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Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond

Yusuf and Zulaykha

The story of Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaykha is archetypal, known throughout world literature. This genre tells of an unusually handsome and virtuous young man who resists the advances of an older woman. The story is widely known as the tale in the Biblical book of Genesis in which Joseph is sold into slavery and firmly resists the approaches of the wife of his master, the Egyptian official Potiphar.

Medieval Persian versions of the story presented Yusuf as a universal image of the human soul. They were derived from Arabic translations of commentaries on the Hebrew sacred texts and the Bible, and at least 18 Persian poets are known to have recounted and embellished the tale.

In 1484 the great poet and religious authority Jami wrote a version considered by many to be the best of all. In it, Yusuf eventually becomes a high-ranking minister and marries Zulaykha, as they unite in shared spiritual aspiration. The ultimate symbol of the beloved, Jami’s Yusuf is drawn from the Qurʾan, in which he is described by the women of Egypt as 'not a man but a noble angel'.

Jami’s 15th-century masterwork successfully blended three important intellectual currents of medieval Islamic cultural life: first, the Greek-derived Islamicised cosmology of Avicenna (980–1037 AD), a scholar from Bukhara known as Ibn Sina in Arabic, whose work was translated into Latin in 12th-century Spain; second, the philosophy of Ibn ʿArabi (1165–1240); and third, the poetry of Nizami (1141–1209). The result is a work of literature considered one of the greatest mystical love stories of the Islamic world.

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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