Majnun’s Image as a Serpent

  • Asghar Abu Gohrab

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Sugar Topo Mast Shoe Nasr 

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Notes

  1. 8.
    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
  2. 9.
    Sa’d ad-Dīn Warāwīnī, Marzbān-nāma, ed. K. Khatīb Rahbar (Tehran: Marvi Publishers, 1373/1994), pp. 101–104, 234–46, 576–616.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    Dārāb-nāma, ed. Z. Saf (Tehran: Ilmī and Farhangī Publishers, 1374/1995), vol. I, pp. 341–42.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    The theme of a mast camel is repeated in modern Persian novels as well: Mahmūd Daulatābādī in his Jā-yi khālī-yi salūj (Salūj’s Vacant Place) elaborates this theme to a high degree of perfection. See M. Daulatābādī, Jā-yi khālf-yi salūj (Tehran: Buzurgmihr Publishers, 1368/1989), p. 1273ff.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Asrār at-tauhūd fī maqāmāt ash-shaikh Abī Sa’īd, ed. M. R. Shafī’ī Kadkanī (Tehran: Agāh Publisher, 1371/1992), pp. 99–101.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Ibid., pp. 100, 150. There are a number of reports that Sūfī masters tested their disciples by sending them to wild beasts that turn out to be good friends of the master. See for instance Ἀttār’s Tadhkirat al-aulīyā, ed. R. A. Nicholson, (Tehran: Manūchihrī Publisher, 1370/1991), p. 153.Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    Ἀttar, op. cit., p. 46. The same image recurs on p. 184; also compare Abu’l-Ḥasan Ἀlī ibn ’Uthmān al-Jullābī al-Hujwīrī, Kashaf al-mahjūb, ed. V. A. Zhukovskii, Intro, by Q. Ansārī (Tehran: Tahūrā Publishers, 1358/1979), p. 118.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    Muhammad Mustamlī Bukhārī, Shark at-ta ’arruf, ed. M. Raushan (Tehran: Asātīr Publishers, vol. IV, 1366/1987), pp. 1792–93.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    For the symbolism of the serpent in RĦmī’s works see, A. Schimmel, Triumphal Sun. (London: 1978), p. 112. According to Schimmel, Rūmī takes the snake as man’s base soul.Google Scholar
  10. 19.
    Maqālāt-i Shams-i Tabrāzī, ed. M. A. Muwahhid (Tehran: Dībā Publishers, 1369/1990), p. 313.Google Scholar
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    Abu’l Faraj al-Isfahānī, Kitāb al-aghānī (Cairo, 1346/1928), vol. II, p. 22.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    See Dīwān-i qasāyid wa ghazalāyāt-i nizami-yi ganjawā, ed. S. Nafīsā (Tehran: Furūqī Publisher), pp. 232ff.Google Scholar
  13. 25.
    See N. Pourjavady, Ἀin al-qudhāt wa ustādān-i ū (Tehran: Asātīr Publishers), pp. 69–75.Google Scholar
  14. 26.
    Ahmad Ghazzālī’s Aphorismen Über die Liebe. Herausgegeben von H. Ritter (Istanbul: 1942), pp. 37–38 and 59. For an elaborate mystical interpretation of this image in Ghazālī’s treatise, see N. Pourjavady, op. cit., pp. 70–75.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    J. Nurbakhsh, Sūfī Symbolism, vol. IV (Tehran: KNP, 1369/1990), p. 140. Nurbakhsh unfortunately gives no source for his citation. The couplet belongs to ghazal no. 186,1. 14, in Leonard Lewisohn, A Critical Edition of the Divan of Muhammad Shirin Maghribi (Tehran: Institute of Islamic Studies, 1993).Google Scholar
  16. 30.
    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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