ČAHĀR MAQĀLA, Persian prose work written in the 6th/12th century by Abu’l-Ḥasan Neẓām-al-Dīn (or Najm-al-Dīn) Aḥmad b. ʿOmar b. ʿAlī Neẓāmī ʿArūżī Samarqandī, originally entitled Majmaʿ al-nawāder. The authors of Haft eqlīm (III, p. 352) and Kašf al-ẓonūn (ed. Yaltkaya and Bilge, pp. 621, 1604) are evidently wrong in considering Majmaʿ al-nawāder as a separate work (see Čahārmaqāla, introd., pp. vii-ix). It consists of four discourses (maqālas), hence the title, on four different subjects. The date of its composition can be placed in the years 550-52/1155-57, when the author was already at an advanced age (introd., pp. ix-x, comm. p. 22 n. 4). The references in this article are to Moʿīn’s edition (see below).
The author. The exact dates of Neẓāmī’s birth and death are not known, but he was probably born in the last quarter of the 5th/11th century. Most of our scanty information about Neẓāmī’s career comes from scattered passages in the Čahārmaqāla itself. In 504/1110-11 he was in his home town Samarqand, where he collected some information about Rūdakī (pp. 53-54). At Balḵ in 506/1112-13 he met ʿOmar Ḵayyām and Abū Ḥātem Asfezārī at a banquet. There Ḵayyām predicted that his tomb would be covered by flower petals in the spring (pp. 100-01). In 509/1115-16 he was at Herat (p. 71). Next year he left for the sultan Sanjar’s camp near Ṭūs and there met the poet Amīr Moʿezzī, who tested his poetical talent, showed him favor, and encouraged him by explaining how his own career had started and progressed at Malekšāh’s court (pp. 65-69). On this journey he visited Ferdowsī’s tomb at Ṭūs (p. 83), and in the same year he was at Nīšāpūr (p. 15), where he was again in 512/1118 (pp. 108-09) and in 514/1120-21, when he heard the story of Ferdowsī and Sultan Maḥmūd of Ḡazna from Amīr Moʿezzī (pp. 81-83). These statements may indicate that he resided at Nīšāpūr during these four or five years. In 530/1135-36 he revisited Nīšāpūr and found Ḵayyām’s tomb hidden under petals at the foot of a garden wall (pp. 100-01). In 547/1152-53 he was with the defeated Ghurid army at the battle between the Saljuq Sultan Sanjar and the Ghurid Sultan ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn in the Ōba district near Herat, and for some time afterward he lived in hiding at Herat (pp. 104, 132-33).
Neẓāmī himself claims to have studied with ʿOmar Ḵayyām (p. 100; see also introd., pp. xxxiii-xxxiv; Yār-Aḥmad, p. 160) but also mentions another teacher, Abū Jaʿfar b. Moḥammad Abī Saʿd (p. 125, and comm. pp. 440-43). Dawlatšāh describes Neẓāmī as one of the pupils of Amīr Moʿezzī (ed. Browne, p. 60), but this is probably no more than an inference from Neẓāmī’s account (p. 65) of his meeting with Amīr Moʿezzī in 510/1116-17 (see above). No further information about Neẓāmī is found in later sources, except that Dawlatšāh (ed. Browne, p. 60) and Ḥājī Ḵalīfa (Kašf al-ẓonūn, ed. Yaltkaya and Bilge, p. 2025) wrongly credit Neẓāmī with the versification of the romance of Vīs o Rāmīn (in fact the work of Faḵr-al-Dīn Asʿad Gorgānī).
Neẓāmī dedicated the Čahārmaqāla to Abu’l-Ḥasan Ḥosām-al-Dīn ʿAlī, a prince of the Āl-e Šansab or Šansabānīya dynasty of kings (molūk) of Ḡūr (pp. 2, 135), who were hereditary governors of Bāmīān and Ṭoḵārestān on behalf of the sultans of Ḡūr to the south (Čahārmaqāla, introd., pp. x-xiii, comm. pp. 2-4). When he wrote Čahārmaqāla Neẓāmī had already spent forty-five years in the service of this dynasty (p. 5).
