Gulistan of Sa'di
The Gulistan is a landmark literary work in Persian literature
Persian literature
Persian literature spans two-and-a-half millennia, though much of the pre-Islamic material has been lost. Its sources have been within historical Persia including present-day Iran as well as regions of Central Asia where the Persian language has historically been the national language...

, perhaps its single most influential work of prose. Written in 1259 CE, it is one of two major works of the Persian poet Sa'di
Saadi (poet)
Abū-Muḥammad Muṣliḥ al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī better known by his pen-name as Saʿdī or, simply, Saadi, was one of the major Persian poets of the medieval period. He is not only famous in Persian-speaking countries, but he has also been quoted in western sources...

, considered one of the greatest medieval Persian poets. It is also one of his most popular books, and has proved deeply influential in the West as well as the East. The Gulistan is a collection of poems and stories, just as a rose-garden is a collection of roses. It is widely quoted as a source of wisdom. The well-known aphorism still frequently repeated in the western world, about being sad because one has no shoes until one meets the man who has no feet "whereupon I thanked Providence for its bounty to myself" is from the Gulistan.

The minimalist plots of the Gulistan's stories are expressed with precise language and psychological insight, creating a "poetry of ideas" with the concision of mathematical formulas. The book deals with virtually every major issue faced by mankind, with both optimism and subtle satire. There is much advice for rulers, in this way coming within the mirror for princes genre. But as Eastwick comments in his introduction to the work, there is a common saying in Persian, "Each word of Sa'di has seventy-two meanings", and the stories, alongside their entertainment value and practical and moral dimension, frequently focus on the conduct of dervishes and are said to contain sufi teachings.

Reasons for composition

In his introduction Sa'di describes how a friend persuaded him to go out to a garden on 21 April 1258. There the friend gathered up flowers to take back to town. Sa'di remarked on how quickly the flowers would die, and proposed a flower garden that would last much longer:
Of what use will be a dish of roses to thee?
Take a leaf from my rose-garden.
A flower endures but five or six days
But this rose-garden is always delightful.

Sa'di continues, "On the same day I happened to write two chapters, namely on polite society and the rules of conversation, in a style acceptable to orators and instructive to letter-writers.". In finishing the book, Sa'di writes that, though his speech is entertaining and amusing, "it is not hidden from the enlightened minds of sahibdils (possessors of heart), who are primarily addressed here, that pearls of healing counsel have been drawn onto strings of expression, and the bitter medicine of advice has been mixed with the honey of wit".


After the introduction, the Gulistan is divided into eight chapters, each consisting of a number of stories and poetry:
1. The Manners of Kings
2. On the Morals of Dervishes
3. On the Excellence of Contentment
4. On the Advantages of Silence
5. On Love and Youth
6. On Weakness and Old Age
7. On the Effects of Education
8. On Rules for Conduct in Life

Chapter 1, story 34

One of the sons of Harunu'r-rashid came to his father in a passion, saying, "Such an officer's son has insulted me, by speaking abusively of my mother." Harun said to his nobles, "What should be the punishment of such a person?" One gave his voice for death, and another for the excision of his tongue, and another for the confiscation of his goods and banishment. Harun said, "O my son! the generous part would be to pardon him, and if thou canst not, then do thou abuse his mother, but not so as to exceed the just limits of retaliation, for in that case we should become the aggressors."
They that with raging elephants make war
Are not, so deem the wise, the truly brave;
But in real verity, the valiant are
Those who, when angered, are not passion's slave.

An ill-bred fellow once a man reviled,
Who patient bore it, and replied, "Good friend!
Worse am I than by thee I could be styled,
And better know how often I offend."

Chapter 2, story 7

I remember that, in the time of my childhood, I was devout, and in the habit of keeping vigils, and eager to practise mortification and austerities. One night I sate up in attendance on my father, and did not close my eyes the whole night, and held the precious Kur'an in my lap while the people around me slept. I said to my father, "Not one of these lifts up his head to perform a prayer. They are so profoundly asleep that you would say they were dead." He replied, "Life of thy father! it were better if thou, too, wert asleep; rather than thou shouldst be backbiting people."
Naught but themselves can vain pretenders mark,
For conceit's curtain intercepts their view.
Did God illume that which in them is dark,
Naught than themselves would wear a darker hue.


Sadi's Gulistan is said to be one of the most widely read books ever produced. From the time of its composition to the present day it has been admired for its "inimitable simplicity", seen as the essence of simple elegant Persian prose. Persian for a long time was the language of literature from Bengal to Constantinople, and the Gulistan was known and studied in much of Asia. In Persian-speaking countries today, proverbs and aphorisms from the Gulistan appear in every kind of literature and continue to be current in conversation, much as Shakespeare is in English. As Sir John Malcolm wrote in his Sketches of Persia in 1828, the stories and maxims of Sa'di were "known to all, from the king to the peasant".

In Europe

The Gulistan has been significant in the influence of Persian literature on Western culture. La Fontaine
Jean de La Fontaine
Jean de La Fontaine was the most famous French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. He is known above all for his Fables, which provided a model for subsequent fabulists across Europe and numerous alternative versions in France, and in French regional...

 based his "Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol"on a story from Gulistan chapter 2 story 16:
A certain pious man in a dream beheld a king in paradise and a devotee in hell. He inquired, "What is the reason of the exaltation of the one, and the cause of the degradation of the other? for I had imagined just the reverse." They said, "That king is now in paradise owing to his friendship for darweshes, and this recluse is in hell through frequenting the presence of kings."
Of what avail is frock, or rosary,
Or clouted garment? Keep thyself but free
From evil deeds, it will not need for thee
To wear the cap of felt: a darwesh be
In heart, and wear the cap of Tartary.

