Persian Manuscript Culture

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


Golriz Farshi


Wed, 2016-08-03 14:15 - 15:45


by Philip Bockholt / Freie Universität Berlin

Many books of the past are today readily considered “important” or “popular” in the meaning of widely read and studied during a long period. Unfortunately, in most of the cases, this assumption remains without any evidence as the field of manuscript studies on whether and how a work was actually copied and read is still in its beginnings. This paper focuses on one of the major historical narratives of the Persianate world, the general history Ḥabīb al-siyar (Beloved of careers). Written by the Herati court secretary Ghiyās al-Dīn Khvāndamīr in the 1520s, it was copied extensively during three hundert years all over the Persian reading world, i.e. Anatolia, Iran, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. By having a look at colophons, ownership stamps and remarks, comments and other paratextual elements contained in hundreds of manuscripts still extant today, the questions of when, where, and whom the work was copied for and/or read and possessed by shall be addressed. Connected to this is the important issue of how the actual text – the version of history presented in the work – had been changed and transmitted by scribes and readers. By analysing these alterations, it is possible to get insights in the different ways the Ḥabīb al-siyar was read and adapted at various places and at various times. This brings up the broader question of what modern researchers might detect when the focus of research shifts from reconstructing “original” texts for an edition to the question of how a text like the Ḥabīb al-siyar in its different manuscripts was reshaped from the 1520s to the 1850s in a geographical range from Istanbul in the west to Dhaka in the east. For answering these questions exemplarily, thorough textual comparisons of parts of the Ḥabīb al-siyar and its paratextual elements will be presented.

by Golriz Farshi / University of Michigan

This paper analyzes the front matter of a stone lithographed late Qajar Qurʾān, now housed in the Special Collections of the University of Michigan Library. The Qurʾān comes with over 68 pages of front matter that range from tajwid instructions, both in poetry and prose, to talismanic charms and number charts with instructions on how to ward off evil and bring good tidings. The exact date of the Qurʾān’s publication is unclear. However, the tafsir is dated Jamadi al-Ula of 1355 A.H., corresponding to July/August 1936 C.E.
This paper aims to closely analyze the plates describing and depicting the Shajari Tayibba fi Tajwid by Zaynulʿabidīn b. Muḥammad ʿAlī Sabzivārī arranged in twelve bābs and two fasls. While the text is a standard tajwid instruction manual, the author embedded his instructions within floral and arboreal imagery—which he calls shajara muthammara. He further organized his work in twelve chapters, a task that appears to have posed somewhat of a struggle. Finally, he titled the work Shajara Ṭayyība, a reference to the tree of Tuba attributed to the prophet Muḥammad in Heaven. This paper argues that Sabzivārī purposefully did the aforementioned in order to invoke various Shīʿī genealogical ideology and iconography. To this end, he first organized his text in twelve bābs, for the twelve Imams, and the two fasls, which he calls “the two gifts,” for Ḥasanayn. He then used the imagery of sprouting trees and branches and finally named his text as such, bringing to mind the Shajara Ṭūbā and the genealogy of the prophet extending through the Imams.
The plates, as well as the rest of the front matter, serve to enhance the experience of the reader while imparting on him or her knowledge and advice. Through helping the reader with questions of pronunciation and talismanic blessings embedded in the muṣḥaf, the front matter complements the reader’s experience both through aiding with recitation and preparing for exegesis. At the same time, through continued and constant emphasis on the Shīʿīte nature of the Qurʾān, invoking the twelve Imams both by name and by reference, the front matter reinforces the Shīʿī nature of the reader’s experience. Finally, this paper hopes to successfully demonstrate that this muṣḥaf is not just any Qurʾān, it is an unmistakably Shīʿī one.

by Arham Moradi / University of Marburg

Many consider Saʻdī Shīrāzī (d.691/1292) Iran’s greatest author and poet of the Ilkhanid period.
Nevertheless many questions about his life and his works remain: We still do not know exactly which books and treatises constitute his “collected works” and what should be the order of their compilation in what is usually called “Saʻdī’s oeuvres”. Due to the vast number of manuscript variants, significant differences in the order of the presentation of the text and the variance in the contents of different manuscripts of the Kullīyāt, we are still uncertain about the nature of his work and the extent of his own contribution in compiling it.

A more systematic genealogical study of the existing manuscripts of his work may help us make reasonable inferences about these important questions and problems.

This paper carefully examines the manuscripts of Saʻdī’s Kullīyāt for the purpose of determining their precise contents, structure, and their different compilations and genealogical relationships.
At this level of analysis, the manuscripts will be categorized into different groupings on the basis of their structural and content similarities. I will thus show that the various groupings may be attributed to specific geographical areas.
For the purposes of this study, I have limited myself to those manuscripts which are dated before the year 850/1446, namely more than 150 years after Saʻdī’s death.

by Alyssa Gabbay / University of North Carolina, Greensboro

The textual critic who works in the traditional manner is not unlike the archaeologist or detective. Each is trying to reconstruct, from various artifacts or clues, a faithful rendering of an original “event” – a manuscript, a monument, a murder. The difference is that the textual critic rarely works with original material, but rather, with facsimiles. Instead of piecing together sherds of clay pots from a dig or DNA evidence from bloodstained fabrics, her material often consists of multiple copies of the same text, many of which were produced decades or even centuries after the original (lost) text was written. In what is often a maddeningly slow process, she weighs a passage from one copy against another, trying to determine which is the most authentic. This process is known as the “eclectic” approach to editing, and it aims at producing a text that is as close as possible to that penned by the author. But is textual authenticity a chimera? In this paper, I will briefly outline different schools of textual criticism, including those that aim primarily to reproduce authorial intent, and those that see value in the changes wrought on texts as they passed through hands other than those of the author – privileging, then, the “social” text. I will discuss how scholars have applied these various approaches to their editing of classical Persian works of literature. Then I will describe my own experience in producing an edition of the medieval Indian poet Amir Khusraw’s Dibachah-yi Divan-i Vasat al-Hayat (the Preface to the Collection of the Middle of Life), an autobiographical work written in about 1285. Specifically, I will show how I relied on several different “witnesses,” including a printed edition and three 16th-century manuscripts, in an attempt to recapture Khusraw’s original words. While this approach allowed me to piece together many phrases damaged by scribal intervention, it nevertheless became clear to me as I worked that, as poststructuralist critics have argued, a text is a living thing that inevitably changes as it is read, interpreted, and translated. Even the editor who does her best to wrestle it into its original form leaves her mark upon it. Without sacrificing the quest for accuracy, I found that I needed to acknowledge that the gap between the “authorial” and the “social” approach was less wide than it first appeared.