Works. Other than Čahārmaqāla Neẓāmī wrote some poetry. He tells us (pp. 84-86) that a prince at Balḵ praised him for his poetic improvisation; however, the few surviving pieces of his poetry (Čahārmaqāla, pp. 84-86; ʿAwfī, Lobāb, ed. Nafīsī, pp. 246, 395-97) are not particularly attractive.
The Čahārmaqāla reveals an author with a complete mastery of Persian prose, a fine understanding of philosophical concepts (pp. 6-18), knowledge of astronomy (pp. 104-05) and medicine (pp. 132-34), and a scholarly interest in authors and bibliography. The work, which has long been widely read and admired, is also important for the historical events and episodes in the lives of notable scientists and men of letters which it includes, and its graceful language provided a model of good Persian prose-writing in the 6th/12th century. Thus, only about sixty years after the completion of the work, Ebn Esfandīār took the entire account of Maḥmūd of Ḡazna and Ferdowsī from the Čahārmaqāla (pp. 75-83) and incorporated it in his Tārīḵ-eṬabarestān (II, pp. 21-25), written in 613/1216-17. Later authors, such as Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfī (Tārīḵ-egozīda, pp. 379-81, 753), Dawlatšāh (Taḏkeratal-šoʿarāʾ, pp. 57-58, 72-73), Ḡaffārī (Negārestān, pp. 27, 59, 99-100, 114, 144, 145, 169-70), etc., have also drawn upon the Čahārmaqāla (introd., pp. vi-viii, xl-lii).
Čahārmaqāla consists of a doxology (pp. 1-2), a preface (pp. 3-18), and four discourses (pp. 19-134), and an epilogue (pp. 135-36). The preface comprises five sections, which contain a eulogy of contemporary Ghurid rulers and discusses the creation of the universe, heavenly spheres, stars, minerals, plants, animals, humans, internal and external senses, and an anecdote and justifications of prophethood, imamate, rulership, and government. The four discourses describe the functions of secretaries (dabīrs), attributes of the perfect secretary, and related matters (pp. 19-41); qualities required in poets and their poetry (pp. 42-86); astronomy and the wide knowledge needed by astronomers (pp. 87-105); and medicine and counsels of physicians (pp. 106-34). The epilogue expresses wishes for the success of the author’s patrons (pp. 135-36).
Neẓāmī considered that no ruler could do without the four kinds of functionaries: secretaries, poets, astrologers, and physicians, who were among his close associates, and gave this as the reason for writing the book. In his opinion, which also may reflect the prevailing views of the time, the good order of the realm was ensured by secretaries, the perpetuation of its good name by poets, the good timing of its business by astronomers (or astrologers), and the good health of its ruler by physicians (p. 18). At the beginning of each maqāla, Neẓāmī briefly describes the function in question; then he discusses the human qualities it requires and how these qualities can be acquired, namely through education, study, methodology, style, and observance of necessary proprieties and standards of conduct. These passages, despite their brevity, contain important points. For example, in discussing the definition of the functions of secretaries (pp. 19-20) and the definition of poetry (p. 42), Neẓāmī gives more weight to the substance and effect of their prose and verse than to the form. Here he is clearly influenced by the views of philosophers and logicians rather than belletrists and rhetoricians. His proposals for professional training throw light on the contemporary methods of teaching, learning, and the development of skills in these fields, and his recommendations of books for study show which Persian and Arabic works had won professional acceptance and wide circulation as textbooks.
In addition, each maqāla contains about ten exemplifying anecdotes, which make the book engaging reading, a merit which doubtless explains its lasting popularity and influence through the centuries. Furthermore, the examples make the abstract theories which the author propounds in the introductory sections of the discourses appear factual and acceptable. Finally, the anecdotes contain interesting information about the identities and careers of eminent men of letters and scientists often not found elsewhere, e.g., Rūdakī (pp. 52-54), ʿOnṣorī Balḵī (pp. 56-57), Farroḵī Sīstānī (pp. 58-65), Amīr Moʿezzī (pp. 65-69), Abū Bakr Azraqī Heravī (pp. 70-71), Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān (pp. 71-72), Rašīdī Samarqandī and ʿAmʿaq Boḵārī (pp. 73-74), Ferdowsī (pp. 75-83), ʿOmar Ḵayyām (pp. 100-01), Ebn Sīnā (pp. 118-23), and several more, as well as accounts of events at which the author was present as an eyewitness, e.g., the account of Ḵayyām’s prediction about his tomb and the encounter with Amīr Moʿezzī (see above).
