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The Necklace of the Pleiades: 24 Essays on Persian Literature, Culture and Religion. Studies in Persian Literature Presented to Heshmat Moayyad on His 80th Birthday.

The Necklace of the Pleiades: 24 Essays on Persian Literature, Culture and Religion. Studies in Persian Literature Presented to Heshmat Moayyad on His 80th Birthday. Edited by E D. LEWIS and S. SHARMA. Iranian Studies Series. Leiden: LEIDEN UNIVERSITY PRESS, '2010. Pp. 380. [euro]34.95 (paper).

The warning not to judge a book by its cover clearly applies here, as the cover title lacks the full subtitle, thus making it impossible to know that it is a Festschrift for the highly respected Professor of Persian at the University of Chicago. Of the twenty-four articles, three are in Persian and the remainder in English.

It is generally difficult to arrange the contributions to a Festschrift in a meaningful order but here the editors have succeeded reasonably well. They have sorted the chapters into six categories, the first of which concerns the Alexander Romance. J. Christoph Burgel's "On Some Sources of Nizami's Iskandar-nama" is largely the footnotes to his German translation of the same (Zurich: Manesse Verlag, 1991; Nizami's poem was completed ca. 1204). While this selection is interesting and touches on many of the main points concerning Nizami's sources, it seems somewhat thin because it lacks the richness of scope and detail that his Nachwort has. One misses, for example, some mention of the special literary qualities of Nizami's Alexander Romance.

A. M. Piemontese's contribution is a discussion of the version of the Alexander Romance by Amir Khusrau of Delhi. Amir Khusrau responded to Nizami's example by writing a suite of five narrative poems (khamsa), one of which was a version of the Alexander Romance (written in 1299). In "Sources and Art of Amir Khosrou's 'The Alexandrine Mirror',"Piemontese describes in detail Alexander's travels throughout the known world and digs deeply into Western classical sources as well as those of Islam and the Middle East. Khusrau presents Alexander as a model king and the work can be seen as a "mirror for princes."

In the second category,"The Epic Cycle,"Dick Davis's contribution "Rostam and Zoroastrianism" focuses on the difficult question of whether Rostam, a mighty hero in Ferdowsi's Shahnama, was a Zoroastrian or not. The popular assumption is that he was one, but chronology makes this unlikely. Making good use of scanty evidence, Davis argues convincingly that Rostam in the Shahnama represents the last remnant of the pre-Zoroastrian world of magic. This is an important contribution to Shahnama studies. On a different subject, the editors missed the fact that the name of the tenth-century historian al-Mas'udi is misspelled Ma(sildi throughout the article.

In his "Reflections on Re-reading the Iliad and the Shahnameh,"Amin Banani looks again at what he wrote more than forty years ago about these two epics and finds that the dissimilarities between the two works seem now more striking than what he had earlier seen as similarities. He feels that while both Greece and Persia have ethical and moral values, neither text presents a true picture of their civilization and, against the grain of today's beliefs, the Shahnama cannot be a guide to Persian identity formation.

In her article "Shift and Other Female Archetypes in Firdausi's Shahnamah,"Kinga Ilona Markus-Takeshita gives the reader no suggestion of an argument and no conclusion. The article is a description of several female characters in the Shahnama with some translated passages from the text. It is difficult to see what the point of it all is.

In a much more scholarly vein is the noted Shahnama scholar Mahmoud Omidsalar's "Editing the Shahnama: The Interface between Literary and Textual Criticism."Here he stresses the importance of textual criticism to the literary analyst. Omidsalar argues his point using abundant examples in Persian script and English translation, a method much more revealing than working in transliteration alone. Textual criticism and literary analysis must work together to produce the most authentic text and to avoid the dangers of personal taste trumping textual accuracy in difficult cases. The article could have been improved with some tightening up, as parts of it are somewhat rambling.

The last article in the section on the epic cycle is Jalal Matini's ''kus-e pilgus: pahlavani degarsan."Matini has published an edition of the long (10,129 lines) and fascinating narrative poem Kushnama, completed between 1107 and 1110 by Iranshah b. Abi 1-Khayr (Tehran: 'Elmi, 1377/1997). In this article he introduces the story and touches on its highlights, including the family background of Kush, his wives, his forcing his subjects to worship idols, and his claims to divinity. The poem also contains what might be the earliest mention of cosmetic surgery. He is indeed a hero "of a different sort."

The third group of contributions is entitled "Religious Texts and Contexts" and includes three articles. For his "The Creative Compiler: The Art of Rewriting in 'Attar's Tazkirat al-awliya',"Paul Losensky selected one short entry in (Attar's collection of biographical sketches of prominent Sufis and shows how much information a close reading can extract from an ostensibly simple text. 'Apr drew upon numerous sources in Persian and Arabic and dealt with them in a manner that might be thought outrageous today. His reframing, rewriting, or paraphrasing of them raises the question of plagiarism, and even though this was written before the notion of authorship as a form of ownership became dominant, it is clear that this kind of "creative" rewriting also had its limits.

