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ON ARABIC AND PERSIAN LITERATURE. NO. 11. The earliest accounts we have received of the Persian nation, contain very few tokens of their having cultivated the composition of language. However accomplished, and accomplished they were, according to the testimony of the most interesting historian* among the most polished as well as the most extraordinary people that the world has ever seen, the Persians studied rather such arts as give grace to the person, than bestow elegance on the mind. Riding, wrestling, and throwing the javelin, are the pursuits assigned to the youth of Persia by the biographer of Cyrus; and Herodotus informs us that their young men were exercised chiefly in three things-in hurling the dart, in riding, and in the practice of virtue.
The warrior-philosopher Xenophon, although, from his acquaintance with the younger Cyrus, he must have conversed in Persian with ease and fluency, has not transmitted to us any composition on that idiom. There is not even an historian of Alexander, although these are sufficiently numerous, who has left us the desired information : we must look therefore to a later date, to the era of Mahomet and Anushirvan, for the first accounts which can be received as genuine.
At the birth of Mahomet, Nushirvan or Anushirvan, the Chosroes of the Byzantine writers, reigned over the vast empire of Iran or Persia. The Oriental historians designate this monarch by the title of Just; but in a nation of slaves such a title is obtained without many sacrifices on the part of the sovereign, and no extraordinary efforts of clemency and humanity may be expected to have decorated his career. At this period, however, long before that which is termed the golden age of Persian literature, and which was adorned by so great a brilliancy of philosophers and poets, we begin to receive some accounts respecting the state of that language. There had been founded at Ghandisapor, a city of Khorasan, a school of physic; and as the study of this useful science advanced, the arts of literature began to assume the rank they merit in the scale of human pursuits. But unfortunately, as is common in the early growth of reason, scholastic disputes and the jargon of metaphysic subtleties usurped the place of a pure and enlightened philosophy. It happened, notwithstanding, that although these studies did not enlarge the boundaries of science, nor extend the limits of human knowledge,-that although mankind has not been indebted to Ghandisapor for any useful inventions to adorn or to improve life, yet they produced a remarkable influence on the purity and correctness of its dialect. Controversy, if it does not add to the grasp of an understanding, at least sharpens and gives nerve to a language. Hence the idiom of polished life became distinguished from that of the vulgar, and the name of the “Deri” was given to the former, while the latter was distinguished by that of “ Pehlevi.”
It would be a fitting subject of investigation among antiquaries and philologists, to ascertain the etymology of these names.
The more probable account of them appears to be, that the Deri was a perfect specimen of the “ Parsi,” so called from the country of which 'Shiraz is the capital ; and that the Pehlevi had its name from the “Pehlu," or heroes who spoke it in its earlier ages.
Perhaps there will be danger of assuming too much the air of the verbal critic, if we remark that there still exist traces of another Persian dialect, called the “ Zend." This was the language of the priests and sages, and exhibited those more solemn religious truths, on which only a commentary was offered to the vulgar in the Pehlevi tongue. The Zend, however, may be fairly considered as extinct, for although the writings of Zeratusht or Zoroaster were composed in this character, yet there are few, even among the priests, who can be said to understand it. The Pehlevi bears an obvious similarity to the Chaldee and Hebrew, and may possibly have been derived from it.* But the Deri, or the Parsi, forined the foundation of that modern dialect which survived the shock of Mahomet's career, and was afterwards dignified by the poems of Hafiz and Sadi, of Ferdousi and Noureddin Jami.t
For the present we will quit the vast empire of Iran or Persia, and turn to the sister nation of Arabia. It is a singular fact that the Arabs have never been entirely subdued ; no impression on them has ever extended beyond their borders. As a nation they have ever continued independent. If portions of their vast tracts have yielded to the torrent of vehement irruptions: if Mecca and Medina have been vanquished by the Scythian, and the grasping sway of Rome could establish for herself a province within their districts;t if the Othmans have attempted to exercise over them a faint semblance of sovereignty,s yet as a distinct class of mankind they have ever remained free and unrestrained.
