Nezam od-Din Ubeydollah Zâkâni (Persian: خواجه نظامالدین عبیدالله زاکانی), or simply Ubayd-i Zākāni (Persian: عبید زاکانی c. 1300 – 1371 CE), was a Persian poet and satirist of the 14th century (Timurid Period) from the city of Qazvin. He studied in Shiraz, Iran under the best masters of his day, but eventually moved back to his native town of Qazvin. He however preferred Shiraz to Qazvin, as he was a court poet in Shiraz for Shah Abu Ishaq, where a young Hafez was present as well.
His work is noted for its satire and obscene verses, often political or bawdy, and often cited in debates involving homosexual practices. He wrote the Resaleh-ye Delgosha, as well as Akhlaq al-Ashraf ("Ethics of the Aristocracy") and the famous humorous fable Masnavi Mush-O-Gorbeh (Mouse and Cat), which was a political satire. His non-satirical serious classical verses have also been regarded as very well written, in league with the other great works of Persian literature. He is one of the most remarkable poets, satirists and social critics of Iran (Persia), whose works have not received proper attention in the past. His books are translated into Russian, Danish, Italian, English, and German (by Joachim Wohlleben, 2009: seemingly the first translation of the complete work into a Western language).
While pursuing his studies in Shiraz Ubayd became one of the most accomplished men of letters and learning of his time, acquiring complete proficiency in every art, and compiling books and treatises thereon. He subsequently returned to Qazvin, where he had the honour of being appointed to a judgeship and was chosen as the tutor and teacher of sundry young gentlemen. At that time the Turks in Persia had left no prohibited or vicious act undone, and the character of the Persian people, by reasons of association and intercourse with them, had become so changed and corrupted that 'Ubayd-i-Zakani, disgusted at the contemplation thereof, sought by every means to make known and bring home to them the true conditions of affairs. Therefore, as an example of the corrupt morals of the age and its people, he composed the treatise known as Akhlaq-i-Ashraf (Ethics of the Aristocracy), which was not intended as mere ribaldry, but as a satire containing serious reflections and wise warnings. So, likewise, in order to depict the level of intelligence and degree of knowledge of the leading men of Qazwin each one of whom was a mass of stupidity and ignorance, he included in his Risala-i-Dilqusha (Joyous Treatise) many anecdotes of which each contains a lesson for persons of discernment.
As a measure of his accomplishments, experience, learning and worldly wisdom, his Risala-i-Sad (Tract of a Hundred Counsels) and his Ta'rifat (Definitions) are a sufficient proof. Moreover he composed a treatise 'Ilm-i-Ma'ni u Bayan (Rhetoric) which he desired to present to the King. The courtiers and favorites, however, told him that the King had no need for such rubbish. Then he composed a fine panegyric, which he desired to recite, but they informed him that His Majesty did not like to be mocked with the lies, exaggerations and fulsome flattery of poets. Thereupon 'Ubayd-i-Zakani said, 'In that case I, too, will pursue the path of impudence, so that by these means I may obtain access to the King's most intimate society, and may become one of his courtiers and favorites', which he accordingly did.
Then he began recklessly to utter the most shameless sayings and the most unseemly and extravagant jests, whereby he obtained innumerable gifts and presents, which none dared to pose and contend with him. Thus 'Ubayd-i-Zakani a serious writer, a moralist and a panegyrist was compelled by circumstances to become a ribald satirist.
The most striking feature of the serious poems of 'Ubayd-i-Zakani is the constant references to Fars and its capital Shiraz, which evidently held the affection of the poet far more than his native city of Qazvin.
Ubayd wrote religious poems, praise of God, the Prophet and the Four Rashidun Caliphs; but he neither claimed nor desired to lead a virtuous life.
Poverty and debt were the usual lots of 'Ubayd.
Because of the ribald and often homoerotic quality of his verse, he has been widely censored: "The majority of both the originals and the translations of the raunchy poetry of the bawdy bard, Obeid-e Zakani ... either bowdlerize or omit the "naughty" words with coy little dashes to indicate the lacunae which the knowledgeable reader may furnish by inference." This is held to be the result of Orientalist scholars attempting to glorify Eastern cultures, who refused to translate verse with homoerotic references or changed the sex of the beloved to female. Article by Anthony Shay
Transliterations of his name
- 'Ubaydī Zākānī
- 'Ubaydii Zaakaanii
- 'Ubaydï Zäkänï
- 'Ubaydi Zakani
- Obeid Zakani
- Obeid Zàkàni
- Obeid-e Zakani
- 'Obeid e Zakani
- 'Obeid-e Zâkâni
- Obeyd-e Zākāni
- Nejam od-Din Obeyd-e Zākāni
- Nezam al-din 'Obeid Allah Zakini
- Ibn-i-Yamin (d. 1345 A.D.)
- Khwaju of Kirman (d. 1352 A.D.)
- Salman of Sawa (d. 1378 A.D.)
- 'Hafiz of Shiraz (d. 1389 A.D.)
- Mulla Abdur Rahman Nuru'd-Din Jami (15th century)
- E.G. Browne. Literary History of Persia. (Four volumes, 2,256 pages, and twenty-five years in the writing). 1998. ISBN 0-7007-0406-X
- Jan Rypka, History of Iranian Literature. Reidel Publishing Company. 1968 OCLC 460598. ISBN 90-277-0143-1
Examples of his work
- Bitter Sweet
- Satirical Social Dictionary
- A few of his jokes from Resaleh-ye Delgosha: These are accurate translations of the original Persian, which contain many profanities, and have been subjected to censorship for centuries. They are, however, illuminating examples of Ubayd's radical style. Please continue reading with discretion.
1) A guy got married. On their first night together, his wife started piercing her ears with a needle. When they had sex a bit later, he found she was not a virgin. He said: "my lady, the hole you must have created while in your father's house, you're making here, and the one you should make here you've already made there".
2) A guy from Qazvin was screwing his wife in the summer heat. The woman kept farting every now and then. "What are you doing?" he protested. "Blowing air at your balls so they don't overheat", she responded.
3) A good-looking Christian boy converted to Islam. The sheriff ordered his circumcision, on the first day, and raped him that very night. The next day his father asked him: "how did you find Muslims?" "Strange peoples", he responded. "Whoever accepts their faith, they cut his dick in the day and tear his ass in the night."
4) A guy went to a religious scholar and said: "I get an erection whenever I pray. What should I do?" The scholar said: "think of your parents passing". "Doesn't work", he responded. "Your own last breath", "no use". Whatever the scholar said didn't work. He finally got mad and said: "so just come fuck me you ass". The guy responded: "your holiness's wish is my command".
5) A guy from Shiraz was making love to his wife. He noticed that she had not removed her pubic hair. He said: "this is no problem between us as husband and wife, but make sure you're careful about these things with strangers as it would cause huge embarrassment".
6) A king had three wives: Persian, Arab and Coptic. One night, he was in bed with the Persian wife. "What time is it?" he asked. "It must be dawn", the wife responded. "How do you know?", "The scent of fresh grass and flowers has risen and the birds are singing", she responded. The next night he asked the Arab wife the same question. "It must be dawn as the pearls of my necklace feel cool on my breasts", she answered. On the third night, he asked the same question to the Coptic wife. "It must be dawn as I really have to shit", she said.