The pen is mightier than the sword, they say, but sometimes it’s the cartoonist’s pencil that stings the most. Around the world, caricaturists of all political stripes have long used their illustrations to lampoon the rich and powerful. Sometimes, their humour is focused on the foibles and follies of celebrities. This can take a dark turn when jokes are based on racist, misogynistic, homophobic or other tropes (consider the controversy over a cartoon of Serena Williams in 2019). But, such illustrations can also be a lighthearted means of exposing the mundane and endearing flaws of those whom we admire. Roasting the actions and decisions of the political élite, on the other hand, can bring about wrath unmatched by that of sports or entertainment stars, even when the images’ stated purpose was the betterment of society and progress in politics. The lands of the former Ottoman Empire are certainly no stranger to such dynamics. In 2017, our colleague Daniel Lowe curated an exhibition of the Arabic comic tradition that contained a considerable representation of satirical cartoons. For this year’s World Press Freedom Day, I’m going to share a few examples of the Ottoman Turkish satirical press from the British Library’s collections, and highlight some of the special connections between the United Kingdom and this vibrant part of Turkish culture.
Source: Drawing Ire: Illustrated Ottoman Satirical Magazines – Asian and African studies blog
The Persian writer and poet Musliḥ al-Dīn Saʻdī of Shiraz (ca.1210-1291 or 1292) are without a doubt one of the best-known and most skilful writers of classical Persian literature. With an established reputation even during his lifetime, his works have been select reading for royal princes and ʻset textsʼ for more humble students of Persian the world over. It is hardly surprising then that a corresponding number of deluxe copies survive of his works. A previous post (What were the Mughals’ favourite books?) described some copies of his best known works, the Būstān (ʻFragrant Gardenʼ or ʻOrchardʼ) and the Gulistān (ʻRose Gardenʼ), in the Library’s collection. Another sumptuous manuscript, which has also been digitised, is an early 17th century copy of his Kullīyāt (ʻCollected Worksʼ), IO Islamic 843 which was completed in 1034 (1624/25) by Maḥmūd, a scribe of Shiraz (al-kātib al-Shīrāzī), during the reign of Shah ʻAbbas (r. 1588-1629).
Very little is known about the poet’s life. Born in Shiraz, Saʻdī left his hometown to study in Baghdad. After a period of study at the Nizamiyah Madrasah, Baghdad, he set off on travels that lasted over thirty years. His experiences and adventures found their way into his writings, including being a prisoner of the Crusaders in Syria, visiting Kashgar, and killing a temple priest at Somnath in India. Many of these tales, however, have been proved to be anecdotal rather than biographical. Saʻdī returned to Shiraz in 1257, already a widely recognised poet and completed his two most famous works: the Būstān in 1257 and the Gulistān in 1258. These two works of poetry and prose respectively, contain anecdotes from the life of the author, moral teachings, and advice for rulers. Many stories communicate elements of Sufi teachings through their dervish protagonists. Other works reflect the changing political situation in Shiraz. Several of his poems are dedicated to the Salghurid dynasty, which ruled in Fars from 1148 to 1282, while later works are addressed to their successors the Mongols and their administrators.
In conjunction with the British Library’s Learning Team, we recently held a very successful study day: Mughal India: Art and Culture. To coincide with the event, we have installed three new ʻMughalʼ manuscripts in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. These are: A Royal copy of Nizami’s ‘Five poems’, dating from Herat, ca.1494 (Or. 6810, f. 3r), A mother rebukes her arrogant son, a copy of Saʻdi’s Būstān dated at Agra, 1629 (Add. 27262, f. 145r) and, the subject of my post today, Humayun received by the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp of Iran, from Abu’l-Fazl’s Akbarnāmah, dating from Agra, ca. 1602-3 (Or. 12988, f. 98r).
For anyone inspired by celebrations of St Valentine’s day, Persian literature has much to offer. Whether it be platonic adoration, romantic affection, or star-crossed disappointment, Persian poetry, in particular, has something to say about it. With a written tradition stretching over a millennium, much of it still preserved in manuscripts; we explore here a few select examples of epic and romantic compositions from the British Library’s growing collection of digitised Persian manuscripts available online to observe wonderful and alternative responses to love, physical and spiritual.