The genre of prosimetrum denotes a work in prose alternating with poetic verses. Despite its widespread nature in medieval Persian literature, little attention has been paid to prosimetrum qua genre. Julie Meisami’s article “Mixed Prose and Verse in Medieval Persian Literature” drew attention to the need to take poetical citations in Persian prose works seriously, arguing that they were not merely decorative but rather had a symbiotic relationship with the prose text. The panel proposes to build on this initiative by examining a number of medieval Persian prosimetrical texts with a view to determining the function of the poetic verses they contain and their relationship to the prose texts in which they are embedded. The first paper, entitled “Reflecting on the Prosimetric Mode and Its Functions,” serves as an introduction to the panel. It revisits the theoretical literature on prosimetrum and examines two Mongol-era historical texts—Tarikh-i jahan-gusha and Jami’ al-tavarikh—in order to demonstrate how the poetic citations they contain served an ideological purpose. The second paper focuses on Anvar-i suhaili, one of the most popular literary works in the late medieval Persianate world. It examines the differences between Anvar-i suhaili and its model, the twelfth-century Persian translation of Kalila wa Dimna, in terms of structure and the choice and placement of verse citations, and compares it with the Mughal-era ‘Iyar-I danish it inspired, in order to determine the aims of their authors. The third paper analyses the sources of the poetic verses cited in Akhlaq-i muhsini, an early sixteenth-century work of political ethics, and examines the relationship of the poetic citations to the prose text, based on concrete examples. Entitled “The Pitfalls of Prosimetrum,” it tackles the problem of authorship in an era when plagiarism was accepted as the mark of an author’s skill in weaving together a seamless mixture of prose and verse. The fourth paper, entitled “Quoting Old and New Poets in ‘Abd al-Baqi’s Ma’asir-i Rahimi,” examines the prosimetrical genre in the Indo-Persian historico-literary environment in to demonstrate how poetic form played a role in the ongoing negotiation of a canon of traditional and new poetry. A close reading of parts of Ma'asir-e Rahimi, the biography of a prominent Mughal general, illustrates the dual process of imitation of older models and innovation.
From the sixth/twelfth century onwards prose-cum-verse styles of composition flourished in Persian prose. In the first part of my paper I will consider – from a theoretically-informed perspective - the findings on mixed prose and verse in medieval Arabic and Persian literature, as presented by Wolfhart Heinrichs and Julie S. Meisami respectively in a collection of articles Prosimetrum: crosscultural perspectives on narrative in prose and verse (eds. J. Harris&K. Reichl, 1997). I shall look into the question of what exigencies can possibly account for the medium shift within a single narrative and will suggest two major clusters of factors, focusing on the time-frame of the sixth/twelfth – seventh/thirteenth centuries: 1) intra-literary factors, i.e., those which are immanent to certain literary genres or works; 2) extra-literary factors, i.e., those related to such issues, as a literary canon, authorial self-awareness, value differentiation between verse and prose in a literary system of the period, and finally, the specific connotations of meaning imparted to the two media.
In the second part of the paper I will address the different usages of the prosimetric mode in two historical works – the Tārīkh-i jahān-gushā of Juvaynī (d. 1283) and the Jāmi' al-tavārīkh of Rashīd al-Dīn (d. 1318; the parts available in Roushan's edition). The identical genre and the chronological proximity of the two compositions make them a fascinating case-study for our purpose. I will demonstrate that while both authors perceive prosimetrum as a means for “aestheticizing” the medium of prose and for granting a didactic stance to their narratives, in addition Juvaynī masterfully deploys it, first and foremost, in order to graft the tale of the Mongol conquest and the fortunes of the new rulers onto the narrative of the Iranian historical past.