 1960s, and the work was published by Shafi's son Ahmad Rabbani in 1967.Footnote 42 In 2003, Bo Utas and Tomas Hägg published a meticulous philological study on the background and connections between the Greek novel Metiokhos and Parthenope and the Persian epic Vāmiq-u ʿAzrā, under the title: The Virgin and Her Lover: Fragments of an Ancient Greek Novel and a Persian Epic Poem. The authors also relate this Persian epic to the Dārābnāma of the twelfth-century author Tarsūsī.Footnote 43 ʿUnsurī is the author Vāmiq-u ʿAzrā and of two other masnavīs, one of which is entitled Khingbut-u surkhbut, assumed to refer to the Buddha statues (but) from Bamiyan.Footnote 44 Of Khingbut-u surkhbut only a few verses survive. This work also was composed in mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf, attesting to the apparent popularity of this meter in narrative poetry, in particular verse romances, in the eleventh century.Footnote 45 ʿUnsurī (c. 970–1040) is one of the best-known poets of the Ghaznavid court, famous for the qasidas he dedicated to Sultan Mahmūd of Ghazna and other patrons connected to the Ghaznavid dynasty.Footnote 46

Unlike ʿUnsurī, the poet ʿAyyūqī, who composed Varqa-u Gulshāh, is only known through this masnavī of 2229 verses, of which only one manuscript is known.Footnote 47 This illustrated manuscript is kept in the Topkapı Palace Library (H. 481) and was produced in Konya between 1200 and 1250. This manuscript stands out for its seventy-one paintings, which have been the subject of an extensive study by A. S. Melikian-Chirvani.Footnote 48 Julia Rubanovich discussed the literary aspects of Varqa-u Gulshāh in a meticulous study on romances in medieval Persian poetry, in which she also dwells on the theme of ʿUdhrī love, as represented in Varqa-u Gulshāh (and in Nizāmī's Laylī-u Majnūn).Footnote 49 A notable feature of Varqa-u Gulshāh is the insertion of ten ghazals in the masnavī text; these inserted ghazals also are in mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf, but they stand out for their monorhyme.Footnote 50

The first five verses of Varqa-u Gulshāh are identical to the first five verses of Khvājū Kirmānī's Humāy-u Humāyūn.Footnote 51 According to Zabihollah Safa, the beginning of the manuscript copy of Varqa-u Gulshāh is written in a different, more recent hand, and the first fifteen verses must have been added to the codex at a later stage.Footnote 52 This may explain the same first five verses in the two works:

ba nām-i khudāvand-i bālā-u past / ki az hastīsh shud har chi hast
furūzanda-yi shamsa-yi khāvarī / farāzanda-yi tāq-i nīlūfarī
muʿattarkun-i bād-i ʿanbar nasīm / nizāmāvar-i kār-i durr-i yatīm
na paykar, nigāranda-yi paykarān / na akhtar, bar āranda-yi akhtarān
jahāndār-i bakhshanda-yi kāmkār / khudāvand-i bī chun-u parvardigār
In the name of the Lord of the high and low / by whose existence everything exists
He who lights the sun in the east / who raises the blue dome of heaven
He who perfumes the ambergris-scented wind / who brings order in the making of the rare pearl
No idol, but the creator of idols / no star, but he who raises up stars
The fortunate and generous owner of the world / the Lord without attributes, the Creator

The text of Varqa-u Gulshāh then continues:

gar az khāk-i rah bar nagīrī saram / rūy-i mustafā-rā shafīʿ āvaram
If you do not pick up my head from the dust in the alley / I will bring the face of Mustafā as my intermediary

Whereas Humāy-u Humāyūn continues with the following verse:

nigāranda-yi naqsh-i har naqsh / bar āranda-yi kār-i har mustmand
The painter of every painting / he who picks up the affairs of every wretch

Khaleghi Motlagh is very dismissive about the work of ʿAyyūqī:

ʿAyyūqī seems to have been a man of little education, without full mastery of the literary idiom of his time.

