FALSAFĪ, NAṢR–ALLĀH (b. Tehran, 9 Āḏar 1280 Š./30 November 1901; d. 2 Ḵordād 1360 Š./22 May 1981), Persian historian, educator, journalist, translator, and poet.
Falsafī’s father was Mīrzā Naṣr-Allāh Mostawfī Savādkūhī, a government accountant. His maternal grandfather was Āqā ʿAlī Ḥakamī, son of Mollā ʿAbd-Allāh Zonūzī, both of whom were scholars and philosophers of the 19th century “Tehran School” mentioned by Joseph-Arthur Comte de Gobineau in Les religions et les philosophises dans l’Asie Centrale (Paris, 1869; see Afšār, 1962, p. 442; Eḥtešāmī, p. 112; S. Ḥ. Naṣr, “Falsafa wa boḥrān-e jahān-e konūnī,” Rahāvard 34, 1372 Š./1993, p. 23).
Falsafī studied at the Aqdasīya school, the Alliance Française, and then the Dār al-fonūn (q.v.). He started his career in 1920 as an assistant-editor of the journal published by the Ministry of Post and Telegraph (Wezārat-e post o telegrāf); subsequently he became its editor. While at the ministry, Falsafī founded also Kolūb-e bayn-al-melalī-e Īrān, a society for the international exchange of postage stamps, coins, books, pictures, and collectibles, which published the bilingual Persian-French journal La Revue Iran (Afšār, 1981, p. 315; La Revue Iran 1, 1923, pp. 1-2). The journal printed poems and feature articles in Persian with some French and English translations. Falsafī left the ministry in 1925, and after serving briefly in the Ministry of Justice he transferred to the Ministry of Education and started teaching history, geography, and French at high schools in Tehran. In 1936 he became a professor of history and geography at the University of Tehran, where he taught for 28 years until his retirement in 1964. In 1945-46 he was invited by the University of Strasbourg, France, to lecture on the evolution of Persian prose (Afšār, 1981, p. 315). Falsafī remained active as a journalist, writer, and magazine editor, contributing scores of reviews, stories, feature articles, and translations to leading newspapers and magazines. He served as editor of a learned journal published by the Ministry of Education, Taʿlīm o tarbīyat (1934-35); he also edited the literary journal Mehr (1933-37) and the weekly Omīd (1943-47).
In 1956, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed Falsafī as cultural attaché to the embassies in Rome and Madrid, an assignment that lasted five years (Afšār, 1981, p. 315; “Šarḥ,” p. 2). During that time he supervised the publication of the journal Iranica in French, Italian, and Spanish. Between 1970 and 1975, at the ministry’s request, he sought out photographs and documents on Persia kept in the museums and archives of several European countries and the Vatican. Falsafī suffered a stroke in 1975, which prevented him from active research. He died in Tehran in 1981.
Falsafī’s works comprise writings on history, geography, and Persia’s foreign relations as well as translations from famous European writers and poets. Among the best of his translations is his rendition of a French version of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, which he published in 1305 Š./1926. Dr. Moḥammad Moṣāddeq, then a member of the Majles, commissioned Falsafī to translate La cité antique by the French historian Numa-Denis Fustel de Coulanges. To this translation, published in 1309 Š./1930, Falsafī added a seventy-five-page glossary of specialized terms, personages, and events from Greek and Roman history, thus equipping Persian students with a concise guide to the classics unavailable to them through other works in their own language (Zarnegar, p. 257). Falsafī’s own poetry was published in a volume of selected works, Čand šeʿr (Tehran, 1351 Š./1972). His poem “Afsāna-ye ʿomr” is included in almost all anthologies of modern Persian verse. Finally, Falsafī is regarded as one of the most prominent contemporary Persian historians and a founder of modern historiographical methods in Persia. His magnum opus is Zendagānī-e Šāh ʿAbbās-e Awwal, a study of the life of Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 996-1038/1588-1629; q.v.). He had planned to write this biography of the great Safavid monarch in eight volumes but completed only five (usually printed in three or four volumes). He collected notes for the remaining volumes but never finished them due to poor health and depression (Afšār, 1981, p. 316).
Selected works. Tārīḵ-e qorūn-e nūzdahom wa bīstom, Tehran, 1309 Š./1930.
Tārīḵ-e qorūn-e hefdahom wa hejdahom, Tehran, 1316 Š./1937.
Tārīḵ-e rawābeṭ-e Īrān wa Orūpā dar dawrān-e sÂafawī, Tehran, 1316 Š./1937.
Jang-e Čālderān, Tehran, 1332 Š./1953.
Hašt maqāla-ye tārīḵī wa adabī, Tehran, 1335 Š./1956.
Zendagānī-ye Šāh ʿAbbās-e Awwal, 4 vols., Tehran, 1333-46 Š./1954-67 (several reprintings).
Translations. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, tr. from the French as Sargozašt-e Verter, Tehran, 1305 Š./1926.
V. Hugo, Les Misérables, tr. as Bīčāregān, Tehran, 1305 Š./1926.
A. E. Christensen, Le règne du roi Kawādh I et le communisme mazdakite, tr. as Salṭanat-e Qobād wa ẓohūr-e Mazdak, Tehran, 1306 Š./1927.
