The Ocean of the Soul: Man, the World, and God in the Stories of Farid Al-Din 'Attar

By Hellmut Ritter; John O'Kane | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The Persian poet and mystic Farīd al-Dīn Muḥammad ₿Aṭṭār,1 a druggist and apothecary by profession, who according to an uncertain and legendary tradition died during the Mongol invasion of Iran, allegedly in the year 627/1229 or 632/1234, but probably already by 617/1220 when his home city Nishapur was conquered by Genghis Khan, has left to posterity a rich literary legacy. His work includes a collection of lives of saints (Tadhkirat al-awliyā3), two collections of lyrical poetry (Dīwān and Mukhtāmāma), and a fairly long series of so-called mathnawīs, i.e. works of didactic and narrative content in verse, named thus because in contrast to the lyric verse form with fixed end-rhyme, only the two hemistiches rhyme with one another whereas the end-rhyme changes. One of these epic works is a worldly romance of love and adventure (Khusraw u Gul. For a summary see Der Islam 25/161–71), and for this reason belongs to a literary genre which in all likelihood ultimately goes back to Hellenistic models. (Cf. Oriens 1/135–39). Another is a moral booklet (Pandnāma) which has long been popular in the East as a Schoolbook, while the rest are works of religious-mystical contents which are interspersed with numerous stories.

These religious mathnawīs, furthermore, fall into at least two stylistically different groups which one may perhaps attribute to different periods in the poet's life. The authenticity of the second, "later" group of epics, however, is not entirely above suspicion, and they have recently been categorically rejected as works of the poet with weighty arguments which must still be examined in detail (Sa₿īd Nafīsī, Justujū). On the other hand, the authenticity of the epics belonging to the first, "earlier" group, which are closely related in style and content, has never been contested. They rank among the most beautiful blossoms of Neo-Persian poetry. They consist of the works: Asrārnāma (The Book of Secrets = AN),

1 For the time being cf. the author's "Philologika X" in: Der Islam 25/1938/134–73,
and his article "₿Attār" in the Islam Ansiklopedisi. The information presented there is out of
date today. Cf. now: Ahmed Ateş, "Konya kütüphanelerinde bazi mühim yazmalar" in:
Belleten 16/1952/94–96; as well as Additional Notes at the end of this book.

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