In view of the manifest influence of Ferdowsī's style on many passages, Varqa o Golšāh is likely to have been composed after the Šāh-nāma. The use of archaic words, pronunciation, and certain grammatical peculiarities point to the early eleventh century as the date of its composition.Footnote 53

In the aforementioned study on the thirteenth-century illustrated manuscript of Varqa-u Gulshāh, Melikian-Chirvani is equally dismissive of the quality of the textual part, emphasizing its colloquial style, “shocking” repetitive character, and probable popular origin:

Only the form connects Varqe and Golšâh to the classical literature: it is indeed a real poem, composed in moteqâreb, which is more frequent in epic poetry than in courtly romances. Otherwise its most noticeable characteristics—the abundance of repetitions, the traces of spoken style, a certain naivety in the construction, the psychological explanations, and the mode of expression; and also the occurrence of expressions rarely found in literature, which appear to be vulgarisms—all these elements give cause to assume that we have to do here with a distinctly popular work; and as already suggested, with regards to its background, it has been modified in accordance to the initial theme of the Arabic legend. The repetitions are constant, and even shocking.Footnote 54

In the view of Melikian-Chirvani, the fact that Varqa and Gulshāh is written in mutaqārib verse is the only reason the work can be connected to classical literature at all.

Julie Meisami, in her Medieval Persian Court Poetry, connects the rise of the verse romance, such as Varqa-u Gulshāh, to decreasing interest in the heroic epic. She argues that the heroic values represented in the Shāhnāma were “essentially those of the old Iranian dihqāns” and that the earlier heroic epic was replaced by two currents, which she describes as the “chivalric geste” and the “romantic” epic. The latter became “a major genre of court poetry.”Footnote 55 Meisami joins Melikian-Chirvani with a comment on the oral style of Varqa-u Gulshāh and its lack of psychological depth.Footnote 56

It appears that some works, like Varqa and Gulshāh and the so-called secondary epics (Meisami's “chivalric geste”), characterized by their use of the mutaqārib meter, are doomed by unfavorable opinions of scholars of Persian literature, who often repeat each other in their sentiments about the literary or not-so-literary qualities of the works they discuss. A reevaluation of the works in question without prejudice, value judgments, or other preconceived notions would be welcome, as would a more integrated approach toward the oral and the written in Persian literary texts.Footnote 57

Although Varqa-u Gulshāh and Vāmiq-u ʿAzrā are relatively well-known, the third verse romance in mutaqārib I discuss here is seldom mentioned.Footnote 58 This is an anonymous work entitled Humāynāma, preserved in a unique manuscript kept in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin (MS 301). This manuscript has 126 folios and is written in naskh. An inscription on folio 2a reads Kitāb-i Humāynāma, followed by the possible name of the author, Shāyista.Footnote 59 It was bought by Sir Chester Beatty at a Sotheby auction in 1938.Footnote 60

A. J. Arberry, who edited and published this manuscript in 1963, believes that it could date from the end of the twelfth century or at least the early fourteenth century, as the manuscript contains a waqf notice inscribed in the margin with the date Ramadan 712/January 1313.Footnote 61 On the basis of its style, Arberry attributes the Humāynāma to the middle of the eleventh century, contemporary with Vīs-u Rāmīn and Garshāspnāma. Like Varqa-u Gulshāh, this romance also takes place in Arab lands, as well as in Byzantium and India. It is a book of adventures as much as a romance, and the female protagonist, called Gul-i Kāmkār or Gul, princess of Syria, takes a leading role in the many battles that take place.Footnote 62 Her counterpart is Humāy, the son of the king of Egypt. The king of Syria, Gul's father, has to battle the Emperor of Rum, and Humāy offers his help, leading to a campaign that brings Humāy as far as India. The story of this Humāy and that of his namesake, Humāy in Khvājū Kirmānī's Humāy-u Humāyūn, show some similarities.Footnote 63 The male protagonist Humāy of Humāy-u Humāyūn is the son of the king of Syria, and his beloved, Humāyūn, is the daughter of the Emperor Faghfūr of China. The protagonists in both verse romances experience adventures that bring them to distant places (although this is a common feature in romances). Humāy-u Humāyūn contains 4435 verses, and Humāynāma 4332.

These three verse romances seem to represent an early tradition of writing narrative poetry in mutaqārib, a tradition that includes Firdawsī's Shāhnāma. It should be taken into account that Firdawsī's Shāhnāma contains a number of romantic episodes, whereas the three masnavīs discussed above, usually characterized as romantic, definitely display heroic aspects. It may well be that they were inspired by the Shāhnāma, although there is no obvious textual connection between them. As described earlier, when Nizāmī's Khamsa set a new standard for the use of the mutaqārib in narrative poetry, the mutaqārib became the choice meter for writing Iskandarnāmas and for versification of the lives of historical figures and contemporary rulers.Footnote 64 However, this does not mean that mutaqārib was from then on restricted to these particular kinds of narratives. Both before and after Nizāmī, the mutaqārib also was used for narrative poetry of predominantly didactic nature, as in Saʿdī's Būstān (1257), and three centuries earlier Abū Shakūr's Āfarīn-nāma (944).

