Sadi's Scroll of Wisdom, by Arthur N. Wollaston, , at sacred-texts.com
SHAIKH MUSLIH-UD-DIN SADI, the celebrated Persian poet, was born at Shiraz between the years 1175 and 1193 of the Christian era. His father, whose name was Abdullah, is generally supposed to have held some minor post about the Court of the Atabak ruler of Fars, by name Sa’d bin Zangi (A.D. 1195–1226), from whom was derived the poetical nom de plume of Sadi.
He commenced his studies in his native city, whence after a while he removed to the Muhammadan College of Baghdad, where it chanced that a rich native gentleman, being informed of the young student's
want of means, befriended the lad, who was fortunate enough to obtain assistance, also, from a Professor in the College. In due course Sadi gained a fellowship. He thereupon abandoned himself to a contemplative life and the study of divinity, while his pious and devotional aspirations found vent in a pilgrimage to Mecca—an act of holy zeal which he repeated no less than fourteen times, chiefly on foot. Of a religious disposition, Sadi in due course obtained a reputation for holiness, which culminated in the title of "Shaikh" (a man of dignity and position), by which he became generally known. For many years his life was devoted largely to travel; this, indeed, may be gathered from his own words: "I have wandered to various regions of the world, and everywhere have I mixed freely with the inhabitants. I have gathered something in each corner,
[paragraph continues] I have gleaned an ear from every harvest." 1
On another occasion we learn from his own narrative that he was so enraged at the pagan rites practised at the renowned temple of Somnath in Gujarat that he incontinently threw the priest headlong into a well.
An anecdote related by himself reveals the next important event in his career. "Weary of the society of my friends at Damascus, I fled to the barren wastes of Jerusalem and associated with brutes, until I was made captive by the Franks, 2 and forced to dig clay, along with Jews, in the fortifications of Tripoli. One of
the nobles of Aleppo, my ancient friend, happened to pass that way, and recollected me. He said, 'What a state is this to be in! how farest thou?' I answered, 'Seeing that I could place confidence in God alone, I retired to the mountains and wilds, to avoid the society of man. But judge what must be my situation, now that I am confined in a stall in company with wretches who deserve not the name of men. To be chained by the feet with friends is better than to be free to walk in a garden with strangers.' He took compassion on my forlorn condition, ransomed me from the Franks for ten dinars, and took me with him to Aleppo. My friend had a daughter, to whom he married me, and presented me with one hundred dinars 1
as her dower. After some time my wife unveiled her disposition, which was ill-tempered, quarrelsome, obstinate, and abusive; so that the happiness of my life vanished. It has been well said, 'A bad woman in the house of a virtuous man is his hell—even in this world.' Take care how you connect yourself with a bad woman. Save us, O Lord, from this fiery trial!"
Sadi was an adept at repartee—two instances will suffice. Once his wife reproached him with the following taunt: "Art not thou the creature whom my father ransomed from captivity amongst the Franks for ten dinars?" "Yes," was the rejoinder; "he redeemed me for ten dinars, and enslaved me to you for a hundred."
On another occasion, when a poet at Tabriz, taking offence at the intrusion of
his rival Sadi, asked the latter, somewhat abruptly, "Whence come you?" "From the delightful soil of Shiraz," was the rejoinder. "Indeed," was the sarcastic retort of the questioner; "the Shirazis in Tabriz are more numerous than dogs." "The very reverse of our city," so spake the quick-witted poet of Shiraz, "where Tabrizis are of less account than dogs." The contest of satire was not however at an end, and after a pause the man of Tabriz renewed the attack by drawing attention to the baldness of his rival's head. Turning up a vessel that chanced to be in his hand, "How comes it," said he, "that the heads of the Shirazis are bald like the bottom of this bowl?" "By the same rule," was the prompt and bitter rejoinder, "that the heads of the Tabrizis are as empty as the hollow of the bowl."
Nothing daunted by the misfortunes attendant on his first marriage, Sadi during his travels in Arabia wedded a second spouse, with whom it may perhaps be surmised he lived on affectionate terms—judging, at least, from the anguish of soul with which he recorded the death of his youthful child, the offspring of this union.
It is, however, open to doubt whether Sadi experienced a very large measure of domestic happiness, inasmuch as in one of his poems he gives the advice, "Choose a fresh wife every spring—on New Year's Day; for the almanack of last year is good for nothing."
His liberality in entertaining guests was so great and lavish, that on one occasion a rival poet, whom he had regaled with most princely hospitality, despairing of returning in any adequate manner the profuse generosity of his former host,
set before the man of letters, now a guest, the plainest and simplest of dishes. The explanation of this proceeding was couched in somewhat remarkable language. "I should have found great difficulty in giving you even one day's dinner in the sumptuous style that reigned at your hospitable board during the three days which I had the happiness of passing with you. But in this, my economical mode of entertainment, I could indulge myself for years in the pleasure of your society, without feeling the expense."
In the latter part of his life Sadi retired to a cell near Shiraz, where he passed his time in pious devotions, and in receiving visits from the noblest of the land.
"It was the custom of his illustrious visitants," writes Sir Gore Ouseley, "to take with them meats and all kinds of viands, of which, when Sadi and his
company had partaken, the Shaikh always put what remained in a basket suspended from his window, that the poor woodcutters of Shiraz, who daily passed his cell, might occasionally satisfy their hunger. It is said, and firmly believed in Persia, that one day a man dressed as a wood-cutter approached the basket, with the intent of plundering, but ere his hand reached its contents it dried up and withered. Concluding that it was a miracle worked by the Shaikh, the offender cried out to him for assistance. The holy man, in a reproving tone, said, 'If thou art a wood-cutter, where are thy blistered hands, thy wounds from thorns, and thy labour-worn frame? Or if a robber, where is thy climbing-rope, thy arms, and thy hardened boldness that should have restrained thee from thus moaning and crying?' He however took compassion on the hapless culprit, offered
up a prayer for the restoration of his arm, and even bestowed upon him, with a proper admonition, a portion of the viands which he had in vain attempted to carry off by stealth."
When the Atabaks were replaced by the Mughal dynasty of Persia (A.D. 1256), it chanced that the military commander of Shiraz compelled the greengrocers and market people of the city to purchase at the hands of their rulers, for a large amount, some dates which had but a nominal value. The matter was brought to the notice of Shaikh Sadi, who thereupon addressed a letter in verse to the Mughal governor, pointing out that the poet's brother was so poor that "he has no trousers on his legs, and yet he has been compelled to buy dates at an exorbitant price. A worse misfortune than this," it was added, "there is not." The appeal was successful, and
not only were dates given free of charge to the Shaikh's impoverished brother, but "a paltry sum" was placed at his disposal as a gift from the governor on "learning that the man was poor."
When the second of the Mughal monarchs of Persia ascended the throne (A.D. 1265) he chanced one day, in company with some of his ministers, to meet Sadi, and was astonished to find that the poet received at the hands of these ministers more consideration than was extended to himself, albeit a royal personage. Enquiring the cause of a circumstance so strange, his Majesty was asked in return whether he had not heard of the great Shaikh whose poetry was famous throughout the world. The result was that the Shaikh was summoned to the royal presence and requested to "give some counsel." "Thou canst bear nothing with thee from this world to the next,"
was the rejoinder, "save a recompense or a punishment, and the choice now rests with thee." The monarch felt the reproach, so the Shaikh on leaving whispered in the royal ear the following verses:
During the same reign one of the ministers submitted to Sadi five questions, to which a reply was invited. (1) Is a demon or a man the better? (2) How should I act if my enemy will not be reconciled to me
[paragraph continues] (3) Is one who performs the pilgrimage to Mecca better than one who has neglected that duty? (4) Is a descendant of Ali 1 better than other people? (5) Would the poet be pleased to accept a present of a turban and 500 dinars as subsistence money for his birds? The messenger, the bearer of the letter, thought that he might with advantage be considered as one of the "birds," and accordingly put into his own pocket 150 dinars, leaving a balance of no more than 350 dinars. The reply of Sadi, which betokened that he had detected the theft, ran thus:
On receipt of this poetic effusion the minister gave an order on the treasury for no less than 10,000 dinars; but the treasurer had in the meantime passed away, a circumstance which the poet brought to the notice of his patron. When the latter learnt what had occurred, he increased the donation to no less than 50,000 dinars, with a suggestion that some portion of the money should be devoted to the erection of a house at Shiraz for the accommodation of travellers. Four of the questions propounded appear to have remained unanswered.
