KAMĀL-AL-DIN EṢFAHĀNI, (b. ca. 568/1172-73; d. ca. 635/1237), poet from Isfahan, noted for his mastery of the panegyric. His full name is given by Ebn al-Fowaṭi as Kamāl-al-Din Abu’l-Fażl Esmāʿil b. Abi Moḥammad ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿAbd-al-Razzāq al-Eṣfahāni (IV, p. 149). Other titles (laqabs) can be found in a letter addressed to the poet by one of his contemporaries (Šafiʿi-Kadkani, p. 4). From the Timurid era onwards, Kamāl-al-Din has also been called Ḵallāq al-maʿāni, “creator of intricate meanings” (Dawlatšāh, p. 164; Jāmi, p. 104).

His father, Jamāl-al-Din Moḥammad Eṣfahāni, was a celebrated poet of Isfahan in the second half of the 12th century and a panegyrist of the well-established Ḥanafi family, the Ṣāʿeds. Since the poet himself states that he was barely 20 years old at the time of his father’s death (Divān, p. 136, v. 2232), he must have been born around 1172-73. He began to compose poetry in his youth (as early as 1189-90, and perhaps even 1186-87), when he was only 14 (Baḥr-al-ʿOlumi, pp. lxxiii-lxxiv). In these he displayed such precocious talents that doubts were raised about his authorship of the verses. However, the excellence of the elegy (marṯiya) that he had composed on the death of his father silenced his critics and established him as the major poet of the city. Kamāl-al-Din sought the patronage of his father’s patron, Rokn-al-Din Abu’l-ʿAlāʾ Ṣāʿed (d. 1203-04), and through his bounty was able to complete his education. His poetry shows him acquainted with Islamic jurisprudence (feqh), philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and Arabic. A short Arabic treatise of his on archery, Resālat al-qaws, has survived (Baḥr-al-ʿOlumi, pp. cv-cxiii). He himself points out that he is not only a poet, but also a savant (ʿālem), a specialist in law (faqih), and an adib (Divān, p. 361, vv. 6160-61).

Kamāl-al-Din often complains about being neglected by his patrons and suffering financial hardship as a result. Nevertheless, he remained in the service of the Sāʿeds until his death.

Although his talents would have surely enabled him to find a position in a royal court elsewhere, he spent most of his life in Isfahan. He visited Rayy, Ṭabarestān, and Khwarazm, which, like Isfahan, were under the rule of the Khwarazmshahs during most of his lifetime. His pilgrimage to Mecca remains a matter of conjecture, in spite of a possible reference to it in the collection of documents, Moḵtārāt men al-rasāʾel (pp. 134-35; Glünz, 1993, p. 14). He describes his joy at getting married (Divān, p. 296, vv. 5017-24), apparently quite late in life, but the loss of his beloved son ʿAli, who drowned during a trip, caused him deep sorrow (Divān, p. 429). Kamāl-al-Din also suffered from various ailments, such as ophthalmia (ramad) and scabies (jarab). Another source of disquiet was the worsening situation in western Persia (Jebāl) after the collapse of Saljuq rule, when the poet witnessed famines, depicted by him in a poignant elegiac ode with the radif (end line refrain) gorosna “hungry” (Divān, pp. 501-4). He also witnessed injustice, expressing his anger at the confiscation of a piece of land near Isfahan (Divān, p. 508). He was, above all, distressed at the ongoing sectarian strife (fetna) between the Hanafites and Shafeʿites, which devastated the city (Glünz, 1987, pp. 78-81; Durand-Guédy, 2010, pp. 219-20, 254-55). Appalled at these religious quarrels, he refused to acknowledge his religious affiliation (maḏhab; Divān, p. 472, v. 8113). Nonetheless, Kamāl-al-Din was clearly a Hanafite, as were both his father and the Ṣāʿeds. Even though he wrote verses praising the family of the Prophet Moḥammad and deploring the killing of the Prophet’s grandson Ḥosayn, he cannot be considered to have been a Shiʿite. Some have seen a contradiction between, on the one hand, his propensity towards asceticism (zohd) in numerous verses, and his praise of worldly pleasures and men of power, on the other (Masrur, p. 107; Rypka, p. 214). It appears, however, that at the end of his life the poet did embrace a more ascetic way of life—an ideal that his father also stressed in his work but never realized in his life. The great mystic Abu Ḥafṣ Šehāb-al-Din Sohravardi called him his “seeking brother” in a letter (Baḥr-al-ʿOlumi, pp. ix-x), and according to Dawlatšāh (p. 168) he retreated to a hermitage (zāwiya) near Isfahan and donned the Sufi robe. No doubt this decision was hastened by the breakdown of the truce between the Ḥanafites and the Shafeʿites, probably at the time of the death of Khwarzamshah Jalāl-al-Din Mengübirni (1231) and the onset of the Mongol invasion. After surviving the capture of the city, Kamāl-al-Din was apparently tortured and killed by the Mongol soldiers on 2 Jomādi I 635/21 December 1237 (Dawlatšāh, p. 169; the date of 635 is first given by Ebn al-Fowaṭi, IV, p. 129). His tomb still exists in the old district of Jubāra, but plans to construct a more impressive mausoleum during the Pahlavi era never materialized.

