If you’re in Washington, D.C., over the next couple of weeks you can catch the tail-end of an exhibition exploring the literary tradition of the Persian language during the past millennium.
“A Thousand Years of the Persian Book,” at the Library of Congress, includes an array of works, from illuminated manuscripts to modern-day publications. The exhibition focuses on the literary achievements of not just Iran, which is recognized as the birthplace of Persian, but also the Persian-speaking regions of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Central and South Asia, and the Caucasus.
The exhibition, which runs through Sept. 20, features 75 items drawn primarily from the Library of Congress’s Persian collection, part of its African and Middle Eastern Division.
“The Persian language gained prominence as a literary and common cultural language about a thousand years ago,” according to information from the Library of Congress. “Since then, a rich and varied written and spoken heritage has developed in the Persian language, elevating the visibility of the Persian civilization among world intellectual traditions.
“That tradition is particularly strong in the fields of storytelling, poetry, folklore, and literature, with important contributions in historiography, science, religion, and philosophy,” it adds.
Today, Persian is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, along with some other regions which historically came under Persian influence. There are approximately 110 million Persian speakers worldwide.
The Library of Congress exhibition looks at the Persian language and earlier writing systems and scripts, including the seminal 10th-century “Shahnameh” (Book of Kings), an epic poem that recounts the history of pre-Islamic Persia or Iranshahr (Greater Iran). The “Shahnameh” contains 62 stories, told in 990 chapters with 50,000 rhyming couplets.
There are also works in the fields of religion, science and technology, history, literature, classical Persian poetry, 18th- and 19th-century literature, modern and contemporary literature, women writers, and storytelling and children’s literature.
The exhibition also concentrates on the continuity of the written word as a unifying cultural force in Persian-speaking lands.