(Book of the Cupbearer), a poetic genre in which the speaker, seeking relief from his hardships, losses, and disappointments, repeatedly summons the sāqi or cupbearer to bring him wine.


SĀQI-NĀMA (Book of the Cupbearer), a poetic genre in which the speaker, seeking relief from his hardships, losses, and disappointments, repeatedly summons the sāqi (Arazi; Hanaway; Soucek) or cupbearer to bring him wine and the moḡanni or singer to provide a song. The prototypical form of the genre—an independent poem of 150-300 rhymed couplets in the motaqāreb meter—was consolidated in the early 16th century. Many of its basic elements, however, go back to the beginnings of the Persian and Arabic poetic traditions (Kennedy; Yarshater). Anacreontic poetry celebrating the drinking parties of the nobility and cultural elite (ḵamriya) provided a well-established repertoire of topoi and tropes on wine, its vessels, and the servants, entertainers, settings, and manners appropriate to the courtly banquet. Such parties by their very nature depart from the normal routines of daily life and violate the precepts of Islamic law. These transcendental and transgressive implications took on a new significance with the development of Sufi poetry in the 10th and 11th centuries. Utilized in every poetic genre and form, wine emerged as one of the most protean and adaptable image complexes in the literary tradition. It could provide solace for the outcast, open the doors of mystical transcendence, or sanctify the communal festivities of the court.

The defining formal and thematic features of the sāqi-nāma first began to take shape in the works of Nezami (Neẓāmi) of Ganja (d. 1209). Entitled Dar ṣefat-e ḥāl-e ḵᵛiš-o yād-e goḏaštegān (Describing the speaker’s state and in memory of the departed), the closing section of the introduction of Leyli o Majnun is punctuated every seven to ten verses by invocations of the sāqi and short descriptions of wine. Both the themes of this passage and its strophic-like form would figure significantly in the later history of the genre. In Eskandar-nāma, this introductory device is deployed throughout the work. Neẓāmi marks the transitions between major episodes by short passages of eight to ten verses beginning with the formula beyā sāqi (Come, sāqi), in which he calls on the cupbearer for wine and inspiration and reflects on some of the common themes of homiletic wisdom literature—the brevity of human life, the fickleness of fate, and the necessity of severing worldly attachments. Nezami himself, however, may have been drawing on a yet earlier model. In Persian dictionaries of the Mughal period, Moḥammad-Jaʿfar Maḥjub (pp. 77-9) has identified several verses attributed to Faḵr-al-Din Gorgāni, the author of Vis o Rāmin (composed ca. 1053), that appear to come from a lost work in the motaqāreb meter and contain the telltale phrase beyā sāqi. Whatever their sources, the meter, phraseology, and content of the passages from Eskandar-nāma would provide the basis for the later prototypical form of the sāqi-nāma.

The summoning of the cupbearer continued to serve as a structural device in the many responses to Nezami’s Eskandar-nāma written over the following centuries, such as Amir Ḵosrow’s Āyina-ye Sekandari, Ḵᵛāju of Kerman’s Homāy o Homāyun, and Jāmi’s Ḵerad-nāma-ye Eskandari. The essential step in establishing the sāqi-nāma as an independent genre, however, was taken by Hafez (Ḥāfeẓ) of Shiraz (d. 1392). Among the few works he wrote in rhymed couplets are a series of short poems written in the motaqāreb meter addressed to the sāqi and the moḡanni. As Parviz Nātel Ḵānlari points out (Ḥāfeẓ, II, pp. 1050-52), the text of these works is extremely unsettled. It is not clear whether or not the sāqi-nāma and moḡanni-nāma constituted a single poem, and in early manuscripts the length of the sāqi-nāma ranges from 15 to 57 verses. This textual fluidity perhaps made Hafez’s poem(s) particularly ripe for later elaboration, and its elegiac tone, mystical overtones, and theme of ubi sunt would remain constant elements of the genre.

