A Proverb (in Persian: Goftaar-e-Kheradmandaaneh or Zarbolmassal), derived from the Latin term of Proverbium, is a short sentence, usually known by many people, expressing something commonly experienced, or giving advice. Proverbs are part of every spoken language and folk literature, originating in oral tradition. One proverb may be completely similar in different languages and cultures. Often a proverb is found with variations in many different parts of the world. Most proverbs express some basic truth or practical precept. A proverb, which describes a basic rule of conduct, may also be known as a Maxim. If a proverb is distinguished by particularly good style it may be known as an Aphorism. The study of proverbs is called Paremiology. Proverbs are as a part of the Iranian culture and everyday speech, and their understanding can lead to a more profound insight into language and culture. These proverbs always had a strong affinity with Persian Poetry and Literature, and have retained a symbiotic relationship with those arts over a long period of time. In this article, the first Iranians who contributed to the collections of the Persian proverbs are introduced and the most famous proverbs appeared in those collections are presented and discussed.
FIRST CONTRIBUTORS TO THE COLLECTIONS OF PERSIAN PROVERBS:
Ferdowsi (935-1020), the first Iranian poet of national epics, is also known undoubtedly to be the first Iranian who professionally introduced many proverbs in his Epic Book of Shahnameh. Asadi Tusi (died in 1072), the other Iranian poet of national epics, followed the footsteps of Ferdowsi and presented a list of Persian proverbs in his epic book of Garshaspnameh and his Persian Dictionary of Asadi (in Persian: Farhang-e-Asadi or Lughat Nameh-e-Asadi). Iraj Mirza (1874-1926), the first Iranian master of colloquial poetry, used the actual words of everyday speech in his verses. Through Iraj, poetic language became rich in many colloquial words and expressions.
Ali Akbar-e-Dehkhoda (1879-1959) was the first scholar who published a collection of Persian Quotes & Proverbs entitled as Proverbs and Mottos (in Persian: Amssaal-o-Hekam) in four volumes about a half-century ago. Amirgholi Amini, the founder and editor of Esfahan Journal, published the Persian Folklores (in Persian: Farhang-e-Avaam) in 1957. His book is a collection of Persian proverbs and expressions used in everyday speech of the Iranians. Mehdi Partovi Amoli published the Historical Backgrounds of Persian Proverbs (in Persian:
Risheh-haa-ye-Tarikhi Amssal-o-Hekam). Gholamreza Azarly published the Famous Farsi Proverbs (in Persian: Zarbolmassal-haa-ye-Mash-hoor-e-Iran) in 1991. Ahmad Abrishami published the Comparative Dictionary (in Persian: Vajehnameh-e-Tatbeeghi) of 920 Persian Proverbs with English, French, German, and Spanish Equivalents in 1996. And finally Simin Habibian and Manouchehr Aryanpour published the 1001 Persian-English Proverbs (in Persian: Hezar-o-Yek Esstelah-e-Farsi-o-Englissi) in 1991 and 1996.
Though the late Iranian scholar and story writer Mohammad Ali Jamaal Zaadeh (1892-1997) did not author a specific book on Persian Proverbs, in most of his writings he quoted many expressions used by Iranians in their everyday speaking and communications. For instance, his books on Once Upon a Time (in Persian: Yeki Bood Yeki Nabood), Tale of Waterway (in Persian: Raah Aab Naameh), Persian is Sugar (in Persian: Farsi Shekar asst) and many others are filled up with lots of Persian Proverbs and Mottos. Mohammad Ali Jamaal Zaadeh, known as the father of Persian short-story writing, has been always praised for his simple colloquial style and his efforts on the restoration of the Old Persian Proverbs.
It should be also noted that Abolghaasem Anjavi Shirazi (1921-1993) was another Iranian scholar who carried out many research projects on the Iranian Folklores and on Persian Proverbs. He took great interest in compiling folklore and published valuable works in this field such as Short Folk Tales in three volumes, People and Shahnameh, and People and Ferdowsi.
TOP-50 PERSIAN PROVERBS:
Here is the translation of the Top-50 Persian Proverbs appeared in various documents and the collections already named (Note: Some translations have been edited by this author):
1. It is better to be in chains with friends, than to be in a garden with strangers.
2. Go and wake up your luck.
3. Use your enemy’s hand to catch a snake.
4. A broken hand works, but not a broken heart.
5. A drowning man is not troubled by rain.
6. Persian is Sugar.
7. An egg thief becomes a camel thief.
8. Death is a camel that lies down at everyone�s door.
9. He who has been bitten by a snake fears a piece of string.
10. He who wants a rose must respect the thorn.
11. In the ants’ house the dew is a flood.
12. Injustice all round is justice.
13. Stretch your foot to the length of your blanket.
14. The larger a man’s roof the more snow it collects.
15. The wise man sits on the hole in his carpet.
16. Do not cut down the tree that gives you shade.
17. Luck is infatuated with the efficient.
18. A stone thrown at the right time is better than gold given at the wrong time.
19. It is the same to him who wears a shoe, as if the whole earth were covered with leather.
2o. Children are the bridge to heaven.
21. Courteous men learn courtesy from the discourteous.
22. The cat has seven lives.
23. A bad wound heals but a bad word does not.
24. Do the little things well now. In time, great things will be presented to you, asking you to be done.
25. Good Poets are like Angels of Heaven.
26. When the cat and the mouse agree, the store manager is broke.
27. One pound of learning requires ten pounds of common sense to apply it.
28. Once I had the strength but no wisdom, now I have the wisdom but no strength.
29. Epigrams succeed where epics fail.
30. Treat your superior as a father, your equal as a brother, and your inferior as a son.
31. When the tide of misfortune moves over you, even jelly will break your teeth.
32. Whatever is in the heart will come up to the tongue.
33. There are four things every person has more of than they know; sins, debt, years, and foes.
34. Oh God: Three mishaps at the same time; a limping donkey, an ugly wife, and a creditor.
35. One who has wisdom is powerful.
36. Spilled water cannot be gathered again.
37. Thinking is the essence of wisdom.
38. In the hour of adversity do not give up hope for crystal rainfalls from black clouds.
39. By a sweet tongue and kindness, you can drag an elephant with a hair.
40. When was hearing like seeing?
41. A wise enemy is better than a foolish friend.
42. It is better to die in honor than to live in disgrace.
43. Cloud, wind, moon, and sky are at work. And when you earn a piece of bread, do not eat it in ignorance.
44.The person who tells the truth is always at ease.
45. Drops that gather one by one, finally becomes a sea.
46. If you do not like your image in the mirror, do not break the mirror. Break yours.
47. History is a mirror of the past, and a lesson for the present.
48. The world is a rose. Smell it, and pass it to your friends.
49. One who digs a well for others, falls himself.
50. It is impossible to wash blood with blood.
As noted in the Introduction, one proverb may be completely similar in different languages and cultures. The American proverb of Knowledge is Power corresponds to the Persian proverb of what Ferdowsi has clarified it in one verse: One who has wisdom is powerful (in Persian: Tavanaa Bovad Har Keh Danaa Bovad). The very British saying of Misfortune Never Comes Singly, is also tied to the Persian proverb of Oh God: Three mishaps at the same time, a limping donkey, an ugly wife, and a creditor who asks for his money (in Persian: Cheh Gereftaari, Khar-e-Shal-o-Zan-e-Zesht-o-Sar-Ressidan-e-Talabkaar). By the same token, the Western expression of Seeing is Believing, is quite similar to the Persian proverb of When was Hearing Like Seeing? (In Persian: Shenidan Kay Bovad Maanand-e-Didan). The similarities existing between Persian and other cultures shown by those proverbs indicate that regardless of where we came from or where we lived in, we all share the similar experiences in our lives!
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
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Saadat Noury, M. (2008): Various Notes and Articles on Persian Culture and the History of Iran .
Saadat Noury, M. (2009): Online Articles on First Iranians.
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