From the Garden to the Bathhouse: Poetry, Eros, and Daily Life in Isfahan

By Shahla Farghadani
Submitted to Session P5009 (Politics, Culture, and Everyday Life in Safavid Poetry and Prose, 2017 Annual Meeting
13th-18th Centuries;
Shahr?sh?b, a Persian poetic genre from the Safavid period, gives us primary, first-hand material about different aspects of urban life, society and social relations in early modern Iran. One aspect of early modern Iran we observe through this genre is sexuality and its relationship to physical spaces. For example, in the bathhouse we see erotic desire unfold in a particular way that is outside the more conventional sphere, where eros and love are experienced; therefore, I read the Shahr?sh?b at the intersection of poetry, the language of eroticism, and quotidian social interactions within the city of Isfahan. Such an integrative reading enables us to see not only how poetry can be representative of the city or the social structure, but of individuals as well. Thus, I explore how the Shahr?sh?b employs a certain kind of language that approximates quotidian interactions, which then provides insight into how everyday interaction unfolded in early modern Iran. I will examine how the specific genre of the Shahr?sh?b depicts social relations as they unfolded in a particular space, and how place impacts the way sexuality is represented by I’j?z love or erotic interactions.
In this paper, I examine In Praise of Isfahan (dar ta’r?f i Isfahan) by Mulla I’j?z i Hirati, a poet in the late Safavid period. In In Praise of Isfahan, I’j?z creates a new aesthetic of masculinity through the Shahr?sh?b genre- a genre that allows him to connect specific individuals with specific places and occupations and thereby create a map of the city through eros. Unlike other Shahr?sh?bs in which the poet directly addresses the beloved, I’j?z in the description of his desire for youth does not directly address his beloved and instead focuses on the aesthetics of their body. It seems that his description of youths is more related to his erotic desire for them rather than for the ideals of love. This desire is contextually shaped according to space, the physical site in which it occurs.