An introduction to the Chahar Maqala II

More on the Chahar Maqala, gleaned from the good encyclopaedia and in its own language which may help to explain the presence of some archaic and variant spellings….

In addition, each maqāla contains about ten exemplifying anecdotes, which make the book engaging reading, a merit which doubtless explains its lasting popularity and influence through the centuries. Furthermore, the examples make the abstract theories which the author propounds in the introductory sec­tions of the discourses appear factual and acceptable. Finally, the anecdotes contain interesting information about the identities and careers of eminent men of letters and scientists often not found elsewhere, e.g., Rūdakī (the origin of my posts), ʿOnṣorī Balḵī, Farroḵī Sīstānī, Amīr Moʿezzī, Abū Bakr Azraqī Heravī, Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān, Rašīdī Samarqandī and ʿAmʿaq Boḵārī, Ferdowsī, ʿOmar Ḵayyām (the master himself….), Ebn Sīnā, and several more, as well as accounts of events at which the author was present as an eyewitness, e.g., the account of Ḵayyām’s prediction about his tomb and the encounter with Amīr Moʿezzī. 

The Čahār maqāla reveals an author with a complete mastery of Persian prose, a fine understanding of philosophical concepts, knowledge of astronomy and medicine, and a scholarly interest in authors and bibliography. The work, which has long been widely read and admired, is also important for the historical events and episodes in the lives of notable scientists and men of letters which it includes, and its graceful language provided a model of good Persian prose-writing in the 12th century. Thus, only about sixty years after the completion of the work, Ebn Esfandīār took the entire account of Maḥmūd of Ḡazna and Ferdowsī from the Čahār maqāla and incorporated it in his Tārīḵ-e Ṭabarestān, written in 1216-17. Later authors, such as Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfī (Tārīḵ-e go­zīda), Dawlatšāh (Taḏkerat al-šoʿarāʾ), Ḡaffārī (Negārestān), etc., have also drawn upon the Čahār maqāla.

However, it is not without its flaws. According to the encyclopaedia….

The historical information found in Čahār maqāla, however, is seriously marred by repeated errors (confu­sion of names, dates, etc.), even in the case of events in the author’s lifetime (he confuses the Saljuq sultans Sanjar and Masʿūd).

But still, the entry goes on to say…..

Čahār maqāla as a masterpiece of good classical Persian prose ranks immediately after Bayhaqī’s Tārīḵ-e masʿūdī, ʿOnṣor-al-Maʿālī’s Qābūs-nāma, Neẓām-al-Molk’s Sīāsat-nāma, Moḥammad b. Monawwar’s Asrār al-tawḥīd, and ʿAṭṭār’s Taḏkerat al-awlīāʾ. The language of the introductory parts of the discourses is, by reason of the subject matter, more stilted and loaded with Arabic words than that of the actual text. But in the anecdotes Neẓāmī’s style becomes fluent, vivid, rich, and engaging, although, where brevity suits the context, he can also express his meaning effectively in short, simple sentences. His descriptions of scenes, characters, and outward and inward moods are fine and well developed, as when he describes Farroḵī’s meeting with ʿAmīd Asʿad, the place where colts belonging to the Chaghanid amīr Abu’l-Moẓaffar were being branded, Naṣr b. Aḥmad’s reluctance to leave Herat, al-Maʾmūn in the palace of Fażl (Ḥasan) b. Sahl. His comments on the poetry of Rūdakī, Farroḵī, Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān, and Ferdowsī illustrate his critical appreciation of literature and also demonstrates his ability to write graceful and cogent prose. Although rhetorical embel­lishments such as euphonic balance (mowāzana) and rhymed prose (sajʿ) with consequent use of redundant synonyms appear in some passages of the Čahār maqāla, they are never so cumbersome as to make the reading tedious; they are rather graceful and well balanced. The linguistic and stylistic peculiarities of the Čahār maqāla and its literary merits and importance have been discussed in detail by Moḥammad-Taqī Bahār (Sabk-šenāsī II). The text contains a few solecisms, which are probably lapsus calami, or else due to clerical error.

So perhaps now you can undersatnd why I am so pleased. In the days to come, you can expect some passages from it here and read about some of the things I have mentioned in at least two eloquent languages.  Be patient, good readers.

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