LibraryThe GemsIslam

The Islamic world is a significant part of the collection. A remarkable group of Arab and Persian Korans in Kufic and Naskh script bear witness to the Koranic revelation, to which we can add a scroll that belonged to Suleiman the Magnificent and the Sayings of Ali. Persian poetry also enjoys a place of honor in the collection with sumptuous calligraphic manuscripts from Shiraz on papier oriental that represent some of that culture’s greatest poets, Attar, Rumi, Hafiz, Nizami, Jami, as well as the epic poetry of Ferdowsi, the Iranian Homer, and the tradition of fables from India in the Kalila and Dmina of Bidpai.


A Gem of Islam: Farid al-Din Attar – Mantiq al-Tayr
(The Conference of the Birds), paper, India, 18th century

A contemporary of Omar Khayyam, Farid al-Din Attar is one of the greatest Persian poets of the 12th century. He was a prolific writer whose work focused exclusively on Sufism. The Conference of the Birds is without a doubt Attar’s most famous text today. This long allegorical poem of over 4600 lines tells the story of how the hoopoe managed to bring together a group of different birds to set off in search of Simorgh. Torn between desire and fear, the fowls are a reflection of human feelings, from the parakeet who prefers the golden bars of his cage and the owl who is hard pressed to leave the ruins he loves to haunt, to the nightingale filled with love for the rose and the peacock whose tail adorns royalty. After a long and perilous journey they meet Simorgh, whose words force the birds to confront their own selves, “The Sun of my Perfection is a Glass/Wherein from Seeing into Being pass/All who, reflecting as reflected see/Themselves in Me, and Me in Them…” This small volume conserved at the Martin Bodmer Foundation was copied in India sometime in the 18th century. The naïve quality of its painted illustrations presents a striking contrast with the extraordinary delicacy and subtlety of certain Persian manuscripts.

Farîd al-Dîn ‘AAttâr

Farid al-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds, India, 18th century

Manuscrit persans

There are other gems to be discovered in our Persian manuscripts