Majnun’s Image as a Serpent

  • Asghar Abu Gohrab


In contrast to the early Arabic sources such as Ibn Qutaiba’s (213–276/834–897) Kitāb ash-shi’r waash-shu’arā, Abu’l Faraj al-Isfahānī’s (d. 356/967) Kitāb al-aghānī, and Ibn Dāwūd al-Isfahānī’s (255–297/868–910) Kitāb azzahra, which refer cryptically to Majnun’s emaciated body and his nakedness, the Persian Majnun is depicted with particular attention to his physical appearance. Among the various characterization of Majnun created by different Persian poets such as Amīr Khusrau, Ἀbd ar-Rahmān Jāmī, Maktabī and Hātifī, Nizami’s Majnun is the most complex and, at the same time, the most intriguing figure. This is the first portrayal of the historico-legenderic Majnun that unites all his character traits in an artful and uniform fashion. In fact, after some centuries of scattered anecdotal notices about Majnun, it is through the skillful hands of Nizami that Majnun comes to life and acquires the status of an ontological character, living on in the mind of the reader. Nizami establishes a picture of Majnun that has been a source of inspiration for subsequent poets who tried their hands at writing their own versions of the poem.2 Although it is true that Nizami pays relatively little attention to Majnun’s facial appearance compared to his psychological profile and his mental state, there are a number of scattered outward descriptions of Majnun that are indispensable for a sound interpretation of Majnun’s character.


Elderly Reason Uniform Fashion Precious Stone Arabic Literature Ontological Character 
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    See The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. N. Rogers, vol. II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975). The aerial fight between the eagle and the serpent occurs in stanzas VIII-XIV. It might be added here that Shelley himself was nicknamed the “Snake” by a number of his friends. In the Revolt, Shelley employs the Zoroastrian myth of the creation of Ohrmazd and Ahriman as the framework of his poem. For a discussion on Shelley’s use of the Zoroastrian mythology, see Carlos Baker, Shelley’s Major Poetry: The Fabric of a Vision (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948), esp. pp. 64–70.Google Scholar
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    V. Dastgirdī explains this couplet in the following way: “It is well-known that during the winter snakes do not leave their holes and eat earth.” See Lail‫ u Majnun, ed. V Dastgird‫ (Tehran: ’Ilm‫ Publisher), p. 160.Google Scholar

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© Kamran Talattof and Jerome W. Clinton 2000

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  • Asghar Abu Gohrab

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