probably the single most influential work of prose in the Persian tradition, completed in 1258 by Mošarref-al-Din Moṣleḥ, known as Shaikh Saʿdi of Shiraz.


GOLESTĀN-E SAʿDI, probably the single most influential work of prose in the Persian tradition, completed in 656/1258 by Mošarref-al-Din Moṣleḥ, known as Shaikh Saʿdi of Shiraz (for the confusion about his name, see Ṣafā, III/1, pp. 584-614). It was dedicated to the Salghurid Atabeg in Fārs, Moẓaffar-al-Din Abu Bakr b. Saʿd b. Zangi (G51), and his son, Saʿd (G54), as well as the vizier Faḵr-al-Din Abu Bakr b. Abi Naṣr (G55; concerning these dedicatees see Qazvini, pp. 721-31, 747-49). Saʿdi hoped his work would also cause future readers to remember the “dervishes” in their prayers. He evidently did not appear at court in person to present the Golestān, feeling it inappropriate to the station of the dervishes with whom he associated (ṭāʾefa-ye darvišān), though this group did feel an obligation to acknowledge their benefactors (šokr-e neʿmat-e bozorgān wājeb). Saʿdi apologizes for the delay in presenting a token of service to the court, perhaps suggesting that he had not submitted any work since the dedication of the Bustān (q.v.) in the previous year.

As these dual allegiances might lead us to expect, striking the proper balance between the exercise of efficacious power and of enlightened moral authority in political relations, and the assertion of self-interest versus humane altruism in interpersonal relations, are central concerns throughout the Golestān. Written in prose liberally sprinkled with verse in a variety of forms and meters, the Golestān follows the general themes and organization of the Bustān, but is grouped under eight (rather than ten) chapter rubrics, like the eight gates to paradise (G57): “On the Conduct of Kings” (41 stories), “On the Morals of Dervishes” (48 stories), “On the Excellence of Contentment” (29 stories), “On the Benefits of Silence” (14 stories), “On Love and Youth” (21 stories), On Frailty and Old Age (9 stories), On the Effects of Education (tarbiat, 20 stories), On Manners (non-narrative aphorisms and maxims).

In the epilogue, Saʿdi describes the Golestān as primarily entertaining, a feature he predicts may lead moralist critics to dismiss it, but explains his purpose as delivering sermons (mawʿeẓa) and counsel (naṣiḥat) in a palatable form (G191). He does this with deliberate terseness and concision (be ṭariq-e eḵteṣār, G56; ijāz-e soḵan-rā maṣlaḥat did, G57) through anecdotes and witticisms (nawāder), parables (amṯāl), tales (ḥekāyāt), and reports about the conduct of the kings of the past. With few exceptions (e.g., chap. 2:40), Saʿdi narrates these in prose, typically reserving verse to punctuate the narrative with commentary or draw a moral from it. The narratives range in length from jokes delivered in a short sentence or two (e.g., chaps. 1:12, 3:25), to stories which unfold over several pages (e.g. chaps. 3:28, 5:19, 7:20). Saʿdi hopes the crown prince will read the book and not find it tiresome, and that the vizier will likewise approve (G54-55). As Adam Olearius (p. xviii) remarked in 1654, Saʿdi’s way of speaking deep truths in terse words was likely to make its impression on kings and potentates.

In several vignettes, Saʿdi gives a highly stylized account of the circumstances which inspired him to write the Golestān, telling us of his conviction, reached after contemplating one night how he had wasted his life, that one should strive to capture the prize of righteousness (guy-e niki; G52). He therefore decided to withdraw from society, erase the delirious things he had written, and take a penitent vow of silence for the rest of his life. However, an old friend comes to visit and is vexed by this unsociable behavior. The friend insists that it would contravene propriety and good sense for ʿAli’s sword to remain in its scabbard or for Saʿdi’s tongue to stay silent in his mouth. Lacking the heart to act churlishly with his comrades, Saʿdi’s resolve melts, and they venture out together into the warmth of mid-spring (1 Ordibehešt, or late April; G53).

That same evening, Saʿdi encounters another friend in a garden, where they stay the night. Preparing to return to town the next morning, the companion begins gathering rose petals to take back as souvenirs, whereupon Saʿdi comments that ephemeral things make unsuitable objects of affection (a line Victor Hugo later borrowed for Les Orientales). Saʿdi promises instead to compose a roseate book whose leaves would never fall to the tyranny of the autumn winds; that very day he completed a portion (faṣl) of the book on social graces and the etiquette of conversation (dar ḥosn-e moʿāšarat wa ādāb-e moḥāwarat,G54). This does not correspond precisely to any of the chapter (bāb) rubrics provided in the table of contents of the Golestān, but if the eighth chapter (dar ādāb-e ṣoḥbat) is intended, this would mean that the book began as a series of maxims and admonitions rather than as a collection of anecdotes.

Saʿdi frequently introduces his anecdotes as things he saw or heard about during his travels, and while some of the anecdotes obviously draw upon literary tradition, relatively few have been traced to specific written sources (Massé, pp. 257-59). The form of expression, at least, seems unique to Saʿdi, and the elaborate conceit (see above) of the Golestān as rose petals/florilegium pages gathered as souvenirs of a sojourn out of town reinforces the impression that the Golestān, like the Bustān, was offered as lessons learned in the course of the author’s travels beyond Shiraz. Much of what Saʿdi presents as personal experience in both these works has, however, been shown to be greatly embellished or wholly fabricated. Saʿdi himself warns us that “he who has seen the world tells many lies” (chap. 1:32), but the temptation to cull biographical details has nevertheless proved irresistible (e.g., Massé). However, a more skeptical consensus about Saʿdi’s historical reliability has been building (see most recently, Davis and Purpirār), and it has been shown that the “Saʿdi” who appears as protagonist in over 40 stories in the Golestān should be understood primarily as a poetic persona, rather than as a chronicler of events (Matini, 1973).

