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Nezami Ganjavi's "The Seven Portraits"

Making Sense of two complex riddles in a 12th century Persian narrative poem

Haft Paykar, the Seven Portraits, must have delighted its patron ‘Alā’ al-Din Körp Arslān, the ruler of Maragha. What is probably Nezami Ganjavi’s last narrative poem, was composed at the very end of the 12th century CE by a mature poet who had reached the summit of his poetical art and intellectual sophistication.

Event details


It is probably Nezami’s last masnavi and none of the poet’s other four narrative works shows a similar combination of fantasy, wealth of literary and scientific references, alternating between romantic mystery and teasing fun. Haft Paykar resonates within us and once read is rarely forgotten. Parts of it are much loved, it has inspired later authors, East and West, but it is probably not Nezami’s most popular masnavi: it is indeed very different from anything anyone else has ever written and we have not yet managed to fully make sense of it.

Haft Paykar has hitherto been translated and edited several times, parts of it have been comprehensively studied, but the work was still patiently waiting for a detailed literary analysis.  My presentation will delve into several moments of the narrative, showcasing examples of where my analysis is taking me. 

This is work in progress: I will be sharing parts of my forthcoming monograph on the masnavi and will also mention examples where Nezami’s challenges might yet defeat me!



Christine van Ruymbeke (Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Ph.D 1997) is Ali Reza and Muhamed Soudavar Professor of Persian Literature and Culture, as well as co-Chair of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge (UK) and Head of the Department of its Middle Eastern Studies. (

She works on classical (medieval and pre-modern) Persian literature, with a special focus on several masnavis of Nezami of Ganja (12th c. CE) and on the Persian versions of the Kalila and Dimna fables (12th- 16th c. CE). She has published extensively on these and other topics related to Persian literature. Her latest publications are “Passed around by a Crescent” Wine Poetry in the Literary Traditions of the Islamic World, Kirill Dmitriev and Christine van Ruymbeke (eds), Ergon Publishers, Beiruter Texte und Studien (band 142), Beirut, 2022 (358 pp.) and The Interpretation of Nizami’s Cultural Heritage in the Contemporary Period. Shared past and cultural legacy in the transition from the prism of national literature criteria, Rahiliya Gheybulaeva and Christine van Ruymbeke (eds), Peter Lang Editors, Berlin, 2020 (502 pp.).


Tea and coffee will be served in the IAIS Common Room beforehand.





IAIS Building/LT1