Moreover, the continued use of the mutaqārib as a romantic meter after Nizāmī is demonstrated by two fourteenth-century masnavīs: The Humāy-u Humāyūn of Khvājū discussed above, and a less-known narrative poem by Salmān Sāvajī entitled Firāqnāma, composed for his patron the Jalāyirid sultan Uways (r. 1356–74) in 1368–69.Footnote 65 This masnavī of around 1050 verses commemorates the love between Sultan Uways and his favorite nadīm, or boon companion, Bayrāmshāh, who had passed away the year before.Footnote 66

Another work that belongs to the group of verse romances in mutaqārib is a masnavī with the title Yusūf-u Zulaykhā, ascribed to Firdawsī. If it were proven to be by Firdawsī, or if it could be ascertained to date from the eleventh century, it would fall squarely into the group of the three early verse romances, Varqa-u Gulshāh, Vāmiq-uʿAzrā, and Humāynāma. However, both the date and authorship of this verse romance are debated. A brief look at this work will conclude this preliminary study of narrative poetry in mutaqārib.

A Verse Romance and Firdawsī

Yusūf-u Zulaykhā occupies a special place within the large group of masnavīs composed in mutaqārib and ascribed or connected to Firdawsī.Footnote 67 Most of these masnavīs complement episodes of the Shāhnāma, and deal in particular with the offspring or ancestry of the great Sistani hero Rustam. They are written as prequels or sequels to Shāhnāma stories and are often referred to as secondary or later epics, or as post-Shāhnāma epics. Meisami uses the elegant label “chivalric geste.” Examples are the anonymous Barzūnāma, Farāmarznāma, Bānū Gushāspnāma, and Dāstān-i Jamshīd. Asadī's eleventh-century Garshāspnāma also belongs to this group.Footnote 68 These epics clearly incorporate the storyline of the Shāhnāma. This connection is often quite literal: the epic texts increasingly appear as interpolations in Shāhnāma manuscripts (principally from the fifteenth century onward). They vividly illustrate the rich afterlife of the Shāhnāma. Although many of them are implicitly ascribed to Firdawsī, it has been broadly accepted that these epics were composed by other authors, often anonymously.

In contrast, Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā has long been seen as another work of Firdawsī, one that he wrote after the Shāhnāma. The first reference to Firdawsī as the author of this work can be found in the preface to the new edition of the Shāhnāma commissioned by the Timurid prince Baysunghur in the 1420s. In the preface, the story of the composition of Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā is described as a response to the alleged rejection of the Shāhnāma by Mahmūd of Ghazna. Upon this rejection, it is said, a highly disappointed Firdawsī left for the court of the caliph in Baghdad, where he wrote Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā.

In his Persian Literature, François de Blois notes:

None of the earlier biographical sources have anything to say about such a poem nor do there seem to be any quotations from it in pre-Timurid writings. And even in the Timurid period the work does not appear to have been universally known as a composition by Firdausi, otherwise it would be difficult to explain why Jami makes no mention of it in his own poem on the same subject, composed in 888/1483.Footnote 69

In post-Timurid times, however, the work was firmly believed to be Firdawsī's, and as such it also was included in poetical biographies. The first biography to mention Firdawsī as the author of Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā is Ātashkada-ye Āzar, written in 1174/1760 by Lutf ʿAli Beg Āzar Begdilī.Footnote 70 Although before the fifteenth century Firdawsī had not been connected to Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā, after the appearance of Baysunghur's preface to the Shāhnāma he gradually came to be seen as the author of a masnavī with this title, and manuscripts started to appear.Footnote 71

In the first half of the twentieth century, the authorship of Firdawsī's Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā became a topic of debate. Sadly, this sometimes heated debate has overshadowed and even prevented research into the work itself.Footnote 72 The text as such has hardly been studied. Its date also is a matter of discussion. Nasrollah Pourjavady argues that the poem must be from an early date:

The oldest versified form of the tale is a romantic masnavī under the title Yusof o Zoleykha, which had been wrongly attributed to the great epic poet Ferdowsi. Although its authorship by the poet of Tus has been convincingly rejected there can be no doubt about the early date of this narrative poem. It was composed in the second half of the 11th century, a period when the story of Joseph was drawing the attention of a number of Qur'anic commentators and other writers.Footnote 73