Despite these inherent dangers, the Golestān affords some of what little we know first-hand about Saʿdi. The epilogue alludes (G190) to the Mongol sack of Baghdad and the toppling of the Caliphate, which occurred only months before the completion of the work in 656/1258. Saʿdi comments about one poem in the introduction, in which a fifty year-old persona reflects upon his life, that it mirrors his own personal situation (G52). Based upon this topos of age, it has generally been inferred that Saʿdi was about fifty years old at the time the Golestān was written, thus placing his birth in the year 606/1209, though ʿAbbās Eqbāl (pp. 641, 644) argues for a later date, between 610/1213 and 615/1218.

The Golestān includes over forty direct quotations from the Koran and the Hadith, and Saʿdi tells us he was of pious and ascetic bent in childhood, performing devotions well into the night (chap. 2:7). Saʿdi shares much in common with the tradition of popular homily, but seems uninterested in the literal or legalistic exegesis of traditional feqh, asserting that “the purpose of the revelation of the Koran is the acquisition of a good character, not the recitation of the written characters” (G184). His concerns revolve around pragmatic situational ethics and personal integrity rather than religious law and systematic theology, reflecting the values of the social milieu of the ḵānaqāh and rebāṭ more than the madrasa. Saʿdi casts numerous dervishes (darviš), pious men (pārsā, ʿābed), and ascetics (zāhed) in the role of protagonist in the Golestān, and one of the longest chapters is devoted to the dervishes. Though “dervish” often designates a stock Sufi character, Saʿdi sometimes uses it to refer more generally to the poor or meek (Haḵāmaneši, pp. 170-75; e.g. chap. 2:15). The dervishes and pious men of the Golestān are mostly anonymous characters, with few of the heroes of the Sufi tradition being celebrated by name. Ḏu’l-Nun Meṣri appears once (chap. 1:29) and Saʿdi does make ʿAbd-al-Qāder Gilāni (d. 561/1165; see Qazvini, pp. 786-88; Eqbāl, p. 637) the hero of one story (chap. 2:3); he also describes the grandson of Abu’l-Faraj b. Jawzi (killed in 656/1258), who taught in the Mostanṣeriya madrasa and became the moḥtaseb in Baghdad from 633/1235 (Eqbāl, pp. 640-41; Qazvini, pp. 780-84), as one of his own teachers (chap. 2:18). In the Bustān (chap. 2), Saʿdi also mentions learning from the “knowledgeable Shaikh” Šehāb-al-Din ʿOmar Sohravardi (d. 1234), who had promoted a fotowwa-inspired order among the merchant classes on behalf of the caliph. Saʿdi’s connection to the Sufi tradition seems, however, to have been loose and informal. He seems unconcerned with strict adherence to all its principles (Foruzānfar, pp. 704-5), and the breaking of his vow of silence to compose the Golestān perhaps implies that he never completed the rites of seclusion that would constitute initiation into a Sufi order.

While Saʿdi often counsels tolerant and altruistic humanism in the Golestān (e.g., “mankind are all members of one body,” chap. 1:10), his principles sometimes derive from conventional mores, or from simple comfort and convenience (chap. 2:29), and sometimes betray the prejudices of the day against black Africans (chap. 1:40), Jews (chaps. 3:21, 4:9), and women (G179), etc. (Southgate).

Style and Criticism. Modern observers have independently remarked upon the perceived deficiencies of organization and consistency in the Golestān and in another work completed within fifteen years of it, the Maṯnawi of Jalāl-al-Din Rumi, both of which illustrate religious, political and socio-ethical values through entertaining and edifying tales. Remarks have been made about the “careless” and “hasty nature of the composition” (Arberry, pp. 12, 20) of the Golestān, and how it “sags a bit in the middle” (Yohannan, 1987, p. 59), or how it is “more superficial and elaborately ‘devised’” than the more earnest and carefully organized Bustān (Wickens, 1974, pp. xv-xvi; Dašti, p. 277). Indeed, though Saʿdi sometimes relates two or three consecutive stories with a similar theme or moral in the Golestān, there is no easily discernible progression or logical relationship between the successive tales within a chapter, leaving the overall impression of a mosaic of tiles juxtaposed unsystematically. A few stories even seem to clash with the theme of the chapter in which they are set.

While acknowledging the Golestān as one of the three most important books in Persian literature, next to the Maṯnawi and the Šāh-nāma (p. 229), ʿAli Dašti (q.v.) has been its most vocal critic. He argued that many of its stories lack significance (pp. 238, 246) and development (p. 271), and that the verse summations are not always pertinent to the tale (pp. 269-71). Many have attempted to defend the Golestān from these charges (e.g., Haḵāmaneši, pp. 202 ff.). Henri Massé (p. 208) had already proposed that the semi-disorder might be Saʿdi’s deliberate effort to avoid the appearance of dogmatism or methodical rigor. Even though judging it unsuitable as a manual of ethics (pp. 248, 252), Dašti does allow that the exactitude of its aphorisms (esp. in chap. 8) exhibits the concision of mathematical formulas (p. 272). It also provides us with a unique document of the daily life, customs, and attitudes of the common people of Saʿdi’s day (Dašti, p. 249), to which its success can in large part be attributed (Maḥjub, pp. 596-97).

