ḴAMSA OF NEẒĀMI, the quintet of narrative poems for which Neẓāmi Ganjavi (1141-1209) is universally acclaimed. It contains the didactic poem Maḵzan al-asrār in around 2,260 couplets in sariʿ meter; three epic romances: Ḵosrow o Širin in around 6,500 couplets in hazaj meter, Leyli o Majnun in around 4,600 couplets in hazaj meter, and Haft peykar in about 5130 couplets in ḵafif meter; and the Eskandar-nāma, which can be regarded as an epic interlaced with didactic observations and consists of two formally separate parts, in all about 10,500 couplets in motaqāreb meter.
After the author’s death, his poems in the maṯnavi form began to appear in codices assembled as an ensemble generally known as Ḵamsa (Quintet) or also as Panj Ganj (The five treasures). A large number of manuscripts of the Ḵamsa have survived (listed in Monzavi, pp. 2685-96; Rādfar, pp. 5-29, and de Blois, 1994, pp. 451-79). The oldest dated manuscript among the extant copies of the entire Ḵamsa is dated 763/1362 and belongs to the Bibliothèque nationale (Supplément persan 1817) in Paris. There are also a few dated copies belonging to earlier periods, but they are incomplete.
The first attempt at a critical edition was made by Waḥid Dastgerdi (Tehran, 1934-39, with several reprints). It contains some helpful explanatory notes, but the attempt at presenting a critical edition is marred by the arbitrary inclusion or exclusion of verses in the text. Since 1947, critical editions of all poems have been prepared by a team of Azeri scholars, following a scheme organized by E. E. Berthels and his colleagues in 1941 (cf. de Blois, 1994, p. 451). More recently, richly annotated editions of the poems have been published by Behruz Ṯarvatiān. There is a complete translation of the Ḵamsa in Russian verse in 5 volumes published in Moscow in 1985 and reprinted in Baku in 1991. There is a vast bibliography on Neẓāmi’s Ḵamsa (cf. Rādfar, pp. 239-374).
De Blois has brought the traditional relative chronology of the poems of the Ḵamsa into question (de Blois, 1994, pp. 438-46; idem, 1997, pp. 585-91). On the basis of the comparison of the manuscripts, the identification of the dedicatees and other textual data, he has suggested the following dates of completion for the poems: Maḵzan al-asrār likely in or shortly after 561/1166 (therefore about a decade earlier than the usually accepted date: cf. Chelkowski, p. 77); Kosrow o Širin between 571/1176 and 582/1186, with the epilogue added sometime between 582/1186 and 587/1191 (for further details on the chronology of this poem, see Orsatti, 2006); Leyli o Majnun in 584/1188 (de Blois does not take the possible additions dated up to 588/1192 [cf. Rādfar, p. 71] into account); Eskandar-nāma in 590/1194; Haft peykar in 593/1197. Thus Haft peykar is probably the last poem of the five composed by Neẓāmi, though in most manuscripts it is placed before Eskandar-nāma. It must be borne in mind, however, that in the oldest ḵamsa written in response to that of Neẓāmi, the Ḵamsa of Amir Ḵosrow, completed in 701/1301-02, hence prior to the extant dated manuscripts of Neẓāmi’s Ḵamsa, the order of the last two poems is: first, Āʿina-ye Eskandari (the response to Eskandar-nāma), followed by Hašt behešt (the response to Haft peykar). Ṯarvatiān lays stress on the time gap that often occurs between the date of completion and the date of dedication in Neẓāmi’s poems, a gap explicable in terms of the complex political situation of the time, which created difficulties in choosing patrons (Ṯarvatiān, Introduction, pp. 51-52).
Neẓāmi drew inspiration from several works of Persian literature: Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa of Sanāʾi, Vis o Rāmin of Gorgāni, Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma, Varqa o Golšāh of ʿAyyuqi, and Siāsat-nāma of Neẓām-al-Molk, among others. Also oral tradition, Arabic anecdotes, and historians such as Ṭabari are among his sources. However, Neẓāmi does not try to imitate his predecessors. His way of proceeding is to deal briefly with episodes that the previous poets had treated, focusing instead on new material while introducing important formal innovations (see the entries for individual poems).
The influence of Neẓāmi’s work on the subsequent development of Persian literature has been enormous. Not only each of his poems, but also the Ḵamsa as a whole became a pattern that was emulated in later Persian poetry (and also in other Islamic literatures). The imitations (naẓiras) of the Ḵamsa may be attempts to reply to every original poem, following their subject as well as their meter and other formal features, or they may be collections of maṯnavis that contain only some imitations of Neẓāmi’s poems. The first and most renowned response to Neẓāmi’s Ḵamsa was, as pointed out above, by Amir Ḵosrow Dehlavi. Other well-know ḵamsas, more or less complete, composed in response to Neẓāmi were written by Ḵvāju Kermāni, Jamāli, Hātefi, Jāmi, who extended to seven the total of poems, and Navāʾi in the Chaghatay language (for a list of other ḵamsas, see Rādfar pp. 205-8).
The stories in Neẓāmi’s poems have provided the Persian art of the miniature with an abundance of subject matter: his Ḵamsa, together with Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma, were the most frequently illustrated literary works.
The editions of the Ḵamsa are reviewed above in the text. François de Blois, Persian Literature. A Bio-bibliographical Survey, Begun by the Late C. A. Storey, V/2, London, 1994; V/3, London, 1997.
Peter Chelkoswki, “Niẓāmī Gandjawī,” in EI 2 VIII, 1995, pp. 76-81.
Aḥmad Monzavi, Fehrest-e nosḵahā-ye ḵaṭṭi-e fārsi IV, Tehran, 1972-73.
Neẓāmi Ganjeʾi, Ḵosrow o Širin, ed. Behruz Ṯarvatiān, Tehran, 1987-88.
Paola Orsatti, “Ḵosrow o Širin and its Imitations,” at Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, 2006, available at www.iranicaonline.org.
Abu’l-Qāsem Rādfar, Ketābšenāsi-e Neẓāmi-e Ganjavi, Tehran, 1992-93.
ʿAbd-al-Ḥoseyn Zarrinkub, Pir-e Ganja dar jostoju-ye nākojā-ābād. Dar bāre-ye zendegi, āṯār va andiša-ye Neẓāmi, Tehran, 1993-94.
Originally Published: January 1, 2000
Last Updated: November 10, 2010
This article is available in print.