Pourjavady bases this claim on research done in the 1940s and 1950s by the scholars Nafīsī, Mīnuvī, and Qarīb. They proposed, on the basis of verses in the manuscripts they used, that the work was dedicated to the Saljuq governor of Herat at the end of the eleventh century, Shams al-Dīn Tughānshāh b. Alp Arslān. This indeed would make this an early masnavī. Nafīsī also pointed out that the author of this Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā was a poet named Amānī, of whom no other works are extant and about whom we know nothing. According to François de Blois, however, the verses on which the attribution to a poet named Amānī is based do not offer conclusive evidence.Footnote 74

In the published editions of the work, there is no trace of a dedication to Shams al-Dīn Tughānshāh, and the author of the work is said to be Firdawsī. In the text of the Ethé edition an extensive background to the composition of the Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā is provided, in which two poets are mentioned, Buʾl-Muʾayyad (“from Balkh”) and Bakhtiyārī.Footnote 75

The three available editions are Hermann Ethé's critical edition of 1908, entitled Yûsuf and Zalîkhâ, By Firdausî of Ṭûs; Husayn Muhammadzāda Sadīq's edition of 1369/1990, entitled Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā, which is accompanied by the first Turkish Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā; and a newer edition by Sadīq prepared with Husayn Shaʿbānī Āzād, published in 1395/2016. This latest edition has the title Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā-yi Firdawsī. Ethé's edition contains only the first part of Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā and has 3697 verses. Ethé based his edition on five manuscripts, all from British collections. These manuscripts date from between 1055/1645 and 1244/1828. In addition, he used two lithographed editions, from Tehran and Lucknow. Sadīq's edition of 1369/1990 is a full version: it contains 6408 verses and is based on a single manuscript, MS 5063/1, dated 18 Rajab 1207 (1793), preserved in the Central Library of the University of Tehran (Kitābkhāna-yi markazī-yi dānishgāh-i Tehran). The newer edition of 1395/2016 also is based on this manuscript, and on several other later manuscripts and lithographs.Footnote 76

In contrast to most other contemporary scholars and the current general consensus, Sadīq is of the opinion that Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā is in fact Firdawsī's work, and he accuses Nafīsī, Safā, Mīnuvī, and others of politicizing Firdawsī for their own purposes. He goes so far as to call them “literary criminals”:

bisyārī az tārīkh-i adabiyāt nigārān-i guzashta payvasta saʿy kardand ki sukhanī az “yūsuf-u zulaykhā-yi firdawsī” ba miyān nayāyad. va agar ham jāʾī ishāraʾī ba ān dāshtand, kūshīdand intisāb-i ān-rā abuʾl-qāsim mansūr bin hasan firdawsī sarāyanda-yi “shāhnāma” yā “jangnāma” nafy kunand

ammā dar dawra-yi rezhīm-i guzashta ki firdawsī bīsh az dīgarān mawrid-i sūʾ istifāda qarār girift, īn manzūma-yi vālājāy-i akhlāqī-yi vay, badalāʾilī ki tahlīl-i ān khvāhīm nishast, mawrid-i bī mihrī-yi shadīd-i jināyatkārān-i adabī vāqiʿ shud. Footnote 77

Many literary scholars of the past have avoided speaking of a Yūsuf and Zulaykhā by Firdawsī. If they did refer to it, they have tried to deny its link to Abuʾl-Qāsim Mansūr bin Hasan Firdawsī, the composer of the Shāhnāma, or Jangnāma. However, in the past regime, during which Firdawsī was, more than others, misused, this prominent moral poem of his, for reasons that we will study, has been subject to sharp unkindness by literary criminals.

The oldest manuscript of Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā ascribed to Firdawsī seems to be an illustrated manuscript copy kept in the Staatsbibliothek Berlin, shelf number Ms. Or. Oct. 2302.Footnote 78 It was not used in the editions of Ethé, Sadīq, or Sadīq-Shaʿbānī Āzād. This older manuscript was described as an incomplete copy of Amānī's Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā and was dated 819/1416. The manuscript is written in nastaʿlīq and has twenty-nine folios and ten paintings. On the inside cover an ex libris of Hermann Frankl is attached, an oriental image of a man sitting in a library with a hookah, which was drawn by the artist K. Hanke in the early twentieth century.Footnote 79

