1902 Encyclopedia > Sa'di

Persian poet
(c. 1213 - 1292)

SA’DI, generally called MULSIM-UDDIN, but more correctly MUSHRRIF-UDDIN B. MUSLIH-UDDIN, the greatest didactic poet and the most popular writer of Persia, was born about 1184 (580 A.H.) in Shiraz, where his father, ‘Abdallah, a man of practical religion and good common sense, who impressed upon his son from early childhood the great maxims of doing good and fearing nobody, was in the service of the Turkoman race of the Salgharides or Atabegs of Fars.

The fifth ruler of this dynasty, Sa’d b. Zengi, who ascended the throne in 1195 (591 A.H.), conceived a great affection for young Musharrif-uddin and enabled him, after the premature death of his father, to pursue his studies in the famous medreseh of Baghdad, the Nizamiyyah, whre he remained about thirty years (1196-1224).

Strict college discipline and severe theological studies repressed for a long time the inborn cheerfulness and joviality of his nature; but his poetical genius, which rapidly developed, kept alive in him, amid all the privations of an austere life, the elasticity of youth, and some of his "early odes," in which he praises the pleasures of life and the sweetness of love, were no doubt composed during his stay in Baghdad.

At any rate his literary fame had already spread about 1210 (606 A.H.) as far as Kashgar in Turkistan, which the young poet (who is honor of his patron had assumed the name of Sa’di) visited in his twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh year. After mastering all the dogmatic disciplines of the Islamitic faith he turned his attention first to practical philosophy, and later on to the more ideal tenets of Sufic pantheism, under the spiritual guidance of the famous sheikh Shihab-uddin ‘Umar Suhrawardi (died 1234, 632 A.H.).

Between 1220 and 1225 he paid a visit to a friend in Ispahan, went from there to Damascus, and returned to Ispahan just at the time of the inroads of the Mongols, when the Atabeg Sa’d had been deposed by the victorious ruler of Kirman, Ghiyath-uddin (1223).

Sadly grieved by the misfortune of his generous patron and disgusted with the miserable state to which Persia had been reduced, Sa’di started in 1224 or 1225 on his way to India, thus entering on the second period of his life-that of his wanderings (1225-1255). He proceeded via Balkh, Ghazni, and the Punjab to Gujrat, on the western coast of which he visited the famous shrine of Siwa in Pattan- Sumanat, and met with a remarkable adventure. Having seen the statue of the god lifting up its hands to heaven every morning at sunrise, he discovered that a priest, hidden behind the image, wrought the miracle by means of a cord; but, being caught in the very act of watching the performance, he had no alternative but to hurl his pursuer into a deep well and to escape at full speed, - not, however, until he had smashed the detested statue.

After a prolonged stay in Delhi, where he acquired the knowledge of Hindustani which he afterwards turned to account in several of his poems -- just as a number of excellent Arabic kasidas bear witness to his fluency in that idiom which he had learnt in Baghdad -- he sailed for Yemen.

In San’a, the capital of Yemen, the loss of a beloved child (when he had married is not known) threw him into deep melancholy, from which only a new adventurous expedition into Abyssinia on the opposite shore and a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina could again rouse him.

Thence he directed his steps towards Syria and lived as a renowned sheikh for a considerable time in Damascus, which he had once already visited. There and in Baalbec he added to his literary renow that of a first-rate pulpit orator. Specimens of his spiritual addresses are preserved in the five homilies (on the fugitiveness of human life, on faith and fear of God, on love towards God, on rest in God, and on the search for God) which usually form the second risalah or prose treatise in Sa’di’s complete works.

At last weary of Damascus he withdrew into the desert near Jerusalem and led a solitary wandering life, till one day he was taken captive by a troop of Frankish soldiers, brought to Tripoli, and condemned to forced labor in the trenches of the fortress.

After enduring countless hardships, he was eventually rescued by a rich friend in Aleppo, who paid his ransom, and moreover gave him his daughter in marriage. But Sa’di, unable to live with his quarrelsome wife, set out on new travels, first to North Africa and then through the length and breadth of Asia Minor and the adjoining countries.

Not until he had passed his seventieth year did he return to Shiraz (about 1255, 653 A.H.). Finding the place of his birth tranquil and prosperous under the wise rule of Abubakr b. Sa’d, the son of his old patron (1226-1260; 623-658 A.H.), the aged poet took up his permanent abode, interrupted only by repeated pilgrimages to Mecca, in a little hermitage outside the town, in the midst of a charming garden, and devoted the remainder of his life to Sufic contemplation and poetical composition.

Sa’di died at Shiraz in 1292 (691 A.H.) according to Hamdalan Mustaufi (who wrote only forty years later), or in December 1291 (690 A.H.), at the age of 110 lunar years.