N.-D. Fustel de Coulanges, La cité antique, tr. as Tārīḵ-e tamaddon-e qadīm, Tehran, 1309 Š./1930.
Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique, tr. as Farhang-e falsafī, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958.
Biographical notices. Ī. Afšār, “Naṣr-Allāh Falsafī,” Rāhnemā-ye ketāb 5, 1341 Š./1962, pp. 442-47 (gives a detailed list of Falsafī’s works).
Idem, “Naṣr-Allāh Falsafī,” Āyanda 7, 1360 Š./1981, pp. 315-20.
M. B. Borqaʿī, Soḵanvarān-e nāmī-ye moʿāṣer, Tehran, 1329 Š./1950, pp. 184-85.
A. Eḥtešāmī, “Naṣr-Allāh Falsafī: ostād, nevīsanda, rūz-nāmanegār,” in Šokūfahā-ye ḏawq wa adab, Tehran, 1330 Š./1951, pp. 111-19.
La Revue Iran 1, 1923, pp. 1-2.
“Šarḥ-e ḥāl-e moʾallef, "intro. to N. Falsafī, Zendagānī-e Šāh ʿAbbās-e Awwal I, repr., Tehran, 1369 Š./1990, pp. 1-4.
M. Zarnegar, “Yād-ī az dānešmand-e gerān-qadr profesor Naṣr-Allāh Falsafī: tarīḵča-ye tarjama-ye yak ketāb-e maʿrūf-e tārīḵ,” Rahāvard 11/40, 1995-96, pp. 252–59.
Naṣr-Allāh Falsafī’s magnum opus, the Zendagānī-e Šāh ʿAbbās-e Awwal, is a study of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās the Great in five volumes, totalling 2102 pages with 158 illustrations of Safavid, Ottoman, Mughal, and Indian rulers; Shah ʿAbbās’ generals; and certain historical buildings (2nd ed., Tehran, 1332-45 Š./1953-66). The book, compiled on sound historiographical principles and utilizing the earliest Persian and European sources, is, to this day, one of the most important studies of the Safavid monarch’s life and time.
Falsafī explained his goal and methods in the preface to the first volume of his work. His aim was to investigate the life of Shah ʿAbbās in all its aspects—his psychological, physical, moral, and behavioral characteristics as well as the political, military, and social events of the period; the shah’s foreign and domestic policies; his treatment of native subjects and foreigners; and assessments of the shah from many perspectives. Falsafī also sought to make a comprehensive survey of all available source material and culled material from contemporary Persian writings, accounts by foreign visitors and travelers, exchanges of correspondence between kings, and reports from ambassadors to their governments. All in all, he utililized some 251 Persian and Turkish sources and 133 sources in European languages. Finally, Falsafī employed his considerable literary talent in organizing this material and writing about it in a fluent, simple, and attractive prose style.
Volume I covered two main topics: (1) the historical background and description of major events from the founding of the Safavid dynasty by Shah Esmāʿīl I in 907/1501 through the troubled reign of ʿAbbās’s father, Shah Moḥammad Ḵodā-banda (985-996/1577-1587) and (2) the formative years of ʿAbbās’s life, from his birth to his coronation, during which the prince witnessed the revolt of the Qezelbāš, the murder of his brother Ḥamza Mīrzā and of his mother Mahd[-e] ʿOlyā, and the occupation of northwest districts of Persia by the Ottomans and of the eastern parts by the Uzbeks, prior to his ascension to the throne at the age of eighteen in 996/1588. The second and third volumes were devoted to the subject of Shah ʿAbbās’s personality. They delineated the monarch’s physical and moral characteristics, his education, his passion for the acquisition of art and science, his interest in astrology and the casting of horoscopes, his taste in entertainment (fondness for women and wine and dislike of narcotics and tobacco), and his interaction with people. They also dealt with his interest in religion, his treatment of the ʿolamāʾ and non-Muslims, his domestic policy, his administration of justice, and his collection of revenue from his assets and industrial factories. The remaining volumes, IV and V, described the court of Shah ʿAbbās, the reception of ambassadors and treatment of foreigners, and the nature of foreign relations with the Ottoman Empire, India, the Uzbeks, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Britain, Holland, Germany, and Tuscany.
In Falsafī’s interpretation, Shah ʿAbbās was an enigmatic man with many contradictory traits. He was a sagacious, intelligent, brave king and a statesman; at the same time he was a ruthless despot suspicious of everyone around him. He was both merciful and merciless, generous and stingy, grateful and ungrateful, tyrannical and benevolent (I, p. yh).
Falsafī’s work is not without its flaws. Although he asserts, for example, that there is no statement of fact in the book without at least one supporting historical source (II, p. 316), in many cases the cited reference is simply “in most books of history,” “in some histories,” “in Ottoman histories,” or “a writer”; in some cases the source quoted lacks a page number or a statement made without mentioning any source at all, thereby subjecting the diligent researcher who wishes to follow up on such statements to uncertainty and difficulty. On the whole, however, the book is a mine of useful information and constitutes a major landmark in the realm of Safavid historiography.
Originally Published: December 15, 1999
Last Updated: January 20, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. IX, Fasc. 2, pp. 182-183