Over a century would pass before poets took up Hafez’s experiment in earnest and the sāqi-nāma was recognized as an independent genre. The key moment came during the period of literary experimentation that accompanied the rise of the Safavid dynasty in the early 16th century. The literary historian and biographer Awḥadi of Balyān (d. ca. 1632) would give much of the credit for creating this new genre to Ḥakim Partovi of Shiraz (d. 1522; see Meyḵāna, pp. 124-40). Containing 281 rhymed couplets in the motaqāreb meter, Partovi’s sāqi-nāma is several times longer than even the longest version of Hafez’s poem. Partovi’s principal contribution was to establish the prototypical internal structure of the genre. The poem opens with a lament on the collapse of social, psychological, and cosmic order. The speaker then calls on the cupbearer and singer to deliver him from this despair; in a passage that occupies nearly two-thirds of the poem, formulaic phrases such as beyā sāqi, bedeh mey, and moḡanni serve to organize an account of a quest to transcend the limitations of the finite self. The poem concludes with a eulogy to “the cupbearer of both worlds,” ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb, the first Shiʿite imam. A similar structure can be found in other early Safavid sāqi-nāmas by Ṣedqi of Astarābād (d. 1545) and Šaraf-e Jahān of Qazvin (d. 1561). Although these poems conclude with a royal panegyric, Safavid ideology drew little distinction between allegiance to the Shiʿite imams and allegiance to the shah. The tripartite structure of these sāqi-nāmas closely resembles the nasib, raḥil, and madiḥ of the classical qaṣida. In both forms, the poem moves from self-alienation through the transcendence of individual ego to a new communal identity. The main difference between the two lies in the middle section. This section gives the sāqi-nāma its name and is usually the longest in the poem; the desert journey of the raḥil is projected inward and becomes a psychological quest. Wine and music help the speaker sever former bonds, relieve old obsessions, and establish a new sense of purpose. The subjectivity of the journey in the sāqi-nāma often takes the form of ḥasb-e ḥāl, the poet’s account of his own life. The sāqi-nāma of Ṣufi of Māzandarān (d. 1626), for example, contains no madiḥ; the speaker instead announces his new identity as a poet and his decision to emigrate from Persia to India.

Though the basic structural pattern established by Partovi underlies most sāqi-nāmas, the genre is able to accommodate diverse subsidiary elements, and its boundaries are fluid. A variety of other thematic genres can be integrated into the sāqi-nāma. Abu Ṭāleb of Fendarsk (d. after 1712), for example, begins his sāqi-nāma with a personal conversation with God, a monājāt-nāma (Golčin-e Maʿāni, p. 39). An extended series of oaths, known as a sowgand- or qasam-nāma, opens the sāqi-nāma of Sālek of Qazvin (d. ca. 1674; Golčin-e Maʿāni, p. 221-22). In both of these works, the rhyming couplets are interrupted by the insertion of several ghazals. A description of musical instruments, triggered by the summoning of the singer, is featured in many sāqi-nāmas; when these instruments begin to speak and lament in the sāqi-nāma of Fożuli of Baghdad (d. 1556), the genre merges with the Ottoman çeng-nâma (pp. 674-709). Topographical descriptions can also play an important role, as part of either the madiḥ or the ḥasb-e ḥāl. Fāni of Kashmir (d. 1662), for instance, devotes several passages to describing the sights of his homeland (Golčin-e Maʿāni, pp. 328-29, 348-50), while the sāqi-nāma (in the hazaj meter) of the Central Asian poet Sayyedā of Nasaf (d. ca. 1707) consists largely of a walking tour of the city of Bukhara, from the shrine of Bahā-al-Din Naqšband to the throne room of Sobḥān-Qoli Khan (pp. 18-38).

