Ubayd wrote religious poems, praise of God, the Prophet and the Four Rashidun Caliphs; but he neither claimed nor desired to lead a virtuous life. Poverty and debt were the usual lots of 'Ubayd.
Nezam od-Din Ubeydollah Zâkâni , or simply Ubayd-i Zākāni (Persian. 1370 CE), was a Persian poet and satirist of the 14th century (Timurid Period) from the city of Qazvin. He studied in Shiraz, Iran under the best masters of his day, but eventually moved back to his native town of Qazvin. He however preferred Shiraz to Qazvin, as he was a court poet in Shiraz for Shah Abu Ishaq, where a young Hafez was present as well.
His work is noted for its satire and obscene verses, often political or bawdy, and often cited in debates involving homosexual practices. He wrote the Resaleh-ye Delgosha, as well as Akhlaq al-Ashraf ("Ethics of the Aristocracy") and the famous humorous fable Masnavi Mush-O-Gorbeh (Mouse and Cat), which was a political satire. His non-satirical serious classical verses have also been regarded as very well written, in league with the other great works of Persian literature. He is one of the most remarkable poets, satirists and social critics of Iran (Persia), whose works have not received proper attention in the past. His books are translated into Russian, Danish, Italian, English, and German (by Joachim Wohlleben, 2009: seemingly the first translation of the complete work into a Western language).
While pursuing his studies in Shiraz Ubayd became one of the most accomplished men of letters and learning of his time, acquiring complete proficiency in every art, and compiling books and treatises thereon. He subsequently returned to Qazvin, where he had the honour of being appointed to a judgeship and was chosen as the tutor and teacher of sundry young gentlemen. At that time the Turks in Persia had left no prohibited or vicious act undone, and the character of the Persian people, by reasons of association and intercourse with them, had become so changed and corrupted that 'Ubayd-i-Zakani, disgusted at the contemplation thereof, sought by every means to make known and bring home to them the true conditions of affairs. Therefore, as an example of the corrupt morals of the age and its people, he composed the treatise known as Akhlaq-i-Ashraf (Ethics of the Aristocracy), which was not intended as mere ribaldry, but as a satire containing serious reflections and wise warnings. So, likewise, in order to depict the level of intelligence and degree of knowledge of the leading men of Qazwin each one of whom was a mass of stupidity and ignorance, he included in his Risala-i-Dilqusha (Joyous Treatise) many anecdotes of which each contains a lesson for persons of discernment.
As a measure of his accomplishments, experience, learning and worldly wisdom, his Risala-i-Sad (Tract of a Hundred Counsels) and his Ta'rifat (Definitions) are a sufficient proof. Moreover he composed a treatise 'Ilm-i-Ma'ni u Bayan (Rhetoric) which he desired to present to the King. The courtiers and favorites, however, told him that the King had no need for such rubbish. Then he composed a fine panegyric, which he desired to recite, but they informed him that His Majesty did not like to be mocked with the lies, exaggerations and fulsome flattery of poets. Thereupon 'Ubayd-i-Zakani said, 'In that case I, too, will pursue the path of impudence, so that by these means I may obtain access to the King's most intimate society, and may become one of his courtiers and favorites', which he accordingly did.
Then he began recklessly to utter the most shameless sayings and the most unseemly and extravagant jests, whereby he obtained innumerable gifts and presents, which none dared to pose and contend with him. Thus 'Ubayd-i-Zakani a serious writer, a moralist and a panegyrist was compelled by circumstances to become a ribald satirist.
The most striking feature of the serious poems of 'Ubayd-i-Zakani is the constant references to Fars and its capital Shiraz, which evidently held the affection of the poet far more than his native city of Qazvin.
Ubayd wrote religious poems, praise of God, the Prophet and the Four Rashidun Caliphs; but he neither claimed nor desired to lead a virtuous life.
Because of the ribald and often homoerotic quality of his verse, he has been widely censored: "The majority of both the originals and the translations of the raunchy poetry of the bawdy bard, Obeid-e Zakani ... either bowdlerize or omit the "naughty" words with coy little dashes to indicate the lacunae which the knowledgeable reader may furnish by inference." This is held to be the result of Orientalist scholars attempting to glorify Eastern cultures, who refused to translate verse with homoerotic references or changed the sex of the beloved to female. Article by Anthony Shay
Let's not talk
Zakani's ribald satire: what's wrong with the act of love?
