Anti-Clericalism in Medieval Persian Poetry.

Standford Lecture Handouts.

The above reads:

Better be a beggar than king, better practice vice

And perfidy than be a bigoted, pious puritan;

Better make love with many mistresses in the street

Than make piety and abstinence in public show.

– Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī (d. 725/1325)

I couldn’t agree more.

The dominant attitude of the anti-clerical rhetoric in Persian poetry is permeated by criticism of judges, lawyers, aesthetics, spiritual advisors, and authority figures of that nature. This is one of the reasons that makes this poetry still relevant. A lot of people today can’t read Milton, because anti-clericalism is no longer part of the normal vocabulary. In the West, we live mostly in a secular society, so the conflict between clerics and anti-clerics does not exist. But that is not the case in the Middle East at all, which makes this conflict very relevant.

Dr. Leonard Lewisohn is Senior Lecturer in Persian and Iran Heritage Foundation Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies of the University of Exeter where he teaches Islamic Studies, Sufism, history of Iran, as well as courses on Persian texts and Persian poetry in translation. He specializes in translation of Persian Sufi poetic and prose texts.

This is fascinating, and I learned a great deal. The lecture is below, and the Stanford Lecture Handouts for Anti-Clericalism in Medieval Persian Poetry are here.

Via Medievalists.


  1. says

    A happy heart’s the place for plans and piety
    And wealth’s a fine foundation for sobriety
    A weak and wasted arm can’t wield a warrior’s sword
    A broken heart can’t act with cold propriety

    — Jahan Malek Khatun, translated by Dick Davis

    That’s one of the few Persian poems I’ve memorized.

  2. says

    No, I haven’t. I’ll take a look.

    This reminds me of my 2015 trip to the Tirgan Festival in Toronto. There were so many fun and informative events, including a lecture about female poets in Medieval Persia. I haven’t been able to go again, but maybe I can save up my money and paid leave time for the Persian new year festival this coming March. *Crosses fingers*

  3. says

    I had never heard of this before. I do know about the vibrant arts in Toronto, I know people there. Considering that I’m kinda next door to Canada, I should make an effort to get there one of these days, and the Tirgan Festival sounds fabulous!

  4. says

    I think that makes a lot of sense. Within bounds, medieval bards could get away with a hell of a lot, no matter where they were in the world. They were the news shows of the day, traveling, picking up news, composing poetry and ballads, and always having commentary on current events. As religion and politics were completely entwined at that time, a great deal of trenchant observation could be made, and bards were the most likely to not only get such things out, but to see that they were spread far and wide.

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