The historical information found in Čahārmaqāla, however, is seriously marred by repeated errors (confusion of names, dates, etc.), even in the case of events in the author’s lifetime (he confuses the Saljuq sultans Sanjar and Masʿūd, p. 36, see introd. pp. xiv-xviii, comm. pp. 34-36, 42-44, 54, 55-56, 67-68, 223-28, for a discussion of these errors).
Čahārmaqāla as a masterpiece of good classical Persian prose ranks immediately after Bayhaqī’s Tārīḵ-emasʿūdī, ʿOnṣor-al-Maʿālī’s Qābūs-nāma, Neẓām-al-Molk’s Sīāsat-nāma, Moḥammad b. Monawwar’s Asrār al-tawḥīd, and ʿAṭṭār’s Taḏkeratal-awlīāʾ. The language of the introductory parts of the discourses is, by reason of the subject matter, more stilted and loaded with Arabic words than that of the actual text. But in the anecdotes Neẓāmī’s style becomes fluent, vivid, rich, and engaging, although, where brevity suits the context, he can also express his meaning effectively in short, simple sentences (cf. pp. 79-83, 116-17, 121-23). His descriptions of scenes, characters, and outward and inward moods are fine and well developed, as when he describes Farroḵī’s meeting with ʿAmīd Asʿad (p. 59), the place where colts belonging to the Chaghanid amīr Abu’l-Moẓaffar were being branded (pp. 59-60; cf. Farroḵī’s poem, pp. 61-63, and Yūsofī, pp. 7-8), Naṣr b. Aḥmad’s reluctance to leave Herat (pp. 49-51), al-Maʾmūn in the palace of Fażl (Ḥasan) b. Sahl (pp. 32-36). His comments on the poetry of Rūdakī (p. 54), Farroḵī (p. 59), Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān (p. 72), and Ferdowsī (pp. 75-76) illustrate his critical appreciation of literature and also demonstrates his ability to write graceful and cogent prose. Although rhetorical embellishments such as euphonic balance (mowāzana) and rhymed prose (sajʿ) with consequent use of redundant synonyms appear in some passages of the Čahārmaqāla, they are never so cumbersome as to make the reading tedious; they are rather graceful and well balanced. The linguistic and stylistic peculiarities of the Čahārmaqāla and its literary merits and importance have been discussed in detail by Moḥammad-Taqī Bahār (Sabk-šenāsī II, pp. 298-318; see also the Čahārmaqāla, introd., pp. lii-lxxiii). The text contains a few solecisms, which are probably lapsus calami, or else due to clerical error (introd., p. lxxvi).
Due to its popularity, the number of printed editions of Čahārmaqāla in Iran and abroad is large (see the lists in Moʿīn’s ed., pp. lxxx-lxxxii, and in Nafīsī’s notes to his ed. of Lobāb al-albāb, pp. 695-96). The first critical edition was prepared by Moḥammad Qazvīnī and published with a preface and notes (Cairo, 1327/1909-10; reprs. Tehran, Bombay, and various European countries). Qazvīnī’s edition was revised by Moʿīn and published with additional comments and notes by Moʿīn and other scholars, a glossary, and indices (Tehran, 1336 Š./1957).