Zakani, born some six hundred years ago in a village near Qazvin, is well known among Iranians. His humorous anecdotes and maxims are especially popular. But lesser known among the general public is his ribald satire with explicit sexual references.
In the introduction, the writer stated that prurient writings by Zakani, as well as those by such great classical poets as Rumi, Sa'di, Sanaie, and even Iraj Mirza in more contemporary times, "are all tactless and full of violence. Their explicitness does not conform with the higher state of love making, coquettish manners or loving desire."
Let's assume Zakani's writings about sex are tactless and crude. But how many works of Persian literature can be named where the physical expression of love is beautifully described? Has Iranian society ever had the tolerance for it (before and after the revolution, or before and after Islam)? Why not?
Why is references to sex and sexuality among Iranians (religious or non-religious) a taboo, except in coutnless jokes. We have magnificent love stories such as Laili & Majnun and Shirin & Farhad. But why is it that almost no one has taken that extra step to show the beauty of physical intimacy?
A gypsy scolded his son and said, "You do no work and waste your life in idleness. How often must I tell you to practice and learn how to dance on a rope and make a dog jump through a hoop so that you can achieve something in your life. If you don't listen to me, I swear by God, I will send you to the school to learn their good-for-nothing sciences and become a scholar so as to live in misery and adversity and never be able to earn a penny wherever you go."
In such witty and pungent anecdotes 'Obeyd-e Zakani criticizes the social corruption of his age. 'Obeyd-e Zakani (died circa 1372 A.D.) is one of the most remarkable poets, satirists and social critics of Iran, whose works have not received proper attention in the past. After being translated into Russian, Danish and Italian, this is the first selection of his works in English.
'Obeyd's satirical works more than anything else in Persian literature illustrate the social conditions of this period. It is true that some other poets of his age vehemently attacked corruption and social injustice in their poems, but the wit and insight of 'Obeyd give his works a special character.
'Obeyd looks upon this world of extravagant indulgence and corruption with the censorious eye of a Juvenal and portrays it with the cynicism and wit of a Voltaire and the hilarious grotesqueness of a Rabelais. Underneath his cheerful irresponsibility and nonchalance there lie a sadness and bitterness.
Seeing this scene of deceit, greed, lust, sycophancy, perversion, scorn of the old values and virtues, extremes of wealth and poverty, violence and bloodshed, he expresses his indignation in the form of scathing stories and sardonic maxims.
He says: "Engage in ribaldry, cuckoldry, gossip, ingratitude, false testimony, selling heaven for the world, and playing the tambourine, so that you may become dear to the great and enjoy your life."
1) Someone had stolen Talhak's shoes when he was in a mosque and thrown them into a church. He said in amazement, "It is strange that I am a Moslem and my shoes are Christians."
2) A carpenter took a wife, and after three months she gave birth to a son. The father was asked, "What shall we call this boy?" He said, "Since it took him three instead of nine months to come to this world, he must be called the royal courier."
3) Someone asked his holiness 'Azud al-Din, "How is it that in the time of the caliphs people would often claim to be God or a prophet and now they don't?" He said: "These days people are so oppressed by tyranny and hunger that they can think neither of God nor of prophets."
4) A muezzin would call out and then run. He was asked, "Why are you running?" He said, "They said that my voice is beautiful from afar. I was running so that I could hear it from a distance."
5) A man from Qazvin went to fight the heretics carrying a large shield. A big stone from the fortress hit him on the head and badly hurt him. He was annoyed and said "You fools, are you blind? Why did you hit me on the head? What do you think this huge shield is for?"
6) The father of Juha had a slave-girl with whom he would occasionally have intercourse. One night Juha crept into her bed and embraced her. She asked, "Who are you?" He said, "Me, my father."
7) There was a governor of Khorasan called Khalaf. Once he was told that there was a certain man who looked much like him. He called the man and asked him, "Was your mother a saleswoman frequenting the houses of the nobility?" The man answered, "My mother was a shy woman who would not go out of the house, but my father worked as a gardener in the houses of the great men."
