1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nāsir Khosrau

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NĀSIR KHOSRAU (Nasiri Khusru), Abū Mu‘in-ed-din Nāsir b. Khosrau (1004-1088), whose nom de plume was Hujjat, the first great didactic poet of Persia, was born, according to his own statement, A.H. 394 (A.D. 1004), at Kubādiyān, near Balkh in Khorāsān. The first forty-two years of his life are obscure; we learn from incidental remarks of his that he was a Sunnite, probably according to the Ḥanifite rite, well versed in all the branches of natural science, in medicine, mathematics, astronomy and astrology, in Greek philosophy, and the interpretation of the Koran; that he was much addicted to worldly pleasures, especially to excessive wine drinking. He had studied Arabic, Turkish, Greek, the vernacular languages of India and Sind, and perhaps even Hebrew; he had visited Multān and Lahore, and the splendid Ghaznavide court under Sultān Mahmūd, Firdousī's patron. Later on he chose Merv for his residence, and was the owner of a house and garden there. In A.H. 437 (A.D. 1045) he appears as financial secretary and revenue collector of the Seljūk sultan Toghrul Beg, or rather of his brother Jāghir Beg, the emir of Khorāsān, who had conquered Merv in 1037. About this time, inspired by a heavenly voice (which he pretends to have heard in a dream), he abjured all the luxuries of life, and resolved upon a pilgrimage to the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina, hoping to find there the solution of all his religious doubts. The graphic description of this journey is contained in the Safarnāma, which possesses a special value among books of travel, since it contains the most authentic account of the state of the Mussulman world in the middle of the 11th century. The minute sketches of Jerusalem and its environs are even now of practical value. During the seven years of his journey (A.D. 1045-1052) Nāsir visited Mecca four times, and performed all the rites and observances of a zealous pilgrim; but he was far more attracted by Cairo, the capital of Egypt, and the residence of the Fātimite sultan Mostanṣir billāh, the great champion of the Shī‘a, and the spiritual as well as political head of the house of ‘Ali, which was just then waging a deadly war against the ‘Abbāside caliph of Bagdād, and the great defender of the Sunnite creed, Toghrul Beg the Seljūk. At the very time of Nāsir's visit to Cairo, the power of the Egyptian Fātimites was in its zenith; Syria, the Hejāz, Africa, and Sicily obeyed Mostanṣir's sway, and the utmost order, security and prosperity reigned in Egypt. At Cairo he became thoroughly imbued with Shī‘a doctrines, and their introduction into his native country was henceforth the sole object of his life. The hostility he encountered in the propagation of these new religious ideas after his return to Khorāsān in 1052 and Sunnite fanaticism compelled him at last to flee, and after many wanderings he found a refuge in Yumgān (about 1060) in the mountains of Badakshān, where he spent as a hermit the last decades of his life, and gathered round him a considerable number of devoted adherents, who have handed down his doctrines to succeeding generations.

Most of Nāsir's lyrical poems were composed in his retirement, and their chief topics are—an enthusiastic praise of ‘Ali, his descendants, and Mostanṣir in particular; passionate outcries against Khorāsān and its rulers, who had driven him from house and home; the highest satisfaction with the quiet solitude of Yumgān; and utter despondency again in seeing himself despised by his former associates and for ever excluded from participation in the glorious contest of life. But scattered through all these alternate outbursts of hope and despair we find precious lessons of purest morality, and solemn warnings against the tricks and perfidy of the world, the vanity of all earthly splendour and greatness, the folly and injustice of men, and the hypocrisy, frivolity and viciousness of fashionable society and princely courts in particular. It is the same strain which runs, although in a somewhat lower key, through his two larger mathnawīs or double-rhymed poems, the Rushanāināma, or “book of enlightenment,” and the Sa‘ādatnāma, or “book of felicity.” The former is divided into two sections: the first, of a metaphysical character, contains a sort of practical cosmography, chiefly based on Avicenna's theories, but frequently intermixed both with the freer speculations of the well-known philosophical brotherhood of Basra, the Ikhwān-es-safā’i, and purely Shi‘ite or Isma‘ilite ideas; the second, or ethical section of the poem, abounds in moral maxims and ingenious thoughts on man's good and bad qualities, on the necessity of shunning the company of fools and double-faced friends, on the deceptive allurements of the world and the secret snares of ambitious craving for rank and wealth. It concludes with an imaginary vision of a beautiful world of spirits who have stripped off the fetters of earthly cares and sorrows and revel in the pure light of divine wisdom and love. If we compare this with a similar allegory in Nāsir's dīwān, which culminates in the praise of Moṣtansir, we are fairly entitled to look upon it as a covert allusion to the eminent men who revealed to the poet in Cairo the secrets of the Isma‘ilitic faith, and showed him what he considered the “heavenly ladder” to superior knowledge and spiritual bliss. The passage, thus interpreted, lends additional weight to the correctness of Dr Ethé's reconstruction of the date of the Rushanāināma, viz. A.H. 440 (A.D. 1049), which, notwithstanding M. Schefer's objections, is warranted both by the astronomical details and by the metrical requirements of the respective verses. That of course does not exclude the possibility of the bulk of the poem having been composed at an earlier period; it only ascribes its completion or perhaps final revision to Nāsir's sojourn in Egypt.

A similar series of excellent teachings on practical wisdom and the blessings of a virtuous life, only of a severer and more uncompromising character, is contained in the Sa‘ādatnāma; and, judging from the extreme bitterness of tone manifested in the “reproaches of kings and emirs,” we should be inclined to consider it a protest against the vile aspersions poured out upon Nāsir's moral and religious attitude during those persecutions which drove him at last to Yumgān. Of all the other works of our author mentioned by Oriental writers there has as yet been found only one, the Zādelmusāfirīn or “travelling provisions of pilgrims” (in the private possession of M. Schefer, Paris), a theoretical description of his religious and philosophical principles; and we can very well dismiss the rest as being probably just as apocryphal as Nāsir's famous autobiography (found in several Persian tadhkiras or biographies of poets), a mere forgery of the most extravagant description, which is mainly responsible for the confusion in names and dates in older accounts of our author.

See Sprenger's Catalogue of the Libraries of the King of Oudh (1854); H. Ethé, “Nāsir Chusrau's Rushanāināma,” in Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, xxxiii., xxxiv., 1879-1880; E. Fagnan, “Le Livre de la félicité,” in vol. xxxiv. of the same journal, 643-674; Ch. Schefer, Sefer Nameh, publié, traduit et annoté (Paris, 1881), and by Guy le Strange in Pilgrims' Text Society (1888); H. Ethé, in Göttinger Nachrichten, 1882, pp. 124-152, Z.D.M.G., 1882, pp. 478-508; and Geiger's Grundriss der iranischen Philologie ii. p. 278; Fagnan in Journ. As. 7th ser. vol. xiii. pp. 164 seq., and Rieu, Cat. Pers. MSS. in Br. Mus., concluded that the poet and the pilgrim were different persons. The opposite view was developed by Ethé.

(H. E.)