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The Sāmānid and Ghaznavid Period

This phase which extended from the second half of the 3rd Century AH to the first half of the 5th Century AH was a period that gave great attention to the national culture and the expansion and establishment of Persian prose and poetry.

Poetry: Owing to the presence of great poets like Rudaki (329 AH/941 AD) and Shahid Balkhi (325 AH/937 AD) Persian poetry reached a certain level of richness and strength. In this period, a number of great poets like Ferdowsi, Kasāi, Manuchehri, Farrokhi, and Onsori emerged, whose works possessed remarkable variety from the angles of style, contents, and theme.

This period in which various forms of poetry were in use can be considered as the most realistic period in the history of Persian poetry owing to a very limited use of the element of imagination. Moreover, this period is the most fruitful period of Persian literature from the viewpoints of emotional expression, direct poetical experiences, and a variety in background imagery.

One of the main features of the literature of this period was an abundance of poets. According to some authors, Dari Persian poetry was limited to the eastern regions of Iran during this period.

A significant part of the poems that have survived from this period comprise eulogies. Besides eulogizing the kings, the poets of this period also composed verses in praise of ministers, emirs, statesmen, their own friends, scholars, religious leaders, the noble Prophet of Islam (s), as well as the caliphs. They, however, abstained from going to extremes in praising their subjects.

Besides eulogies, the composing of elegies was also in vogue during those times. It is interesting to note that the elegies of that period have been composed in different forms of poetry right from quatrains to lengthy odes. The presence of philosophical and ethical values is one of the salient features of the literature of this period. The richness of the Persian poems of this period - which is the foremost phase for the perfecting of Persian poetry from the angles of its philosophical and ethical contents - indicates the existence of this form of poetry also in the pre-Islamic period because such elements are hardly encountered in Arabic poetry.

The use of humor and satire in Persian poetry took trend during the Saffārid period, and keeping in view the lack of any use of satire in the pre-Islamic Persian literature, it can be surmised that this trend came by way of an imitation of Arab poets. According to some historians, the poets of this period also maintained certain limits in the use of satire, just like the Arab poets of the pre-Islamic period of Jāhiliyah. However, the works of poets like Manjik Tirmidhi prove otherwise.

The “ghazal” was an important type of lyric poem of this period that would either be composed as the first few lines of the odes or then independently, depicting the finer feelings of the poet with the employment of simple and fluid words in most of which the beauty of the “Beloved” would be compared to the wonders of nature.

This period marked the beginning of the age of epic poetry-writing in Iran. One of the most important causes that prompted the Iranians to resort to epic writing during the Sāmānid period was the influence of the efforts of the Sho’ubiyān and the national uprising of the Iranians at the onset of this era. The first poet to have converted the national epics of Iran into poems was Mas’udi Marvzi, whose “Shāhnāmeh” – that had apparently been composed before the year 355 AH/966 AD - has been mentioned twice in the book, “Al-Bad’ wa Al-Tārikh”.

Another important work of this period was the “Gashtāspnāmeh” which comprised one thousand verses and was composed by Abu Mansur Mohammad bin Ahmad Daqiqi in the second half of the 4th Century AH, and which has also appeared in Ferdowsi’s “Shāhnāmeh” in the section of the reign of Gashtāsp.

The greatest and most important epical and historical poem that had also been composed during this period was Ferdowsi’s “Shāhnāmeh” which had been completed in the year 401 or 402 AH/1011 or 1012 AD. Besides the epical work of Daqiqi as well as the “Shāhnāmeh-ye Abu Mansuri”, Ferdowsi also had access to other famous individual stories of those times. It is worth mentioning that prior to Ferdowsi, efforts had been made by other poets towards the composition of the national epics of the Iranians, from among which reference can be made to the “Shāhnāmeh-ye Abu Mansuri”, only the introduction to which has survived today.

With the advent of poets like Kasā’i Marvzi (341 AH/952 AD) as well as Nāser Khosrow Qobādiyāni (394-481 AH/1004-1088 AD) a trend in the composition of ascetic religious and moral poems began in which eulogies and ghazals were openly criticized.

Some poems that have survived from this period also reveal Sufi inclinations. In Ayn al-Qozāt’s book, the “Tamhidāt”, reference has been made to the names and/or certain verses from poets like Abu al-Abbās Qassāb, Abu al-Hasan Basti, Abu ‘Ali Daqāq, Abu Said Abu al-Khayr, and Shaykh Ahmad from the works belonging to the Ghaznavid period, none of whom were professional poets, this in itself revealing that the trend of composing Sufi poetry had prevailed among the Sufi shaykhs even before the times of Sanā’i.

Towards the end of this period, signs of the infiltration of the influence of Arab poetry began to show up in Persian poetry. Indications of the influence of stories from Arab literature as well as the metaphorical style of composition of the Arab poets can be noted in the works of Farrokhi (429 AH/1038 AD). Similarly, glimpses of nature can be seen in the poems of Manuchehri (432 AH/1041 AD) - inspired by Arab poetry –clearly revealing the influence of the metaphorical style of composition of the Arab poets, and particularly those belonging to the early period of Islam.

The compositions of the poets of this period depict the employment of simple and straightforward words and phrases and plain rhetoric as well as an application of local terms which fell out of use later on. The use of simple radif became extensive during that period and at times the Iranian poets came to be strongly influenced by their Arab counterparts. This mode of expression has been referred to as the “Khorāsāni” or the “Turkestāni” style in the works of critics as well as Iranian historians.

Prose: Not all the works that have survived from this period are of literary value and more often than not, they are confined to scientific topics. From among them, mention can be made of books like the “Hodud al-Ālam min al-Mashreq ilā al-Maghreb” that had been written around the year 350 AH/961 AD by an anonymous writer as well as the book, “Al-Abniyah an Haqā’eq al-Adwiyah” of Abu Mansur Heravi, the “Dāneshnāmeh Alā’i” of Abu ‘Ali Sinā, the “Tārikh-e Bal’ami” of Abu ‘Ali Bal’ami, the translation of the “Tafsir-e Tabari” of Abu Ja’far Tabari, and the translation of the book, the “Al-Sawad al-A’zam” based on the Sunni school of thought, written by Abu al-Qāsem Hakim Samarqandi.


* source: Ghamar, Aryan "Iran Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 ,pp.565 – 566

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