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Translation Movements in Iran; Sassanian Era, to Year 2000, Expansion, Preservation and Modernization
By Massoume Price
Translation in the Middle & Near East has existed ever since the second millennium BC. Administrative documents plus literary and religious texts were translated back and forth from Sumerian, Akkadian, Elamite and Babylonian throughout the area. Achaemenian had their documents and texts translated in all the languages of the Empire including Aramaic that was used parallel to ancient Persian as the language of the court and administration. In Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian time Greek plays were translated; performed and Greek philosophy and sciences was well known by the Iranian scholars. Iranian artists participated and performed at the major art festivals in Rome, India, Alexandria in Egypt and Byzantium cultural centers such as Constantinople (Istanbul). Such cultural exchanges created an international class of artists, intellectuals and performers well versed in a number of languages and traditions.

Such activities reached their peak in Sassanian period (226-642 AD), especially at the time of Khosro I (Anoushiravan, 531-578). An imposing  succession of Sassanian emperors actively engaged in collecting, recording and editing the historical, scientific and religious records of their civilization and the neighboring countries. The Sassanian Imperial Ideology was based on the Zoroastrian doctrine. In this religion Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom (Khodavand i Kherad) is the origin of all learning therefore all knowledge is regarded as sacred. According to Dinkard, the Zoroastrian canon in Pahlavi, Book IV, "all knowledge and sciences was received by Zoroaster from Ahura Mazda and transmitted through Avesta. Destruction of Persia by the wicked Alexander dispersed the texts throughout the world. The Greeks, the Egyptians derived all their knowledge and science from these dispersed texts. Subsequently Sassanian emperors took it upon themselves to collect all these texts from all over". The sources name, Byzantium, India and China as the main centers where book collecting was taking place.

Greek Philosophers, Syriac speaking Christians and Nestorians fleeing persecution by Byzantines (Orthodox Christians of Constantinople) were received by Anoushiravan and were commissioned to translate Greek and Syriac texts into Pahlavi. Paul the Persian dedicated Works of logic to the king. The Greek philosopher Priscianus Lydus wrote a book in response to the king's questions on a number of subjects in Aristotelian physics, theory of the soul, meteorology and biology. Dinkard itself shows familiarity with all these topics, especially Aristotelian physics. It is apparent from the text that Aristotle's famous article 'On coming to be and Passing away' was well known by the compilers of Dinkard. Becoming, decay and transformation the three fundamental concepts in the article are mentioned and discussed. Books in medicine, astronomy, Ptolemy's Almagest, Aristotle's Organon and a number of texts in crafts and skills were translated from Greek sources.

Indian scientific material in astronomy, astrology, mathematics and medicine were also translated into Pahlavi along with Chinese Herbal medicine and religion. Indian popular literature was also translated; Kalila va Dimna and Sinbad have survived. Traces of ancient Indian tales are preserved in Medieval Persian literature such as Sheereen and Farhad. The story is from Sassanian origin and closely resembles one of the ancient erotic stories of Kama Sutra. In the Indian version the Royal sculptor and the Kings' favorite courtesan fall in love. Once the affair is discovered he is chained to the mountain, he recites love poetry and carves his lover's face on the rocks before he is put to death. .

The later Muslim historians refer to the Sassanian Imperial library as the House of Knowledge (Bayt al Hikmat). The same name was applied to the Royal Library in Baghdad after the Muslim conquest. The library functioned as both a place where accounts of Iranian history and literature were transcribed and preserved. At the same time it was a place where qualified hired translators, bookbinders and others worked to preserve, purchase, copy, illustrate, write and translate books. Persia and Byzantium dominated the area at the time. The later was a continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire and the seat of Greco-Roman art, culture and civilization. Alexandria and Constantinople though constantly at conflict were major centers of intellectual activities with theaters, libraries and universities. In 525,
Justinian the Byzantine Emperor fell in love and married his future Empress Theodora, an actor in Alexandria. The two created a grand court in
Constantinople with intellectuals, artists and performers unprecedented till the Renaissance movement in the 16th century Western Europe. In addition to Major cities like Alexandria Constantinople and Jerusalem, intellectuals and scientists moved and carried ideas from Edessa in the west, through Nisbis and Mosul (Iraq) to Marv and Gundishapur in Western Persia.

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