The Poetics of Romantic Love in Vis & Rāmin

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Division of the Humanities in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

By Cameron Lindley Cross

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Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago
Commitee: Frank Lewis, Tahera Qutbuddin, Daisy Delogu, Mark Miller


ABSTRACT

In the first half of the eleventh century ce, a series of narrative poems about love and lovers were composed in the eastern Iranian lands, marking the advent of what is now generally called the romance genre in Persian literature. However, sustained theoretical considerations of this genre, and the role of these early texts within it, remain few and far between. This dissertation addresses both lacunae by situating these poems in a comparative framework that runs both broad and deep, exploring lines of continuity and change between it and neighboring traditions in Greek, Arabic, and Middle Persian to explore the ways we may use “romance” as a critical term to flesh out our historiography of Persian literature and document the rise of one of its hallmark genres. A study of these works from this perspective reveals that they constitute a highly innovative group of poems, not only in the Persian context but also in the wider generic tradition of which they form a part.
     We investigate some of these innovations in a close reading of Vis & Rāmin, the most prominent member of these early romances and a sophisticated literary work in its own right. The story provides a nuanced study of romantic love, the central theme of its genre, by raising new problems and implications for those who would pursue its elusive promises. The role of faithfulness and chastity for women in this genre, even when it paradoxically guides them into adultery; the pressures of masculinity, caught within intersecting codes of manhood, kingship, and love; the use of mode to individuate characters and portray competing visions of the world; and the relation between love, death, and selfhood are all discussed in separate chapters. These readings show how Vis & Rāmin and its sibling texts were successful in recasting a kind of literature that had once been viewed as little more than bedtime stories into a subtle medium that could pose complex questions of the individual and her place in society.