8) Mas'ud the astrologer saw Majd al-Din Homayounshah working in his garden. He asked, "What are you planting?" "Nothing very useful," was the answer. The other retorted, "Your father was the same. He too never sowed a useful seed."
9) A Christian got converted to Islam and was being taken around the town in a procession. Another Christian saw him and said, "Were there not enough Moslems that you became converted too?"
10) A woman asked Talhak, "Where is the candy shop?" He said, "Inside a lady's skirt."
11) An Arab went to Mecca on a pilgrimage and his turban was stolen. He said, "O God, once in my life I came to Your house and You had my turban stolen. If you ever see me here again, have my teeth broken."
12) Satan was asked, "Which class of people do you like the most?" He said, "Salesmen." They asked the reason. He said, "I was content with lies from them, but they added false oaths as well."
13) Harun asked Bohlul, "Who is the most dear to you?" He replied, "The one who feeds me well." Harun said, "I will feed you well. Then you will be my friend." Bohlul said, "You can not have friendship on credit."
14) A preacher said from his pulpit, "Whenever a man dies drunk, he is buried drunk, and he will rise drunk from his grave." A man from Khorasan who was at the foot of the pulpit said, "By God, one bottle of such a wine is worth a hundred gold coins!"
15) A grammarian was on board a ship. He asked a sailor, "Have you studied syntax?" He said, "No." The grammarian said, "Half of your life is wasted." The next day a strong storm hit the ship and it was on the verge of sinking. The sailor asked the grammarian, "Have you learned to swim?" He said, "No." The answer was, "All of your life is wasted."
16) A man said to an interpreter of dreams: "I dreamed that I was making eggplant casserole from the dung of a camel. What does this mean?" The dream interpreter answered: "Give me two gold coins first, and then I will tell you the meaning of it." The man replied, "If I had two gold coins, I would buy eggplants to make casserole so that I would not have to dream about it."
17) Caliph Mahdi got separated from his army one day on a hunting trip. At night came upon the house of a nomadic Arab and ate a humble meal there. The Arab brought out a jug of wine. After they had drunk a cup, Mahdi said: "I am in the retinue of Caliph Mahdi." After the second cup was served, the caliph said: "I am one of the lieutenants of Mahdi." After drinking a third cup, he said: "I am Mahdi himself." The Arab took the jug away, saying: "You drank the first cup and claimed to be a servant; with the second you became an emir; and with the third you claimed to be the caliph himself. If you drink another cup you will certainly claim to be God." The next day, when the army was once again united with Mahdi, the Arab fled in fear. Mahdi had him brought into his presence and rewarded him with some gold. The Arab said: "I swear that you were telling the truth, even if you claimed to be the fourth one!"
18) Juha's father gave him two fish to sell. He went around the streets until he came to the house of a very beautiful woman. She said, "Give me one fish and I will make love with you." Juha gave her the fish and received what she had offered in exchange. Having enjoyed it tremendously, he gave her the other fish and made love to her a second time. Then he sat by the door of the house and said, "I would like to have a drink of water." The woman gave him a pitcher of water; he drank it and then threw the pitcher to the ground and broke it. Juha suddenly saw the lady's husband coming, and he began to cry. The husband asked him, "Why are you crying?" Juha said, "I was thirsty and asked for some water at this house. The pitcher slipped from my hands, fell, and broke. I had two fish and now this fine lady has taken them in exchange for the pitcher." The man reproached his wife saying, "So what if he broke the pitcher?" Then he took the fish and gave them to Juha, so he could go home happily.
19) They brought an eggplant to Sultan Mahmud
when he was very hungry. It pleased him greatly and he said, "Eggplant is
a tasty dish." A court favorite who was present, gave a lecture in praise
of the eggplant. When the sultan was full, he declared, "Eggplant is a
very harmful thing." Then the same courier made an exaggerated speech on
the harmfulness of the eggplant. The sultan asked in amazement, "You wretch,
how come you are not praising it anymore?" The man said, "I am your
courier, not that of the eggplant. I have to say something that pleases you,
not the eggplant."