Parthian and Middle Persian
The remains of Parthian writings, mostly inscriptions from the early Sassanian period and Manichaean hymns, are few, but renderings into other languages from Parthian testify to the existence of genres other than epic. One such work is the love story of Vis and Ramin of which there exists a versified Persian version by the eleventh-century poet, Fakhr al-Din Gorgani (based on a Persian prose translation of a Middle Persian model), as well as a thirteenth-century Georgian translation. It describes the ardent love between Ramin and the bride of his brother, King Mobad. Its remarkable resemblance to the story of Tristan and Isolde has often been pointed out. The story, set in a feudal society, is embroidered with various episodes, tender love scenes, subterfuges, intrigues, escapades, wars, sieges, chivalrous deeds, and feminine resourcefulness, all blended in a meandering series of events framed by a loose plot. An example of a different genre is afforded by Draxt i asurig (The Babylonian tree), extant in a Middle Persian verse rendition. It concerns a contest of merit between a palm tree and a goat, and provides a precursor of the monazara or contest poems in Persian. The Manichaean hymns in the Parthian language are valuable remains from pre-Islamic Iran and give us an idea of the religious poetry of this Middle Iranian language.
More works are preserved in Middle Persian than in Parthian; these include inscriptions, books, tracts, and epistles. The bulk of the material, however, consists of religious books which were revised and edited in the ninth and tenth centuries, when the mobads of the diminished and enfeebled Zoroastrian community made an effort to defend their religion and instruct the faithful in the face of Islamic inroads.
A few poems also survive; in fact, the Ayadgar i Zareran (The memorial of Zarer) and the Draxt i asurig are both metrical, if somewhat corrupt in the extant manuscripts. From the little written poetry that remains it is clear that Middle Persian meter, like the Parthian, was governed by stress, the quantity of syllables being flexible within limits. Poems were generally sung or chanted, with instrumental accompaniment. The Sassanian court extended generous patronage to its poet-musicians, and Bahram V is said to have promoted their rank to one of the highest in the courts. Minstrel poetry continued into Islamic times, particularly in the countryside, which was less susceptible to Arabic influence and court formality. Shams-e Qays, the famous thirteenth-century prosodist who knew nothing but the quantitative prosody of the aruz, expressed bewilderment that some cultivated Persian poets of high literary standing could not see the flaw in the meter of their dialect poems, the fahlaviyyat. Elsewhere, however, he concedes that no poems could move even the literary elite as these fahlaviyyat did. Among the varieties of Sassanian poems one may count the sorud (ode), used for celebration and panegyrics; the chakama, for narration; and the tarana, for light poetry, generally in quatrains. Unfortunately, few original Sassanian works have survived. Many were lost in the course of the Muslim invasion and other foreign conquests, and others were lost because of the religious zeal of the Muslim Persians themselves; but, mostly, their loss is due to the neglect of these works after the change of script from Aramaic to Arabic. Judging by their Arabic and Persian translations and adaptations, and by bibliographical notices, Middle Persian literature (apart from clerical writing) included historical, geographical, didactic, and astronomical works; books on land survey and travel; rules of conduct and etiquette; law books, historical novels, romances, folktales, and fables.
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Copyright© 1999 K. Kianush, Art Arena