Čahārmaqāla has been translated into several languages, including Urdu, by Mawlawī Aḥmad Ḥasan Ṣāḥeb Sevānī, with Persian text and a glossary (Delhi, n.d.); Arabic, under the title al-Maqālāt al-arbaʿ, by ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb ʿAzzām and Yaḥyā Ḵaššāb, with abridged translations of Qazvīnī’s notes in an appendix (Cairo, 1368/1949); English, by E. O. Browne, first published in JRAS 31, July and October, 1899, pp. 613-63, 757-845, and in a separate edition (Hertford, 1899). Browne subsequently revised his translation, and his revised version, together with abridged translations of Moḥammad Qazvīnī notes, were published in 1919 and reprinted under the title Revised translation of the Chahár Maqála (Four Discourses) of Niẓámí-i ʿArúḍí of Samarqand, followed by an abridged translation of Mírzá Muḥammad’s Notes to the Persian text, London, 1921. The fourth discourse, on medicine and physicians, was translated into Turkish by Abdülbaki Gölpınarlı as Tib ilmi ve meşhur hekimlerin mahareti and printed with a French summary by Süheyl Enver (Istanbul University Publications 32, 1936). The entire Čahārmaqāla has been translated into French by Isabelle de Gastines as Les quatre discours; the translation is based on M. Moʿīn’s text and contains preface (pp. 7-16) and notes derived from the comments of Qazvīnī and various medieval writers and modern Western scholars (Paris, 1968). A complete Russian translation was prepared by S. I. Baevskiĭ and A. N. Vorozheĭkina as Nizami Aruzi Samarkandi, Sobranie redkosteĭ, ili chetyre besedy (Moscow, 1963, with introd. and gloss.); the chapter on the art of the physician was included as “Rasskazy o vrachebnom iskusstve (is knigi "Sobranie redkosteĭ")” in an anthology of Eastern storytelling,Vostochnaya novella, compiled by Z. N. Vorozheĭkina and O. L. Fishman (Moscow, 1963, pp. 94-99).
For editions and translations of Čahār maqāla see above. Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia, II, pp. 336-40; tr. ʿA. P. Ṣāleḥ, Tārīḵ-eadabī-e Īrān, Tehran, 1358 Š./1979-80, pp. 627-29.
Idem, Arabian Medicine, Cambridge, 1962, pp. 50, 62-64, 79-89, 99; French tr., La médecine arabe, Paris, 1933, pp. 70, 89-97.
Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e fārsī, ed. Ḡ.-Ḥ. Moṣāḥeb, I, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966, s.v. Čahārmaqāla. Dehḵodā, Loḡat-nāma, s.v. Neẓāmī ʿArūżī. ʿA. Eqbāl, “Baʿż-ī molāḥazāt dar bāb-e enteqādāt bar ḥawāšī-e Čahārmaqāla,” Šarq, 1st ser., 1310 Š./1931, nos. 6-7, pp. 406-33; no. 8, pp. 486-88; repr. in Majmūʿa-ye maqālāt-e ʿAbbās Eqbāl, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971, pp. 236-55, 271-73.
H. Ethé, “Neupersische Literatur,” in Grundriss II, pp. 150-59, 267, 333; tr. Ṣ. Reżāzāda Šafaq, Tārīḵ-eadabīyāt-e farsī, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958, pp. 236-37.
S. M. Farzān, “Naẓar-ī dar taṣḥīḥ-e Čahārmaqāla,” Yaḡmā 5/5, 1331 Š./1952, pp. 200-05; 6, pp. 257-62.
B. Forūzānfar, “Enteqādāt bar taʿlīqāt-e Čahārmaqāla,” Ārmān 1, 1309-10 Š./1930-31, nos. 4-5, pp. 137-46; nos. 6-7, pp. 201-06, 233-48; nos. 8-10, pp. 289-94; repr. in ʿE. Majīdī, ed., Majmūʿa-ye maqālāt o ašʿār-e ostād Badīʿ-al-Zamām Forūzānfar, Tehran, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 8-40.
Qāżī Aḥmad Ḡaffārī, Tārīḵ-enegārestān, ed. M. Modarres Gīlānī, Tehran, n.d. M. Moḥaqqeq, Fīlsūf-e Ray, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970, p. 15.
Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfī, Tārīḵ-egozīda, ed. ʿA.-Ḥ. Navāʾī, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960.
Yār-Aḥmad Rašīd Tabrīzī, Ṭarab-ḵāna, ed. J. Homāʾī, Tehran, 1342 Š./1963.
Rypka, Hist. Iran. Lit., 1968, pp. 221-22.
Ṣafā, Adabīyāt II, pp. 961-63.
Ḡ.-Ḥ. Yūsofī, Farroḵī Sīstānī. Baḥṯ-ī dar šarḥ-e aḥwāl o rūzgār o ašʿār-e ū, Mašhad, 1341 Š./1962, pp. 3-12, 305-08.
Originally Published: December 15, 1990
Last Updated: December 15, 1990
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Vol. IV, Fasc. 6, pp. 621-623