NIZAMI GANJAVI, NIzAMI also spelled NEZAMI (b. c. 1141, Ganja, Seljuq empire [now Gyandzha, Azerbaijan]--d. 1209, Ganja), greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, who brought a colloquial and realistic style to the Persian epic.

Little is known of Nezami's life. Orphaned at a young age, he spent his entire life in Ganja, leaving only once to meet the ruling prince. Although he enjoyed the patronage of a number of rulers and princes, he was distinguished by his simple life and straightforward character.

Only a handful of his qasidahs ("odes") and ghazals ("lyrics") have survived; his reputation rests on his great Khamseh ("The Quintuplet"), a pentalogy of poems written in masnavi verse form (rhymed couplets) and totaling 30,000 couplets. Drawing inspiration from the Persian epic poets Ferdowsi and Sana`i, he proved himself the first great dramatic poet of Persian literature. The first poem in the pentology is the didactic poem Makhzan al-asrar (The Treasury of Mysteries), the second the romantic epic Khosrow o-Shirin ("Khosrow and Shirin"). The third is his rendition of a well-known story in Islamic folklore, Leyli o-Mejnun (The Story of Leyla and Majnun). The fourth poem, Haft paykar (The Seven Beauties), is considered his masterwork. The final poem in the pentalogy is the Sikandar or Eskandar-nameh ("Book of Alexander the Great"; Eng. trans. of part I, The Sikander Nama), a philosophical portrait of Alexander.

Nizami is admired in Persian-speaking lands for his originality and clarity of style, though his love of language for its own sake and of philosophical and scientific learning makes his work difficult for the average reader.

In the 20th century the critical study of imagery in Oriental poetry was taken up by Hellmut Ritter in his booklet Über die Bildersprache Nizamis (1927; "On the Imagery of Nizami"), which gives a most sensitive philosophical interpretation of Nizami's metaphorical language and of the role of imagery in the structure of Nizami's thought. Ritter's criticism is basic to the study of many other Persian poets. Slightly later, the Polish scholar Tadeusz Kowalski tried to interpret the "molecular" structure of Arabic literature--the absence of large units of thought or architectural structure--typical of the greater part of Islamic literatures, which might be described as "carpetlike." This "molecular" structure can be related to the atomist theories and occasionalist world view embodied in Islamic theology, which, unlike Christianity, does not admit of secondary causes and requires only short spans of hope from the faithful. In a number of articles, and in many books, E.G. von Grunebaum has pioneered this interpretation of literary structure. Other important critical works include S.A. Bonebakker's book on the rhetorical importance of tawriyah (ambiguous wording); Manfred Ullmann's excellent study of rajaz-poetry and its place in Arabic literature; and C.H. de Fouchécour's detailed analysis of the descriptions of nature in early Persian poetry.

Copyright (c) 1996-2006 Encyclopedia Britannica Online




Nizami Ganjavi - great Azerbaijani poet (response, in Russian, to all Iranian and Armenian claims)