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Farid Ud-Din 'attar

FARID UD-DIN 'ATTAR, or Ferid Eddin-Athar (1119-1229), Persian poet and mystic, was born at Nishapur, 513 A.H. (1119 A.D.), and was put to death 627 A.H. (1229 A.D.), thus having reached the age of 110 years. The date of his death is, however, variously given between the years 1193 and 1235, although the majority of authorities support 1229; it is also probable that he was born later than 1119, but before 1150. His real name was Abu Talib (or Abu Hamid) Mahommed ben Ibrahim, and Farid ud-din was simply an honourable title equivalent to Pearl of Religion. He followed for a time his father's profession of druggist or perfumer, and hence the name 'Attar (one who sold 'itr, otto of roses; hence, simply, dealer in drugs), which he afterwards employed as his poetical designation. According to the account of Dawlatshah, his interest in the great mystery of the higher life of man was awakened in the following way. One day a wandering fakir gazed sadly into his shop, and, when ordered to be gone, replied: "It is nothing for me to go; but I grieve for thee, O druggist, for how wilt thou be able to think of death, and leave all these goods of thine behind thee?" The word was in season; and Mahommed ben Ibrahim the druggist soon gave up his shop and began to study the mystic theosophy of the Sufis under Sheik Rukneddin. So thoroughly did he enter into the spirit of that religion that he was before long recognized as one of its principal representatives. He travelled extensively, visited Mecca, Egypt, Damascus and India, and on his return was invested with the Sufi mantle by Sheik Majd-ud-din of Bagdad. The greater portion of his life was spent in the town of Shadyakh, but he is not unfrequently named Nishapuri, after the city of his boyhood and youth. The story of his death is a strange one. Captured by a soldier of Jenghiz Khan, he was about to be sold for a thousand dirhems, when he advised his captor to keep him, as doubtless a larger offer would yet be made; but when the second bidder said he would give a bag of horse fodder for the old man, he asserted that he was worth no more, and had better be sold. The soldier, irritated at the loss of the first offer, immediately slew him. A noble tomb was erected over his grave, and the spot acquired a reputation for sanctity. Farid was a voluminous writer, and left no fewer than 120,000 couplets of poetry, though in his later years he carried his asceticism so far as to deny himself the pleasures of poetical composition. His most famous work is the Mantiḳ uttair, or language of birds, an allegorical poem containing a complete survey of the life and doctrine of the Sufis. It is extremely popular among Mahommedans both of the Sunnite and Shiite sects, and the manuscript copies are consequently very numerous. The birds, according to the poet, were tired of a republican constitution, and longed for a king. As the lapwing, having guided Solomon through the desert, best knew what a king should be, he was asked whom they should choose. The Simorg in the Caucasus, was his reply. But the way to the Caucasus was long and dangerous, and most of the birds excused themselves from the enterprise. A few, however, set out; but by the time they reached the great king's court, their number was reduced to thirty. The thirty birds (si morg), wing-weary and hunger-stricken, at length gained access to their chosen monarch the Simorg; but only to find that they strangely lost their identity in his presence - that they are he, and he is they. In such strange fashion does the poet image forth the search of the human soul after absorption into the divine.

The text of the Mantiḳ uttair was published by Garcin de Tassy in 1857, a summary of its contents having already appeared as La Poésie philosophique et religieuse chez les Persans in 1856; this was succeeded by a complete translation in 1863. Among Farid ud-din's other works may be mentioned his Pandnama (Book of Counsel), of which a translation by Silvestre de Sacy appeared in 1819; Bulbul Nama (Book of the Nightingale); Wasalet Nama (Book of Conjunctions); Khusru va Gul (The King and the Rose); and Tadhkiratu 'l Awliya (Memoirs of the Saints) (ed. R.A. Nicholson in l'ersian Historical Texts). See Sir Gore Ouseley, Biographical Notices of Persian Poets (1846), p. 236; Von Hammer Purgstall, Geschichte der schönen Redekünste Persiens (Vienna, 1818), p. 140; the Oriental Collections, ii. (London, 1798), pp. 84, 124, containing translations of part of the Pandnama; E.H. Palmer, Oriental Mysticism (1867); E.G. Browne, Literary History of Persia (1906).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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