François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

 was familiar with works of Sa'di, and wrote the preface of Zadig
Zadig ou la Destinée, is a famous novel and work of philosophical fiction written by Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. It tells the story of Zadig, a philosopher in ancient Babylonia...

in his name. He mentions a French translation of the Gulistan, and himself translated a score of verses, either from the original or from some Latin or Dutch translation.

Sir William Jones advised students of Persian to pick an easy chapter of the Gulistan to translate as their first exercise in the language. Thus, selections of the book became the primer for officials of British India
Company rule in India
Company rule in India refers to the rule or dominion of the British East India Company on the Indian subcontinent...

 at Fort William College
Fort William College
Fort William College was an academy and learning centre of Oriental studies established by Lord Wellesley, then Governor-General of British India. It was founded on July 10, 1800 within the Fort William complex in Calcutta...

 and at Haileybury College
East India Company College
The East India College was a college in Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire, England. It was founded in February 1806 as the training establishment for the British East India Company . At that time, the BEIC provided general and vocational education for young gentlemen of sixteen to eighteen years old,...

 in England.

In the United States Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century...

 who addressed a poem of his own to Sa'di, provided the preface for Gladwin's translation, writing, "Saadi exhibits perpetual variety of situation and incident ... he finds room on his narrow canvas for the extremes of lot, the play of motives, the rule of destiny, the lessons of morals, and the portraits of great men. He has furnished the originals of a multitude of tales and proverbs which are current in our mouths, and attributed by us to recent writers." Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau was an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and leading transcendentalist...

 quoted from the book in Concord River and in his remarks on philanthropy in Walden
Walden is an American book written by noted Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau...



Saʿdi was first introduced to the West in a partial French translation by André du Ryer (1634). Friedrich Ochsenbach based a German translation (1636) on this. Georgius Gentius produced a Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 version accompanied by the Persian text in 1651. Adam Olearius made the first direct German translation.

The Gulistan has been translated into English a number of times: Stephen Sullivan (London, 1774, selections), James Dumoulin (Calcutta, 1807), Francis Gladwin (Calcutta, 1808, preface by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century...

), James Ross (London, 1823), S. Lee (London, 1827), Edward Backhouse Eastwick
Edward Backhouse Eastwick
Edward Backhouse Eastwick CB was a British orientalist, diplomat and Conservative Member of Parliament....

 (Hartford, 1852; republished by Octagon Press
Octagon Press
Octagon Press is a cross-cultural publishing house based in London, UK. It was founded in 1960 by Sufi teacher, Idries Shah to establish the historical and cultural context for his ideas.-Description:Octagon Press published many of Shah's later works...

, 1979), Johnson (London, 1863), John T. Platts (London, 1867), Edward Henry Whinfield
Edward Henry Whinfield
Edward Henry Whinfield was a translator of Persian literature. He composed the first well-commented English translations of Hafez and Rumi, as well as a side-by-side translation of 500 quatrains of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in 1883....

 (London, 1880), Edward Rehatsek
Edward Rehatsek
Edward Rehatsek was an Orientalist and translator of several works of Islamic literature including the Gulistan or Rose Garden of Saadi, Ibn Ishaq’s Sirah Rasul Allah or The Life of Muhammad: Apostle of Allah, and the Rauza-tus-Safa or The Gardens of Purity...

 (Banaras, 1888, in some later editions incorrectly attributed to Sir Richard Burton), Sir Edwin Arnold
Edwin Arnold
Sir Edwin Arnold CSI CIE was an English poet and journalist, who is most known for his work, The Light of Asia.-Biography:...

 (London, 1899), Launcelot Alfred Cranmer-Byng (London, 1905), Celwyn E. Hampton (New York, 1913), and Arthur John Arberry
Arthur John Arberry
Arthur John Arberry was a respected British orientalist. A most prolific scholar of Arabic, Persian, and Islamic studies, he was educated at Portsmouth Grammar School and Pembroke College, Cambridge...

 (London, 1945, the first two chapters). More recent English translations have been published by Omar Ali-Shah
Omar Ali-Shah
Omar Ali-Shah was a prominent exponent of modern Naqshbandi Sufism who lived from 1922 to 2005. He wrote a number of books on the subject, and was head of a large number of sufi groups, particularly in Latin America, Europe and Canada.- Life and work :...

 (1997) and by Wheeler M. Thackston (2008).

United Nations Quotation

This well-known verse, part of chapter 1, story 10 of the Gulistan, is displayed in the entrance of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 Hall of Nations:
بنی آدم اعضای یک پیکرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند

چو عضوى به درد آورد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نماند قرار

تو کز محنت دیگران بی غمی
نشاید که نامت نهند آدمی

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

U.S. President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 quoted this in his videotaped Nowruz
Nowrūz is the name of the Iranian New Year in Iranian calendars and the corresponding traditional celebrations. Nowruz is also widely referred to as the Persian New Year....

 (New Year's) greeting to the Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

ian people in March 2009: "There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: 'The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.

Further reading

External links

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