The last verse of the manuscript, on folio 29b, corresponds with verse 5886 in the 1369/1990 edition of Sadīq, who used MS 5063/1 (1207/1793) as the basis for his edition. MS 5063/1 has a total of 6408 verses. Ms. Or. Oct. 2302 has only 2180 verses. The text of Ms. Or. Oct. 2302 differs in many places from the manuscript used by Sadīq and also from the manuscripts used by Ethé in his 1908 edition. The date of Ms. Or. Oct. 2302 can be found on folio 12a, which seems wrongly placed. The last verses on folio 12a correspond to verses 6375 and 6376 in Sadīq's edition, and clearly form the conclusion of the poem, which may therefore not be incomplete after all. On folio 1b we find a reference to Firdawsī:

dar ʿuzr āvardan-i firdawsī
man az {har} darī sukhan dāram basī
shinīdand guftār-i man {har ka} sī
sukhanhā-yi shāhān-i bī dād-u rāy
basakht-u basust {baband}-u gushāy Footnote 80
About Firdawsī's justification
I have said much on many accounts
Everyone has heard what I had to say
Stories on cruel and ignorant kings
Harsh and feeble, in chains and free

This Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā manuscript predates the Baysunghur Shāhnāma by a little more than a decade. Apparently, a tradition of ascribing a Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā to Firdawsī already existed in the early fifteenth century, perhaps even earlier. It coincides with the appearance of other epic texts connected to Firdawsī in the Shāhnāma manuscript tradition, probably in the wake of a renewed interest in his Shāhnāma due to patronage of the Timurids. For example, the earliest recorded Barzūnāma is a manuscript dated 829/1425.Footnote 81

The story of Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā was a favorite topic in a variety of literary texts, both in prose and poetry. It has been contended that a poetic version of the story of Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā was ascribed to Firdawsī to connect him more firmly to Islamic culture with a subject that also appears in the Qur'an.Footnote 82 The choice of mutaqārib meter would suffice to explicitly relate this version of Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā to Firdawsī, who is not known for output in other meters.

Other extant versifications of Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā are in the romantic meter hazaj-i musaddas-i maḥzūf, notably the most famous one by Jāmī, composed in 888/1483, but as well the Judeo-Persian version by Shāhīn-i Shīrāzī, composed in 1358–59. In this, they followed Nizāmī's Khusraw-u Shīrīn, who chose the hazaj-i musaddas-i mahzūf in recognition of Fakhr al-Dīn Gurgānī's Vīs-u Rāmīn (ca. 1050).

What can we conclude on the basis of this preliminary examination of masnavīs composed in mutaqārib? The three early verse romances, Varqa-u Gulshāh, Vāmiq-u ʿAzrā, and Humāynāma, reflect a tradition of composing narrative poetry in mutaqārib; other than narrative poems connected to the Shāhnāma and some fragments, no other early examples survive. To what extent these three verse romances are related to Firdawsī's Shāhnāma requires further exploration, although it can be surmised that the Shāhnāma (and the smaller narrative poems connected to it) was another example of the tradition of writing narrative poetry in mutaqārib.

From the thirteenth century onward, the meter mutaqārib became fixed by the emergence of a Khamsa tradition and its subsequent adoption as the meter for the Iskandarnāma genre, which enhanced the perception of the mutaqārib as an exclusively heroic meter in literary histories. As the meter of a hugely important work, the Shāhnāma, it became consciously connected to Firdawsī, yet not to heroic contents alone, as demonstrated by the explicit reference to Firdawsī's work in Saʿdī's Būstān, which is usually described as didactic. Finally, Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā in mutaqārib demonstrates that more than anything else the choice of the mutaqārib meter established the desired connection with the poet Firdawsī.

Gabrielle van den Berg is Professor of Cultural History of Iran and Central Asia at Leiden University. Research for this article took place in the framework of the project “Turks, Texts and Territory: Imperial Ideology and Cultural Production in Central Eurasia,” funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO). See:


1 Thiesen, Manual, 115.

2 Saʿdī, Būstān, 87, vs. 1330–31.

3 All translations are my own, unless otherwise stated.

4 In the edition of Khaleghi-Motlagh (Shāhnāma, I, 120, vs. 501), Firdawsī's verse differs slightly:

makush mūrakī-rā ki rūzī kash ast

ki ū nīz jān dārad-u jān khvash ast

Do not kill the little ant that is toiling for its daily food

For he too has a life and life is sweet

5 On this verse and its variants, see Khatibi, “Mayāzār mūrī yā makush mūrakī?”

6 One reviewer of this article observed that textual connections between the Shāhnāma and the Bustān may belong to the reception history of Saʿdī's works, and may not necessarily reflect an intertextual connection intended by the poet Saʿdī himself. I am grateful for this insightful observation and hope to follow up on this in later research.

7 Thiesen, Manual, 113.

8 The volume Arabic Prosody and Its Applications in Muslim Poetry, edited by Lars Johanson and Bo Utas, is a notable exception and contains several contributions on Persian poetry.

