Lailā and Qais in School
Khamsa (Quintet), in Persian, written by Mullā Fatḥ Muḥammad
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1910
The children of two great chieftains, Lailā and Qais were sent to study under a learned teacher. When Lailā entered the schoolroom, love awakened in Qais's heart, and he vowed to love her all his life. Thereafter he was able to do little else but stare at her, continually repeating her name. Others said he behaved like a madman, losing his heart and soul. People called him a madman, or majnūn, and henceforth he was known as Majnūn. Forbidden to see Lailā, he withdrew to the desert and befriended beasts. In the miniature, a youth, perhaps meant to be Qais, sits among the girls in the foreground.
Lailā va Majnūn (1188), a Persian Romeo and Juliet, is the third poem of the Khamsa (Quintet), a multi-part work by the poet Niẓāmī. The story is based on two real-life seventh-century lovers.
The Persians loved their poetry and their poets, though the Qur˒an warned against believing their words (sura 69.41) and "those straying in evil who follow them" (sura 26.224). While Arabic was the first language of Islam and the language of the Qur˒an, Persian was favored by poets. Even Firdausī's (940–1020) celebrated Shāhnāma (Book of Kings), the national epic of Persian, was written in verse—some 50,000 couplets! Rūmī (1207–1273), the best known of the Sufi poets, put poetry in perspective when he wrote, "A hundred thousand books of poetry existed / Before the word of the illiterate [Prophet] they were put to shame!" (Masnavī I, 529). Presented here are illustrations of Firdausī's Shāhnāma as well as works by Sa˓ dī (ca.1184–1292), Hāfiz (ca. 1320–1389), and Jāmī (1414–1492), regarded as the last of the great Sufi poets. Also featured are illustrations from each of the five poems of the Khamsa (Quintet), by Niẓāmī (ca. 1141–1209), especially Lailā and Majnūn (The Persian Romeo and Juliet) and Bahrām Gūr's Seven Princesses.