The Golestān assumes a good knowledge of Arabic, but while erudite, is rarely recondite. It addresses a general audience, though some few passages have caused confusion for copyists and provoked debate among commentators (e.g., qaṣab al-jayb, G53, a verse in Shirazi dialect, chap. 6:8, etc.; see Yusofi, 1989, pp. 205-8, 473-74, and Rahbar, 1973). Saʿdi seems to have conversed in Arabic with facility (chap. 6:1), and throughout the work intersperses original Arabic verses, about the merit of which opinion has been divided. A few of the Persian phrases seem to follow the grammatical structures of Arabic (Hādizāda), but Saʿdi assumes a Persian audience and provides Persian translations where the Arabic passages are essential to an understanding of the narrative (e.g., chap. 7:8).

Some European commentators found the bawdier passages in shocking contrast to the wisdom and moralistic intentions of the work, but generally excused this apparent vulgarity as a difference in occidental and oriental manners (de Sacy, p. 162). Critics have faulted the Golestān for its “Machiavellian” ethics (Browne, p. 526; Massé, pp. 195, 245-6; Dašti, pp. 248, 252; Yohannan, 1987, p. 60), with commentators objecting in particular to the moral of the first story—“Better a white lie that is constructive than a truth unleashing what’s destructive” (chap. 1:1)—and to the advice that kings should suppress enemies and strike preemptively at those who fear them. Such criticism overlooks the fact that Saʿdi’s comments on statecraft do not depart from the principles reflected in prior examples of the Mirror for Princes genre in Persian. Others have defended him from the charge of practical or utilitarian ethics (Bahmanyār), pointing out similar views among European thinkers like Victor Hugo (Yusofi, 1990, pp. 230 ff.; one might also adduce Blake’s line: “The truth that’s told with bad intent/Beats all the lies you can invent”). The appropriateness of Saʿdi’s counsel to the political circumstances after the Mongol invasion and his strong sympathy for the vulnerable and oppressed have also been emphasized (Davis). Already in 1847 we find Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his poem “Saadi,” advising our poet not to heed “what the brawlers say,” and urging critics not “to vex with odious subtlety/The cheerer of men’s hearts.”

Many have seen the Golestān as the continuation of the Maqāmāt tradition (Bahār, III, p. 126, Ḵaṭibi, etc.), though others have also linked it with the prose tradition of Sufi literature (Ebrāhimi-Ḥariri, pp. 393, 403) and the essays of Jāḥeẓ. Saʿdi adorns his prose with parallel rhymed phrasing (sajʿ) and various types of paronomasia (jenās). While several works of rhyming prose might have provided inspiration for Saʿdi (e.g., the Monājāt of Anṣāri, the Meccan suras of the Koran), the style of adorned prose (naṯr-e mosajjaʿ or maṣnuʿ), as distinct from plain prose (naṯr-e morsal) on one end of the continuum and verse (naẓm) on the other, was a defining characteristic of Ḥamidi’s Persian adaptation (551/1156) of the Arabic Maqāmāt of Ḥariri and Hamadāni. But whereas Ḥamidi’s rather mechanical use of sajʿ and recherché Arabic lexemes and morphemes can result in obscure and purple passages, Saʿdi usually does not strain for rhymes or employ parallelism to excess (Homāʾi, 1967, pp. 19-34); in fact, some stories do not rely upon it at all (e.g., chaps. 3:12, 4:14).

Very few stories in the Golestān take episodes in the Maqāmāt genre as explicit models, though at least one (Saʿdi’s debate with a dervish about wealth and poverty, chap. 7:20), clearly does. Like the Maqāmāt, the stories of the Golestān reflect humorously on various social classes and types, are often set in distant locales, and rely upon rhymed parallel prose interspersed with verse. Unlike the Maqāmāt, the Golestān does not follow the framework of a single narrator recounting episodes about a recurring picaresque hero, and, with its generally much shorter stories, does not depend as much on characterization or plot development. Instead, the Golestān and Bustān have been seen as the culmination of the Persian pand-nāma genre, as exemplified in the Qābus-nāma or Kimiā-ye saʿādat (de Fouchécour, pp. 5, 311). In this view, Saʿdi replaced Ḡazzāli as the pre-eminent moral authority among Persian speakers by perfecting a trend in which, as with Sanāʾi’s Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa (q.v.), the tradition of moral/wisdom literature merged with the mystical tradition (de Fouchécour, p. 253). This attention to content as the defining generic feature of the Golestān has the advantage of highlighting the unique nature of Saʿdi’s achievement.

The Golestān combines simple and unadorned prose to create a new genre not clearly indebted to any prior form (Maḥjub), and by joining the previously distinct prose and verse registers into a unified literary idiom (Foruḡi, p. vi) Saʿdi created a “true literary form out of what had hitherto been only too often a rather shapeless mass of ill-assorted materials” (Arberry, p. 21). Despite this, surprisingly little has been written about the stylistics of the Golestān. Malek-al-Šoʿarāʾ Bahār gives the best technical analysis of its rhetorical features (pp. 124-56). Ziāʾ Mowaḥḥed (pp. 145-79) notes the minimalist plots sculpted out of language, word play, and psychological insight, and the way Saʿdi memorably and musically expresses mots justes, often without recourse to imagery, and concludes that the Golestān is characteristically a “poetry of ideas.”

