Panjrudak, Samanid Empire
|Died||940/41 (aged 60 or 61)|
Panjrudak, Samanid Empire
Rudaki (also spelled Rodaki; Persian: رودکی; 880 – 940/41) was a Persian poet, singer and musician, who served as a court poet under the Samanids. He is regarded as the first major poet to write in New Persian.
Rudaki's success was largely due to the support of his primary patron, the vizier Abu'l-Fadl al-Bal'ami (died 940), who played an important role in the blooming of New Persian literature in the 10th-century.
In Iran, Rudaki is acknowledged as the "founder of New Persian poetry" and in Tajikistan as the "father of Tajik literature".
His full name was Abu Abd Allah Ja'far ibn Muhammad ibn Hakim ibn Abd al-Rahman ibn Adam al-Rudhaki al-Sha'ir al-Samarkandi. The proper transliteration of his name is "Rodhaki", while "al-Rudhaki" is an arabicised form.
Little information is available about Rudaki's life, much which has been reconstructed from his poems. He lived during the era of the Samanid Empire (819–999), under which New Persian literature began to develop and flourish. Rudaki was born in 880, in the village of Panjrudak, now located in the Panjakent District of Tajikistan. The village was then a suburb of Samarkand, which was served as the capital of the Samanids until it was replaced by Bukhara in 892. Rudaki's blindness is implied by the writings of early poets such as Daqiqi (died 977), Ferdowsi (died 1020/25), Abu Zura'ah al-Mu'ammari (fl. 10th-century) and Nasir Khusraw (died after 1070). The historian Awfi (died 1242), even says that Rudaki was born blind, but this has been questioned by some modern scholars, due to the expressive picture of nature given by Rudaki in his writings.
Besides being a poet, Rudaki was also a singer and musician. Since the era of the Sasanian Empire (224–651), poems were commonly carried out as songs used in music.
In his early years, Rudaki became a popular figure due to his fine voice, skill with poetry and playing the chang (musical instrument similar to a harp). Surviving biographical information connects Rudaki with the Samanid amir (ruler) Nasr II (r. 914–943) or with his vizier Abu'l-Fadl al-Bal'ami (died 940). However, according to literary scholar Sassan Tabatabai, Rudaki had apparently already joined the Samanid court under Nasr II's father and predecessor Ahmad Samani (r. 907–914). Tabatabai states that this is proven in a poem by Rudaki, where he tries to comfort Ahmad Samani after the death of his father Ismail Samani in 907.
Rudaki's career at the Samanid court is regarded as the most important part of his life. The role of a court poet was more than just entertaining others, and was an essential aspect of the Persian court. According to the first Sasanian king Ardashir I (r. 224–242), a poet was "part of government and the means of strengthening rulership." Besides applauding the suzerain and his domain, a poet was also expected to give advice and moral guidance, which meant that Rudaki was most likely experienced in that field as well. Rudaki's success was largely due to the support of his primary patron, Bal'ami. The latter played an important role in the blooming of Persian literature in the 10th-century. Bal'ami regarded Rudaki as the best amongst Persian and Arab poets.
Rudaki was a close friend to his student Shahid Balkhi, a leading poet and scholar of the Samanid realm. Following Shahid Balkhi's death in 936, Rudaki wrote a elegy for him. Rudaki's career started to decline following the downfall of Bal'ami in 937. He soon fell out of favour with the amir and was dismissed from the court. Rudaki thereafter lived his last years in poverty, dying blind and alone in his hometown in 940 or 941.
According to Asadi Tusi, the divan (collection of short poems) of Rudaki consisted of more than 180,000 verses, but most of it has been lost. What little remains of Rudaki's writings, mostly single verses, can be found in Persian dictionaries, particularly the Lughat-i Furs of Asadi Tusi. A few complete poems have also survived, most notably a qasida (eulogy or ode) consisting of almost 100 verses quoted in the anonymous Tarikh-i Sistan. The qasida was dedicated to Abu Ja'far Ahmad ibn Muhammad, who ruled the region of Sistan as a Samanid governor from 923 to 963. In it, Rudaki calls Abu Ja'far an aristocrat of Sasanian ancestry and "pride of Iran", thus indicating a sense of continuity in Iranian identity from the Sasanian to the Samanid period. For this poem, Abu Ja'far rewarded Rudaki with 10,000 dinars.
Rudaki's best known work is his versification of the Kalila wa-Dimna, a collection of Indian fables. Nasr II had ordered Bal'ami to translate the book from Arabic to Persian, and then appointed "interpreters" to read it out loud, so that Rudaki, who was blind, could versify it. Only a few of the verses made by Rudaki have survived. Some of them have been identified in the Lughat-i Furs.
Although Rudaki displayed pro-Isma'ili sympathies in his writings, his poetry is fully secular in nature. Islam was firmly established by the 10th-century, however, Persians still remembered their deep-rooted Zoroastrian history. Rudaki was more prone to evoke ancient Iranian and Zoroastrian notions instead of Muslim ones. Some of Rudaki's poems were written in the pre-Islamic andarz style, i.e. ethical teachings, friendly criticism and advice for correct behavior in both private and public.
Rudaki is considered to have been the first major poet to write in New Persian. Albeit he was predated by other poets who wrote in New Persian, such as Abu Hafs Sughdi (died 902), most of their work has not survived. In Iran, Rudaki is acknowledged as the "founder of New Persian poetry" and in Tajikistan as the "father of Tajik literature", both claims which according to the Iranologist Richard Foltz are not contradictory. Rudaki's life is depicted in the 1957 film of A Poet's Fate, written by Satim Ulugzade (died 1997). The following year, the latter wrote a play focused on Rudaki, entitled Rudaki, which was the first Tajik biographical drama.
According to Nile Green, Rudaki "heralded a new era for Persian letters." The Iranologist Francois de Blois states that Rudaki "was the most celebrated Persian poet prior to Ferdowsi." Following his death, Rudaki continued to remain a highly popular figure for around two centuries, until the Mongol period, where he became unpopular amongst the poets of that time. During the 19th-century, he experienced a resurgence in popularity along with other ancient Khurasani poets.