A later Timurid copy of Manṭiq al-ṭayr by Farīd al-Dīn ʻAṭṭār (d. ca. 1230) containing nine illustrations.
ʻAṭṭār and the Manṭiq al-ṭayr
Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār was one of the most important Persian poets of the second half of the 12th century, although his reputation as a mystic and poet became established only in the 15th century. His best-known work is perhaps the poem Manṭiq al-ṭayr (‘Conference of birds’), which he completed in 1177 and depicts the tale of thirty birds on a journey to find their supreme master, the Simurgh, a legendary bird from Iranian folklore. In the end the birds realise that they themselves are the Simurgh, which ʻAṭṭār interprets as made up of the two Persian words sī (thirty) and murgh (bird). Their quest symbolises the human soul in search of its true reality, which is ultimately its own self.
Scenes from the Conference of birds
The Manṭiq al-ṭayr is a frame-story containing many different episodes set within the main plot. The birds’ leader is the hoopoe (hudhud) and in the scene illustrated here (f. 30v, digitised image 1), the vain peacock, banished from Paradise because of his pride, explains to the hoopoe that he is unable to join the group because he is too much obsessed by the desire to return to his former celestial abode.
Other stories illustrated include the tale of the two foxes (f. 84r, digitised image 2), whose happy life together comes to an abrupt end when a king appears on the scene, hunting with a falcon and cheetah. The inevitability of death is described in the story of the boasting king (f. 91r, digitised image 3) who has summoned all to admire his new palace. Despite its flawless appearance, as the ascetic warns, there is an invisible crack in one wall through which ‘Azra’il, the Angel of Death, will one day enter to collect the king’s soul. Another favourite theme is the fate of those who fall passionately in love with someone completely unattainable, exemplified here by the story of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna, his page Ayaz and the beggar who is infatuated with Ayaz (f. 151r, digitised image 4).
View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.