A long tradition of preparing princes to rule was the genre of literature known as ‘mirror for princes,’ fables with tales in which animals are the leading characters of the stories. These tales, thought to have been introduced to the Muslim world through India, were derived from the Indian Panchatantra (‘The Five Principles’) and Mahabharata written in Sanskrit around the year 200.
The tales were adapted and translated into numerous languages including Persian and Arabic, and were illustrated in Kalila wa Dimna manuscripts – from the thirteenth century onward in Arab lands, and from the fourteenth century in Iran.
The tales address the moral education of princes through two jackals, Kalila and Dimna, and a host of other animals as lead characters. These tales also illustrate “universal human strengths and weaknesses, as well as aspirations for justice and truth.”*
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Nizami Ganjavi, one of the greatest romantic poets in Persian literature, was born in 1141 in Ganja, modern-day Azerbaijan and lived at a time of intense intellectual activity. Since he was not a court poet, his name does not appear in the records of the dynasties. A prominent poet acquainted with Arabic and Persian literature, he was also learned in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, botany, and the Qur’an.
Nizami composed qasidas and ghazals, only a small number of which have survived, but is best known for his five long narrative poems which have been preserved in a collection titled Khamsa (The Quintet). Written in masnavi style totalling 30,000 couplets, the Khamsa was a popular subject for lavish manuscripts. Three of the five works – the romantic tale of Khusrau wa Shirin, the love story of Layla wa Majnun…
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