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Simurgh and Pseudo-Simurgh in Iranian Arts

Compareti, Matteo. 2021. The elusive Persian Phoenix. Simurgh and Pseudo-Simurgh in Iranian arts (Studia Persica 3). Bologna: Paolo Emilio Persiani.

The reign of the Sasanian Dynasty (224–651 AD) received great attention in the works of Muslim authors who usually referred to this period as the “golden age” of pre-Islamic Persia. It is however worth noting that artifacts incontrovertibly attributable to the Sasanians are not very numerous. Among recent finds of dubious origin, some ongoing archeological excavations uncovered Sasanian coins and seals that in some cases showed fabulous creatures composed of parts of different animals. Starting from the ambiguity of these creatures, some scholars proposed to identify them according to ancient Persian mythology and literature. A composite winged creature with a dog’s head, lion’s paws, and a peacock’s tail that is considered to be typically Sasanian, was said to be the “Iranian phoenix” (Avestan saena marega, Middle Persian senmurv, Persian simurgh). As it can be observed on seventh century pre-Islamic Central Asian coins, this composite winged creature was quite explicitly associated with the Iranian concept of glory that was imported into Persia at the end of the Sasanian period from a region between modern Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Slightly later that creature started to appear in western arts too, going from the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Caliphate to the whole of Europe until the early 13th century. Its exact meaning among Muslims is still a matter of debate although it was definitely considered by Christians as a very appropriate decoration for religious and secular purposes. Eighth-century Sogdian mural paintings from Penjikent and Mongol period Islamic book illustrations seem to support the identifications proposed in this study.

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The Gujarati ritual directions of the Paragnā, Yasna and Visperad

Redard, Céline and Kerman Dadi Daruwalla (eds.). 2021. The Gujarati ritual directions of the Paragnā, Yasna and Visperad ceremonies: Transcription, translation and glossary of Anklesaria 1888 (Corpus Avesticum 2). Leiden: Brill.

This edition gives a transcription of Anklesaria’s text, an English translation, a Gujarati-English glossary, an introduction to Gujarati-language works on ritual directions and a study on the relationship between Anklesaria’s text and the liturgical manuscripts in Yasna 3–8. Unlocking the meaning and performative aspects in this first-ever edition in any European language, of these core Zoroastrian rituals in India, Céline Redard and Kerman Dadi Daruwalla open up the Indian tradition for future research and highlight its importance.

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Safavid Persia in the Age of Empires

Melville, Charles (ed.). 2021. Safavid Persia in the Age of Empires (The Idea of Iran 10). Londn: I.B. Tauris.

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the establishment of the new Safavid regime in Iran. Along with reuniting the Persian lands under one rule, the Safavids initiated the radical transformation of the religious landscape by introducing Imami Shi’ism as the official state faith and in this as in other ways, laying the foundations of Iran’s modern identity.

In this book, leading scholars of Iranian history, culture and politics examine the meaning of the idea of Iran in the Safavid period by examining contemporary experiences of both insiders and outsiders, asking how modern scholarship defines the distinctive features of the age.

While sometimes viewed as a period of decline from the high points of classical Persian literature and the visual arts of preceding centuries, the chapters of this book demonstrate that the Safavid era was nevertheless a period of great literary and artistic activity in the realms of both secular and theological endeavour.

With the establishment of comparable polities across western, southern and central Asia at broadly the same time, the book explores some of the literary and political interactions with Iran’s Ottoman, Mughal and Uzbek neighbours. As the volume and frequency of European merchants and diplomats visiting Safavid Persia increased, especially in the seventeenth century, and as more Iranians recorded their own travel experiences to surrounding Muslim lands, the Safavid period is the first in which we can document and explore the contours of Iran’s place in an expanding world, and gain insights into how Iranians saw themselves and others saw them.