Saʿdi boasts in the epilogue (G191) that he did not borrow verse from other poets to adorn the Golestān, as was common epistolary practice. Despite the appearance of one line from Asadi (G59; Yusofi, pp. 235-36), and a pair from the Rāḥat al-ṣodur (Purpirār, p. 70), this claim holds true, though Saʿdi does apparently quote lines of his own (Browne, pp. 536-37). The suggestion that many lines of Saʿdi’s verse were inspired by particular Arabic examples in Motanabbi (Maḥfuẓ) has been unanimously rejected (e.g., Moḥaqqeq, p. 184).

Influence. Now universally regarded as the outstanding practitioner of “inimitable simplicity” (sahl-e momtaneʿ) in Persian literature, Saʿdi describes himself in the Golestān’s preface as already celebrated far and wide for his style, claiming that copies of his compositions were considered quite valuable (G51). We know that Saʿdi’s ḡazals were celebrated in distant parts during his lifetime, though evidently not before the mid-1250s (Eqbāl), and perhaps not until after 658/1260 (Minovi, p. 670). Saʿdi himself had complained in 1257 (Bustān, intro.) that he was not properly appreciated in Shiraz, but with the appearance of the Bustān and Golestān that certainly changed.

Saʿdi was quite prescient in offering the Golestān as a model of epistolary style for the emulation of orators and secretaries (motakallemān-rā ba kār āyad wa motarasselān-rā balāḡat biafzāyad, G54). Its fame spread widely and rapidly, displacing Abu’l-Maʿāli Naṣr-Allāh’s Kalila wa Demna-ye bahrāmšāhi (which ʿAwfi had encouraged secretaries to study) as the pinnacle of Persian prose style. The Golestān was known in Anatolia within a few years of its composition, perhaps facilitated by the fact that Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Kayḵosrow, the Seljuk ruler in Konya, had married the daughter of Saʿdi’s patron, Abu Bakr b. Saʿd. In a letter written sometime before 677/1278, a certain Abu Bakr al-Motaṭabbeb “Ṣadr” in Konya quoted a qeṭʿa from the Golestān (tavānam ān ka ..., chap. 1:5) without mentioning Saʿdi’s name, and Aflāki in his Manāqeb al-ʿārefin (compiled 718-54/1318-1353), also quotes without attribution an Arabic verse occurring in the preface (balaḡa al-ʿolā...G50).

The Golestān inspired numerous imitations, beginning with the Rawża-ye ḵold of Majd Ḵᵛāfi (733/1333) and including most notably Jāmi’s Bahārestān (892/1497) and Qāʾāni’s Parišān (1152/1836), the latter published in the margins of an early Golestān lithograph (Tabriz, 1286/1869). The aptness and vitality of Saʿdi’s proverbs and aphorisms can be measured by their continued currency in modern Persian conversation (Ḵorramšāhi, p. 15); Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Yusofi (1984) cites 405 proverbs coined in the Golestān and Jalāl-al-Din Homāʾi (1938, p. 814) remarks how these have permeated all social classes, even the illiterate.

In Ottoman Turkey, the plethora of Golestān commentaries from the 16th century testifies to its widespread use by this time as a textbook, both of the Persian language and of Islamic ethics (Yazıcı, p. 323). Arabic commentaries were produced by Yaʿqub Efendi Sayyed ʿAlizāda (d. 931/1525) and by Moṣṭafā b. Šaʿbān Soruri (d. 957/1550) in Amasya; points in both of these, as well as in the Turkish commentaries of Lāmeʿi Čelebi (d. 928/1532) and Šamʿi (d. 1000/1592), are frequently refuted by Sudi of Bosnia, who wrote an extensive interlinear Turkish commentary with copious grammatical points in 1004/1595-96. Though Sudi’s Šarḥ has remained the standard Turkish commentary, others continued to appear through the 1890s, testifying to the continued use of the Golestān as a medium of Persian language and, more generally, of ethical instruction in Ottoman lands.

In India, the commentaries were written in Persian, the earliest by Oways b. ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Ādam for the Bahmani sultan in 900/1494. In his Ḵiābān-e Golestān (pub. Delhi, 1268/1852), Serāj-al-Din ʿAli-Khan Ārzu (q.v.; d. 1169/1756) alludes to prior commentaries by Mir Nur-Allāh Aḥrāri and Mollā Saʿd Tattavi, among others. Commentaries continued to appear in the subcontinent throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, in both Persian and in Urdu (Nowšāhi, pp. 113-19). In 1771, Sir William Jones (pp. x-xi) advised students of Persian to pick as their first exercise in the language an easy chapter of the Golestān to translate. Thus the Golestān became the primary text of Persian instruction for officials of British India at Fort William College (est. 1801) and at Haileybury College in England (est. 1806), with selections of the text being repeatedly published in primer form. Michael John Rowlandson provided a manual to help Persian readers with the Arabic passages (Madras, 1828); diacritics were included to mark the short vowels in at least two Golestān editions published in Calcutta (ed. A. Sprenger, Calcutta, 1851; ed. W. Nassau Lee, Calcutta, 1871), and two other editions appended glossaries (ed. F. Johnson, Hertford, 1863; ed. J. Platts, London, 1871).

