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Middle Eastern Literature: Persian  
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Over a period of two millennia, has been by turns condemned and celebrated in Persian literature.

Iran, or Persia, possesses a religious literature reaching back to the second millennium B.C.E. The Avesta, or the holy book of the Zoroastrians, is written in an old Iranian language related to Farsi, or modern Persian. The greater part of the Avesta, including hymns to deities (the Yashts), some of epic dimensions, and a corpus of religious rules and regulations (Videvdad), was composed in the first millennium B.C.E.

During the first millennium of our era until well into the Islamic period (from 651 in Iran), a large body of indigenous literature, mostly on religious subjects, was added to the earlier compilations.

Homosexuality in Zoroastrianism

According to Zoroastrianism, the religion allegedly founded by Zarathustra, the universe is divided into two warring camps, those of the Good and Evil Spirits. Homosexuality is assigned to the latter. Indeed, the Evil Spirit instituted it during the early history of the universe by performing sodomy on himself to create "demons, lies, and other abortions."

In the Avesta, homosexuality is mentioned only a few times, but it is literally demonized. For example, in the Videvdad, both the active and passive partners in sodomy are described as demons, demon worshippers, and incubi and succubi of demons.

The punishment for a man who is sodomized against his will is specified as 800 strokes of the horse whip, which is the same punishment for killing a sheepdog; but if he commits sodomy willingly his sin is inexpiable. In another text, sodomites are said to be the only offenders who can be executed without the permission of high-priests or kings.

The Book of Arda Wiraz

Somewhat reminiscent of Dante's Divine Comedy, The Book of Arda Wiraz, written in the ninth century C.E., describes a journey into the afterlife by the soul of Arda Wiraz, who is shown the rewards and punishments of men and women in hell. The first sin he encounters in hell is that of passive sodomy; all other sins, including heterosexual sodomy, are further down--that is, considered more severe. This distinction between homosexual and heterosexual sodomy may owe something to Muslim culture.

The Literature of the Islamic Period

The theme of homosexuality is relatively common in Persian literature of the Islamic period. It is most often expressed in idealistic works celebrating the love of young, hairless boys, but it is also found in rough pornographic prose and poetry, including satire. Homosexuality also appears in wisdom literature. Commonly it is coupled with disparaging remarks about women and heterosexual love and intercourse, an attitude not alien to Muslim culture in general.

Homosexuality is a topic in the Qabusname (1083), a book of advice from a father to his son. The advice of the father is that one should exclude neither form of sexuality but try both. Sometimes one is better than the other. For instance, intercourse with women is deemed healthier in winter, with young men in summer. On the whole, intelligence is seen as a more important criterion than gender for choosing a lover.


The most important Persian poet to explore the love of young men by men is Sa'di of Shiraz. He was born before 1189 and wrote his masterpieces, including the Golestan (Rose Garden), near the middle of the thirteenth century. Chapter 5 of the Golestan is wholly devoted to the love of youths, most of them male, some female, and some impossible to determine since Persian grammar is not gendered.

In Sa'di's poetry, as in most Persian poetry, the love of a beautiful boy, the shahid or "witness [of beauty]," is the means by which the poet focuses on the Divine Beloved. This spirituality does not, however, make the poetic expression less sensuous. Sa'di also wrote a number of pornographic poems, in which he exhibits the same artful skill as in his more spiritual work.

'Obeid-e Zakani

The greatest practitioner of erotic satire is 'Obeid-e Zakani (Nezam al-din 'Obeid Allah Zakini), who died around 1370. Much of his work, which is partly in prose and partly in verse, has considerable literary merit. It frequently takes the form of short anecdotes or jokes, some of them quite coarse and of a type still repeated everywhere.

For example: "A sodomite says to a young boy, 'If you let me fuck you, I promise I will use only half my dick.' The boy consents. The sodomite rams it in to the hilt. The boy reminds him of his promise. The sodomite replies that he meant the second half of his dick."

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