Wilferd Madelung discusses the life and work of a lesser known eleventh-century da'i who was active in Fars, Kirman, and Yemen in his article "Shahriyar b. al-Hasan: A Persian Isma'ili da'i of the Fatimid Age."Two treatises are its focus: one on philosophical cosmology written to refute those who deny the existence of the spiritual word, and the other on the offenses committed by the prophets. This article adds valuable information to what we know of Isma'ili doctrine in the eleventh century.

We move to the nineteenth century with the next article--" 'In Praise of One of the Deeply Learned 'Ulama': A Mysterious Poem by Qajar Court Poet Mirza Habib Allah Shirazi Qa'ani,"by Alyssa Gabbay. The mystery of the poem in question, a qasida of thirty-six lines, is the identity of its dedicatee. She gives the text of the poem in Persian and in translation. It has sometimes been said that the poem is dedicated to Sayyid 'Ali Muktammad, the Bab, but the evidence is scanty. Gathering all the bits of evidence that she could find, Gabbay argues strenuously for this attribution.

The fourth section is entitled -The Poetic Text and Central Motifs,"and it opens with an article in Persian by the late Iraj Afshar transcribed in the contents as "Nosxa'i kohna az Divan-e Emami-ye Haravi."He works with the oldest separate divan of Emami known, which is undated. The author describes it carefully, especially the script, the variants in repeated poems, and the rubrication. For the use of future scholars he lists all the dedicatees and the pages where their names appear. In his usual thorough and methodical fashion he gives three sample pages from the divan and all the known sources for the poet and his works, with their locations.

Iraj Afshar's contribution is followed by Julie Scott Meisami's "A Life in Poetry: Hafi7's First Ghazal."The first ghazal of klafiz (QG 1) is rich and complex and this article is another example of what can be learned from close reading and analysis. Starting with Heshmat Moayyad's belief that ambiguity is an important characteristic of Hafi?'s style, and that one source of ambiguity is the "literariness" of his ghazals, Meisami defines literariness as "a self-conscious attention to style and to rhetorical refinement" and "an equally self-conscious engagement with the literary tradition and the literary milieu in relation to which one produces one's own works" (p. 163). She casts her net widely (with the help of Sadi's commentary) for allusions, references, interpretations, and resonances of this ghazal in Persian and Arabic poetry and brings out much of interest. The interpretation is very thought provoking and a pleasure to read.

A. A. Seyed-Gohrab, in his chapter "My Heart is the Ball, Your Lock the Polo-Stick': Development of the Ball and Polo-Stick Metaphors in Classical Persian Poetry," begins with an exploration of the metaphorical uses of polo in poetry. Using the three broad period styles (Khorasani, Iraqi, Indian) to illustrate the development of polo imagery he also shows the various contexts in which polo imagery is put to use. Since the greatest expansion and development of the polo metaphor came in the period of the Iraqi style, it would have been useful to give the verses that he uses as examples in Persian script as well as in English translation. This is the period when metaphors take on more subtlety and complexity and much of this word-play is lost in translation.

Subtlety and complexity are also crucial in Frank Lewis's "Sincerely Flattering Panegyrics: The Shrinking Ghaznavid Qasida," which opens the next section "Center and Periphery."In this long article Lewis probes deeply (but does not reach bottom) into certain problems raised by the panegyric qasida, such as truth and lying, plagiarism, sincerity, inflated rhetoric, and humbug. He lays out the problems clearly and reviews what others have written about them, but does not attempt to solve them. Truth, lying, and sincerity form a nexus that is particularly thorny to untangle. In this regard it might be helpful to approach the problem in a philosophical manner outside of any geographical or temporal context. Here Henry G. Frankfurt's essay On Bullshit (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2005) could be helpful.

After the death of Mas'ud III in 1115, Sanjar became the ruler of most of the eastern Islamic lands. Bahram Shah was weak and no match for Sanjar, who plundered Ghazna severely. Lewis argues that such terrible reversals of fortune for the Ghaznavids had one obvious effect on the panegyric qasida: they began to be shorter. The author tabulates statistics on the length of qasidas from Farrokhi (d. 1032) to Azraqi (fl. second half of the eleventh century), noting the ruler and other patrons praised, the occasion for the poem, and the average number of lines of the panegyric. The subject needs much more explication and Lewis has laid a firm foundation for further work.

In the next chapter Sunil Sharma moves to the analysis of a courtly verse romance in the tradition of Amir Khusrau with his "Novelty, Tradition and Mughal Politics in Nau'i's Suz u Gudaz."Muhammad Riza Nauc'i Khabushani (d. 1609) was an Iranian poet who sought patronage in the Mughal court. The plot, in brief, introduces a Hindu couple that is engaged to be married. On their wedding day but before the ceremony actually takes place, the groom-to-be is killed in an accident. The bride-to-be insists on becoming a sati, against the wishes of her parents and even those of the emperor, Akbar. She appears before Akbar and argues her case so strongly that finally he allows her to die on the funeral pyre of her fiance. The poem shows new aspects of fire imagery, but the author might have dug still more deeply into the uses of fire as image.

