“ ʿAṭṭār,” Šayḫ Farīd al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm d. 627/1230

Persian Mystical Poet

His full name was Farīd al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm ʿAṭṭār. Very little is known of the life of this poet of Northeastern Iran. He almost certainly was a pharmacist, as his name implies, and he refers in his poetry to attending to patients in his shop. He is said to have died a victim to the general slaughter of the inhabitants of the region that accompanied the Mongol invasion. An author in several genres, he is most important for the success with which he married narrative poetry with mystical thought. His narratives are comprehensive (and often have complete and well told smaller narratives embedded in them).


Ilāhī-nāmah     The Book of God [Boyle's Trans.]

Ilāhī-Nāmah. A frame tale poem of a caliph with six sons, all of whose desires (the daughters of the king of the fairies, the water of life, etc.) are eventually realized only metaphorically in the ethical and mystical realm.

Text: F. Rawḥānī (Tehran: 1960) is useful but not totally scholarly edition.

Translation: J. A. Boyle, The Ilāhī-nāma or Book of God (Manchester: 1976), considered a good translation.

Manṭiq al-ṭayr     The Conference of the Birds

Manṭiq al-ṭayr. “The Conference of the Birds” or the “The Parliament of the Fowls,” as Edward Fitzgerald rendered the title. (Fitzgerald’s translation, by the way, nowhere rises to the level of his Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam.) The birds, led by the hoopoe, elect as their king the sīmurgh, a bird of great size and beauty, akin in some ways to the phoenix in the Western tradition. First, however, they must seek out this exotic creature and, crossing seven perilous valleys, all but thirty of the birds perish. The thirty that survive recognize at last that the sīmurgh is themselves, for the traditional word can be etymologized as “thirty birds.” They merge with the sīmurgh as the truth of this mystical unity is understood. An example of a story within a story in this narrative is a tale about Socrates, appropriately adduced as an example of who knows the difficulty of knowing oneself. When asked by his pupils where he should be buried, Socrates replies:

“If you can find me when I’m dead
Then bury me wherever you decide-
I never found myself; I cannot see
How when I’m dead you could discover me
Throughout my life not one small particle
Had any knowledge of itself at all.”

Text: The best editions are considered to be that of Ṣ. Gawharīn (Tehran: 1963) and that of M. J. Mashkūr (Tehran: 1962), although they both reflect some of the idiosyncrasies of the editors.

Translation: The Conference of the Birds, Penguin Books, 1989, is the excellent translation by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis quoted above.

Pand-nāmah     The Book of Advice

Taẕkiraħ al-awlīyāʾ     The Memorials of the Saints