Nizami Ganjavi and his "Khamsa"

Nizami Ganjavi and his "Khamsa"

It hard to find a person who doesn't know the name of Nizami Ganjavi in Iran: how can you not know the great classic of literature? His collection of epic poems "Khamsa" is extremely popular, and touching story of Leyli and Majnun inspired poets to write their variations for centuries. Ilyas Ibn Yusuf Nizami Ganjavi (1141/43 - 1203/05) was born in Ganja, where he received education. He had deep knowledge of not only sciences of that time (Muslim theology and jurisprudence, astronomy, logic, etc.), but also ancient philosophy.

In addition, poet was well-versed in Arab-Persian literary tradition. According to some data, Nizami owned a huge divan (collection) of lyric poems, but not much of this lyrical heritage reached our times. His main contribution to Persian literature is undoubtedly the Khamsa. Philosophical and didactic work “Treasure of Secrets” became the first poem in this collection. It was probably written between 1173 and 1179. This poem consists of conversations dedicated to fundamental issues: creation of Adam, observance of justice, aging and so on.

Nizami's second work - romantic poem "Khosrov and Shirin" - was written around 1181. The plot of this work is partially based on chronicle of the Sassanid era, so characters of the poem are real historical figures: Persian king Khosrov II Parviz and his wife Shirin, according to Byzantine sources. Using the image of Shirin, poet shows the idea of beneficial power of love. Khosrov was initially selfish and had a bad temperament, often committing cruel acts, but thanks to his beloved, he changes his view of the world and becomes a different person. Despite tragic ending, the work is full of optimism and faith in the future.

After eight to nine years Nizami wrote the third poem - “Leyli and Majnun”, an immortal work that now has many imitations in different languages. The plot is based on ancient Arab legend. Kays and Leili, a young man and a girl from the same tribe, love each other, but others condemn feelings that Kays displays. For this he receives the nickname Majnun (Mad). Longing for Leyli, Majnun writes touching poems about his love, which are also criticized by his fellow tribesmen, since in Bedouin customs, glorifying woman in poems was looked down upon. Lovers were never able to be together in life, and died in separation, but in the mind of Majnun they have become a single being long time ago. It's important that this poem demonstrates Sufi concept of platonic love as a step towards understanding God.

Nizami's fourth poem “Seven Beauties” also has important story to tell. It tells of the Sassanian King Bahram Gur, who is trying to become just ruler throughout the poem. Seven beauties, seven beautiful wives from different countries, help him to achieve this goal. Once a week, one of them told him instructive story, praising virtues such as chastity, truthfulness, generosity, etc.

Last poem of the cycle called "Iskander-name" also creates image of ideal ruler, great conqueror Alexander the Great. The first part of this poem describes achievements of Alexander, and the second has clear philosophical message. Fifth poem is very encyclopedic: Muslim views coexist with ancient Greek philosophy and the Sassanid chronicle in it.

Nizami's "Khamsa" had a strong influence on literature of the entire medieval East. Nizami's creativity is still admired for its depth and scale.

Gorky Library in St. Petersburg State University has a copy of Nizami Ganjavi's Khamsa. This manuscript, written around 1667 and illustrated with 26 miniatures, is an important part of the collection.


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