Saturday, December 26, 2009

Obeid Zakani


Najamoddin Obeid Zakani was a Persian poet and satirist of the 14th century from the city of Qazvin. He studied in Shiraz, Iran under the best masters of his day, but eventually moved back to his native town of Qazvin. He however preferred Shiraz to Qazvin, as he was a court poet in Shiraz for Shah Abu Ishaq, where a young Hafez was present as well. His work is noted for its satire and obscene verses, often political or bawdy, and often cited in debates involving homosexual practices. He was a remarkable satirist and social critic who looked upon his world of extravagant indulgence and corruption with the censorious eyes of a juvenile and portrayed it with the cynicism and wit of a Voltaire, and the hilarious grotesqueness of a Rabelais. He used scathing stories and sardonic maxims to paint a world full of deceit, greed, lust, sycophancy, and perversion, where old values and virtues were scorned and extremes of wealth and poverty, violence and bloodshed were the order of the day. He is one of the most remarkable poets, satirists and social critics of Iran, whose works have not received proper attention in the past, probably as a result of his explicit sexual references.

He wrote the Resaleh Delgosha (Joyous Treatise), as well as Akhlaq al-Ashraf ("Ethics of the Aristocracy") and the famous humorous fable Masnavi Moosh va Gorbeh (Mouse and Cat), which was a political satire. His non-satirical serious classical verses have also been regarded as very well written, in league with the other great works of Persian literature.

While pursuing his studies in Shiraz Zakani became one of the most accomplished men of letters and learning of his time, acquiring complete proficiency in every art, and compiling books and treatises thereon. He subsequently returned to Qazvin, where he had the honor of being appointed to a judgeship and was chosen as the tutor and teacher of sundry young gentlemen. As an example of the corrupt morals of the age and its people, he composed the treatise known as Akhlaq al-Ashraf, which was not intended as mere ribaldry, but as a satire containing serious reflections and wise warnings. So, likewise, in order to depict the level of intelligence and degree of knowledge of the leading men of Qazvin each one of whom was a mass of stupidity and ignorance, he included in his Resaleh Delgosha many anecdotes of which each contains a lesson for persons of discernment.

Zakani composed a treatise Ilm-i-Ma'ni u Bayan (Rhetoric) which he desired to present to the King. The courtiers and favorites, however, told him that the King had no need for such rubbish. Then he composed a fine panegyric, which he desired to recite, but they informed him that His Majesty did not like to be mocked with the lies, exaggerations and fulsome flattery of poets. Zakani, himself a kind of poet-jester, resented being kept waiting because the King was busy with his real jester. Zakani wondered whether the King's most intimate acquaintance could be gained through jesting and ribaldry, and the jesters become his favorites, while the men of accomplishment and learning would find themselves deprived of his favors. He began recklessly to utter the most shameless sayings and the most unseemly and extravagant jests, whereby he obtained innumerable gifts and presents, which none dared to pose and contend with him. Thus Zakani a serious writer, a moralist and a panegyrist was compelled by circumstances to become a ribald satirist.

He wrote Moosh va Gorbeh around 1370 and in it he highlights the moral dilemma of the suppressed who faces the problem of his own powerlessness. The mice who fight against the domination of the cats, don't simply fail because of their weakness, smallness or fear, they lose because of the cats' superiority in brutality. For the mice no alternative exists.

Because of the ribald and often homoerotic quality of his verse, he has been widely censored. The majority of both the originals and the translations of his raunchy poetry either bowdlerizes or omits the naughty words with coy little dashes to indicate the lacunae which the knowledgeable reader may furnish by inference.

A TV series based on the life of Zakani is scheduled to be produced and will include 18 to 26 episodes. Zakani's tales will be used in dialogues of the script. Reza Kianian will play the role of Zakani in the series.

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