Azar Nafisi on Vis and Ramin, by Fakhredin Gorgani

Where would you go to find a magnificent story, focused on an alluring and courageous female protagonist, a story of passion and intrigue, about crossing of the boundaries, adultery and even incest, a story filled with eroticism and sensuality, one in which you are answerable only to the demands of love and passion and not to the constraints of an arranged marriage, even to a powerful king? Isn’t the answer obvious enough? You go to the 11th century classical Persian poem, Vis and Ramin, the beautifully narrated, and as beautifully translated (by Dick Davis, himself a wonderful poet) tale of two star-crossed lovers who in fact end up living happily ever after. It is claimed to have been the “mother” of such love stories and to have influenced the tale of Tristan and Isolde. The origins of the poem can be traced to the Parthian dynasty, ruling Persia from 247 BCE to 224 CE. The open air quality of this poem, its eloquent earthiness, its frank appreciation of pleasures of this world, remind us of a world view very different from the Iran portrayed today, one that seems so barren and fanatical, so devoid of beauty or sensuality. Gorgani’s poem is the best reminder that if you wish to discover the “real” Iran, the one that has survived the tyrannies of time and of man, you must not rely on the reduced and orphaned images produced by politics of the time, but on its astonishing array of poets, those who have kept the continuity between past and the present, Zoroastrianism and Islam and who present to the world a kind of beauty that is uniquely Persian and yet so universal in its appeal.