The Role of the Anthology in Defining a Literary School: The Maktab-e Voqu' and India Office Ms. 2678.1

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Indiana University
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Paul Losensky (Ph.D. University of Chicago, 1993) currently serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies and the Department of Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he teaches Persian, Persian literature, and translation studies. His publications include Welcoming Fighāni: Imitation and Poetic Individuality in the Safavid-Mughal Ghazal (1998), numerous articles on Persian poetry and literary history, and frequent contributions to Encyclopedia of Islam and Encyclopaedia Iranica. His translation of Memorial of God’s Friends by Farid al-Din ‘Attār was published by the Paulist Press in early 2009 in the series Classics of Western Spirituality. His research focuses on Persian literary historiography, intertextuality, biographical writing, and the poetry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Poetic anthologies, like translations, response poems, and tazkerahs, belong to the general category of discursive practices that Andre Lefevere has dubbed “rewriting.” By selecting, arranging, and compiling certain works from a larger corpus, anthologists create images of a poet, a genre, and even an entire period that are shaped by particular interests, interpretations, and purposes. Over the centuries, the Persian poetic tradition has produced wide variety of anthologies, known by generic labels such as jong, beyāz, safinah, or majmu‘ah. Though little studied and existing mostly in manuscript, these anthologies can tell us much about the ways in which poetry was read, transmitted, and understood. Some jong were compiled for private purposes, gathering together the eclectic readings of a particular individuals and providing insight not only into their personal tastes, but into the type of texts available to a certain social class at a certain time. Others are more systematic and public in their designs; the Safinah-ye Sā’eb, for example, was compiled by the poet Sā’eb Tabrizi himself, and its selection of poems and verses from the history of Persian poetry proposes a canon that endorses both Sā’eb’s literary practice and the poetics of Fresh Style. A similar purpose is served by the anthology perserved as Ms. 2678.1 of the India Office collection in the British Library. Though the manuscript is anonymous, damaged, and of uncertain provenance, enough survives to indicate that its compiler had a clearly defined goal: to define the pre-eminent school of lyric poetry of the early Safavid period: the maktab-e voqu‘, or Realist School. The poets included and the poems selected not only permit a tentative dating of the anthology to the late sixteenth century, but also establish a canon of this school. While this canon is largely in keeping with the reports of contemporary tazkerah writers, the anthology further suggests some of the less-obvious precedents of the school in the works of earlier poets and helps deliniate and illustrate its characterist rhetorical techniques and thematic repertoire.

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Literary Studies
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