The purpose of this panel is to explore the ways in which the intersection of medieval Persian political ethics and cultural values paved the way for the synthesis of different concepts, contexts, topics, and cultures in medieval Iran and Anatolia. Examining a variety of genres ranging from Sufi poetry, historiographical writings, works of princely instructions, and folk romances, the panel demonstrates that the ethical themes and cultural values reflected in such texts serve as defining factors in bringing them into the political domain. The first three papers will draw attention to the ways in which the ethics reflected in Sufi texts, works of historiography, and mirrors for princes, and the patronage of such works in various Persian and Anatolian courts helped generate connections between seemingly disparate literary genres and political domains. Similarly, The fourth paper will focus on the interest of the court—which is often associated with high culture—in folk literature, which is meant for a different audience (i.e. the common folks).
Parisa Zahiremami’s paper contends that Sanā’ī’s mystical poetry was used as a way to communicate political advice. In other words, contrary to the idea that Sufi literature—specifically, the pre-Ilkhanid Sufi literature—was designed exclusively for spiritual pursuits, it is argued that particular literary productions encouraged the bridging of the mystical and spiritual to the political domain. Focusing on Ḥamd Allāh Mustawfī Qazvīnī’s treatment of the renowned pre-Islamic vizier and legendary sage Buzurgmir in his historiographical work, Tārīkh-i guzīdeh, Louise Marlow demonstrates how the aphorisms reflected in the book not only connect the advice literature of the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods, but also link the genre of advice literature to historiography. Lale Javanshir’s paper explores the significance of Qābūsnāmeh, a Persian advice manual for princes, and the emergence of various translations of the book in different Anatolian polities. The Turkish translations modified some of the main themes addressed in the book according to local socio-political circumstances. Here, Javanshir brings focus to the connection between Turkish and Persian advice literature and socio-political priorities. Finally, Nasrin Askari’s paper examines the text of a high quality, sixteenth-century illustrated collection of folktales, preserved at the Bodleian Library, in order to reveal its significance for its royal sponsor.
The role of Sufi poetry as a means of communicating political advice in medieval Iran—more specifically, during the Ilkhanid (1256-1335) and post-Ilkhanid period—has already been discussed by scholars. Little attention, however, has been paid to the political function of Sufi poetry in the pre-Ilkhanid period. The main objective of this paper is to demonstrate that Sanā’ī’s Ḥadīqat al-ḥaqīqah wa sharī‘at al-ṭarīqah, as the first significant mystical didactic mathnavī written in Persian in the court of the Ghaznavid ruler Bahrām Shāh (r.1117-1157), had the capacity to simultaneously convey esoteric knowledge as well as politico-ethical advice. Therefore, contrary to most treatments of Ḥadīqat al-ḥaqīqah, which consider the book to be a didactic mystical text, I will argue that the book should also be recognized as a manual of political advice. Giving a brief account of the narrative structure of the book, I will explain how Sanā’ī correlates the pre-Islamic idea of perfect kingship with the Sufi concept of Perfect Man. In my analysis, I will mainly focus on the way particular qualities and concepts that are essential to the Sufi doctrine are introduced in the first few chapters of Ḥadīqat al-ḥaqīqah and how they reappear amidst the anecdotal narratives cited in the later chapters—more specifically, the eighth chapter—of the work in which Sanā’ī praises Bahrām Shāh and other government officials. I will then demonstrate how the didactic anecdotes cited in the aforementioned chapter depict the perfect king and courtiers as figures who simultaneously encapsulate political resolve along with Sufi qualities. In my analysis of Bahrām Shāh’s depiction as a Sufi-king in Sanā’ī’s work, I will explain the similarities and differences between the idea of an archetypal Sufi-king—which appear in Sufi political texts, including Sanā’ī’s works—and the concept of the philosopher-king—which is reflected in a number of Persian historiographical sources and advice manuals for princes.