Neoclassical writers of the 18th and 19th century desirous of a return to the lucid eloquence of the past (see BĀZGAŠT-E ADABĪ) took Saʿdi’s Golestān as their example. Abu’l-Qāsem Qāʾem-maqām Farāhāni, who copied out a small vade mecum edition of the Golestān and read it whenever the opportunity arose (Homāʾi, 1967, p. 17), attempted in his Monšaʾāt, not to write a pastiche of the Golestān, but to recapture the genius of Saʿdi’s language (Maḥjub, pp. 592-93, 615). Though rhyming prose and elegant proverbial witticisms fell out of favor in the 20th century as a modern prose literature influenced by European models developed, Saʿdi remains the “most eloquent of orators” (afṣaḥ al-motakallemin), and the Golestān still retains the title of “the most beautiful book of prose in Persian” (Ḵorramšāhi, p. 15).

Translations. Ottoman Anatolia produced at least seven Turkish translations of the Golestān, exclusive of interlinear commentaries. Among the earliest were the Kipchak translation of Sayf Sarāyi in 1391 and that of Maḥmud b. Qāżi Mānyās, who completed a full prose translation (second quarter of the 15th century), and set about rendering the poems into verse in a second redaction. The Golestān retained its popularity under the Turkish Republic, when the Ministry of Culture supported its translation into modern Turkish (Yazıcı, pp. 321-24).

Saʿdi had been first introduced to the West in a partial French translation by André du Ryer (1634), upon which Friedrich Ochsenbach based a German translation (1636). Following this, Georgius Gentius produced a Latin version accompanied by the Persian text (1651). Adam Olearius, who had learned Persian in Persia with the help of a Persian convert to Christianity, Hakwirdi (Ḥaqqverdi), made it the first direct German translation from a Persian work; upon this J. V. Duisberg based a Dutch version (1654).

These and other translations of the Golestān (and, to a lesser extent, of the Bustān) established Saʿdi’s reputation among Enlightenment thinkers as a didactic but entertaining poet of manners and morals; the 18th century vogue for the “Oriental tale” in Europe only reinforced the popularity of Saʿdi’s stories, leading many western writers to champion or exploit them, including Denis Diderot, Voltaire, and Ernest Renan, who considered Saʿdi to share in French sensibility (Arberry, p. 15), as well as Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (see Massé; Yohannan, 1977).

The English translation history begins with Stephen Sulivan’s selections (1774), followed by Francis Gladwin (q.v.; 1806, based on his own rather inflated edition of the text) and James Ross (1823, based on the Gentius edition), both in prose. Prose and verse translations were offered by Edward Eastwick (1852) and Edwin Arnold (1899; on translations, see Arberry, pp. 27-29). Emerson read the Golestān in translation in 1843; he penned a preface for the American edition of Gladwin’s translation (Boston, 1865) in which he introduces the work as one of the world’s sacred books (see Clinton). Henry David Thoreau knew it by 1847, quoting from it twice in Concord River and in his closing remarks on philanthropy in Walden. The world-wide success of the Golestān can be measured by its continued translation into Urdu (Mir Šir-ʿAli Afsus, 1802, followed by many others), Russian (Alieva, 1957), Italian (De Vincentiis, 1873), Polish (Biberstein-Kazimirski, 1876), Provençal (Piat, 1888), Hindi (Mihr Cand Das, 1889), Romanian (Ciocanel, 1905), Czech (J. Entlicher, 1906; Kubičkova), and Arabic (Forāti, 1961, in prose and verse). The Golestān also lent its name to an opera by Nicolas Dalayrac (1805, which however has precious little to do with Saʿdi), and a nocturne for piano by Kaikhosro Sohrabji.

Saʿdi realized that stories with frank sexual content might offend some sensibilities, yet feared critics would think him incapable of expression if he avoided the subject (chap. 3:13, G113). Many western translators found tales with homosexual or pederastic themes (chap. 5) especially inappropriate to the objectives of the work, and therefore rendered them into Latin or changed the gender roles. Edward Eastwick excised them altogether, for which he was charged with bowdlerizing the work (Defrémery, 1858, p. iii). Relatively accurate and complete versions of the work became available in the mid-19th century through the efforts of Karl Heinrich Graf (1846; revised by Bellman, 1982) and Nesslmann (1864) for German, Sémelet and Defrémery (1858) for French, and Rehatsek for English (1888 with the imprimatur of Richard Burton’s Kama Shastra Society). More modern versions of select chapters or stories of the Golestān have since been offered in these languages (Gelpke, Arberry, etc.). An excellent summary of the text is given in Yohannan (1987, pp. 57-91).


Manuscript transmission. Saʿdi’s panegyrics show him composing poetry into the 1280s, some twenty to thirty years after completing the Golestān; we may on this basis speculate that he continued to revise the text throughout his career. Moṣtafā Ḏākeri calculates from the rate of composition of Saʿdi’s ghazals that it took many years worth of drafts to produce the Golestān (Ḏākeri, pp. 7-8). Also, from a very early point in the transmission history of the Golestān, it is evident that copyists deliberately changed or modernized the text (Ḵorramšāhi, p. 15), to the extent that very few of the existing medieval copies agree completely with any other copy in all respects (Maškur, p. iv).

A manuscript purportedly copied by the calligrapher Yāqut Mostaʿṣemi, dating to 668/1269, has been printed in facsimile (Ātābāy), but as the colophon is illegible, it has been skeptically received. The earliest relatively complete and reliably dated manuscript was copied out in 720/1320, though a manuscript dating to 700/1300 of the introduction alone survives. The text is well attested in many other 14th century exemplars, and probably several hundred pre-modern copies survive in various locations. D. N. Marshall mentions one manuscript (Marshall, p. 51) owned by Shah Jahān (r. 1037-67/1627-57) which he presented to his son Dārā Šokōh (q.v.).

