Persian literature exhibition winding down in Washington

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 fabled Shahnameh, or “Book of Kings.”

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.

(Top: Among works on display at the Library of Congress is “The Book of Shah Jahan,” which explores the life of the 17th-century ruler of India during whose reign the Taj Mahal was built. Photo credit: Library of Congress.)



12 thoughts on “Persian literature exhibition winding down in Washington

  1. Oh, how I would love to see this! I’ve been delving more and more into the history of Zoroastrianism when I have time (admittedly not as often as I’d like) and this exhibition looks wonderful!

    • I am always amazed at the artwork of such literature. It must have taken years and years to create such works. I can’t imagine such dedication and perseverance.

      I’ve not read a whole lot about Zoroastrianism; but I do find it interesting that a faith which is relatively unknown in the west is believed to have influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

      Thanks as always for stopping by, Cole.

    • It’s amazing, isn’t it. I sincerely doubt such craftsmanship could be recreated by anyone today. I could be wrong, but skills such as those on display in Washington take a lifetime to develop, and that simply isn’t practiced any more.

  2. It might interest you to know that they are still artisans in Iran painting miniatures similar to the ones featured in the Shahnameh. While the master painters are fewer and doing less work these days you can still find the works in specialty stores in Tehran. It is a true craft and sadly the skills are being lost over time. Thank you for the interesting article! 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment. It’s unfortunate that this skill is being lost. I’d like to think that there will always be a need for at least a few individuals to create such masterpieces, however. Some things simply can not be fully replicated by computers.

  3. Interesting post. It got me wondering about the similarities of Persian and Arabic. I guess the Persian language did influence the Arabic language somewhat. What a rich history you experienced there. I can tell that you were very impressed. 🙂

    • As with all languages that are spoken in close geographical proximity, they naturally influenced each other. There are many Arabic words in Persian and vise versa. As an American who grew up in Iran during the 60’s and 70’s I managed to learn Persian and study Arabic as well. Although Arabic is Semitic language and Persian Indo-European, the common words are plentiful and both cultures have rich histories.

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