9 See for instance Meisami, Court Poetry, 82. But as already noted by Jan Rypka, the mutaqārib was “neither during the Ghaznavid period nor in earlier times confined to the heroic epic” (History, 175). Hägg and Utas describe the mutaqārib as a meter that later became specific to historical epics: “The meter mutaqārib later on became the specific meter for historical epics, but in the 11th century AD it also was still used occasionally for romantic poems, like V&A [Vāmiq-u Azrā] and the contemporary Varqa and Golshāh by a certain ‘Ayyūqī.” Hägg and Utas furthermore claim the following about the mutaqārib: “It is considered a rather simple, narrative meter that gives less room for rhetoric devices and stylistic refinement than the more complex meters that were generally used for romantic poems.” They go on to qualify and nuance this statement further (Virgin, 79).

10 But see Rypka, History, 251, referring to K. Chaykin, in a discussion of the Būstān. Rypka also references the poet Sharīf's Pandnāma, dating from the eleventh century, and Abū Shakūr's Āfarīn-nāma, dating from the tenth century. See also Rypka, History, 144.

11 Elwell-Sutton, Persian Metres, 244; see also 146. As for the set of seven poems in these traditional meters, compare the seven masnavīs in the Haft Awrang of the fifteenth-century poet ʿAbd al-Rahmān Jāmī: Silsilat al-zahab in khafīf-i musaddas-i makhbūn-i mahzūf; Salāmān-u Absāl in ramal-i musaddas-i mahzūf; Tuhfat al-ahrār in sarīʿ-i musaddas-i matvī-yi maksūf; Subhat al-abrār in ramal-i musaddas-i makhbūn-i mahzūf; Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā in hazaj-i musaddas-i mahzūf; Laylī-u Majnūn in hazaj-i musaddas-i akhrab-i maqbūz-i mahzūf; and Khiradnāma-yi Iskandarī in mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf.

12 Elwell-Sutton, Persian Metres, 244. See also Elwell-Sutton in Encyclopaedia Iranica, on ʿarūż (meters):

The maṯnawī. In this form each meṣrāʿ rhymes with its partner, the rhyme changing with each bayt. Because of this flexibility, the maṯnawī is particularly suitable for long epic, romantic, philosophical, and didactic poems. The choice of meter is somewhat restricted, preference being given to the shorter, ten- or eleven-syllable meters like 1.1.11, 2.1.11, 2.4.11, 3.1.11, 3.4.11, 4.5.11, 4.7.11, and 5.1.10. . . . According to the theorists, certain meters are particularly suitable for certain subjects, but there is little evidence of such discrimination in the works of the poets.

13 Elwell-Sutton, Persian Metres, 2.

14 A new perspective on these two groundbreaking works in Persian is presented by Justine Landau in De rythme & de raison.

15 Va īn vazn-i khusraw-u shīrīn-i nizāmī va vīs-u rāmīn-i fakhrī gurgānī ast; Shams-i Qays, in his discussion on the meter hazaj-i musaddas-i mahzūf (al-Muʿjam, 97).

16 Va shāhnāma bar īn vazn gufta and va īn si vazn-rā pārsīgūyān rāh-i aʿshā khvānand az jihat-i ān ki abyāt-i aʿshā bar īn vazn ast (Miʿyār al-ashʿār, 93).

17 This work is part of Amīr Khusraw's Khamsa, composed between 1298 and 1302. See Sharma, “Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī.”

18 This work is part of Jāmī's Haft Awrang and was composed in 1485. See Losensky, “Jāmi.”

19 Nizāmī, Sharafnāma, 39, vs. 117–18 and 122–23.

20 Amīr Khusraw, Āʾīna-yi Iskandarī, 26, vs. 385–88.

21 Jāmī, Khiradnāma-yi Iskandarī, 434, vs. 349–52.

22 Hātifī's Tīmūrnāma (903/1498). See Bernardini, “Hātefi.”

23 Van den Berg, “Musammat or Musajjaʿ?” 215–29; see also Van den Berg, Minstrel Poetry, 50–59; and Van den Berg, “Stanzaic Poetry.”

24 Thiesen, Manual, 130.

25 Muʿizzī, Dīvān, 597–99.

26 Compare with Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī, Miʿyār al-ashʿār, 65: va musammat-i chahār khāna bar īn vazn khvush ast. Tūsī does not quote Muʿizzī's qasida in his section on rajaz.

