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Iranian Poet Saadi Shirazi: Of one Essence is the human race


By Syma Sayyah, Tehran
Text Source: Iran Chamber Society

The world honors Saadi today by gracing the entrance to the Hall of Nations in
New York with this call for breaking all barriers:

Of one Essence is the human race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base;
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.




Saadi was born in Shiraz around 1200. He died in Shiraz around 1292. He lost his father in early childhood. With the help of his uncle, Saadi completed his early education in Shiraz. Later he was sent to study in Baghdad at the renowned Nezamiyeh College, where he acquired the traditional learning of Islam.

The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Persia led him to wander abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. He also refers in his work to travels in India and Central Asia. Saadi is very much like Marco Polo who traveled in the region from 1271 to 1294. There is a difference, however, between the two. While Marco Polo gravitated to the potentates and the good life, Saadi mingled with the ordinary survivors of the Mongol holocaust. He sat in remote teahouses late into the night and exchanged views with merchants, farmers, preachers, wayfarers, thieves, and Sufi mendicants. For twenty years or more, he continued the same schedule of preaching, advising, learning, honing his sermons, and polishing them into gems illuminating the wisdom and foibles of his people.

When he reappeared in his native Shiraz he was an elderly man. Shiraz, under Atabak Abubakr Sa'd ibn Zangy (1231-60) was enjoying an era of relative tranquility. Saadi was not only welcomed to the city but was respected highly by the ruler and enumerated among the greats of the province. In response, Saadi took his nom de plume from the name of the local prince, Sa'd ibn Zangi, and composed some of his most delightful panegyrics as an initial gesture of gratitude in praise of the ruling house and placed them at the beginning of his Bostan. He seems to have spent the rest of his life in Shiraz.

His best known works are the Bostan (The Orchard) and the Golestan (The Rose Garden). The Bostan is entirely in verse (epic metre) and consists of stories aptly illustrating the standard virtues recommended to Muslims (justice, liberality, modesty, contentment) as well as of reflections on the behaviour of dervishes and their ecstatic practices. The Golestan is mainly in prose and contains stories and personal anecdotes. The text is interspersed with a variety of short poems, containing aphorisms, advice, and humorous reflections. Saadi demonstrates a profound awareness of the absurdity of human existence. The fate of those who depend on the changeable moods of kings is contrasted with the freedom of the dervishes.


Read more, and download PDF files of Saadi’s Bostan and Golestan at Iran Chamber Society 


Selections from Bostan

Concerning humility

A story of Sultan Bayazid Bastami

When Bayazid was coming from his bath one morning during the Eid festival, someone unwittingly emptied a tray of ashes from a window upon his head. With his face and turban al bespattered, he rubbed his hands in gratitude and said, “I am in truth worthy of the fires of hell. Why should I be angered by a few ashes?”

The great do not regard themselves; look not for the godliness in a self-conceited man. Eminence does not consist in outward show and vaunting words, nor dignity in hauteur and pretension.

On the Day of Judgment thou wilt see in Paradise him who sought truth and rejected vain pretension.

He who is headstrong and obdurate falleth headlong; if thou desire greatness, abandon pride.


Patience under oppression

A story illustrating the noble-mindedness men

A dog bit the leg of a hermit with such violence that venom dropped from its teeth, and the poor man could not sleep all night through pain.

His little daughter chided him, saying, “Hast thou not teeth as well?”

The unfortunate parent wept and then smilingly replied, “Dear child! Although I was stronger than the dog, I restrained my anger. Should I receive a sword-blow on the head, I could not apply my teeth to the legs of a dog.”

One can revenge oneself upon the mean, but a man cannot act like a dog.




Selection from Golestan

The Manners of Kings

Story 6

It is narrated that one of the kings of Persia had stretched forth his tyrannical hand to the possessions of his subjects and had begun to oppress them so violently that in consequence of his fraudulent extortions they dispersed in the world and chose exile on account of the affliction entailed by his violence. When the population had diminished, the prosperity of the country suffered, the treasury remained empty and on every side enemies committed violence.

Who desires succour in the day of calamity,

Say to him: ‘Be generous in times of prosperity.’

The slave with a ring in his ear, if not cherished will depart.

Be kind because then a stranger will become thy slave.

One day the Shahnamah was read in his assembly, the subject being the ruin of the dominion of Zohak and the reign of Feridun. The vezier asked the king how it came to pass that Feridun, who possessed neither treasure nor land nor a retinue, established himself upon the throne. He replied: ‘As thou hast heard, the population enthusiastically gathered around him and supported him so that he attained royalty.’ The vezier said: ‘As the gathering around of the population is the cause of royalty, then why dispersest thou the population? Perhaps thou hast no desire for royalty?’

It is best to cherish the army as thy life

Because a sultan reigns by means of his troops.

The king asked: ‘What is the reason for the gathering around of the troops and the population?’ He replied: ‘A padshah must practise justice that they may gather around him and clemency that they may dwell in safety under the shadow of his government; but thou possessest neither of these qualities.’

A tyrannic man cannot be a sultan

As a wolf cannot be a shepherd.

A padshah who establishes oppression

Destroys the basis of the wall of his own reign.

The king, displeased with the advice of his censorious vezier, sent him to prison. Shortly afterwards the sons of the king’s uncle rose in rebellion, desirous of recovering the kingdom of their father. The population, which had been reduced to the last extremity by the king’s oppression and scattered, now assembled around them and supported them, till he lost control of the government and they took possession of it.

A padshah who allows his subjects to be oppressed

Will in his day of calamity become a violent foe.

Be at peace with subjects and sit safe from attacks of foes

Because his subjects are the army of a just shahanshah.


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