The last chapter in Section V is Youli Ioanessyan's "Situating the Khorasani Dialects within the Persian-Dari-Tajiki Linguistic Continuum" (or "The Position of. . ."as in the table of contents). The author believes that while Modern Persian, Dad, and Tajiki form a continuum of dialects, it is difficult to draw dividing lines based on linguistic criteria among the three groups. Therefore he argues that the Khorasani dialects should form a group of their own because their similarities to both Western and Eastern dialects and their individual peculiarities make them equally different from both the Western and Eastern groups. He presents morphological, phonetic, and lexical evidence to prove his thesis.

Section VI, misnumbered "Section IV" on the part page, is labeled "The Modern Period" and includes eight contributions, including one in Persian, one translation from Persian, and one excerpt from a novel. The first article, Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti's "The Political Realm's Literary Convention: The Examples of 'Ishqi and Iqbal," is a subtle probing of Persian poetry at the time of the coming of modernism. Using the poetry of Muhammad Ria Mirza 'Ishqi (1893-1924) and of Muhanunad Iqbal (1873-1938), she shows how radically new content could become a powerful political message in Persian when carried by traditional poetic form. This is not a new idea, but it is a perceptive and sensitive analysis of two Persian-writing poets: 'Ishqi addressing mainly Iranians and Iqbal seeking a broader audience, both employing classical poetic images to convey modern political and social ideas.

In "Re-membering Amrads and Amradnumas: Re-inventing the (Sedgwickian) Wheel,"Afsaneh Najmabadi maintains that the central pivot-point of the encounter of Iranian culture with Europe in the nineteenth century is "European gender heterosociality and the public visibility of the European woman" (p. 295). This requires a discussion of the transformation of gender beyond the simple binary of man/woman and raises such specifically Iranian issues as the amrad (a beardless youth), the farangima'ab (a Europeanized male dandy), amradnuma'i (simulation of an amrad by an older man), the fukuli (a man wearing a bow tie), and the act of shaving the beard as these interweave with questions of sexuality. This is a fascinating chapter and is explored in more depth in her book Women with Moustaches and Men without Beards (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 2005).

Michael C. Hillman's "The Title of Hedayat's Buf-e Kur [(The) Blind Owl)]" [sic] briefly surveys scholarship on Hedayat and then examines the title Buf-e Kur as the first of many puzzling aspects of this book. Writing for an audience unfamiliar with Persian literature, he makes known many connotations of "owl" in Persian and Western culture, quoting from the Persian poets Khficiani, 'Attar, and Nima Yushij, and Western poets such as Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot.

In "Sadeq Hedayat, a Writer Ahead of Time," Claus V. Pedersen discusses a less well-known story by Hedayat, "S.G.L.L," which stands for Serum gegen Liebes-Leidenschaft. The setting is a Persian city in a dystopia "a few millennia into the future" (p. 327). Susan, representing Iranian or "Eastern" culture, and Ted, an American representing "Western" culture, discuss and debate life, death, and love as they await a general suicide by the citizens. As the scanty plot plays itself out. Hedayat engages in a critique of Western culture, which may be his reaction to Western literary modernism.

Sholeh A. Quinn's contribution is a translation of the short story "Bagh-e bi-hesar" (A Fenceless Garden) by Muhammad Zarrin, in recognition of Heshmat Moayyad's life-long interest in Persian short stories. Here a naive young widow comes to exemplify the stern warning of her aunt: "Young widows are like a fenceless garden; every greedy passerby would like to have a taste of the fruit."

The sixth contribution, in Persian, is Fereydun Vahman's "Fayzi: nevisanda-ye na-senas" (Fayzi: An Unknown Writer), an introduction to the life and works of the Baha'i writer Abu l-Qasem Fayzi Fayzi (1906-?) was a younger contemporary of Moshfeq Kazemi and Jarnalzada, and spent the greater part of his life outside Iran. From the samples of his writing given in the article it is clear that Fayii was an ardent patriot and lover of Iranian culture but that his writing did not contribute significantly to the development of the short story in Persian.

Paul Sprachman's "Refuting Rushdie in Persian" is a fascinating examination of the use of "refutation-writing," a sub-genre of Persian prose that allows an offending text to appear in Persian in Iran, but only within the context of an effort to refute it.

For the final offering in this volume Michael Bylebyl, in a chapter from a novel, describes his early reactions to Tehran in 1976 where he has come as a graduate student to study the philosophy of Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi. The maelstrom of Tehran is not what he expected to find and the cultural differences that he meets plus intense concentration on al-Suhrawardi's philosophy induce in him a mystical state that seems to carry him far away. All this is described in a sensitive and insightful style and forms an appropriate finale to this collection of articles.

This book is attractively put together and the only problem that should be mentioned is the Persian font that the publishers used. It is much too small for comfortable reading, and the characters of the font are not spaced proportionally. For example, the space following a letter that does not connect to the left is almost the same as the space between two words. This often requires a pause in reading and a second look at the text. There are many proportionally spaced Persian fonts available that are a pleasure to read.

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Author:Hanaway, William L.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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