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Sa'di (c. 1213-1292)


Persian poet and prose writer, whose best-known works include Bustān (1256-57, The Fruit Garden), which contains histories, personal anecdotes, fables and moral instructions, and Golestān (1258, The Rose Garden), a didactic work composed both of prose and verse. Sa'di is basically a moralist whose stories have similarities with Jean de La Fontaine's (1621-1695) fables. In Persia his golden maxims were highly valued and considered a treasure of true wisdom.

Condonation is laudable but nevertheless
Apply no salve to the wound of an oppressor of the people.
He who had mercy upon a serpent
Knew not that it was an injury to the sons of Adam.

(from The Rose Garden)

Shaykh Sa’di (Sa'di Shirazi), byname of Musharrif Od-din Muslih Od-din, was born in Shiraz (now in Iran). Little is known of his life, starting from the exact date of his birth. And Sa'di's autobiographical references in his writings are not necessarily meant to be taken literally. The year of Sa'di's birth is in some sources 1184, due to some misconceptions, and Sa'di did not die at the age of 108. However, it is known that Sa'di was orphaned at an early age. Later he mover to Baghdad, where he studied at the Nezamiyeh College. After completing his studies, Sa'di took to a wandering life. Also the conditions in Persia were unsettled. The Mongols had turned against the Islamic states and eventually conquered Baghdad in 1258. One of Sa'di's odes is a lament on the fall of the city.

Sa'di traveled in the Middle East, he was captured in North Africa by the Franks and was forced to labor on the fortress of Tripoli. It is possible that Sa'di made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Sa'di claims also to have visited Kashghar and India. In 1256-57 Sa'di returned to his native Shiraz and become known as a writer. His pseudonym Sa'di took from the local ruler, Sa'd ibn Zangi. After a long end eventful life, Sa'di died in Shiraz on December 9, 1292. His tomb is considered a national shrine.

The complete works of Sa'di were published in Persian at Calcutta in 1791-95. Sadi's writings were first translated into French in 1634 and into German twenty years later. La Fontaine based his 'Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol' on a story from Golestān (chapter 2:16), Diderot, Voltaire, Hugo and Balzac referred to Sa'di's works, and Goethe had adaptations from him in West-Ostlicher Divan. In the United States Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed a poem of his own to Sa'di. The publishing firm of Allan and Co., of London, brought in 1928 a volume called Tales from the Gulistan or Rose-Garden of the Sheikh Sadi of Shiraz, translated by Sir Richard Burton. However, this translation is nearly identical with an earlier one, generally attributed to Edward Rehatsek. (see 'Did Sir Richard Burton Translate Sadi's Gulistan?' by J.D. Yohannan, in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, July 1950)

Sa'di was a contemporary of Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273), famous for his didactic epic Masnavi-ye Ma'navi (Spiritual Couplets). The theme of Rumi's ghazals was sacred love; Sa'di wrote about profane love, although some of his ghazals were mystical: "I am happy through the world because the world is happy through Him; / I love the whole world because the whole world is His." The ghazal form, which Sa'di popularized, had been neglected until the thirteenth century. His work paved way for Hafez (d. c. 1388), who become considered the master of the form. In the ghazals (lyrical odes) the two lines of the first couplet rhyme with one another and with the second line of the following couplets, the individual couplets are often independent of each other. Sa'di's ghazals were held together by an unifying view.

Following the conventions of traditional Persian poetry, in many poems Sa'di's beloved is a young man, not a beautiful woman. Sa'di's own attitude toward homosexuals was more negative than positive. In the Golestān he stated, "If a Tatar slays that hermaphrodite / The Tatar must not be slain in return." (3:12). Another story tells of the qazi of Hamdan whose affection towards a farrier-boy is condemned by his friends and the king, who eventually says: "Everyone of you who are bearers of your own faults / Ought not to blame others for their defects." In the West the homoerotic parts of this work often were changed in the early editions.

Both the Bustān and the Golestān opened with chapters on kingship and good government. They were not only intended for shahs and viziers to illuminate the way to better governance based on Sufi values, but they also reflected personal experiences. Sa'di's style is pure, simple and elegant, his tone is sometimes severe, sometimes cheerful, blending humor with cynicism. He also produced a collection of pornographic anecdotes, Khabisat, written by a commission of his friend. The Bustān was presented to the local ruler, reminding him in the opening lines of the majety of God: "The heads of kings, neckexalting, / Are at His court, on the ground of supplication." The work was Sufi in spirit, but with pragmatic touch. It consisted of "dissertations on justice, good government, beneficence, earthly and mystic love, humility, submissiveness, contentment and other excellences" (R. Levy).

