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Sheikh Muslih al-Din Sa’di (1184 – 1283), born in Shiraz, was one of the major Persian poets of the medieval period. He is recognized not only for the quality of his writing, but also for the depth of his social thoughts. As a young man he was inducted to study at the famous an-Nizzāmīya center of knowledge (1195-1226), where he excelled in Islamic Sciences, law, governance, history, Arabic literature and theology. He also performed the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina and also visited Jerusalem. Sa’di traveled in those regions from 1271 to ####1294, due to the Mongol onslaught he lived in desolate areas and met caravans fearing for their lives on once lively silk trade routes, he lived in isolated refugee camps where he met bandits, Imams, men who formerly owned great wealth or commanded armies, intellectuals and ordinary people. Sa’di clearly seems to have learned Psychology and Psychoanalysis from those experiences and encounters. When he reappeared in his native Shiraz he was an elderly man. Shiraz, under Atabak Abubakr Sa'd ibn Zangy (1231-60) was enjoying an era of relative tranquility. Sa’di was not only welcomed to the city but was respected highly by the ruler and enumerated among the greats of the province. In response, Sa’di took his nom de plume from the name of the local prince, Sa'd ibn Zangi, and composed some of his most delightful panegyrics as an initial gesture of gratitude in praise of the ruling house and placed them at the beginning of his Bustan. He seems to have spent the rest of his life in Shiraz.
His best known works are Bustan ("The Orchard") completed in 1257 and Gulistan ("The Rose Garden") in 1258. Bustan is entirely in verse (epic metre) and consists of stories aptly illustrating the standard virtues recommended to Muslims (justice, liberality, modesty, contentment) as well as of reflections on the behaviour of dervishes and their ecstatic practices. Gulistan is mainly in prose and contains stories and personal anecdotes. The text is interspersed with a variety of short poems, containing aphorisms, advice, and humorous reflections. Sa’di demonstrates a profound awareness of the absurdity of human existence. The fate of those who depend on the changeable moods of kings is contrasted with the freedom of the dervishes. His lyrics are to be found in “Lyrics" and his odes in “Odes”. He is also known for a number of works in Arabic. The peculiar blend of human kindness and cynicism, humour, and resignation displayed in Sa’di's works, together with a tendency to avoid the hard dilemma, make him, to many, the most typical and loveable writer in the world of Iranian culture. Sa’di's prose style, described as "simple but impossible to imitate" flows quite naturally and effortlessly. Its simplicity, however, is grounded in a semantic web consisting of synonymy, homophony, and oxymoron buttressed by internal rhythm and external rhyme. Sa’di is well known for his aphorisms, the most famous of which adorns the entrance to the Hall of Nations of the UN building in New York with this call for breaking all barriers:
Of One Essence is the Human Race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base.
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.
The Unconcerned with Others' Plight,
Are but Brutes with Human Face.
The tomb of Sa’di in Shiraz is a place of pilgrimage to lovers of poetry and literature.
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