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Classical Persian Poetry as a Living Tradition


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Arabic, Persian and Turkish Languages and Cultures, specialisation Persian Studies or the Research Master Area Studies, specialisation Middle Eastern Studies with sufficient level of Persian. Please, contact the student advisor, Nicole A.N.M. van Os or Dr. A.A. Seyed-Gohrab, if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student admitted to one of the above-mentioned master programmes or if you are not confident regarding your level of Persian.


This course is a weekly seminar, focusing on the role of classical Persian literature in various aspects of the modern Persian society. Persian poetry’s central role in Persian identity is uncontested, and in this course, the student journeys through the rich classical literature, examining how individual poets are received by Persian speaking peoples. One of the aims of this course is to know how classical poetry functions in society, politics and everyday life. We will read the works of classical masters such as Ferdowsi, Sana’i, Khayyam, Attar, Nezami, Saadi, Rumi, Hafez and Jami. In addition to these poets, we will pay attention to the way Shiite passion plays and mystic poetry of Ayatollah Khomeini were used during the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war.

Course objectives

The course consists of thirteen seminars. For each seminar, students are required to read in advance selections from secondary literature and to analyse a limited number of passages from the primary sources. Each session consists of two hours with one short break. The first hour is a general lecture while during the remaining hour, the students discuss their translations and analyses of a text. Each student is expected to give one presentation on a specific topic from the programme below. The final assignment for this course is an essay of 3,000 words, part of which should be an annotated translation of a literary text. Both primary and secondary literature are available from the lecturer. Students are responsible for their own photocopies of the texts.


For the most recent update of the timetable please click here (go to timetable Persian, master year).

Mode of instruction

Weekly seminar.

Assessment method

Paper and presentation.


Will be used.

Reading list

1. Modern Persian literature: a classical exposure
Selected literature:

  • I. Parsinejad, A History of Literary Criticism in Iran (1866-1951): Literary Criticism in the works of Enlightened Thinkers of Iran, Akhundzade, Kermani, Malkom, Talebof, Maraghe’I, Kasravi and Hedayat, Bethesda, Maryland: IBEX Publishers, 2003.
  1. Ferdowsi’s Shâh-nâma as an icon of Persian identity I
    Primary literature:
  • M.T. Bahar, Divan, ed. Ch. Bahar, Tehran: Tus, 1380/ 2001.

Secondary literature:

  • S. Soroudi, “Poet and Revolution: The Impact of Iran’s constitutional Revolution on the Social and Literary Outlook of the Poets of the Time: Part I,” Iranian Studies, vol. 12, no. 1/2, 1979, pp. 3-41;

  • idem, “Poet and Revolution: The Impact of Iran’s constitutional Revolution on the Social and Literary Outlook of the Poets of the Time: Part II,” Iranian Studies, vol. 12, no. 3 /4, 1979, pp. 239-73;

  • Michael B. Loraine, “A Memoir on the Life and Poetical Works of Maliku’l-Shu’ara’Baharr,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, 1972, pp. 140-68;

  • idem, “Bahar in the Context of Persian Constitutional Revolution,” Iranian Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2/3, 1972, pp. 79-87.

  1. Ferdowsi’s Shâh-nâma as an icon of Persian identity II
    literature: Ibid

  2. The Shâh-nâma and contemporary Persian storytelling tradition (naqqâli)
    Primary literature:

  • M. Afshâri & M. Madâyeni, Haft Lashgar (tumâr-e jâme`-e naqqâlan): az Kayumarth tâ Bahman, Tehran: Padzuheshgâh, 1998;

  • J. Dustkhâh (ed.), Morshed `Abbâs Zariri, Dâstân-e Rostam va Sohrâb: revâyat-e naqqalân, Tehran: 1990;

  • H. Seyf, Coffee House Painting, Tehran: Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran, 2nd print, 1990.

Secondary literature:

  • K. Yamamoto, The Oral Background of Persian Epics: Storytelling and Poetry. (Brill Studies in Middle Eastern Literatures, 26). Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2003, 20-52.

  • U. Marzolph, “Illustrated Persian Lithographic Editions of the Shâhnâme,” Edebiyât 13/2, 2002, 177-198;

  • Shahnama: the Visual Language of the Persian Book of Kings, ed. R. Hillenbrand, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004.

  1. Omar Khayyâm and the Persian quatrain
    Primary literature:
  • _Robâiyyât-e Khayyām_, ed. M.A. Forughi & Q. Ghani, reprinted with an intro. by B.D. Khorramshâhi, Tehran: Nâhid, 1373/1994.

Secondary literature:

  • L.P. Elwell-Sutton, “‘Omar Khayyâm” in Persian Literature, ed. E. Yarshater, Bibliotheca Persica, 1988, 147-60;

  • Ali Dashti, In Search of Omar Khayyâm, Trans. L.P. Elwell-Sutton, London, 1971.

  1. Hakim Sanai of Ghazna
    Primary literature:
  • Sanæ>ñ, „akñm Majdýd-i Ædam, „adñqat al-…aqñqa wa-sharññ of Ghazna_, Leiden: E.J. Brill, Publication of the “De Goeje Fund,” No. 25, 1983.
  1. Nizami Ganjavi
    Primary literature:
  • Niøæmñ Ganjawñ, Haft paykar, ed. W. Dastgirdñ, Tehran: Armaghæn, 1315/1936, second edition,


Contact information

Dr A.A. Seyed-Gohrab