The experience of the world gained during his travels, his intimate acquaintance with various countries he had visited, his insight into human character, its grandeur and its littleness, which a thirty years intercourse with men of all ranks and of many nationalities had fully matured, together with an inborn loftiness of thought and the purest moral standard, made it easy for Sa’di to compose in the short space of three years his two masterpieces, which have immortalized his name, the Bustan or "Fruit-garden" (1257) and the Gulistan or "Rose-garden" (1258), both dedicated to the reigning Atabeg Abubkar.

The former, also called Sa’dinama, is a kind of didactic epopee in ten chapters double-rhymed verses, which passes in review the highest philosophical and religious questions, not seldom in the very spirit of Christianity, and abounds with sound ethical maxims and matchlessness gems of transcendental speculation.

The latter is a prose work of a similar tendency in eight chapters, interspersed with numerous verses and illustrated, like the Bustan, by a rich store of clever tales and charming anecdotes; it discusses more or less the same topics as the larger work, but has acquired a much greater popularity in both the East and the West, owing to its easier and more varied style, its attractive lessons of practical wisdom, and its numerous bon-mots.

But Sa’di’s Diwan, or collection of lyrical poetry, far surpasses the Bustan and Gulistan, at any rate in quantity, whether in quality also as a matter of taste.

Other minor works are the Arabic basidas, the first of which laments the destruction of the Arabian caliphate by the Mongols in 1258 (656 A.H.); the Persian kasidas, partly panegyrical, partly didactical; the marathi, or elegies, beginning with one on the death of Abubakr and ending with one on the defeat and demise of the last caliph, Musta’sim; the mulamma’at, or poems with alternate Persian and Arabic verses, of a rather artificial character; the tarjuat, or refrain-poems; the ghazals, or odes; the sahibiyyah and mukatta’at, or moral aphorisms and epigrams; the ruba’iyyat, or quatrains; and the mufradat, or distichs.

Sa’di’s lyrical poems possess neither the easy grace and melodious charm of Hafiz’s songs nor the overpowering grandeur of Jelal-uddin Rumi’s divine hymns, but they are nevertheless full of deep pathos and show such a fearless love of truth as is seldom met with in Eastern poetry. Even his panegyrics, although addressed in turn to almost all the rulers who in those days of continually changing dynasties presided over the fate of Persia, are free from that cringing servility so common in the effusion of Oriental encomiasts.

The first who collected and arranged his works was "Ali b. Ahmad b. Bisutun (1326-1334; 726-734 A.H.). The most exact information about Sa’di’s life and works is found in the introduction to Dr W. Bacher’s Sa’di’s Aphorismen und Sinngedicthe, Strasburg, 1879 ( a complete metrical translation of the epigrammatic poems), and in the same author’s "Sa’di Studien," in Z.D.M.G., xxx. Pp. 81-106.

Sa’di’s Kulliyyat or complete works have been edited by harington, Calcutta, 1791-95 (with an English translation of some of the prose treatises and of Daulat Shah’s notice on the poet, of which a German version is found in Graf’s Rosengarten, Leipsic, 1846, p. 229 sq.); for the numerous lithographed editions, see Rieu’s Pers. Cat. Of the Brit. Mus. Ii. p. 596.

The Bustan has been printed in Calcutta (1810 and 1828), as well as in Lahore, Cawnpore, Tabriz, &c., a critical edition with Persian commentary was published by K. H. Graf at Vienna in 1850 (German metrical translations by the same, Jena, 1850, and by Schiechta-Wssehrd, Vienna, 1852; English translation by W. Clarke, London, 1879; French translation by Barbier de Meynard, Paris, 1880).

The best editions of the Gulistan are by A. Sprenger (Calcutta, 1851), and by Platts (London , 1874); the best translations into English by Eastwick (1852) and by Platts (1873); into French by Defremery (1858); into German by Graf (1846); see also S. Robinson’s Persian Poetry for English Readers, 1883, pp.245-366.

Select kasidas, ghasals, elegies, quatrains, and distichs have been edited, with a German metrical translation, by Graf, in the Z.D.M.G., ix p. 92 sq. xii. p. 82 sq., xiii. P. 445 sq., xv. P. 541 and xviii. P. 570 sq.

On the Sufic character of Sa’di in contrast to Hanz and Jelal-uddin Rumi, comp. Ethe, "Der Sufismus and seine drei Hauptvertreter," in Morgenlandische Studien, Leipsic, 1870, pp. 95-124. (H.E.)

The above article was written by: C. Hermann Ethé, Ph.D., M.A., Professor of German and Oriental Languages, University College, Aberystwyth, from 1875; catalogued Arabic MSS. in the Bodleian Library, Persian MSS. in India Office Library; Examiner for Oxford University.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries