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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


November 17, 1999

Erotic literature not rare

In respect to your piece "Let's not talk about sex," I like to say that portraiture of actual sexuality in Persian literature is not rare: Sadi has a section on "hazliyat". Obayd is well known, and Iraj Mirza's erotic poetry is excellent.

But this genre of artistic expression was not popular with Iranians because of their sophisticated and sublime taste in poetry -- and maybe sex. Peter Chelkowski, the Nezami scholar, has extensively discussed sexuality in the works of Nezami. Chelkowski argues that portrayal of sexuality in Nezami is unmatched in world literature.

The stages when Khosrow and Shirin approach each ohter is sublime erotica. In fact other nations such as India have produced great works such as Kamasutra, but the taste and sophistication is less discerned there than in Persian works. On the other hand, crass and crude sexuality has found a niche in Persian folklore, in satire and jokes in particular.

Talking of Obayd, to my estimation, his references to acts of sex are not just for the sake of talking about sex. In fact, you find tremendous social consciousness in his works. His satire targets the hypocrisy and absurdity of the people in power, religious authority in particular. His works may be evaluated along the lines of Chaucer, and of course Obayd is more fun and more poignant.

Terminologies are also useful tools to evaluate a culture. We Persians use the Arabic term "eshgh" for love, "mehr" for liking and affection, "dousti" for friendship, and "hawa" for lust, etc. It is interesting to know that "eshgh" in Arabic means spiritual and sublime love, and "hawa" means love the way we mean it! We use "habeeb" to connote friend/loved one and "sadeeq" is rarely used and is only applied as an epithet to the first Caliph. For Arabs, "habeeb" is the beloved, and "sadeeq" is friend/intimate friend.

In the meantime let's not forget the emphasis put on "forbidden" love, or pedophilia in our literature. You may see the entire poetry of Hafez under this light, and Sadi is quite blatant about this type of sexuality. Pedophilia is a part of the medieval culture of Iran. Herodotus, the first known historian of the world who lived about two thousand and five hundred years ago, wrote that this habit was taken from the Greeks and Iranians called it "the Greek disease!"

Pedophilia is highly criticized by a lot of modernist Iranians without trying to understand the historical / cultural context in which the practice existed. Pedophilia is described in so many different ways in Iranian literature. But if you are looking for crude and crass sexuality, probably the best place to look is in Sadi's "hazliyat" where this great genius of prose and poetry, whose literature has molded modern Persian language, shows you how crass he can get! Good luck finding a copy!

Rasool Nafisi
Strayer University

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