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Scene from Nezami’s Khosrow and Shirin in Hebrew

Scene from Nezami’s Khosrow and Shirin in Hebrew

Khosrow and Shririn is another popular and tragic love story from the Middle East, told and retold by several different poets, such as Ferdowsi (d. 1020 CE) and Nezami (d. 1209). The basic story is about Khosrow Parviz (r. 590-628), a real pre-Islamic Iranian king from the Sassanid dynasty, who falls in love at first sight with Shirin after he accidentally spies her bathing in a river; she likewise falls in love with him after she sees a portrait of him that Khosrow had made for that purpose. Unfortunately, the two are not able to get together many years later, and Khosrow’s son from a previous marriage—jealous of his father’s beautiful new wife—kills his father.

Although Nezami’s version of the story was originally written in Persian in the twelfth century, the manuscript here is from a Hebrew translation from either the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. In other words, many Middle Eastern poets gained wide audiences across religious and communal lines. Iran has had a large Jewish presence ever since Cyrus (r. 559-529 BCE) ended the Babylonian Captivity, and although they have faced times of persecution, on the whole Iranian Jews have been able to live peaceful and successful lives and participate in Iranian culture. Even today, Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel. 

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