ČEHEL ṬŪṬĪ (forty parrot [stories]), the designation of collections of entertaining stories about the wife of a merchant and a pair of parrots, several versions of which are current in Persia and which are derived from older collections called ṭūṭī-nāmas (book of the parrots).
The stories are inserted in a frame narrative, which is essentially about the young wife of a merchant and a pair of parrots who keep her company while her husband is away on business. She is induced by a sweet-talking but deceitful old woman to meet a young man who has fallen in love with her. The male parrot threatens to tell the merchant, and the wife promptly kills it but soon regrets her action and after all does not go to the rendezvous. The woman returns the next day and again persuades the wife to accompany her. The female parrot, seeing what happened to her mate, warns the wife that she may suffer the fate of so and so in a certain story. The wife asks the parrot for further details, and it spends the entire day telling the story, thus preventing the wife from going to the rendezvous. These events are repeated for a great many days (hence Čehel ṭūṭī where “forty” just refers to a high number) until the merchant returns. The merchant discovers what has been going on, gets rid of his wife, and buys the parrot another companion. The morals of the stories are told by various animals, but the main narrator throughout is the parrot.
Because of the excessive length of the story the expression qeṣṣa-ye čehel ṭūṭī also signifies a lengthy and circumstantial account (Dehḵodā, s.v. Čehel ṭūṭī). The theme of assigning a parrot to guard the lady of the house is found also elsewhere in Persian literature, for instance in Ẓahīrī Samarqandī’s Sendbād-nāma (pp. 50-57).
The origin of these stories is the Sanskrit Śūka-saptati (Seventy parrots; Eng. tr. Wortham; Keith, pp. 290-92), two versions of which are known: one short, popular version and one more elaborate, apparently compiled by Cintāmaṇi Bhaṭṭa, who incorporated in it stories from the Pañcatantra (the original of Kalīla wa Demna, Āl-e Aḥmad, p. lii). The Śūka-saptati differs from the Ṭūṭī-nāma in that the merchant, assured that his wife is still pure, lives with her happily and sets the parrot free to show his gratitude.
The oldest extant Persian version is that of Ḵᵛāja Żīāʾ-al-Dīn Badāʾūnī Naḵšabī (d. 751/1350; Ethé, p. 324, tr. p. 225), who, while still a youth, went to Badāʾūn, where he learned Sanskrit and was commissioned by a nobleman to prepare a shortened and revised version of an already existing translation of the Śūka-saptati (comp. 730/1329-30; Goḷčīn-e Maʿānī, pp. 132-34; Maḥjūb, p. 754; Eqbāl, p. 528; Eng. tr. Gerrans; many commercial, but unreliable, editions in Persia, India, and Afghanistan, see Goḷčīn-e Maʿānī, p. 134). Naḵšabī not only simplified the earlier translation, but also embellished it with poetry by himself and others, rewrote a number of stories, and replaced those he did not like with new ones (some of which resemble stories in A Thousand and One Nights, see Ethé, p. 324). In this version the merchant returns after 52 nights, kills the wife, and praises the parrot.
Naḵšabī’s version was in turn revised by the Mughal prince Moḥammad Dārā Šokūh Qāderī (q.v.; 1024-69/1615-59), whose version contains only 35 stories, all abridged (pub. with Eng. tr., by F. Galdwin, Calcutta, 1800, London, 1801; repr. Tehran, 1967). For translations into Turkish (by Sārī ʿAbd-Allāh Efendī, 992-1071/1584-1660) and Indian languages see Ethé, pp. 324-26.
Another Persian translation/adaptation of the Śūka-saptati is the Jawāher al-asmār by ʿEmād b. Moḥammad Ṯaḡarī(?) (comp. 713-15/1313-15; ed. Š. Āl-e Aḥmad, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973 from a unique manuscript in the Majles Library) dedicated to ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad Shah Ḵalajī (695-715/1296-1315; Āl-e Aḥmad, pp. xxxii-xxxiii, lii). It is based on the Śūka-saptati, but the stories have been freely edited, and stories from the Pañcatantra and other Indian books have been added. In this version the roles of the female parrot and male parrots are reversed. It contains 86 stories told in 49 nights. The opening is similar to that in Dārā Šokūh’s version, and twenty-seven of their stories are identical.
The introduction and five stories from Čehel ṭūṭī are included in the Mabdaʾ al-lesān, another collection of miscellaneous stories (Āl-e Aḥmad, pp. xxvii-xxviii).
Š. Āl-e Aḥmad, 1352, introd. to the edition of Jawāher al-asmār. Bahār, Sabk-šenāsī III, p. 259.
Blochet, Catalogue IV, pp. 1131-61.
Čehel ṭūṭī, ed. P. Manṣūr, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960.
V. Chauvin, Bibliographie des ouvrages arabes ou relatifs aux Arabes, publiés dans l’Europe chrétienne de 1810 à 1885 VII, Liège, 1909.
ʿA. Eqbāl, Tārīḵ-emofaṣṣal-e Īrān az estīlā-ye Moḡol tā eʿlān-e Mašrūṭīyat I: Az ḥamla-ye Čengīz tā taškīl-e dawlat-e tīmūrī, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962.
H. Ethé, “Neupersische Literatur,” in Grundriss II, pp. 212-368; Pers. tr. Ṣ. Reżāzāda Šafaq, Tārīḵ-eadabīyāt-e fārsī, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958.
M. Gerrans, Tales of a Parrot, London, 1792.
A. Goḷčīn-e Maʿānī, Fehrest kotob-e ḵaṭṭī-e ketāb-ḵāna-ye Āstān-e Qods-e Rażawī, Mašhad, 1346 Š./1967, VII/1, pp. 132-36.
A. B. Keith, A History of Sanskrit Literature, Oxford, 1928.
Mabdaʾ al-lesān mojtamaʿ az ḥekāyāt-e . . . Čehel ṭūṭī wa jang-e jām wa qalyān, ed. V. A. Zhukovskiĭ, St. Petersburg, 1901.
M.-J. Maḥjūb, “Dāstānhā-ye ʿām(m)īāna-ye fārsī,” Soḵan 11/7, 1339 Š./1962, pp. 756-64.
Nafīsī, Naẓm o naṯr I/1, p. 185.
Rypka, Hist. Iran. Lit., pp. 109, 223, 317, 561, 612, 663, 665, 719.
Ṣafā, Adabīyāt III/2, pp. 1294-95.
B. H. Wortham, The Wisdom of India, London, 1911; Pers. tr. J. Āl-e Aḥmad and S. Dānešvar, tr. from Eng., “Čehel ṭūṭī,” Yaḡmā, 1344 Š./1965, 18/1, pp. 13-21, 18/2, pp. 74-78, 18/3, pp. 142-46, 18/4, pp. 195-200.
Ẓahīrī Samarqandī, Sendbād-nāma, ed. ʿA. Qawīm, Tehran, 1333 Š./1954.
Originally Published: December 15, 1990
Last Updated: December 15, 1990
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