We have endeavoured to sketch in a former paper the general manners of the Arabs: it may be amusing to examine whether climate could have produced any influence on them. The natives of Arabia are divided into those of Hejaz and of Yemen. Desolate beyond the wildest wastes of European land are the tracts of Arabia Petræa. The green and luxuriant herbage which sheds its lustre over the dreary levels of Tartary, and offers some relief at least to the weary traveller, never cheers the eye which wanders over the Eastern Desert. Boundless masses of conglomerated sand obstruct his path; except where the wide expanse is broken by a chain of bleak and barren mountains. The oppressive rays of the midday sun descend directly on the plain. The heat is fanned by no cooling breezes, for the winds of Arabia breathe only pestilence and noisome vapour, or serve to increase the desolation, by the billows of rolling sand which they raise or scatter, and which have been known to bury whole caravans and whole armies in their turbulence.
The letters of the Arabic resemble those of the Persian; the latter only comprising four additional to the number.|| In spirit and expression the two idioms mainly differ. The Persian has the superior soft
• Familiar nouns, as those of water, fire, &c. are common to these languages. † This subject has been admirably treated by Sir William Jones in his Discourses.
# The Romans maintained the residence of a centurion and a place of tribute on the coast of the territory of Medina ; and the Emperor Trajan considered this a sufficient reason to designate Arabia as a Roman province. These facts rest on the authority of Arrian.
Soliman I. conquered Yemen, or Happy Arabia, A. D. 1538, but no revenue was ever transmitted to the Ottoman Porte; and the Turks were finally expelled A. D. 1630.
| There are thirty-two Persian, twenty-eight Arabic letters.
ness; it has more delicacy, more elegance, more beauty. Even the English reader who is acquainted with the translations of Sir William Jones, will confess that the Gazels or Odes of Hafiz and Sadi will scarcely yield in competition with some of the better order of our poets. The Persian is besides remarkable for a variety of the most copious combinations,* and may probably have been among the sources of the Greek—the language which the world has confessed to have surpassed all others in energy, comprehensiveness, and vigour.
With the Sanscrit, the Arabic appears to have no connexion: among other reasons for this conclusion may be mentioned, that it is altogether unacquainted with that matchless power of the combination of words, which gives such inexpressible force to the Persian, and to languages of a similar original.
We disclaiın at the present having as yet acquired any knowledge of the Sanscrit. But to those who are accustomed to trace a language to its roots, (the only method, according to the polite Earl of Chesterfield, of thoroughly understanding it,) another difference is presented between the Arabic and Sanscrit, together with those derived from a corresponding origin—that in the former, as in the Hebrew, Chaldee, and others, the roots are formed of three letters; in the latter they are almost universally biliteral. This circumstance would alone teach the etymologist to infer their having owed their several inventions to different races of men.t
We hope in a future paper to give some account as well of the literature of the golden age of Persia, as of the productions of Arabia, antecedently, as well as at times immediately succeeding to the era of Mahomet. But we have promised some account of the career of that extraordinary man, and of the effect which we think it might have had on the language and the manners of his subjects.
The influence of the spirit of warfare upon a nation varies, according as that nation is composed of freemen or of slaves. When the subjects of a despot make conquests, their exertions serve only to extend the power and the dominion of their lords. When freemen are victors, they vanquish for themselves; for their own advantage or their own glory. If the spirit of just legislation do not pervade a nation, we cannot expect any rapid advances in the amelioration of the species. The dictates of a lord are readily obeyed ; the generous intercourse of free thought is absent; the place of pure religion is usurped by ceremony and superstition; and the people are the easy machines of some grasping mind, which can direct their hopes and employments at its own discretion. Thus the Arab race, wild and disjointed, was peculiarly fitted to display the talents of Mahomet. Their
The combinations with “Gul” a rose, “Peri” a fairy, are sufficient to indicate the power and flexibility of the language. (See Sir William Jones's Persian Grammar.) We are afraid we ought to apologise for these dry etymologies; but the reader of taste must recollect that these names have been familiarized to every ear by the delicious poem “ Lalla Rookh” and by “ T'he Bride of Abydos."
| Both languages have, however, a wonderful extent of derivatives. The scholar may smile at the enthusiasm of the Oriental remark, but he will allow its ingenuity,
That if the deity Indra of the Hindus were to descend, he would scarcely comprehend the full power and versatility of their language.”
# Herodotus, l. 5.
country had never been subdued, and no impression on it had extended beyond its borders; but internal feud had wasted the vigour and stayed the advancement of its power; and the character of Mahomet by nature fitted him to influence the jarring tribes, and to combine their interests in the pursuit of one great and important end.
