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Persian Manuscripts: from Author to Text


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, specialisation Persian Studies or the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research), with sufficient level of reading skills in Persian (level B2 European Common Framework). Please, contact the student advisor, Nicole A.N.M. van Os or Dr. J.T.L. Cheung, if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student admitted to one of the above-mentioned master programmes or if you are not confident regarding your level of Persian.


This course is a weekly seminar on various aspects of text and text-transmission in Persian cultural areas. Various modes of transmissions and physical aspects of the manuscript will be analysed. A large part of this course will be devoted to reading manuscripts, teaching students how to decipher various orthographies and handwritten texts. The last four sessions will be devoted to the reading and analysis of selected passages from the 14th century encyclopaedic work of the Safina of Tabriz. The seminar will thus enable the students to write the assignment paper at the end of the semester.

Course objectives

The main objective of this course is to familiarize the students with the variety of the rich manuscript tradition in Persian.


For the most recent update of the timetable please click here.

Mode of instruction

Seminar. Each session consists of two hours. Students are required to read, in advance, selections from secondary, scholarly literature and to prepare several passages from a manuscript (a xeroxed copy of the relevant pages will be made available to the students).

Course load

  • The course comprises 10 EC and the total course load is thus 280 hrs

  • 26 hrs of the course will be spent on attending the class (2 hrs x 13 weeks)

  • 52 hrs are to be spent on homework, i.e. reading the literature and studying the passages from the manuscript

  • 30 hrs are set aside for the 2 presentations (prep. & 15 min. talk),

  • 172 hours need to be spent on the final paper.

Assessment method

Paper and presentations. Students are expected to give two presentations on a specific topic from the overview (40%). For the final assignment of this course students are required to transcribe and prepare a critical, textual commentary on one page from – preferably – the Safina of Tabriz (60%).



Reading list

The programme is provisional and subject to change.
The literature cited here is for guidance purposes only.

  1. Orality and written culture in the Iranian areas
  • Bruijn, J.T.P. de, ‘Poets and Minstrels in Early Persian Literature’, in Transition Periods in Iranian History: Actes du Symposium de Fribourg-en-Brisgau (22-24 mai 1985) Studia Iranica Cahier 5, Paris 1987, pp. 15-23.

  • Lewis, F., ‘The Modes of Literary Production: Remarks on the Composition, Revision and “Publication” of Persian Texts in the Medieval Period” in Persica: Annual of the Dutch-Iranian Society, XVII, 2001, pp. 69-83.

  • Richard, F., Le livre persan, Paris 2003.

  • Yamamoto, K., The Oral Background of Persian Epics, Leiden/Boston 2003.

  1. Physical aspects of Persian manuscripts; Orthography, palaeography and types of handwriting
  • J.J. Witkam, in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, under Nuskha.

  • W.l. Hanaway; B. Spooner, Reading Nasta’aliq: Persian and Urdu hands from 1500 to the present, Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers, 1995.

3-4. Reading manuscripts: Sana’i’s Seyr al-`ebad

  • J.T.P. de Bruijn, Of Piety and Poetry. The Interaction of Religion and Literature in the Life and Works of Hakim Sanâ’i of Ghazna. Brill, Leiden 1983.

5-6. Reading manuscripts: Fayzi’s Markaz al-advar

  • M. Rahman in the Encyclopaedia Iranica, under fayzi, Abu’l-Fayz.
  1. On the transmission of Ferdowsi’s Shah-nama
  • Davis, D., “Interpolations to the Text of the Shahnameh: An Introductory Typology” in Persica: Annual of the Dutch-Iranian Society, XVII, 2001, pp. 35-49.

  • Davis, D., “The Problem of Ferdowsi’s sources” in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 116.1, 1996, pp. 48-57.

  • Yamamoto, K., The Oral Background of Persian Epics, Leiden/Boston 2003.

8-9. Persian illuminated manuscripts & miniature paintings (with special reference to the Shahnama)

  • Grabar, O. and Robinson, C., Islamic Art and Literature, Princeton 2001.

  • Hillenbrand, R. (editor) Shahnama: The Visual Language of the Persian Book of Kings, Edinburgh 2003.

  • Simpson, M.S., The Illustration of an Epic: The Earliest Shahnama Manuscripts, New York 1979.

  • Simpson, M.S., Persian Poetry, Painting and Patronage: Illustrations in a Sixteenth-century masterpiece, Washington 1998.

  • Brend, B., Perspectives on Persian Painting: Illustrations to Amir Khusrau’s ‘Khamsah’, London 2003.

  • Grabar, O., Mostly Miniatures – An Introduction to Persian Painting, Princeton; Oxford, 2000.

  • O’Kane, B., Early Persian Painting: Kalila and dimna Manuscripts of the Late Fourteenth Century, London 2003.

  • Swietochowski, M.L., Illustrated Poetry and Epic Images. Persian Painting of the 1330’s and 1340’s, New York 1994.

10-13. the Safina of Tabriz

  • Afshar, “Nuskha-yi bargardan-i ‘Safina-yi Tabriz’” in Nameh-ye Baharestan, vol. iii, No. 2, Autumn-Winter 2002-03, p. 529;

  • N. Pourjavady, “Erfan-e asil-e Irani dar ‘Safina-ye Tabriz’” in Nama-yi baharistan, 1379/2000, vol. i, no. 2, pp. 59-84.

  • A.A. Seyed-Gohrab, “A Treasury from Tabriz: a Fourteenth-Century Manuscript Containing 209 Works in Persian and Arabic” in Persica: Annual of the Dutch-Iranian


Registration via uSis

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the “Study in Leiden”: http://www.leiden.edu/studyinleiden/sap/application.html website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Dr. J.T.L. Cheung


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).