TAASA Review Issues

March 2012

Vol: 21 Issue: 1
The Persian Art of Poetry
Guest Editor: Susan Scollay

Cover Image
Ibrahim holding court, Leaf from a disbound manuscript of Firdausi, Shahnama, c.1430 AD, Shiraz, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

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Editorial

The focus of this issue is a landmark exhibition at the State Library of Victoria (SLV) from 9 March to 1 July, 2012. Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond celebrates the beauty of Persian manuscripts and literature. The world of Persian stories and the illustrated volumes in which they were copied spread beyond the territorial borders of Iran, unifying a cultural zone that incorporated Central Asia and the empires of the Mughals in India and the Ottoman Turks in Anatolia and southeast Europe. Articles exploring aspects of Love and Devotion have been written by specialists who have played a role in developing the exhibition, and others whose research and experience relates to the exhibition themes.

It is exactly 5 years since TAASA Review dedicated an issue to the ‘Arts of Islam’ and quoted the pre-eminent London collector and philanthropist, Nasser Khalili, calling for world citizens of all faiths to engage in dialogue and acknowledge the ‘ties that have existed among them for centuries.’ By presenting the world of Persian storytelling and poetry from the classic period of secular Persian literature, the SLV exhibition offers a significant response to that call. Although little known in the West, Persian poetry’s universal themes of love and devotion – to lover, friend, teacher, ruler and the Divine – reveal echoes and parallels with European literature and the complex ideals and practices of mediaeval and pre-Renaissance life and patronage in both east and west.

Persian literature, seen through the lens of its memorable stories and great poets, is imbued with love, often in allegorical form. Poetry has been a key component of Iranian national identity, but also appreciated and emulated by others through the centuries. Exquisitely illustrated and illuminated manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford dating from the 13th to 18th centuries, together with rare works from the holdings of the SLV and other Australian institutions will be displayed in the largest and most significant display of Persian manuscripts to be held in Australia. The Bodleian Libraries rarely allow such a large number of manuscripts to travel for exhibition at the same time. Usually accessed only by specialist scholars, many of the works will be exhibited and published for the first time.

For many Iranians the stories told by their great poets of the past are a vital component of their national consciousness. Persian literature specialist, Rafal Stepien, reflects on issues of identity in the work of the 12th century Sufi poet ‘Attar, while scholar and playwright, Mammad Aidani, evaluates the philosophic legacy of ‘Attar’s near contemporary, Omar Khayyam.

Gay Breyley, an ethnomusicologist, explores interconnections between Persian poetry and other art forms, especially music. The versatility of Persian lyrics, she argues, has allowed their constant adaptation to changing political contexts. Shelley Meagher reveals the way the poet, Thomas Moore, made use of key aspects of Persian poetry to comment on national affairs of his native Ireland. Philippe Charluet and Christopher Wood contribute more personal insights into the poetic world of the Persians: through the music with which poetry is inextricably linked and through reflection on Iran’s complex cultural landscape.

Finally Clare Williamson, Exhibitions Curator at the SLV, and James Bennett, Curator of Asian Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), report on the increasing number of significant manuscripts from the Islamic world entering public collections in Australia. The AGSA remains our only cultural institution dedicating a permanent gallery space to the various arts of Islam, yet the SLV has shown considerable initiative in expanding its collection of Persian and other eastern manuscripts and in developing this exhibition in association with the Bodleian Libraries.

By so doing the SLV has positioned itself alongside leading international institutions seeking to challenge long-held notions of perceived opposition between east and west and uniformity in Islamic art forms by applying the more nuanced perspective of recent scholarship. Iran now stands at a crossroad in its long history, yet its poetry and stories endure – at once deeply symbolic and approachable; celebrating Iran’s distant past, yet tolerant, relevant and astonishingly topical.

Note: The terms ‘Persia’ and ‘Iran’ have been used almost interchangeably throughout this issue. The language spoken by most Iranians is ‘Farsi,’ but the term ‘Persian’ is widely accepted in English. Persian words and names have been transliterated using a simplified version of that used by the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (IJMES). The consonants ‘ayn (‘) and hamza (’) are represented by apostrophes. Dated manuscripts are given their Islamic calendar (AH) dates first with the corresponding Christian calendar (AD) dates following in parenthesis. BC dates are specified when appropriate.

Table of contents

3 EDITORIAL: THE PERSIAN ART OF POETRY
Susan Scollay, Guest Editor

LOVE AND DEVOTION: FROM PERSIA AND BEYOND – AN EXHIBITION AT THE SLV
Susan Scollay

8 POETRY IN THE IRANIAN PSYCHE: REFLECTIONS ON OMAR KHAYYAM’S RUBAIYAT
Mammad Aidani

11 LOVE OR DEVOTION? FROM PERSIA OR THE BEYOND – A PERSIAN SUFI PERSPECTI VE 
Rafal Stepien

14 ‘WASHING HYPOCRISY’S DUST’: PERSIAN POETRY AND POPULAR IRANIAN MUSIC 
Gay Breyley

17 DISCOVERING PERSIAN MUSIC 
Philippe Charluet

19 POLITICS AND PERSIAN MYTHOLOGY IN THOMAS MOORE’S PARADISEAND THE PERI
Shelley Meagher

22 PERSIA AND BEYOND: TWO RECENT ACQUISITIONS BY THE STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA 
Clare Williamson

24 TRAVEL IN IRAN: BETWEEN AWESOME DESERTS AND EXQUISITE UNREALITIES 
Christopher Wood

25 IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: AN INDONESIAN QUR’AN IN AGSA
James Bennett

26 BOOK REVIEW: PERSIAN ARTS OF THE BOOK
Susan Scollay

28 2011 TAASA CAMBODIA TOUR 
John Millbank

28 BOITRAN BEATTIE-HUYNH : 1957 –  2012 
Ann Proctor

29 TAASA 20TH ANNIVERSARY PARTY 
Sandra Forbes

29 TAASA MEMBERS’ DIARY: MARCH – MAY 2012

30 WHAT’S ON IN AUSTRALIA AND OVERSEAS: MARCH – MAY 2012
Compiled by Tina Burge

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