The Problem of Myth: The Case of Jāmī’s Salāmān and Absāl

Today, Edward FitzGerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat is well-known across the English-speaking world. First published in 1859, FitzGerald’s translation gradually received a lot of attention, and, due to the demand, subsequent editions were published in 1868, 1872, and 1879. What is less known is FitzGerald’s translation of Jāmī’s Salāmān and Absāl, published in 1856. This was FitzGerald’s first translation of Persian poetry into English, and despite the socio-political, religious, and intellectual transformations (and interests) of the Victorian England, which should have caused the translation to have a receptive audience, FitzGerald’s translation of Jāmī’s narrative poem never gained attention, and thus the poem has been neglected by both the public and scholars ever since. In my reading of Jāmī’s Salāmān and Absāl (in the original language as well as in translation), I am convinced of the story’s mythical, as well as philosophical importance. So why this difference? In my paper, I will examine this intellectual reaction to (and subsequent neglect of) the story of Salāmān and Absāl in the English-speaking world. Jāmī’s poem is an unusual and dangerous tale, which is about a passionate love affair between the young prince Salāmān and his wet-nurse Absāl. Salāmān and Absāl. It was translated at a time when Victorian readers were keen on expanding their exploration of myths and mythologies from diverse cultures other than the Greeks and Romans. The story of Salāmān and Absāl reflected the sort of the mythical disposition (Hellenistic Greek in essence) that the Victorians might have been uninterested in by 1856. So was it simply bad timing for the translation of the story of Salāmān and Absāl given its ancient Greek origin (which is not very different from say Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex for in its comparable themes and motifs). Or was there something (missing) in FitzGerald’s translation that led or contributed to its poor reception and subsequent neglect till today. And how did this reception in Victorian England and subsequent neglect compare to the poem’s reception and importance in Medieval Persia? It is my intention in my paper to examine the transmission and reception of myth and mythology in the two distinct geo-political regions, cultures, and time periods of Victorian England and Medieval Persian.