SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Classical Persian Prose Texts

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 3 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Term 1

This module provides an initial introduction to medieval Persian prose and its main grammatical and stylistic features. Selections from some of the most important works of belle-lettres belonging to the period are read and discussed. Attention is paid to the historical context from which these works emerge and the genres to which they belong.

Understanding classical Persian prose is an important part of a student's familiarisation with the 1000 year old heritage of classical Persian literature.

The module can be taken as an open option


 155901242 Intensive Persian Language

Language year abroad at the University of Mashhad

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Read and understand classical Persian prose texts by Nizamī-i Arūzī-i Samarqandī Saadi, Obeyd Zakani.
  • Contextualize the literary texts and understand their historical background.
  • Understand the use of irony and satire in the works of the mentioned writers.



Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week

Scope and syllabus

  • The position of prose in the history of classical Persian literature
  • The 12th century prose writer Nizamī-i Arūzī-i Samarqandī and his ČAHĀR MAQĀLA (The Four Discourses)
  • The 13th century prose writer and poet Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī  and his Gulistan.
  • The 14th century satirical writer Obeyd Zakani and his “Ethics of the Aristocrats”

Method of assessment

  • One 2-hour exam in May/June  (50%)
  • One essay (1500 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 6 (25%)
  • One essay (1500 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 11 (25%)

Suggested reading

Core Reading: 



Nizạ̄mī ʻArūz̤ī, Aḥmad ibn ʻUmar. Chahár maqála (The four discourses) / of Aḥmad ibn ʻUmar ibn ʻAlí an-Nizạ́mí al-ʻArúdị́ as-Samarqandí ; edited, with introduction, notes and indices, by Muḥammad ibn Aʻbdu 'l-Wahháb of Qazwín. Leyden : E. J. Brill, 1910. Also available online via Internet archive:

English translation

Nizami Aruzi, A Revised Translation of the Chahár maqála ("Four discourses") of Nizámí-i'Arúdí of Samarqand, followed by an abridged translation of Mírzá Muhammad's notes to the Persian text". Edward Browne, ed. (London: for Cambridge University Press, 1921). Also available online via Internet archive :



Kulliyat-I Shaykh Sadi, edited by Muhammad Ali Furughi, Tehran 1960.

English translation

The Gulistan (rose garden) of Sa'di : bilingual English and Persian edition with vocabulary / by Shaykh Mushrifuddin Sa'di of Shiraz ; new English translation by Wheeler M. Thackston. (Bethesda: Ibex Publishers 2008).

Obeyd Zakani


Kulliyāt-i ʻUbayd Zakanī / bih ihtimām-i Muḥammad Jaʻfar Mahj̣ūb. (New York : Winona Lake, Ind. : Bibliotheca Persica Press; Distributed by Eisenbruns, 1999)

Engish translation

Hassan Javadi, The Ethics of the Aristocrats and Other Satirical Works, Piedmont, Calif., 1985 (Eng. tr. of the following: Aḵlāq al-ašrāf, but the chapter III is incomplete; Resāla-ye Dah faṣl; Resāla-ye Ṣad pand; Resāla-ye delgošā; Muš o gorba).

Additional Reading


  • A. J. Arberry, Classical Persian Literature, London, 1958.
  • Edward Granville Browne, A Literary History of Persia, 4 vols. (New York: Charles, Scribner and Sons, 1902-1906).
  • Ehsan Yarshater, ed., Persian Literature. (New York: State University of New York Press 1988).

About Nezami:

  • Ashk Dahlén, Kingship and Religion in a Mediaeval Fürstenspiegel: The Case of the Chahār Maqāla of Nizāmi ʽAruzi, Orientalia Suecana, vol. 58, Uppsala, 2009.
  • Riz̤āzādah Shafaq, Sạ̄diq, Tarīkh-i adabīyāt-i Fārsī, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958
  • 1REF (in special collections, 1895 ed.), also available online via Internet Archive or Gallica:
  • The entry for ČAHĀR MAQĀLA in Encyclopaedia Iranica, available online at:

 About Saadi

  • Charles-Henri de Fouchécour, Moralia: Les Notions morales dans la littérature persane du 3e/9e au 7e/13e siècle, Paris, 1986.
  • Fatemeh Keshavarz, “‘Much Have I Roamed through the World’: In Search of Saʿdi’s Self-Image,” IJMES, 26/3, 1994, pp. 465-75.
  • Jan Rypka, “Poets and Prose Writers of the Late Saljuq and Mongol Periods,” in Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 594-601.
  • Minoo Southgate, “Men, Women and Boys: Love and Sex in the Works of Saʿdi,” Iranian Studies 17, 1984, pp. 423-52.

 About Obeyd

  • J. T. P. de Bruijn, art. “ʿUbayd-i Zākānī,” EI² X Available in print and online.
  • ʿA.ʿA. Ḥalabi, “The development of humor and satire in Persia with special reference to ‘Ubayd Zākānī,” Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1980. Full-text Available on Ethos
  • P.R. Sprachman, “Persian Satire, Parody and Burlesque: A general notion of Genre,” in Persian literature, ed. E. Yarshater, Albany, 1988, pp. 227-34.
  • P.R. Sprachman, Suppressed Persian, Costa Mesa 1995, pp.44-75 (the uncut English translation of the third chapter of Aḵlāq al-Ašrāf, Rišnāme and various poems).



Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules