Writers and Rulers: Perspectives on Their Relationship from Abbasid to Safavid Times
Literature in the pre-modern Near East was an important conduit for the conveyance of didactic, ethical, and ideological concerns to rulers and other political leaders, and at the same time it served to secure the subsistence, status, and protection of authors. To counterbalance the greater power of their royal patrons, writers frequently invested themselves with the authority of religious law and ethical ideals, and they touted the value and currency of their own art. In effect, the author crafted a “contract” that bound the ruler to a specific portrayal of himself. On occasion, the writer imparted direct criticism of his addressee, in the form of the curse; sometimes he commented indirectly, through the use of historical example or mundus inversus satire. To accomplish these ends, writers bent existing literary genres (including lament, praise qaside, quatrain, ghazal, epistle, ahkam sultaniyya, historiography, mirror for princes, and shadow play) to their purposes, or even recreated them. Authors stood to gain not only material benefits but also present fame and a place in the literary tradition, while rulers received the opportunity for public display of their culture and largesse, emblems of good government, and could also hope to secure lasting memory for themselves and their houses. Nine essays explore these issues in distinct historical settings that range from the ninth to the seventeenth centuries (Abbasid to Safavid dynasties), and span the geographical area between Egypt and Iran.
The present work aims to draw attention to the prominent and widespread public role of Arabic and Persian literature. Through a well-distributed set of articles, the volume explores in depth the impact of such literature in specific milieux, and across generic, regional, and dynastic boundaries. Rather than attempting to offer a comprehensive treatment of the subject (indeed, no such study yet exists), this collection is intended to offer a series of detailed studies for the specialist in Arabic and Iranian literature, and at the same time to introduce to a wider audience the relationship and relevance of Arabic and Persian literature to political leadership. A general introduction and two extensive indices provide easy access to the non-specialist.