Shaikh Sadi died at a very advanced age in Shiraz, A.D. 1291. His tomb, originally held in much esteem and decked with extracts from his own poems, has more
or less fallen into decay, though enough it is believed remains to mark the resting-place of one of Persia's most gifted poets and men of letters.
"Sadi," such is the description of him by a native annalist, "was short, and not very handsome. His head was extremely long, truly indicative of a grave and saintly aspect. His dress was eminently simple, consisting of a turban, a long blue gown worn over his undercoat, and a stick in his hand. The character of this venerable bard was highly noble and becoming a great person. He was extremely courteous and affable to his friends, and generous towards his enemies. In wit he surpassed every author of his age, and his humour was so successful that he could make the most silent and melancholy face laugh in his company. He was a boy among the circle of experienced youths, a sage among a society of
divines. In a word, he was an accomplished scholar, an excellent master of pure Persian eloquence, an unsullied instructor of divinity, and a consummate painter of life and manners."
The works by which Shaikh Sadi—"the nightingale of a thousand songs"—is best known are:
(a) The Bustan, an exquisite poem embodying moral precepts and rules of life;
(b) The Gulistan, possibly the most widely read book in Persian literature. Well indeed did Eastwick, when publishing a translation of this charming volume, write, "The school-boy lisps out his first lessons in it, the man of learning quotes it, and a vast number of the expressions have become proverbial. When we consider, indeed, the time in which it was written the first half of the
thirteenth century—a time when gross darkness brooded over Europe, at least darkness which might have been, but, alas! was not felt the justness of many of its sentiments, and the glorious views of the Divine attributes contained in it, are truly remarkable,"
(c) The Pand Namah, or Scroll of Wisdom, 1 a small volume of poetry embodying precepts which would do no discredit to the philosophy of this, the twentieth century of the Christian era. Concise and elegant, the work is most popular throughout the length and breadth of the Persian-speaking East. This may indeed well be the case, inasmuch as, in addition to beauty of diction, it is written in a metre which flows in easy cadence, and fixes the words
of the poem on the mind. Hence the lines are committed to memory to an extent that is probably not surpassed by any work in the Persian language. Byron's lines known as the "Lover's Last Adieu" may be quoted as an example of rhythm identical with that of Sadi's Scroll of Wisdom. The two may with advantage be quoted side by side.
It only remains to add that no translation of The Scroll of Wisdom has been published in this country during the last hundred years (Gladwin's text—in itself somewhat imperfect was issued with an appended translation in 1801), though in Bombay some twenty years ago in
[paragraph continues] Indian scholar rendered it into English. Both works are out of print, and for all practical purposes it may be said that a translation is not procurable by the British public. Perhaps, therefore, no apology is needed for the present work.
Arthur N. Wollaston.
Glen Hill, Walmer,
May 6, 1906.
11:1 Well indeed may he have penned these words, inasmuch as he traversed Asia Minor, Barbary, Abyssinia, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Armenia, Arabia, the various provinces of Iran, and portions of India. Even in these days of extended travel Sadi's wanderings would not be without repute.
11:2 That is the Crusaders.
12:1 In the coinage of the present day, 100 dinars are worth about one penny of English money; but in Sadi's time a dinar was equivalent to about 7 or 8 shillings.
21:1 The son-in-law of the Prophet, and the first caliph according to the tenets of the Persians.
25:1 It may, however, be explained that the earlier MSS. do not contain this work, which was first ascribed to Sadi about A.D. 1438.