All these various elements contribute to the 4,500 verses of the sāqi-nāma of Ẓohuri of Toršiz (d. 1616), perhaps the single longest exemplar of the genre. Dedicated to the Neẓām Shah Borhān II (r. 1591-95), the work begins with a series of summons to the cupbearer ending with two ghazals and a panegyric to the patron. An account of a banquet at Borhān’s court introduces a long description of Ahmadnegar and its outskirts. In the final portion of the poem, Ẓohuri celebrates the art of poetry, presents a series of homiletic exempla ending in a private prayer, and closes with a second encomium to Borhān II. The sāqi-nāma of Waḥid of Qazvin (d. 1698-99), dedicated to Shah Soleymān, takes up Ẓohuri’s model; here, however, the topographical description of Isfahan is followed by a lengthy šahrāšub, a tour of the market with amorous descriptions of its craftsmen (see Golčin-e Maʿāni, Šahrāšub, pp. 64-67). Perhaps the last great transformation of the genre is Moḥiṭ-e aʿẓam (The mightiest ocean), by Bidel of Delhi (d. 1721). In the work’s prose introduction, Bidel acknowledges Ẓohuri’s sāqi-nāma only to denounce it as the ‘rust merchant of a senseless hangover’ (zengār-foruš-e ḵomār-e bišoʿuri, III, p. 578). The conventions of the sāqi-nāma in Bidel’s hands become the framework for theosophical meditations and exempla on the illusory phenomena of the material world as emanations of God’s creative force in the tradition on Ebn ʿArabi.

In spite of their diversity, these sāqi-nāmas share essential formal features: they are written in rhymed couplets and, with an exception or two, in the motaqāreb meter. But the genre could take other forms. ʿAbd-al-Nabi Faḵr-al-Zamāni of Qazvin organized his literary compendium Taḏkera-yeMeyḵāna (completed in 1618) on the basis of the sāqi-nāma; earlier poets are included only if they composed one, and contemporary poets who did not are relegated to the book’s brief final section. For ʿAbd-al-Nabi, however, the genre includes not only poems in rhymed couplets, but also poems in the strophic forms of tarjiʿ- and tarkib-band that take wine and the sāqi as their principal topic. This form of the sāqi-nāma can be traced back to Faḵr-al-Din ʿErāqi (d. 1289). His collected works contain two tarjiʿ-bands (pp. 91-98 and 264-68) with the refrain dar meykada mikašam sabuʾi / bāšad ke miyābam az to buʾi (I drink a jar in the tavern. / Perhaps I will catch a scent of you), in which most stanzas begin with a vocative call to the cupbearer. Like the sāqi-nāma in rhymed couplets, the strophic variety also came into its own in the 16th century. Much of the credit for this development goes to Vaḥši of Bāfq (d. 1583). His tarjiʿ-band sāqi-nāma is a sustained celebration of mystical intoxication with the refrain: mā guša-nešinān-e ḵarābāt-e alastim / tā bu-ye meyi hast dar in meykada mastim (We are recluses in the tavern of the covenant. / While there’s even a scent of wine in this wineshop, we are drunk). Vaḥši’s example was soon taken up by poets such as Abu Torāb Beyg Forqati (d. 1616), Faḡfur of Lāhijān (d. 1620), and Kāmel of Jahrom (d. ca. 1619). The thematic range of these strophic poems is more limited than their counterparts in rhymed couplets; though one occasionally finds a concluding encomium, these poems tend to treat the imagery of wine and drunkenness as a vehicle for depicting the ecstasies of mystical transcendence. The same may be said of sāqi-nāmas in the other form of strophic poetry, the tarkib-band, which apparently begins with Šafāʾi of Isfahan (d. 1628) and finds its fullest expression in the work of Naẓiri of Nishapur (d. ca. 1613). Though not included in Taḏkira-ye Meyḵāna, one should also note the unique form of the sāqi-nāma of Ahli of Shiraz (d. 1535; see AHLI ŠIRĀZI)—a series of 101 thematically linked robāʾi.

