ḤOSN-E TAʿLIL (lit. “beauty of rationale”), “fantastic etiology,” a rhetorical device among the fi;gures of ʿelm-e badiʿ (the science of rhetorical embellishment; see BADIʿ). It was included among the Persian poetical figures as early as Rāduyāni’s Tarjomān al-balāḡa (late 5th/11th century). According to Rāduyāni, poets employ this device when describing something already endowed with many poetical attributes (ṣefāt) and images (maʿāni), for example, spring or autumn. The poet strengthens certain attributes by fi;nding their causes in others, and through such description achieves an elegant liberty (taṣarrof-e niku; Rāduyāni, p. 92). Rašid-al-Din Waṭwāṭ (d. 578/1182-83) notes that the poet’s goal in ḥosn-e taʿlil is not to invent the cause, but rather to make the conventional descriptions sound unusual, and that the device is widespread among both Arabs and Persians. For example, in the line (which Tarjomān attributes to the poet Qamari) “Because the cloud weeps without reason, tulips and roses laugh at it,” it is the groundless tears of the cloud which cause mockery on the part of the tulips and roses (Waṭwāṭ, p. 85). In this example, which was often quoted later to explain the essence of the device, two conventional expressions—“the cloud’s tears” (describing the spring rain) and “the fl;owers’ laughter” (describing their blossoming)—are connected by a causal relationship which does not exist in reality. The device is explained similarly in the Ḥaqāʾeq al-ḥadāʾeq by Šaraf Rāmi (fl;. second half 8th/14th century), and in Badāyeʿ al-afkār fī ṣanāyeʿ al-ašʿār by Ḥosayn Wāʿeẓ Kāšefi; (d. 910/1504-05).

ʿAṭā-Allāh Ḥosayni in his Badāyeʿ al-ṣanāyeʿ (9th/15th century) classifi;es ḥosn-e taʿlil (referring to the author of the Iżāḥ, probably Ḵaṭib Qazvini) into four types, depending on the correlation between reality and the elements of the poetical syllogism. (1) The attribute is in fact inherent in the object described; but it has no visible cause (sabab-e ẓāher), and the poet strives to fi;nd this cause (example: “The pen of predestination has inscribed the musky ligature of down on his face so that it might serve as protection from the evil eye”). (2) There is a visible cause, but the poet substitutes for it an imaginary one (example: “O joy of my soul, each moment I emit a sigh before you, because I am trying to expel completely any attraction to others”). (3) The attribute is not actually inherent in the described object, but it is possible (momken al-ṯobut) in everyday life, so the poet fi;nds a cause for it (example: “O Aṭāʾi, the wild goat ceased to fear me because even she perceived the fragrance of love for that wild gazelle which I emit”). (4) The attribute is not inherent in the object described in reality and is impossible in everyday life (example: “The image of that blood-shedding beauty has not abandoned my eyes, which is why even during sleep my eyes shed drops of blood;” Ḥosayni, pp. 88-89).

The device was so popular that Jan Rypka mentions it as specifi;c to Persian poetry as a whole (Rypka, Hist. Iran. Lit., p. 102). It was already widely used in qaṣidas by the poets of the Ghaznavid period (especially ʿOnṣori) to shape elegant compliments to the person praised. Later, ḥosn-e taʿlil was widely employed for constructing “learned” images (especially in Anwari’s [q.v.] panegyrics), and a fantastic conjunction of complicated metaphorical expressions became a major feature of nature descriptions in romantic maṯnawi poems (see further BADIʿ; on Neẓāmi’s fantastic etiologies see Ritter; on poetical logic in Ḵāqāni’s poetry see Reinert). The device also remained important for the Indian-style poets (Rypka, Hist. Iran. Lit., p. 285). In fact, ḥosn-e taʿlil touches the main nerve of Persian poetry: the passion for a discourse based on antithesis. As a conjunction of fantastic images within a syllogism, it creates additional levels of opposition in the line, rationally “proving” the possibility of the impossible and thus presenting lies disguised as truth.



Primary sources (see chapters on ḥosn-e taʿlil in following sources). Atoullo (ʿAṭā-Allāh) Ḥosayni, Badoyeʿ-us-sanoyeʿ, ed. Rahim Musulmankulof, Dushanbe, 1974 (in Tajik).

Moḥammad b. ʿOmar Rāduyāni, Tarjomān al-balāḡa, ed. Ahmed Ates . . . , Istanbul, 1949.

Šaraf-al-Din Ḥasan b. Moḥammad Rāmi, Ḥaqāʾeq al-ḥadāʾeq, ed. Moḥammad-Kāẓem Emām, Tehran, 1962.

Kamāl-al-Din Ḥosayn Wāʿeẓ Kāšefi;, Ba-dāyeʿ al-afkār fi; ṣanāyeʿ al-ašʿār, ed. Rahim Musulmankulof, Moscow, 1977.

Rašid-al-Din Waṭwāṭ, Ḥadāʾeq al-seḥr fi; daqāʾeq al-šeʿr, ed. ʿAbbās Eqbāl, Tehran, 1929.

Secondary sources. Jalāl-al-Din Homāʾi, Fonūn-e balāḡat o ṣenāʿāt-e adabi, Tehran, 1975.

R. Musulmankulov, Persidsko-tadzhikskaya klassicheskaya poetika X-XV vv., Moscow, 1989, pp. 48, 216-17 (where the history of hosn-e taʿlil in Persian books on badiʿ is briefl;y traced).

Hellmut Ritter, Über die Bildersprache Nizāmīs, Berlin and Leipzig, 1927.

Benedikt Reinert, Ḫāqānī als Dichter: Poetische Logik und Phantasie, Berlin and New York, 1972.

(Natalia Chalisova)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 23, 2012

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Vol. XII, Fasc. 5, pp. 521-522