At least two recensions of the collected works (Kolliyāt) of Saʿdi were prepared in 726/1326 and 734/1334 by Bisotun (Blochet, pp. 125-6; text in Foruḡi), and the Golestān comes at the head of an early manuscript of the Kolliyāt copied out in 726/1326 (Jāvid). A copy of the Kolliyāt made for the Mughal emperor Akbar places the Bustān before the Golestān (Blochet, pp. 134-35), but this order is reversed in most manuscripts of the Kolliyāt. In the traditional arrangement of the Kolliyāt, the Golestān is the first major work presented, with only a few minor prose treatises preceding it. This, along with the fact that many stand-alone Golestān manuscriptshavethe Bustān copied out in the margins, suggests that the Golestān was perceived as the author’s most popular or important work within a generation or two of his death.

Printed editions: Though Gentius first printed the text in Amsterdam (1651), no edition of the Golestān was published in the Islamic world until J. H. Harrington’s edition of the Kolliyāt (vol. I, Calcutta, 1205/1791), prepared in large part by Mawlawi Moḥammad Rašid (Yohannan, 1977, pp. 9, 266). Several other Europeans printed or lithographed editions in Calcutta in the early 19th century, thus effectively bringing the manuscript tradition to an end (Gladwin, 1806; Dumoulin, 1807). The Golestān was one of the earliest products of Persian typography, printed in Tabriz in 1824 (de Sacy, pp. 162-63; Defrémery, 1862, p. 1004), and again in Tehran in 1847. Several different editions also appeared in Cairo (Bulāq) and Istanbul in the 19th century, and the text was printed over a hundred times in India (Nawšāhi, pp. 73-87). Further editions appeared in Paris (Sémelet, 1828), England (Eastwick, 1850), Leipzig (ed. and trans. by Graf, following Soruri’s commentary, 1846), and Berlin (Kāviāni press, 1921).

Critical editions: The first critical edition was produced by ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓim Qarib in 1931, followed by Moḥammad-ʿAli Foruḡi’s Kolliyāt (1937), which has for many years remained the basis for citation of the text. Rustam M. Alieva used manuscripts in the Soviet Union to prepare his edition and translation (1959). In the 1960s a handful of new critical texts set about collating and correcting the above, including editions by Saʿid Nafisi (1962), Moḥammad-Jawād Maškur (1965), Ḵalil Ḵaṭib Rahbar (1966), and Bahāʾ-al-Din Ḵorramšāhi (1977).

The best critical edition of the work is that of Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Yusofi, based upon seventeen manuscripts plus the reliable printed editions. It includes extensive notes, indices, and bibliography. Mowaḥḥed (pp. 132 ff.) provides a comparison of this with Foruḡi’s text, both based on the same manuscript copy. Yusofi’s editorial decisions have not pleased all critics (e.g., Purpirār, pp. 72-73), and at least one edition has attempted to incorporate and improve upon its results (Ḵorramšāhi, 1996).



Citations of the Golestān are given by chapter and story number (e.g. chap. 3:15), following the numbering of stories as given in Yusofi’s edition of the Golestān. G followed by a number indicates a specific page in Yusofi’s edition. Critical Editions of the Golestān. ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓim Qarib Garakāni, ed., Ketāb-e Golestān, Tehran, 1310 Š./1931.

Moḥammad ʿAli Foruḡi, ed., Kolliyāt-e Saʿdi, Tehran, 1316 Š./1937 (a new edition based upon this was printed by Eqbāl Press in 1963).

Rustam M. Alieva, ed., Gulistān: Kritičeski tekst, perevod, predisloviye i primečaniya, Moscow, 1959. Saʿid Nafisi, ed., Golestān, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962.

Moḥammad-Jawād Maškur, ed., Golestān-e Saʿdi, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965.

Ḵalil Ḵaṭib Rahbar, ed., Golestān, 3 vols., Tehran, 1344 Š./1966.

Bahāʾ-al-Din Ḵorramšāhi, ed., Kolliyāt-e Saʿdi, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974 (revised edition of 1375 Š./1996 takes into account Yusofi’s text).

Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Yusofi, ed., Golestān-e Saʿdi, Tehran, 1368 Š./1989.

Studies and Translations. Arthur John Arberry, Kings and Beggars: The First Two Chapters of Saʿdi’s Gulistān, London, 1945.

Edwin Arnold, tr. The Gulistan; Being the Rose-garden of Shaikh Saʿdi; the First Four Babs, or “Gateways” tr. in Prose and Verse, London, 1899.

Badri Ātābāy, ed., Golestān-e Saʿdi be-ḵaṭṭ-e Yāqut-e Mostaʿṣemi, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

Idem, Fehrest-e divānhā-ye ḵaṭṭi-e Ketāb-ḵāna-ye salṭanati I, Tehran, 2535=1355 Š./1976, MSS 215, 246-65.

Moḥammad-Taqi Bahār, Sabk-šenāsi III, Tehran, 1321 Š./1942, pp. 124-56.

Aḥmad Bahmanyār, “Bar ḥekmat-e Saʿdi natavān ḵorda gereftan,” in Saʿdi-nāma, pp. 649-56.

Faramarz Behzad, Adam Olearius, ‘Persianischer Rosenthal’: Untersuchungen zur Übersetzung von Saadis Golestan im 17. Jahrhundert, Göttingen, 1970.

Edgar Blochet, Catalogue des manuscrits persans III, Paris, 1928, pp. 116-73.