Like the image of wine itself, the sāqi-nāma is protean, a genre capable of taking on a wide range of forms—a structural marker in an extended narrative, an independent poem of self-transformation in rhymed couplets, a celebration of mystical drunkenness in stanzas—and of assimilating other thematic genres. Its history shows that “classical Persian poetic forms do not have rigid boundaries and often one genre provides material for the genesis of another” (Sharma, p. 83). This statement is especially valid for the period in which the sāqi-nāma flourished. Its flexible form gave ample latitude for the innovation and experimentation that were the hallmark of so much Safavid-Mughal poetry, while building on the rich and ancient tradition of anacreontic verse. In its prototype form, the emphasis on the transformation of self-identity seems to allow us into the subjective world of the poet. Since it is a place where the poets’ “anxieties, pains, sorrows, loves, and desires manifest themselves,” Ḏabiḥ Allāh Ṣafā considers the sāqi-nāma “one of the best forms of poetry for linking our spirits with the spirits of our forefathers, bringing friendships and acquaintances from remote times and distant places” (V/1, pp. 619). The genre has perhaps not yet outlived its usefulness. Hušang Ebtehāj (H. A. Sāya) made his brief sāqi-nāma of 1973 speak to the political situation of his day by introducing the charged symbol of the blood of Siyāvoš into his summons for wine (p. 306).


A. Arazi, Art. “Sāḳī.1. In Arabic usage,” EI² VIII, pp. 883-85.

Bidel of Delhi, Kolliyāt, ed. A. Behāvand and P. ʿAbbāsi-Dākāni, 3 vols., Tehran, 1997.

Firuza Ḏehni, Žanr-e sāqi-nāma dar adabiyāt-e Fārsi-Tājiki aṣrhā-ye XIII-XV, Dushanbe, 1991.

Hušang Ebtehāj (H. A. Sāya), Rāhi-o āhi: montaḵab-e haft daftar-e šeʿr, Tehran, 1999.

Manṣur Rastegār Fasāʾi, Anwāʿ-e šeʿr-e Fārsi: mabāḥeṯi dar ṣurathā va maʿāni-ye šeʿr-e kohan va now-e Pārsi, Shiraz, 1993, pp. 288-303.

Fożuli, Farsça Divan, ed. H. Maziog¡lu, Ankara, 1962.

Aḥmad Golčin-e Maʿāni, Šahrāšub dar šeʿr-e Fārsi, Tehran, 1965.

Idem, Taḏkera-ye Peymāna: sāqi-nāmahā va sāqi-nāma-sarāyān, Tehran, 1988.

Ḥāfeẓ, Divān, ed. Parviz Nātel Ḵānlari, 2 vols., Tehran, 1983.

W. L. Hanaway, Art. “Sāḳī 2. In Persian usage,” EI² VIII, p. 885.

Philip Kennedy, The wine song in classical Arabic poetry: Abū Nuwās and the literary tradition, Oxford, 1997

Moḥammad-Jaʿfar Maḥjub, “Sāqi-nāma, Moḡanni-nāma,” Soḵan 11, Ordibehešt 1339/1960, pp. 69-79.

Meyḵāna, ed. Golčin-e Maʿāni.

Sāmiya Baṣir Moždehi, “Sāqi-nāma,” in Dānešnāma-ye adabiyāt-e Fārsi, ed. Ḥasan Anuša, Tehran, 1997, II, pp. 777-78.

Ṣafā, Tāriḵ-e adabiyāt, III/1, pp. 334-35, and V/1, pp. 615-21.

Sayyedā Nasafi, Kolliyāt-e āṯār, ed. J. Dādʿališāyef, Dushanbe, 1990.

Priscilla P. Soucek, Art. “Sāḳī.3. Representations in Islamic Art,” EI² VIII, pp. 885-87.

Sunil Sharma, “Hāfiz’s Sāqināmeh: the Genesis and Transformation of a Classical Poetic Genre,” Persica 18, 2002, p. 75-83.

E. Yarshater “The theme of wine drinking and the concept of the beloved in early Persian poetry,” Studia Islamica 13, 1960, pp. 43-53.

(Paul Losensky)

Originally Published: July 15, 2009

Last Updated: July 15, 2009