and managed to preserve their culture. The brilliant and ingenious adaptation
of the Arabic alphabet (Aramaic in origin) guaranteed the survival of the
Persian language. The script was changed but the phonetics remained the
same. Pre-Islamic Persian literature flourished in neo-Persian texts and
was immortalized by the likes of Ferdowsi, Nezami and Attar. One thousand
and one night originally Hazar Afsanak became Arabian nights and Shahrazad
inspired European writers and composers. Children of the world came to
know the legendary Barmakid minister Jafar through Walt Disney's Aladdin.
Persian became the court language of the Moguls and the Turks and Persian
cultural influences remained in Pakistan Afghanistan and the former Soviet
By far the most
important work re-written and translated in the 10th century was Shahnameh.
The Persian language at its' best, the book contains elements of Persian
history survived from the Sassanian period plus a magnificent collection
of Avestan mythology. Avestan characters such as Feraydon, Jamshid, Tahmoureth,
Kiomarth and the legendary bird Seemourgh etc., were forever engraved in
the psyche of Iranians. As correctly put by Ferdowsi himself, the nation
was revived through Shahnameh's language. In Reza Shah's period when Arabic
names where replaced this book was used as the source book to find the
equivalent in Persian!
The second millennium
witnessed the demise of the Iranian culture and civilization as a whole.
Towards the end of this period another major translation movement would
make its mark. The second half of the 19th century is the beginning of
major political and ideological transformations in the country and the
start of modernization processes. Modern sciences and western ideas of
democracy civil society enlightenment human rights and emancipation of
women were introduced through translation of European texts into Persian.
The Armenians of Isfahan for their exclusive use imported the first printing
machine in 1641. However the first printing machine in Persian started
work in Tabriz in 1813 and the book industry was changed forever. The first
modern school Dar ul Fonoun (the Institute of technology) started work
in 1851 with a few European instructors and texts were translated from
a number of European languages to introduce Iranian pupils to modern sciences.
joined and in no time tens of books in Geography, Engineering, Medicine,
Military, Biology, Mathematics and other disciplines were translated. The
school had a theater as well and for the first time since pre-Islamic times
plays by western writers (Moliere) were performed in the school. Translations
of historical and literary work followed. Voltaire's Histories of Peter
the Great, Charles the VII, Alexander of Macedonia and Sir John Malcolm's
History of Iran were translated. Along with Three Musketeers, Count of
Monte Cristo, Queen Margo, Adventures of Telemaque, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's
travels James Mauriers's
the Story of Hajji Baba of Isfahan
and Jules Vern's
The early translations
were clumsy inaccurate and Persian poetry and anecdotes were added in between
the lines. Nevertheless they opened the way to the modern world and introduced
new ideas. The introductions talked about the importance of modernization,
new sciences, new literary concepts and they significantly changed the
old and pompous literary style of the local writers. Translators wanted
to remain true to the originals as a result a simpler and more natural
language was adopted. The pleasantries and unnecessary commentaries common
till 19th century were abandoned and modern Persian literature and poetry
was born. Amin Dulah, Rezagholi e Hedayat, Yousof e Mostashar Dulah, Prince
Taher Mirza, Etemad Saltaneh, Malcom Khan, Talebof and Akhond Zadeh are
amongst the first popular translators of the period.
movement resulted in the constitutional revolution (1906) and for the first
time since the conquest of Islam secularization began in the country. During
the Pahlavi era translation became an art. All major international texts,
literary and otherwise were translated into modern Persian from a number
of languages and the translation culture was amongst the best in the continent.
Books from a variety of subjects from Nobel Prize authors to popular romance,
detective stories, history, health, philosophy etc. were translated. Censorship
existed and it was mainly applied to political and erotic literature.
The religious sector remained behind and few attempts were made to translate
major Islamic texts especially from the Middle Ages into modern Persian.
Universities, academics and government institutions such as the Organization
for translation and Publication of Books carried out such translations.
The second decade
of the Islamic Republic has seen an explosion in book publishing. This
is despite the high cost, low readership, political instability, pressure
groups and contradictory policies by the Ministry of guidance with respect
to censorship. Translated books about New Age and modern spirituality are
appearing in great numbers. Feminist literature has a strong presence and
all the major books and biographies from western sources are translated
along with historical and fictional accounts of the goddesses of the ancient
times. Ancient Iranian history has made a strong comeback and all recently
published books in the field are translated despite the government's unwillingness.
Popular romance and other escapist literature are amongst the best selling
books. The government's sponsorship and financial aid is mainly directed
towards religious texts particularly translations of Medieval texts in
Arabic and Shiite literature.
culture at the present reflects the struggles and contradictions in the
country at large. Its aim appears to be preserving the Persian history
and heritage, encouraging flow of information from the west and at the
same time provides temporary relief. It is hard to get any reliable statistics
from Iran but Daniel Steel's books seem to be one the best sellers in the
Price is an Ecologist and a Social Anthropologist educated in Iran and
England, Kings and University Colleges, London University. She currently
lives and works in Canada and is a free lance writer.