Table of contents
  • Ali Anooshahr: “The body politic and the rise of the Safavids”
  • Gregory Aldous: “The Qazvin period and the idea of the Safavids”
  • Colin Mitchell: “Man of the Pen, Pillar of the State: Hatem Beg Ordubadi and the Safavid Empire”
  • Rudi Matthee: “The Idea of Iran in the Safavid period. Dynastic pre-eminence and urban pride”
  • Sussan Babaie: “Safavid town-planning in the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries: From Farahabad (Mazandaran) to Farahabad (Isfahan)”
  • Willem Floor: “Commercial relations between Safavid Persia and Western Europe”
  • Aurelie Salesse-Chabrier: “From absolute prince to despot: the political representations of Safavid Iran in seventeenth-century France”
  • Maryam Ala Amjad: “The world is an oyster and Iran, the pearl. Representing Iran in Safavid Persian travel literature”
  • Sunil Sharma: “Local and transregional places in the works of Safavid men of letters”
  • Roy S. Fischel: “Shi’i rulers, Safavid alliance and the religio-political landscape of the Deccan”
  • Florian Schwarz: “The Safavids and the Ozbeks”
  • George Sanikidze: “Particularities of the Safavid policy towards Eastern Georgia”
  • Benedek Péri: “O Mohebbi! You have lit your lamp with Khosrow’s burning passion. Persian poetry as perceived by sixteenth-century Ottoman authors”
  • Frenec Csirkés: “Popular religiosity and vernacular Turkic: A Qizilbash catechism from Safavid Iran”
  • Andrew J. Newman: “Safavids and Shi’ism in the age of Sectarianism”
  • Sajjad Rizvi: “Practicing philosophy: Imagining Iran in the Safavid period”
  • Daniel J. Sheffield: “Universal harmony (sulh-i kull) and political theology in Safavid Iran”
  • Sheila R Canby: “Flora in Safavid paintings from Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnama
  • Negar Habibi: “From Khazana to audience. On the making of new art in the House of Shah Soleyman”
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Persian Prose

Utas, Bo (ed.). 2021. Persian prose (A history of Persian literature V). London: I.B. Tauris.

Volume V of A History of Persian Literature presents a broad survey of Persian prose: from biographical, historiographical, and didactic prose, to scientific manuals and works of popular prose fiction. It analyzes the rhetorical devices employed by writers in different periods in their philosophical and political discourse; or when their aim is primarily to entertain rather than to instruct , the chapters describe different techniques used to transform old stories and familiar tales into novel versions to entice their audience.

Many of the texts in prose cited in the volume share a wealth of common lore and literary allusions with Persian poetry. Prose and poetry frequently appear on the same page in tandem. In different ways, therefore, this creative interplay demonstrates the perennial significance of intertextuality, from the earliest times to the present; and help us in the process to further our understanding and enhance our enjoyment of Persian literature in its different manifestations throughout history.

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Persia (552 BCE-758 CE). Primary Sources, Old and New

Gyselen, Rika (ed.). 2020. Persia (552 BCE-758 CE). Primary Sources, Old and New (Res Orientales 28). Bures-sur-Yvette: Groupe pour l’Étude de la Civilisation du Moyen-Orient (GECMO).

The articles in this volume present, comment on and interpret primary sources from different eras: Achaemenid, Sasanian and post-Sasanian. While most of these sources were discovered in the 21st century, a few were already known. Recent Iranian surveys and excavations have uncovered: (1) new Sasanian sites in the region of Sar Mashad in the Pars, (2) Sasanian administrative bullae on Tappe Barnakoon, west of Isfahan, (3) a clay sealing with the impression of a royal seal of Peroz in Taxt-e Soleiman. New data for Sasanian numismatics come from unpublished coins in the Johnson collection. Three documents from the “Tabarestan Archive”, published in recent years, have been re-read and interpreted in the context of Zoroastrian law. Also, sources known from much longer have been the subject of new “readings”. They highlight that the message these inscriptions and royal objects convey is strongly conditioned by the type of ‘public’ to which it is addressed.

Table of Contents

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Materials for a History of the Persian Narrative Tradition

Orsatti, Paola. 2019. Materials for a History of the Persian Narrative Tradition. Two Characters: Farhād and Turandot. Venezia: Ca’ Foscari.

This book gathers together two essays. The first deals with the origins of the character of Farhād, the unlucky lover of Shīrīn, who – in the Persian narrative tradition – digs a route through Mount Bīsutūn and accomplishes other admirable works. The essay suggests that Farhād, as we know him from long narrative poems, historical chronicles, and reports by geographers and travelers, is the issue of a conflation between the legendary character of the Master of Mount Bīsutūn and a historical personage, Farrahān, the general-in-chief of the Sasanid king Khusraw II Parvīz’s army (r. 590-628 EC), as this figure was re-elaborated in a number of later legends. 

The second essay identifies a character named ‘Būrān-dukht’ as the prototype from which Turandot, the heroine of the tale well-known in Europe from Puccini’s opera (1926), springs. Two historical personages, both called Būrān or Būrān-dukht, are relevant in this line of development: the first is the daughter of the Sasanid king Khusraw II Parvīz (r. 580-628 CE), who was queen of Persia for a short period (630-631 CE); the other is the daughter of Ḥasan b. Sahl, wife of Caliph al-Maʾmūn (813-833 CE).

