Persian romance based on Metiochus and Parthenope

Unsuri, Abu al-Qasim Hasan. Masnavi-i Vamiq va 'Azra [Metiochus and Parthenope].

Persia, 19th century.

Folio (212 x 324 mm). Persian manuscript on faintly ruled paper. 1 blank leaf, 336 pp. (168 ff.), 1 blank leaf. Text is complete, but last leaf is missing. 1 illuminated headpiece and 49 illustrations in ink and bright watercolour wash. Text in black, ruled in black, with important words and phrases picked out in purple. 19th century leather ruled and stamped in blind.


Lavishly illuminated Persian manuscript depicting the romance which came to define the love story in Western literature. Composed by Abu al-Qasim Hasan Unsuri (ca. 961-1039), the original Persian was in fact lost, and preserved in a Turkish translation. Unsuri's version was itself based on what was already an ancient love story in his own time, the Ancient Greek novel "Metiochus and Parthenope", which also survives only in fragments. Though certainly derived from the Greek, like many Persian romances with Greek origins, "the nature of the relationship is not [...] the simple one of the earlier (Greek) material influencing the later (Persian) material, as the Greek novels contain a number of motifs and topoi which are identified within the narratives themselves as Persian in origin. The relationship between the love narratives of the two cultures appear, therefore, to have been one of mutual reciprocity over a considerable stretch of time" (Davis).

Some fragments of the original Persian do survive: Sa'id Nafisi collected 141 verses of "Wameq o 'Adra" that were used as evidence in Persian dictionaries, and 372 more verses were discovered by Mohammad Šafi' in the binding of an old manuscript in 1950 (Blois, 201). Unsuri's version was translated in the 16th century into Turkish by Shaikh Mahmud Lame'i, though in comparison with the earlier fragments, this is considered a loose translation of the original. However, it provides the source of most subsequent translations and most of what we know of "Vamiq va 'Azra", as a romance which underpins the genre. In literature both mediaeval and modern, the narratives of the original persist: lovers separated by a kidnapping, a virgin who must use a range of tricks to elude unworthy attempts on her chastity, an interrupted wedding, and a seemingly final separation with the (supposed) death of one of the lovers. In this way, "Vamiq va 'Azra" echoes down the literary ages.

Covers somewhat worn but professionally repaired; still tightly bound. Light soiling, otherwise a beautifully illustrated and uncommon manuscript.

Richard Davis, "Greece IX. Greek and Persian Romances", in: Encyclopaedia Iranica XI, 339-342. Francois de Blois, Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey. Vol. V: Poetry of the Pre-Mongol Period (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 2004), pp. 201-204.