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literature

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Sa'di (ca 1184/1213-1290/1292)  

The thirteenth-century Persian writer Muslih al-Din, better known as Sa'di, wrote prose and poetry that included passages on the passionate love between men and boys.

Little is known about his life. Some scholars, who have tried to piece together a biography based on his stories and poems, claim he was married twice, that one of his wives made him miserable, and that he lost an only son, but other scholars have warned against such assumptions. The only information that can be given with confidence is that Sa'di lived most if not all of his life in the thirteenth century, that he hailed from Shiraz, and that he was familiar with Sufi practices.

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It is also known that his two most famous works, The Orchard (Bustan) and The Rose Garden (Gulistan), were written in 1257 and 1258, respectively, and that the characteristics that have made the latter the most famous work in Persian literature are the author's wit, wisdom, and humanity.

As W. G. Archer noted in a preface written for a translation of The Rose Garden, when Sa'di was alive, "The objects of truly passionate love in Persia were boys." Thus, Sa'di presents lovemaking between men and boys as "perfectly normal." Many of the stories in chapter five of The Rose Garden involve love affairs between men and boys: masters with slaves, princes with youthful subjects, teachers with schoolboys, and other variations.

For quite some time, however, readers in the English-speaking world had no idea The Rose Garden contained such stories as early translators either changed references to boys to girls or, just as frequently, deleted the stories entirely. This was the case with the first two translations, by Francis Gladwin in 1806 and James Ross in 1823, both of which have long been out of print. The third translation, by Edward Backhouse Eastwick in 1852, sanitized the work even further and also made Sa'di appear to write doggerel (Edward FitzGerald put it best when he wrote that Eastwick was "wretched in the Verse"). This translation, regrettably, is still being circulated by the Sufi Trust (Octagon Press, 1979).

Sa'di's fourth English translator, John Platts, went to the other extreme, correcting the gender mistakes of the first three translators but making some of his own by assuming that the objects of desire with unspecified gender must be boys. (Sa'di actually expressed romantic desire for both males and females.) Additionally, although Platts, when presented with scenes of sexuality, did not censor them as did his predecessors, neither did he have the nerve to translate the episodes into English. Thus, in the Platts translation, whenever there's sex, there's Latin.

It wasn't until 1888 that an acceptable translation of Sa'di appeared in English. F. F. Arbuthnot and Richard Burton, whose Kama Shastra Society had dedicated itself to publishing Eastern texts uncensored, commissioned Edward Rehatsek to do the translation, although when the book first appeared, it was published privately and with no translator credited. Later, however, the Rehatsek translation enjoyed wide circulation, and today it is even available on the Internet.

There are now several other translations as well, including a recent effort by Omar Ali-Shah that assumes Sa'di was a Sufi and intended a Sufi text.

Much of the material in The Rose Garden dealing with male-to-male relationships appears in the fifth chapter, titled "On Love and Youth." This chapter follows the same general format as the others: Sa'di presents brief lessons offering advice or truisms, usually beginning with prose, then writes a few lines of verse to illustrate or reinforce the point. In one section, for instance, Sa'di asks a resident of Baghdad for his opinion of beardless youths. The man answers, "There is no good in them for when one of them is yet delicate and wanted he is insolent, but when he becomes rough and is not wanted he is affable." Sa'di then switches to verse: "When a beardless youth is bitter and sweet / His speech is bitter, his temper hasty. / When his beard grows and he attains puberty / He associates with men and seeks affection."

Keith Hale

     

 
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The tomb of Sa'di in Shiraz, Iran in 2006. Photograph by Pedram Ghahremanloo.
  
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    Bibliography
   

Arberry, A. J. Classical Persian Literature. London: Allen and Unwin, 1958.

Archer, W. G. "Preface." The Gulistan of Sa'di. Trans. Edward Rehatsek. London: Allen and Unwin, 1964.

Platts, John, trans. The Gulistan of Shaikh Muslihu'd din Sa'di of Shiraz. London: Crosby Lockwood, 1874.

Yohannan, John D. The Poet Sa Di: A Persian Humanist. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1987.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Hale, Keith  
    Entry Title: Sa'di  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 15, 2007  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/sadi.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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