27 Saʿdī, Dīvān-i ghazaliyyāt, 394, no. 268, vs. 1–2.

28 Blochmann, Prosody, 34–35 (Persian text and English translation).

29 Compare, for example, Jacobi, “Panegyrical Ode,” 21.

30 Shams-i Qays, al-Muʿjam, 57.

31 Rypka, “La métrique”; Lazard, “Le mètre épique baloutchi.”

32 Blochmann, Prosody, 45. Sabab and watad (Ar. watid) are technical terms used in Arabic and Persian prosody to identify specific combinations of consonants and vowels, which in turn determine the length and quality of quantitative feet.

33 Although this is not exclusively. Compare for example the Ghaznavid court poet Farrukhī, whose Dīvān includes four qasidas in mutaqārib-i musamman-i mahzūf.

34 Of these so-called later or secondary epics, the authorship is unknown or uncertain.

35 Including also Hātifī's Tīmūrnāma (903/1498), modeled after the Iskandarnāma. See Bernardini, “Hātefi.”

36 Compare the choice of material made in the seventeenth-century Tārīkh-i Shamshīrkhānī, also known as Tārīkh-i dilgushā-yi Shamshīrkhānī, a summary of the Shāhnāma composed by Tavakkul Beg for Shamshīr Khān, governor of Ghazna under the Mughal emperor Shāh Jahān (completed in 1063/1653). Tavakkul Beg, Tārīkh-i dilgushā (Shāhnāma-yi nasr), ed. Āqāzāda.

37 De Bruijn, “Ḵᵛāju Kermāni,” in Encyclopaedia Iranica:

Ḵᵛāju was one of the first poets to write a Ḵamsa, a set of five masnavīs, after the model of Neẓāmi of Ganja. Although there are obvious similarities with the latter's poems—in particular in the choice of the meters—the subjects treated by Ḵᵛāju are different. Homāy o Homāyun, in 4,435 couplets, and dated by the chronogram B-Ḏ-L (= 1331), is written in the meter of Neẓāmi's Eskandar-nāma (the motaqāreb meter).

See also Iraj Dehghan, “K̲h̲wād̲j̲ū,” in the Encyclopaedia of Islam:

His K̲h̲amsa, in imitation of Niẓāmī's poem, consisting of: 1. Humāy u Humāyūn, a romantic mat̲h̲nawī, in the metre of the Iskandar-nāma, containing 4,407 bayts. In addition to having the Iskandar-nāma as a model, the poem seems to be an imitation of the S̲h̲āh-nāma of Firdawsī.

38 Khvājū uses the hazaj-i musaddas-i mahzūf in two masnavīs of his Khamsa, Gul-u Nawrūz and Gawharnāma. In this respect he does not follow Nizāmī's model.

39 In early Persian verse romances, the male protagonist's name generally is the first part of the title; Fakhr al-Dīn Gurgānī's Vīs-u Rāmīn is an exception.

40 Bīzhan-u Manīzha, a well-known episode from Firdawsī's Shāhnāma, may be seen as being part of the same tradition, even though it is not naturally regarded as a separate masnavī (although in some Shāhnāma manuscripts we do find as an episode title “Bīzhan-nāma”). The heroes of the episode, Bīzhan and Manīzha, may well be compared to the eponymous heroes of later masnavīs. The digressive quality of the episode also should be taken into account. Compare to Yamamoto, Persian Epics, 82–83.

41 Notably by Tomas Hägg and Bo Utas in The Virgin and Her Lover. For the Persian text and English translation of 380 verses or verse fragments, see 80–133.

42 Masnavī-yi Vāmiq-u ‘Azrā, ta'līf-i Abuʾl-Qāsim Hasan bin Ahmad ʿUnsurī; English title: Wāmiq-o Adhrā of Unṣurī.

43 Hägg and Utas, Virgin, 144–49. See also Rubanovich, “Mood of Love,” 69.

44 See Hägg and Utas, Virgin, 198.

45 However, since the meter of Vāmiq-u ‘Azrā and Khingbut-u surkhbut is the same, it is often not easy to establish where the scattered verses ascribed to ʿUnsurī have been taken from (Hägg and Utas, Virgin, 150).

46 See ʿUnsurī, Dīvān.

47 On the basis of this manuscript, Zabihollah Safa prepared an edition of the text; see ʿAyyūqī, Varqa-u Gulshāh. The number of verses was established by Melikian-Chirvani; see “Le roman,” 14.

48 Melikian-Chirvani, “Le roman,” 1–262; see also Gruber, “Between,” 235–36.

49 Rubanovich, “Mood of Love,” 70–73. The term ʿUdhrī refers to a genre in Arabic love poetry in which love for an unattainable beloved plays a central role.

