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Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Persian poetry

Poetry is the highest achievement of Persian literature. If we understand ‘literature’ as something written, there was no such thing in Persia until after the Islamic era began in the mid-seventh century. Before that, poetry and prose were recited, transmitted by the spoken word from generation to generation. After that time, and at first strictly secular in nature, poetry began to be written in manuscript form. Versified stories recounted the exploits of legendary heroes and strong, beautiful women, or else they generously praised rulers, princes and courtiers from medieval Persia’s competing centres of power.

By the end of the 12th century, and with the increase in membership of mystic Sufi brotherhoods, Persian poetry adopted a more spiritual tone. Poets wrote about love in all its forms: crossing borders, cultures and faiths; between fathers and sons, rulers and their subjects, teachers and pupils; playful and innocent love; and sometimes the ill-considered romantic desires of the elderly for the young. All continued to use the ornamented language of praise, but they directed their verse at their central theme of earthly love being ultimately transformed into love of the Divine.

Persian poetry is highly symbolic – acting as a bridge that links earthly and heavenly images, and spiritual and profane ideas. This level of symbolism and the complex beauty of the Persian language can make translation difficult. For the word ‘devotion’ in the title of the Love and devotion exhibition we have selected the word samimiat from a number of Persian options. As well as faithfulness and dedication, samimiat suggests the closeness between self and other – the human and the Divine – that is such a dominant theme of the Persian poets and their evocative verse.

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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