Nizami’s Unlikely Heroines: A Study of the Characterizations of Women in Classical Persian Literature

  • Kamran Talattof


Women are featured in the works of three major classical Persian poets, Nizami Ganjavi (1140–1202), Abul al-Qasim Firdawsi (932–1020), and Abd al-Rahman Jami (1414–92). These poets’ portrayals of their female characters vary considerably; however, because all three have written love stories, it is possible to compare them. Certain stories are common to at least two of these authors. Their stories include common characters, often based on historical figures. Moreover, Nizami was inspired by Firdawsi in a significant way and refers to his work, while Jami was inspired by Nizami and refers to him. Perhaps for these reasons, prominent scholars of classical Persian literature, including Meisami, Bürgel, and Moayyad, have compared some of these female characters. The existing literature on the topic, however, does not provide reasons for such diverse characterizations, but merely offers engaging descriptive analyses. This comparative study of the portrayals of women will seek to clarify the ambiguity surrounding the ideological and literary positions of these poets to explain the diversity in their presentations of the female. Such clarification carries broad significance, for in postrevolutionary Iran, the interpretation of these poets’ works has become the subject of intense debate among cultural and literary critics, many of whom are widely divided over Islamic discourse and state ideology.


Classical Period Female Character Muslim Scholar State Ideology Literary Discourse 
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© Kamran Talattof and Jerome W. Clinton 2000

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  • Kamran Talattof

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