Kamāl-al-Din is said to have composed some 20,000 verses (Ebn al-Fowaṭi, IV, p. 129), but in Baḥr-al-ʿOlumi’s edition there are only 15,000 (see the bibliography below for subsequent additional findings). His Arabic poetry, if it ever existed, has been lost. Kamāl-al-Din wrote tarkib-bands, qeṭʿas, ḡazals, robāʿis, and qaṣidas. However, he did not (pace Jan Rypka, p. 214) write a maṯnawi (an apparent confusion with the 13th-century mystic Kamāl-al-Din ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Kāšāni, based on Ritter, p. 105, n. 20). The bulk of Kamāl-al-Din’s Divān is comprised of mystical, exhortatory—and most importantly—eulogistic panegyrics. These are dedicated to various praised patrons (mamduḥs), 41 in total, who can be classified in four categories: (1) kings and emirs such as the Khwarazmshahs Tekiš b. Il-Arslān, Jalāl-al-Din Mengübirni, and his brother Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Piršāh; the Atabeg of Fārs Saʿd b. Zengi and his son Abu Bakr; the Šabānkārā ruler Moẓaffar-al-Din b. Mobārez; the Bavandid heir Šaraf-al-Moluk Ḥasan; the Pahlavān mamluks Ay-Toḡmiš and Mengli; the Khwarazmian governor of Isfahan, Noṣrat-al-Din Ebn Ḵarmil (on these figures, see Durand-Guédy, 2010; (2) Persian civil servants, mostly viziers of the Khwarazmshahs in Isfahan; (3) notables of Isfahan, mainly the Ṣāʿeds (Abu’l-ʿAlāʾ and his son Masʿud— Kamāl-al-Din composed 33 and 32 poems for them respectively), but also the Ḵojandis, probably during the truce between the two factions; (4) others, including poets and mystics.

Kamāl-al-Din paid tribute to the older masters of the Persian panegyric, such as Sanāʾi and Anwari, but he thought that no other contemporary poet had mastered the craft (ṣanʿat) of poetry as well as he (Divān, p. 335, v. 5689), especially in inducing maʿāni “intricate meanings” (Divān, p. 266, v. 4514). Indeed, his virtuosity manifests itself through his choice of rare and awkward words in the radif (such as ramad) of very long panegyrics, and also by his capacity to bring fresh, mostly original, topics (mażmun) into each verse (Glünz, 1993, pp. 153-255). Although his poems may not have been fully appreciated by his patrons, his talent brought him posthumous fame. Authors as varied as Nāṣir-al-Din Ṭusi, ʿAṭā-Malek Jovayni, and Ruzbehān Ḵonji quoted his verses (a complete list of quotations in Baḥr-al-ʿOlumi, p. lxxvi). Hafez (p. 1039) mentioned his name in a poem where he ‘responded’ to one of his panegyrics (Moʿin, p. 35), and so did Salmān Sāvaji. Jāmi claims that no other poet has reached such a degree of refinement, though he also points to the concomitant loss of clarity (p. 104). Moreover, Kamāl-al-Din exerted a long lasting influence over future generations of panegyrists writing in Persian and Turkish, which continued well into the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Bayāzid II (Glünz, 1996, p. 51). In modern times, Kamāl-al-Din has long been considered as a “second-rate poet” (Nafisi, p. 158). However, recent scholarship has contributed to establishing him as a pioneer of the ʿErāqi style (sabk-e ʿerāqi), and perhaps even as a forerunner of the Indian style (sabk-e hendi, Glünz, 1993, p. 28).

Editions and translations. The first editions of Kamāl-al-Din’s Divān were printed in India, first by Malek-al-Kottāb (in 208 pages, n.d.), then as a facsimile of the copy of M. ʿAli Kaškul-e Širāzi (Bombay, 1889-90; repr. Tehran, 1997-98 with an index of the verses). A critical edition of the Divān based on seven manuscripts and containing about 15,000 verses with an extensive introduction was compiled by Ḥoseyn Baḥr-al-ʿOlumi (Tehran, 1970). Fragments attributed to Kamāl-al-Din have been published subsequently (Šarvāni; ʿĀbedi). Kamāl-al-Din’s poetry has been translated into English (Gray and Mumford), French (Ṣafā), and German (Glünz 1993).



A.-Ḥ. ʿĀbedi, “Do nosḵa-ye ḵaṭṭi-e divān-e Ḵallāq al-maʿāni,” Nāma-ye farhangestān 3/2, 1997, pp. 62-68 (includes new fragments discovered in Bombay, including 17 robāʿis).

Amin Aḥmad Rāzi, Haft eqlim, ed. M. Ṭāher, Tehran, 1999, II, pp. 922-33.