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Studies in Persian Language and Literature in Honour of Paola Orsatti

Maggi, Mauro, and Mohsen Ashtiany, eds. A turquoise coronet: Studies in Persian language and literature in honour of Paola Orsatti. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2021.

Paola Orsatti is currently professor at La Sapienza University in Rome. In the course of a long and distinguished academic career combined with an impressive record of dedicated teaching, she has made significant contributions to the study of classical Persian poetry, its connections with pre-Islamic traditions, the history of the Persian language, and Islamic manuscripts. Along with a profile of the dedicatee and a comprehensive bibliography of her publications up to 2019, the volume contains eighteen papers by her colleagues, friends, and former students to celebrate her 65th birthday. The papers mirror her diverse research interests. They deal with a variety of themes relating to Persian literature from Middle Persian texts to twentieth-century poetry—approached philologically, historically, and critically—as well as to the history of Middle and New Persian and the dialects of Iran, and include significant Persian literary texts translated and edited for the first time in this volume.

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Voices from Zoroastrian Iran: Yazd and Outlying Villages

Stewart, Sarah. Voices from Zoroastrian Iran: Oral texts and testimony (Part 2, urban and rural contexts: Yazd and outlying villages). Iranica, GOF III/NF 18. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2020.

Voices from Zoroastrian Iran is the result of an oral studies research project that maps the remaining Zoroastrian communities in Iran. Volume II covers the city of Yazd and surrounding villages where Zoroastrians continue to live. Most of the interviews recorded from this region are in Zoroastrian Dari and can be found at the SOAS ELAR website.
As in Volume I, interviews included in this book cover a range of topics including views about the religion, what it has been to like to live as a member of a religious minority in Iran since the Revolution of 1979, and accounts of religious education, festivals, and ceremonies surrounding rites of passage. Elderly residents in the villages are a rich source of memories from earlier times, before younger people left the rural areas for the cities and emigration abroad became commonplace. These have been illuminated by colourful descriptions of village life in the 1960’s contained in Mary Boyce’s Notebooks (held at the Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge). Her portrayal of shrines and fire temples, the gardens, flowers, trees, fruit and vegetables that were grown, and the way in which the land was farmed and water distribution was managed informs the interview summaries contained in Appendices A, and B. These shorter interviews were conducted in the form of a verbal questionnaire and give a more general insight into what is left of Zoroastrian village life today. A demographic survey of the Zoroastrian population of the Yazd Mahalleh, as well as maps of this area drawn in 2007 are included. A general overview of the Zoroastrian religion and society, as well as an account of devotional life, is contained in Chapters 1–3 in Volume I and pertains to both books.

The full, unedited interviews have been made available online in digitised format in the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) at SOAS (https://www.elararchive.org/dk0460/).

For the table of the contents see here.

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Women and Monarchy in Ancient Iran

Carney, Elizabeth Donnelly & Sabine Müller (eds.). 2021. The Routledge Companion to Women and Monarchy in the Ancient Mediterranean World. London: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Portrait of Shapur III’s Wife. ca. 383-388 C.E. Onyx. BnF – Bibliothèque nationale de France (20.A.1)

This volume offers the first comprehensive look at the role of women in the monarchies of the ancient Mediterranean. It consistently addresses certain issues across all dynasties: title; role in succession; the situation of mothers, wives, and daughters of kings; regnant and co-regnant women; role in cult and in dynastic image; and examines a sampling of the careers of individual women while placing them within broader contexts. Written by an international group of experts, this collection is based on the assumption that women played a fundamental role in ancient monarchy, that they were part of, not apart from it, and that it is necessary to understand their role to understand ancient monarchies. This is a crucial resource for anyone interested in the role of women in antiquity.

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Qurʾānic allusions to Zoroastrian texts

Bitsch, Sebastian. 2020. Sengende Hitze, Eiseskälte oder Mond? Zum Echo zoroastrischer eschatologischer Vorstellungen am Beispiel des koranischen zamharīr. Der Islam 97(2). 313–366.

This article discusses eventual Qurʾānic allusions to Zoroastrian texts by using the example of zamharīr (Q 76:13). In the early tafsīr and ḥadīth-literature the term is most commonly understood as a piercing cold, which has frequently been interpreted as a punishment in hell. This idea, it is argued, has significant parallels to the concept of cold as a punishment in hell or to the absence of cold as a characteristic of paradise in the Avestan and Middle-Persian literature. In addition, Christian and Jewish texts that emphasize a similar idea and have not been discussed in research so far are brought into consideration. The article thus aims to contribute to the inclusion of Zoroastrian texts in locating the genesis of the Qurʾān – or early Islamic exegesis – in the “epistemic space ” of late antiquity.