L.P. Elwell-Sutton, "distinguished professor" of Persian studies of The University of Edinburgh calls Persian poetry "one of the richest poetic literatures of the world"(Elwell-Sutton, pII). And Persian Studies professor Dick Davis of the Ohio State University states that relative to its scope, more of Persian literature has passed into the common stock of English proverbial expression and cliché than is true of literary works of any other language.
The study of Avestic and ancient Persian literature in the west began in the 1700s with scholars investigating Zoroastrian texts brought in from the orient. It was the Frenchman Anquetil Duperron who first translated the Vendidad in 1759, followed by works of Sir William Jones and Sylvestre de Sacy, who worked on Pahlavi texts. The decipherment of the ancient cuneiform inscriptions came later in the 9th century by the likes of Grotefend of the Göttingen Royal Society.
One can perceive the magnitude of the influence of Persian literature on its western counterpart when one investigates that, in the words of Christopher Decker of The University of Cambridge, "the most frequently read of victorian poetry, and certainly one of the most popular poems in The English language" was none other than Omar Khayyám's Rubaiyat (C. Decker). As a demonstrative metric, the 1953 edition of The Oxford Book of Quotations, contains no less than 188 excerpts from the Rubaiyat alone, of which 59 are complete quatrains, virtually two thirds of the total work of Omar Khayyám. Not even Shakespeare or the Authorized Version of the Bible are represented by such massive percentages.
Phrases like the following that are now part and parcel of the English language, have their origins in western discovered Persian literature:
The encounter of Goethe with Hafez's ghazals became so inspiring to Goethe, that he produced his own "West-Ostlicher Divan" (Oriental Divan) and "led the way to the discovery of Persian poetry by the Romantics", according to Shusha Guppy. Guppy
His west-ostlicher, and collection of poetry in general, gradually came to function as "an influential model for religious and literary syntheses between the ‘occident’ and the ‘orient’ in the 19th century", according to Jeffrey Einboden of Magdalene College in Cambridge, England, who is currently a professor at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was another admirer of Persian poetry. In his essays "Persian poetry" (1876, Letters and Social Aims), "From the Persian of Hafiz", and "Ghaselle", Emerson expressed admiration for Persian poetry, and through these writings became instrumental in creating a new genre of audiences for the unique qualities of Persian verse. "The excitement [the poems] produced exceeds that of the grape" he wrote. In his interest in Persian poets and poetry, one can glimpse a Dionysian side of Emerson, the side that appealed to Nietzsche. Emerson, who read Sa'di only in translation, compared his writing to the Bible in terms of its wisdom and the beauty of its narrative.
Nietzsche held very high interest and respect for Persians. For example, where he speaks about the Persian notion of history and cyclical Eternal Time, he writes: "I must pay tribute to Zarathustra, a Persian (einem Perser), for Persians were the first who thought of history in its full entirety." and further adds: ""It was much more fortunate if Persians became masters (Herr) of the Greeks, than the very Romans."
But Nietzsche was also influenced by Persia's post-Islamic writers as well. In his notebooks, Nietzsche uses an anecdote from Sa'di's Golestan. Not only him, but La Fontaine also based his Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol on parts of Sa'di's Gulistan (chapter 2:16), as did Diderot, Voltaire, Hugo and Balzac, all of whom referred to Sa'di's works in their writings.
Hafez, represented Nietzsche a prime example of Dionysian ecstatic wisdom, which he extolls so extensively in his philosophy. Goethe's admiration for Hafez and his "Oriental" wisdom, as expressed in the West-östlischer Divan, has been the main source of attracting Nietzsche's interest in this Persian poet. There is even a short poem in Nietzsche's Collected Works, entitled An Hafis. Frage eines Wassertrinkers (To Hafez: Questions of a Water Drinker).
Since the beginning of 21st century, Persian poet and philosopher Molana Jalaleddin Balkhi (Rumi) has appeared as the most popular poet worldwide. His works, which have been partly translated to English, attracted attention of numerous thinkers and artists.
These, and subsequent works leads one to conclude that the influence of Persian literature extends beyond what was written in the Persian language to encompass works by those who thought in Persian when it came to literature, metaphysics, and philosophy, irrespective of their native tongues and ethnic origins.
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