Andras Bodrogligeti, A Fourteenth Century Turkic Translation of Saʿdi’s Gulistān (Sayf-i Sarāyi’s Gulistān bi’t-turki), Uralic and Altaic Series 104, Bloomington, Ind., 1970.

Idem, “Glosses on Sayf-i Sarayi’s Gülistan bi-t-türki,” AOASH 14, 1962, pp. 207-18.

John Andrew Boyle, “The Chronology of Saʿdi’s Years of Travel,” in Richard Gramlich, ed., Islamwissenschaftliche Abhandlungen Fritz Meier zum sechzigsten Geburtstag, Wiesbaden, 1974, pp. 1-8.

Jerome Clinton, “Matn-e soḵanrāni-e Clinton” [sic; re: Emerson and Saʿdi], in Ḏekr-e jamil-e Saʿdi, pp. 113-28.

ʿAli Dašti, Qalamrow-e Saʿdi, Tehran, 1338 Š./1959; 2nd ed., 1339 Š./1960.

Richard Davis, “Saʿdi,” in EI2 VIII, pp. 719-23.

MosÂtafā Ḏākeri, “Noktahā-i dar żarurat-e taḥqiq wa taṣḥiḥ-e kolliyāt-e Saʿdi,” Našr-e dāneš 16/3, 1378 Š./1999, pp. 5-13.

Charles Defrémery, “Sadi,” Nouvelle biographie générale XLII, Paris, 1862, pp. 1001-4.

Idem, tr., Gulistan ou le parterre de roses, Paris, 1858.

Ḏekr-e jamil-e Saʿdi, 3 vols., Tehran, 1364 Š./1985 (proceedings of a conference in honor of the 800th anniversary of Saʿdi’s birth; the volume is unfortunately marred by slipshod editing).

Edward Eastwick, The Gulistan, or, Rose-garden of Shekh Muslihu’d-din Sadi of Shiraz, Hertford, 1852; repr. as Sadi: The Rose Garden, London, 1979.

Fāres Ebrāhimi-Ḥariri, Maqāma-nevisi dar adabiyāt-e fārsi: taʾṯir-e maqāmāt-e ʿarabi dar ān, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

Ḥasan Emdād, Jedāl-e moddaʿiān bā Saʿdi, Shiraz, 1377 Š./1998.

ʿAbbās Eqbāl Āštiāni, “Zamān-e tawallod wa awāʾel-e zendagāni-e Saʿdi,” in Saʿdi-nāma, pp. 627-45.

Charles-Henri de Fouchécour, Moralia: Les Notions morales dans la littérature persane du 3e/9e au 7e/13e siècle, Paris, 1986.

Badiʿ-al-Zamān Foruzānfar, “Saʿdi wa Sohravardi,” in Saʿdi-nāma, pp. 687-706.

Moḥammad Forāti, Golestān: Rawżat al-ward, Damascus, 1961.

Rudolf Gelpke, Hundertundeine Geschichte aus dem Rosengarten, Zurich, 1967.

Georgius Gentius, Rosarium Politicum, Amsterdam, 1651.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, West-östliche Divān, Stuttgart, 1819.

Karl Heinrich Graf, Moslicheddin Sadi’s Rosengarten, Leipzig, 1846.

Reżā Hādizāda, “Saʿdi wa zabān-e ʿarabi dar āʾina-ye Golestān,” in Ḏekr-e jamil-e Saʿdi, pp. 275-93.

Kayḵosrow Haḵāmaneši, Ḥekmat-e Saʿdi, 2nd ed. Tehran, 2535 (=1355) Š./1976.

Jalāl-al-Din Homāʾi, “Ḥadd hamin ast soḵandāni o zibāʾi-rā,” in Saʿdi-nāma, 1938, pp. 813-24 (note table of contents incorrectly ascribes this to Rašid Yāsemi).

Idem, Ṭabla-ye ʿAṭṭār wa nasim-e Golestān, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

Irān-nāma/Iran Nameh 3/4, 1364 Š./ 1985 (special issue “In Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of the Birth of Saʿdi”).

Farhang Jahānpur, “Saʿdi wa Emerson,” Irān-nāma 3/4, 1985, pp. 690-704.

Aḥmad Jāvid, “Yak nosḵa-ye kohan az kolliyāt-e Saʿdi” in Rastegār Fasāʾi, ed., pp. 46-51.

William Jones, Grammar of Persian, London, 1771.

Ḥosayn Ḵaṭibi, Fann-e naṯr dar adab-e pārsi (Tāriḵ-e taṭawwor wa moḵtaṣṣāt-e naqd-e naṯr-e pārsi az āḡāz tā pāyān-e qarn-e haftom I, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987, pp. 599 ff.

Moḥammad Ḵazāʾeli, Šarḥ-e Golestān, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

Fatemeh Keshavarz, “‘Much Have I Roamed through the World’: In Search of Saʿdi’s Self-Image,” IJMES, 26/3, 1994, pp. 465-75.

Ḥosayn-ʿĀli Maḥfuẓ, Motanabbi wa Saʿdi (Maʾāḵeḏ wa mażāmin-e Saʿdi dar adabiyāt-e ʿarabi), Tehran, 1336 Š./1957.

Moḥammad-Jaʿfar Maḥjub, “Zabān-e Saʿdi wa peyvand-e ān bā zendagi,” Irān-nāma 3/4,1985, pp. 587-623.

D. N. Marshall, Mughals in India: A Bibliographical Survey, Bombay and New York, 1967. Henri Massé, Essai sur le poète Saadi, 2 vols., Paris, 1919.