The Golestān dealt with various subjects, from the manners of kings to the rules for conduct in life. On the cause for composing the book Sa'di wrote: "I may compose for the amusement of those who look and for the instruction of those who are present a book of a Rose Garden, a Gulistan, whose leaves cannot be touched by the tyranny of autumnal blasts and the delight of whose spring the vicissitudes of time will be unable to change into the inconstancy of autumn." Both books contained reflections on the behavior and teachings of dervishes, with whom Sa'di sympathized. Until the 1940s, before Sa'di went out of fashion and became an object of ridicule, the work served at schools as a model of perfect prose.

For further reading: Beiträge zur darstellung des persischen lebens nach Muslih-uddīn Sa`dī by Carl Phillip (1901); Essai sur le počte Saadi by H. Massé (1919); Eastern Poetry and Prose by R.A. Nicholson (1922); Persian Literature, an introduction by Reuben Levy (1923); What says Saadi by Ehsan Motaghed (1986); The poet Sa`di: a Persian Humanist by John D. Yohannan (1987); 'Johdanto: Sa'din elämä' by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, in Ruusutarha by Sa'di, translated by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila (1991); A Literary History of Persia: From Firdawsi to Sa'Di by Edward Granville Browne (1997); Sa'di: The Poet of Life, Love and Compassion by Homa Katouzian (2006) 


  • Select Fables from Gulistan, 1774
  • The Goolistan of the Celebrated Musleh-ud-Deen of Shirauz, Surnamed Sheikh Sadi, 1807 (with an English translation embellished with notes, critical and explanatory by James Dumoulin)
  • The Gulistan, or Rose Garden, 1865 (translated from the original by Francis Gladwin, with an essay on Saadi's life and genius, by James Ross, a preface by R. W. Emerson)
  • The Gulistan; or, Rose-Garden, 1880 (translated by Edward B. Eastwick)
  • With Sa'di in the Garden; or, The Book of Love, 1888 (by Sir Edwin Arnold)
  • The Gulistan; Being the Rose-Garden of Shaikh Sa'di, 1899 (translated by Sir Edwin Arnold)
  • The Bustan of Sadi, 1911 (translated from the Persian, with an introd. by A. Hart Edwards)
  • The Gulistan, or, Rose Garden, 1914 (translated by Francis Gladwin; revised and corrected by Irani A. Khodaram)
  • Tayyibat, the Odes of Sheikh Muslihu'd-Din Sa'di Shirazi, 1924 (translated by the late Sir Lucas White King, with an introduction by Reynold A. Nicholson)
  • Tales from the Gulistān, or Rose-garden of the Sheikh Sa'di of Shirāz, 1928 (translated by Sir Richard Burton and illustrated by John Kettelwell)
  • Kings and Beggars, the Five Two Chapters of Sa'di's Gulistan, 1945 (translated by A. J. Arberry)
  • The Gulistan, or Rose Garden, of Sa'di 1964 (translated by Edward Rehatsek, ed. with a pref. by W. G. Archer, introd. by G. M. Wickens)
  • Morals Pointed and Tales Adorned: The Bustan of Sa'di, 1974 (translated by G. M. Wickens)
  • The Gulistan of Shaikh Sa'di: A Complete Analysis of the Entire Persian Text, 1985 (translated by R.P. Anderson)
  • The Rose Garden = Gulistan, 1997 (translated by Omar Ali-Shah)
  • Wisdom of Sa'di, 2001 (compiled and translated by Mohammad Kazem Kamran)
  • 365 rūz bā Saʻdī, 2002
  • Guldastah, da, ʻAbd al- Qādir Khān Khaṭak: da Saʻdī da Gulistān Puṣhto ẓhbāṛah, 2004
  • The Careless King and Other Stories, 2005 (translators, Noorullah Qadri, Tahir Akhter Memon
  • Saʻdī az dast-i khvīshtan faryād, 2008
  • The Gulistan (Rose Garden) of Sa’di: Bilingual English and Persian Edition with Vocabulary, 2008 (new English translation by Wheeler M. Thackston)
  • Sadi: A Daybook, 2013 (translated by Paul Smith)

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