Early Persian poetics: a theory in retrospect


Project leader: Dr. Justine Landau

Completed 2013

Project description

While Persian poetry can boast an unfailing audience of admirers and specialists, classical Iranian theories of literature have only attracted very little attention to themselves. Of course, Shams-e Qeys-e Râzi is famous for his Ketâb al-mo‘jam [Compendium on the Standards of Poetry of the Persians], completed in Shiraz close the year 1240, the classical reference work of Persian poetics. But until recently, the treatise was merely viewed as a handbook of metrics. As for his illustrious contemporary, the philosopher and astronomer Nasîr al-Dîn Tûsî, most monographs on his life and work show no awareness that he ever took part in the theorization of Persian poetry. The fact is that studies on early Persian literary theory are scarce. Yet we believe that, from Râduyâni to Shams-e Qeys and from Nasîr al-Dîn to Jâmi, the corpus of treatises on rhetoric, prosody and rhyme from the classical period have more to offer than a mere handful of technical rules for verse composition. These texts deserve to be read for themselves. Some authors go so far as to deliver refined linguistic insights on the Persian language, elaborate philosophical discussions of the powers of poetry or even extent theories of fiction. Each of these trends calls for a detailed examination of its own. However, classical writings on poetry are not only a major source for ancient theories of literature, they are also a key to the understanding and interpretation of Persian poetry altogether. Therefore, our project involves two distinct yet parallel stages: the study of medieval Persian theoretical writings on poetry; and the confrontation of the latter with a relevant, often earlier, body of literary texts. For, with regard to its object, literary scholarship is often slightly behind the times, and could be termed, for this reason, a theory in retrospect.

The first step towards completion was reached with the defense (2012), and publication in revised form of Justine Landau‘s PhD, De rythme & de raison. Lecture croisée de deux traités de poétique persans du XIIIe siècle [Of Rhythm and Reason: A Comparative Reading of Two Thirteenth-Century Persian Treatises on Poetics] (Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle/ IFRI, 2013).