50 For a detailed treatment of these ghazals, in connection to the Turkic reception of Varqa-u Gulshāh, see Dankoff, “Lyric,” 10–11.

51 Khvājū Kirmānī, Humāy-u Humāyūn, 261.

52 ʿAyyūqī, Varqa-u Gulshāh, 41.

53 Both quotations come from Khaleghi-Motlagh, “ʿAyyūqī.”

54 From Melikian-Chirvani, “Le roman,” 26:

Seule la forme rattache Varqe et Golšâh à la littérature classique: c'est en effet un vrai poème, rédigé sur le mètre du moteqâreb, plus fréquent dans l’épopée que dans le roman courtois. Pour le reste ses caractéristiques les plus évidentes—l'abondance des répétitions, les vestiges du style parlé, les naïvetés certaines tant dans la construction du roman que dans l'explication psychologique, ou dans l'expression, la présence enfin d'expressions rares dans la littérature et que leur allure désigne comme des vulgarismes, prêtent à penser qu'il s'agit d'une œuvre nettement populaire, ainsi que le suggéraient déjà, quant au fond, les retouches apportées par rapport au thème initial de la légende arabe. Les répétitions sont constantes, choquantes même.

55 Meisami, Court Poetry, 80–81 (also quoting Marijan Molé).

56 Footnote Ibid., 84.

57 This article seeks to start this reevaluation as part of a broader project on the topic of early Persian verse romances funded by the Dutch Research Council. As for the so-called secondary epics, reassessment started a few decades ago, when many of these epics, which were earlier discarded as being unworthy of study, came out in new editions and were the subject of new studies, such as for example Marjolijn van Zutphen's study of the Farāmarznāma (see van Zutphen, Farāmarz, the Sistāni Hero), based on research carried out within the framework of the Dutch Research Council Persian Epic Cycle Project (

58 Although it has sometimes been discussed as an aside; see, for example, Omidsalar, “Magic.”

59 Arberry, “Persian Epic,” 12.

60 Footnote Ibid., 11.

61 Humāy-nāma, I; for the notice itself see Arberry, “Persian Epic,” 11.

62 Paola Orsatti argues that the pre-Islamic setting allowed for a different treatment of women in narrative poetry. See “Kosrow-o Širin.”

63 There also is the issue of the Sāmnāma and its relation to Humāy-u Humāyūn, which I do not address here. See van Zutphen, Farāmarz, 94–95.

64 For both, the Shāhnāma was ultimately the source of inspiration.

65 Salmān-i Sāvajī, Dīvān, 611–52.

66 See Yūsofī, “Bayramšāh.”

67 For a seminal discussion of the story of Yusūf and Zulaykhā, see Rubanovich, “Joseph.”

68 For a detailed overview, see van Zutphen, Farāmarz, 74–144.

69 De Blois, “Poetry ca. AD 1100–1225,” 576.

70 As mentioned by Sadīq in Firdawsī, Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā.

71 De Blois lists more than thirty manuscripts; with a few exceptions, these are from the nineteenth century (“Poetry,” 581–83).

72 Footnote Ibid., 581.

73 Pourjavady, “Genres,” 273.

74 De Blois, “Poetry,” 580–81.

75 Firdawsī, Yûsuf and Zalîkhâ, 19–21.

76 Regrettably, I had no access to this edition. The information I have is based on online descriptions, compare, no. 11210206.

77 Firdawsī, Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā, 13, 14.

78 Ms. Or. Oct. 2302, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz. The manuscript is mentioned by several art historians, including Eva Baer, “Joseph's Garments,” 288; and Brend, Perspectives, 50. They refer to the work as Yūsuf-u Zulaykhā by Amānī.

79 For the image, see The library of Hermann Frankl (Orient-Bibliothek Hermann Frankl, Wien) was auctioned in April 1926. The catalog is digitally available. The catalogue entry is 1276 and reads: “FIRDUSI. Jusuf und Zulaiha, Anfang des Gedichtes. Persisch, 17. Jahrh. 8°. 32 Bll., davon 3 Zierseite, 1 Unwan, 10 Miniaturen. Roter Ldrbd. m. Umrahmung von Goldleisten u. Mittelstück, mit Klappe” ( This description was cut out and glued on the first, blank page of the manuscript.

80 Ms. Or. Oct. 2302 has some light damage; the words or letters that are barely or not at all legible appear in braces.

81 King's College Pote 56, Cambridge University Library. See Sims, “Barzunama manuscript?” 189–202.

82 De Blois, “Poetry,” 577–78.


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