By Dr. Mahmoud Omidsalar
To say that Persian culture is primarily represented by Persian literature would be to state the obvious. By contrast to cultures of Europe, China, and India that find expression in painting, sculpture, music, and architecture, Iranian civilization is primarily manifested in words. For us, in the beginning there really was the word. And the word stayed with us from the songs of Zoroaster (c. 1000 BC) through Ferdowsi's epic tales, Omar Khayyam's quatrains and Rumi's cosmic considerations, to Akhavan-e Sales's despair, Naderpour's lyricism, and the haunting image of Farrokhzad's raven that "sank into the thoughts of a lonely loitering cloud." We are bound together by an invisible chain of words.
Our language, unlike the languages of others has changed very little in a thousand years. We are moved by words that Ferdowsi wrote a millennium ago as though they were written yesterday. We can listen to Marzieh and Banan, sing of the city of Bokhara in the verses of Rudaki who died in 940 AD. Listening to their song, we can recall everything about a place that none of us has been to: a familiar place of memory and myth that is only ours. Our literary monuments, therefore, are our cathedrals, our paintings, our symphonies and more. It's in Persian literature that our greatest cultural moments endure. That-in my opinion-is why Ferdowsi boasts that his Shahnameh is a great palace of poetry that is ravaged neither by elements nor by time. This literary heritage survives in nearly a million hand-written books, called manuscripts, of which only a very small number has been published so far.
Last Thursday, December 8, 2016, the Persian manuscript tradition lost its greatest patron in the West. Professor Homayoon Shidnia (1930-2016), who passed away in Indianapolis organized the small but culturally influential Iranian community of Indiana and created the non-profit Foundation for the Preservation of Persian Manuscripts nearly two decades ago. Dr. Shidnia and members of the Society for the Promotion of Persian Culture (SPPC) have been generously supporting the publication of important Persian manuscripts for almost twenty years. Professor Shidnia mobilized the Iranian community of Indianapolis to support a series of facsimile editions of important Persian manuscript that Iraj Afshar (1925-2011), Nader Mottalebi-Kashani, and myself have been making available to the scholarly community in facsimile editions. The first volume in this series, was a facsimile edition of a universal history in classical Persian مجمل التواریخ و القصص )), composed in 1126 AD and copied in 1350 AD. This was followed in 2002 by the publication of a literary Persian text of which only one manuscript is known. The codex is entitled (مجمل الاقوال فی الحکم والامثال), and is privately owned. The text was composed in 1294 AD and is especially important because it was copied by its author who lived in a city that is now in Turkey and shows that the literary language of that area in the 13th century AD was Persian. In 2003 Dr. Shidnia and the SPPC supported the publication of a Sufi text of the 11th century AD (هزار حکایت صوفیان), the manuscript of which was purchased in the city of Kabul before Afghanistan was thrown into chaos by foreign invasion. The importance of this text is in that it was copied by a number of Sufis in a Sufi monastery (خانقاه) during the year, 1478 AD, and shows how the Sufis collaborated in producing texts of importance to them. One of the most important volumes that appeared in this series is a valuable manuscript of the Shahnameh that belongs to the British Library. It may have been copied in 1276 AD and is considered to be the second oldest dated copy of the epic in existence. Next, we published a copy of one of the histories from the Mongol period in Iran (تاریخ وصّاف). This text was copied by its author, the vizier, Sharaf al-Din Shirazi in 1311 AD. In 2010 a new and very important manuscript of the Shahnameh was discovered in Lebanon, which although not dated, Professors Afshar, Shafiee-Kadkani, Khaleghi-Motlagh, and myself believe that was copied no later than the 13th century A.D. It has been dubbed the Beirut Shahnameh after the city where it was discovered, and has profoundly impacted the discipline of Shahnameh studies. The last volume in this series appeared in 2015. It is a color reproduction of the oldest known manuscript of the Garshaspnameh, which after the Shahnameh is the most important classical Persian epic poem. This fine manuscript is owned by the library of the Topkapi Sarayi Museum in Turkey. It has several miniatures and was copied in 1354 AD, although the text was composed in 1066 AD. None of this would have been possible without the generosity and hard work of Professor Shidnia and the cultured community of the Iranians who live in Indianapolis.
Professor Homayoon Shidnia who came to the United States decades ago, joined the faculty of the Indiana University's School of Medicine in 1970 and retired from that school in June of 1994 although he continued his private practice. He was not only a fine physician, specializing in Radiation Oncology, but also a skilled musician, a patron of Persian literature and manuscript studies, and a good friend and collaborator. Time will tell if Persian manuscript studies in the United States can survive his loss.
... Payvand News - 12/11/16 ... --