Mahomet has often been represented as of low and vulgar origin ; but the assertion is groundless and illusory. He was the grandson of an opulent merchant, whose liberality preserved the citizens of Mecca from famine. A genius enterprising, a judgment sound and mature, features engaging, general habits and demeanour conciliatory, marked a mind destined to soar, whatever might have been its path of exertion.
The first exploit of Mahomet, in the display of his pretended mis. sion, was the conversion of his own family.' His wife Cadijah, his nephew Ali, and his servant Zeid, were the tirst who embraced his cause. The bold and romantic Ali, fired with the enthusiasm of youth, offered himself as the companion of his relative through all his perils. But the citizens of Mecca were his foes: they sought to destroy the bold innovator, who threatened to abolish the worship of their idols; and it was only the unshaken attachment of his kinsman Abu Taleb which protected the son of Abdallah.
The death of this aged and respected chieftain left him open to the vengeance of his enemies. The chief of the hostile tribe collected his adherents, and proposed to them, as the only method for the extermination of the new sect, the destruction of their leader. Imprisonment, he said, would exasperate him; banishment would only serve to propagate his tenets. The conspirators decided that he should die, an resolved that a sword from each hand should transfix his body, in order to conceal the immediate authors of the bloody deed.
But it was not destined that the talents of Mahomet should thus perish. He was reserved for higher and more hazardous achievements. The scheme of the assassins was disclosed, and the intended victim of their malevolence sought security in flight. The youthful Ali arrayed himself in the vest of his friend and patron, undertook to assume his character, and reposed on the couch in his place. A conduct so noble and disinterested, his adversaries viewed with admiration and astonishment: they respected his piety, and spared his devoted valour; and by this signal act of generous enthusiasm, the young hero preserved his own life, in addition to that of his celebrated associate.
The vicissitudes of fortune are singular and mysterious. It was little within the conjectures of the adverse faction, that the measures adopted for their security should terminate in their utter ruin. In a pilgrimage to the temple at Mecca, some of the principal citizens had learned the doctrines of Mahomet, and had already become converts to his system. These received the new fugitive with rapture. They convened a solemn assembly of their fellow citizens: they exhibited before the people the tenets and the promises of Mahomet, and invited them with earnestness to embrace the sacred cause. Five hun
• See the eloquent and interesting narrative of Gibbon. Vol. IIŁ. No. 15.-1822.
dred warriors assembled round his standard, and bound themselves by the strongest engagements to follow his banner. After the custom of the eastern nations, he was chosen to the double office of priest and sovereign : he was invested with the royal purple, and the air was rent with the piercing acclamations of his infatuated adherents.
To recover authority in his native city, Mecca, was now the leading object of the chieftain. For this purpose the Arabs, already sufficiently bent on warlike exploits, received a new incitement by the hope of future reward. The sword, proclaimed the champion, shall conduct you to happiness; and he that shall shed his blood in the sacred cause, shall sup that night in Paradise. Death, which had been contemned before, now became an object of warm desire; and soldiers elevated with such expectations, as well as careless of danger, would stand the shock of the fiercest attacks. The events of three successive engagements decided the fate of Mecca, and the capitulation of that important city was soon followed by the reduction of all Arabia.
The years of the warrior-prince were now advancing towards their close. Å fever, which was to terminate his existence, had commenced to prey upon his vitals. A few days before his death, with affected condescension and humility, he proclaimed to the people, that if any man should conceive himself to have suffered wrongfully, ample reparation should be now offered. One voice amidst the crowd was heard to complain; and the dying chieftain called him into his presence, heard his request, and satisfied his demand.
It was now his office, previously to his departure, to consummate the supposed evidences of his mission. He called accordingly for the Koran, and dictated a few sentences to be added to the volume. This done, he sank on the bosom of Ayesha, the best-beloved of his wives, raised his eyes to heaven, and uttering a few tremulous words, expired.
ANGELO DI COSTANZO.
“Qualor l'eta che si veloce arriva."
To shake the frame and dull the cheek's pure dye-
Expels the vanquish'd senses from their throne-
In every breast love's fading fire must die,
To gain the welcome port, ere evening close
And heaven grow darker in the coming night.
The fame divine that in my spirit glows,