This talk will introduce a previously unknown miscellany in Arabic and Persian, titled Fawākah al-Basātin (Fruits of Gardens), written and compiled c. 1912-1914 by Hājj Mirzā Mohammad Tehrāni. The author was a sugar merchant who also dealt in books and, judging by the contents of this volume, he must have been well versed in Persian classics and had good command of Arabic.
Although this volume was produced during one of the more eventful periods of Iran’s modern history, there is no reference in the text to socio-political or business issues, nor to the author’s personal, educational, or family backgrounds. Instead, it is entirely given to a broad range of topics on matters of faith, philosophy (mostly metaphysics), and ethical advice. It also includes literary topics such as classification of metric variations in Arabic poetry, some historical stories (relating to the early Abbasid period), and a wide range of shorter fragments. The text regularly draws on the Quran and on the Prophetic Traditions and also on some Stoic ethical proverbs (mostly from Marcus Aurelius who was particularly well received in Persian advice literature in the late 19th century), and on a number of explicitly erotic passages from the One Thousand and One Nights. There are also additional sections on modern science, such as electricity, some basic observations on gas laws and liquid physics, and a theory of colors which offers to explain rainbow.
The volume does not have a specific structure or logical framework, yet with effortless ease it moves between Arabic and Persian. It will be argued that by exploring such diverse body of material together with the book’s overall style and syntax, we would be able to better map the textual canvas and the literary capital of a generation of Persian learned society and open new analytical angles for a better understanding of Iran’s intellectual history in late Qajar period.
Ali Gheissari is professor of History at the University of San Diego. He studied Law and Political Science at Tehran University and History at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and has written extensively in Persian and English on the intellectual history of modern Iran. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Iranian Studies; a consulting editor and contributor to the Encyclopaedia Iranica; and serves on the Board of Directors of the Persian Heritage Foundation. His current research is on aspects of legal and constitutional history of modern Iran.