Jalāl Matini, “Maqāma-i manẓum ba zabān-e fārsi,” Irān-nāma 3/4, 1985, pp. 705-32.

Idem, “Ašḵāṣ-e dāstān dar Golestān,” in Rastegār, ed., pp. 303-19.

Julie Scott Meisami, “Mixed Prose and Verse in Medieval Persian Literature,” in Joseph Harris and Karl Reichl, eds., Prosimetrum: Crosscultural Perspectives on Narrative in Prose and Verse, Rochester, 1997, pp. 297-322.

Mojtabā Minovi, “Ḏekr-e jamil-e Saʿdi,” Irān-nāma 3/4, 1985, pp. 670-74.

Mahdi Moḥaqqeq, “Mizān-e taʾṯir-e Saʿdi az Motanabbi,” in Ḏekr-e jamil-e Saʿdi III, Tehran, 1364 Š./1985, pp. 177-84.

Żiāʾ Mowaḥḥed, Saʿdi, Tehran, 1373 Š./1994.

ʿĀref Nowšāhi, Fehrest-e čāphā-ye āṯār-e Saʿdi dar šebh-e qārra, Islamabad, 1363 Š./1984.

Friedrich Ochsenbach, Gulistan, das ist Königlicher Rosengart, Tübingen, 1636.

Adam Olearius, Persianischer Rosenthal, Hamburg, 1654.

Louis Piat, tr., Istori causido dóu Gulistan de Sadi, in E. Hamelin, ed., Le Gulistan de Sadi et sa traduction du Persan en provençal, Montpellier, 1888.

Nāṣer Purpirār, Magar in panj ruza (Saʿdi, āḵer-al-zamān), Tehran, 1376 Š./1997.

Moḥammad Qazvini, “Mamduḥin-e Šayḵ Saʿdi,” Saʿdi-nāma, pp. 714-91.

Ḵalil Ḵaṭib Rahbar, “Baḵš-i az qawāʿed-e dasturi dar Golestān wa tawżiḥ-e čand moškel,” in Rastegār Fasāʾi, ed., pp. 127-75.

Manṣur Rastegār Fasāʾi, ed., Maqālāt-i dar-bāra-ye zendagi wa šeʿr-e Saʿdi, Shiraz, 1352 Š./1973.

Edward Rehatsek, tr., The Gulistan, Being the Rose-Garden of Shaikh Saʾdi, Benares, 1888 (originally attributed to Richard Burton, repr. N.Y., 1966).

James Ross, tr., The Gulistan, or Flower-garden, of Shaikh Sadi of Shiraz, London, 1823.

Michael John Rowlandson, An Analysis of the Arabic Quotations which Occur in the Gulistan of Saadi, Madras, 1828.

Friedrick Rückert, tr., “Verse aus dem Gulistan,” in E. A. Bayer, ed., Zeitschrift für vergleichende Literaturgeschichte 7/10, 1895.

André du Ryer, Gulistan, ou l’Empire des roses, Paris, 1634.

Jan Rypka, “Poets and Prose Writers of the Late Saljuq and Mongol Periods,” in Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 594-601.

Idem, History of Iranian Literature, ed. K. Jahn, Dordrecht, 1968, pp. 250-53.

Sylvestre de Sacy, “Saadi,” in Biographie Universelle (Michaud) Ancienne et moderne, nouvelle édition XXXVII, Paris, 1854; repr. Graz, 1967, pp. 161-63.

Saʿdi-nāma: Yādgār-e haftṣadomin sāl-e taʾlif-e Golestān, special issue of Majalla-ye taʿlim o tarbiat, Bahman-Esfand 1316 Š./1938.

Ṣāfā, Adabiyāt III, pp. 584-614, 1159-60.

N. Sémelet, tr., Gulistan ou le Parterre de fleurs, Paris, 1834.

Sayf Sarāyi, tr., Golestān, ed. Ali Fehmi Karamanlıoğlu as Gülistan tercümesi: kitâb Gülistan bi’t-türkî, Istanbul, 1978.

Minoo Southgate, “Men, Women and Boys: Love and Sex in the Works of Saʿdi,” Iranian Studies 17, 1984, pp. 423-52.

Aḥmad Sudi Bosnavi, Golestān šarḥi, Istanbul, 1286/1869; Persian tr. Haydar Ḵošṭinat, Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin Čāvoši, and ʿAli-Akbar Kāẓemi as Šarḥ-e Sudi bar Golestān-e Saʿdi, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970.

Stephen Sulivan, Select Tales from Gulistan, or, The Bed of Roses, London, 1774.

George Michael Wickens, introduction, The Gulistan, tr. Edward Rehatsek, New York, 1966.

Idem, Morals Pointed and Tales Adorned: The Bustān of Saʿdi, Leiden, 1974.

Tahsin Yazıcı, “Āṯār-e Saʿdi dar emprāturi-e ʿOtmāni wa Torkiya,” in Ḏekr-e jamil-e Saʿdi III, pp. 317-28.

John D. Yohannan, Persian Poetry in England and America, Delmar, N.Y., 1977.

Idem, The Poet Saʿdi, Bibliotheca Persica Persian Studies Series 11, Lanham, Md., 1987.

Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Yusofi, Kāḡaḏ-e zar (yāddāšt-ha-i dar adab o tāriḵ), Tehran, 1363 Š./1984.

Idem, Čašma-ye rowšan, Tehran, 1369 Š./1990.

(Franklin Lewis)

Originally Published: December 15, 2001

Last Updated: February 14, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 1, pp. 79-86