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Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

European literature

Since the Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote The Persians in the 5th century BC, Western literature has drawn inspiration from Persia. For centuries, the transmission of poetry and stories between Persia and the West was an oral encounter, leaving little textual evidence of their intersections. But incidents such as the poet Saʿdi’s claim to have been captured during the Crusades and Matthew Paris’s description of the 1238 visit to England by a Persian emissary seeking aid against the Mongols suggest that a range of opportunities for exchange existed.

Islamic culture entered medieval Europe not only through the Crusades but also via Moorish Spain and Sicily. Islamic culture by this time had already incorporated elements of Persian art, literature and music. By the 14th century, writers such as Boccaccio, Dante, Chaucer and Petrarch were aware of Islamic philosophy, science and literature, the knowledge of which they revealed through either their subject matter or literary forms.

By the late 16th century, as a result of increased trade and diplomatic contact, writers such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe had access, and made direct reference, to Persian history, geography, customs and culture. This expanded with each succeeding century, culminating in the 19th century, with the romantic orientalism of writers such as Byron, Moore and Goethe, and with the enormous popularity of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

While the popularity of the Rubaiyat has waned during the past century, enthusiasm for other Persian poets has risen. Rumi is today the bestselling poet in the United States, and the works of Hafiz continue to gain in popularity each year.

Love & devotion in the UK

The Bodleian Libraries is showing its own presentation of the Love and devotion exhibition at the Exhibition Room, Bodleian Library, in Oxford, England, between 29 November 2012 and 28 April 2013.

Learn more about how you can visit this exhibition on the Bodleian Libraries website.


Love and devotion: Persian Cultural Crossroads

This two-day conference held in April 2012 featured distinguished international guests and Australian specialists exploring cultural convergences in literature, the arts and architecture, history and philosophy within Persia's cultural sphere and Europe, from the 11th century to the present day.

For information on keynote speakers & topics discussed, visit our conference page

Visit the exhibition

The Love and devotion exhibition took place from 9 March to 1 July 2012. In-depth information about the exhibits and themes can be found on this website.

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