Ubayd Zakani

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Nizam al-Din Ubaydullah Zakani (Persian: خواجه نظام‌الدین عبیدالله زاکانی‎‎), or simply Ubayd-i Zakani (Persian: عبید زاکانی‎‎ c. 1300 – 1371 CE), was a Persian poet and satirist of the 14th century (Mongol Period) from the city of Qazvin. He studied in Shiraz under the best masters of his day, but eventually moved back to his native town. 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).

Biographical information

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 on them. 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 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 the king 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, Muhammad and the Rashidun caliphs; but he neither claimed nor desired to lead a virtuous life.

Poverty and debt were the usual lots of 'Ubayd.


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

Among his works are the Musnavi and Mush o-gorbeh (Mouse and Cat)

Transliterations of his name

  • 'Ubaydī Zākānī
  • 'Ubaydii Zaakaanii
  • 'Ubayd-i-Zakani
  • 'Ubaydï Zäkänï
  • 'Ubaydi Zakani
  • Obeid Zakani
  • Obeid Zàkàni
  • Obeid-e Zakani
  • 'Obeid e Zakani
  • 'Obeid-e Zâkâni
  • Obeyd-e Zākāni
  • Nejam od-Din ‘Obeyd-e Zākāni
  • Nezam al-din 'Obeid Allah Zakini


See also


  • E.G. Browne. Literary History of Persia. (Four volumes, 2,256 pages, and twenty-five years in the writing). 1998. ISBN 0-7007-0406-X
  • Jan Rypka, History of Iranian Literature. Reidel Publishing Company. 1968 OCLC 460598. ISBN 90-277-0143-1

External links

Examples of his work