A. J. Arberry, Classical Persian Literature, London, 1958, pp. 244-68.

Moḥammad ʿAwfi, Lobāb al-albāb, ed. E. G. Browne and M. Qazvini, 2 vols., 1903-06, I, pp. 274-75.

Ḥ. Baḥr-al-ʿOlumi, Divān-e Abu’l-Fażl Kamāl-al-Din Esmāʿil al-Eṣfahāni, Tehran, 1970.

Idem, “Čand nokta dar barā-ye maqāl-e ravāj-e bāzār-e šeʿr va šāʿeri (nevešta-ye Jamālzāda),” Majalla-ye dāneškada-ye adabiyāt va ʿolum-e ensāni 79-80, 1972, pp. 63-68.

E. G. Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia II, pp. 540-42.

P. Chelkowski, “Literature in pre-Safavid Isfahan,” Iranian Studies 7/1, 1974, pp. 123-25.

F. de Blois, Persian Literature. A Bio-Bibliographical Survey V/2, London, 1994, pp. 350-55 (extensive survey of the manuscripts).

Dawlatšāh, Taḏkerat al-šoʿarāʾ, ed. E. G. Browne, London and Leyden, 1901, pp. 164-68 (passage translated by Gray and Mumford, pp. 9-12); D. Durand-Guédy, Iranian Elites and Turkish Rulers: A History of Iṣfahān in the Saljūq Period, Abingdon, UK, and New York, 2010.

Ebn al-Fowaṭi, Majmaʿ al-ādāb, ed. M. al-Kāẓem, Tehran, 1994-45, IV, p. 129.

ʿA. Eqbāl, “Tāriḵ-e vafāt-e Kamāl-al-Din Esmāʿil,” Armaḡān 14, 1933, pp. 7-13.

M. Glünz “Der Zerfall der Ordnung aus der Sicht des Isfahaner Dichters Kamâl od-Din Esmâ’il (7./13. jh.),” in Transition Period in Iranian History (Actes du symposium de Fribourg-en-Brisgau, 22-24 mai 1985), Louvain, 1987, pp. 75-81.

Idem, Die Panegyrische qaṣida bei Kamāl ud-din Ismāʿil aus Isfahan, eine Studie zur persischen Lobdichtung um den Beginn des 7./13. Jahrhunderts, Beirut, 1993 (a thorough study of the poems).

Idem, “Kamal Isma‘il of Isfahan: Last of the Old Masters of Persian Qasida Poetry,” Spektrum Iran 9/1, 1996, pp. 46-54.

ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi, Bahārestān, ed. Esmāʿil Ḥākemi, Tehran, 1988.

Ḥ. Masrur, “Šarḥ-e ḥāl-e Kamāl-al-Din Esmāʿil,” Armaḡān 7, 1926, pp. 19-23, 104-17, 301-12 (a pioneering study).

M. Moʿin, “Defāʿ az do guyanda-ye bozorg,” Jelva 1, 1956, pp. 5-39.

Ḥāfeẓ, Divān, ed. P. Nātel Ḵānlari, Tehran, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1983.

Moḵtārāt men al-rasāʾel, ed. I. Afšār and Ḡ. Ṭāher, Tehran, 1999.

S. Nafisi, Tāriḵ-e naẓm o naṯr dar Irān va dar zabān-e fārsi (tā pāyān-e qarn-e dahom-e hejri), Tehran, 1965, pp. 107-8.

ʿA. Pur-Ḥājji Langerudi, Šarḥ-e qaṣāyed-e ʿerfāni-aḵlāqi-e Kamāl-al-Din Esmāʿil Eṣfahāni, Tehran (?), 1990.

H. Ritter, “Philologika VII,” Der Islam 21, 1933, pp. 84-109.

J. Rypka, History of Iranian Literature, Dordrecht, 1968, p. 214.

Idem, “Poets and Prose Writers of the Late Saljuq and Mongol Periods,” in CHI 5, 1968, pp. 585-86.

M.-R. Šafiʿi-Kadkani, “Faḵr-al-Din Moṭarrezi va Kamāl Esmāʿil Eṣfahāni,” Farhang-e Irānzamin 19, 1973, pp. 1-9.

Ḏ. Ṣafā, Tāriḵ-e adabiyāt dar Irān II, 1963, pp. 871-76.

Jamāl Ḵalil Šarvāni, Nozhat al-majāles, ed. M. A. Riāḥi, Tehran, 1987; 2nd ed., Tehran, 1996 (contains 283 of Kamāl-al-Din’s robāʿis of which 41 are not in his Divān).

Ḥ. Waḥid, “Maqbara-ye Kamāl-al-Din Esmāʿil,” Armaḡān 7, 1926, pp. 546-47.

A. H. Zarrinkoob, “Ḳamāl al-Dīn Ismāʿīl,” in EI2, IV, 1978, pp. 515-16.

(David Durand-Guédy)

Originally Published: December 15, 2010

Last Updated: April 20, 2012

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