Farid al-Din Attar Nishapuri

Farid al-Din Attar Nishapuri

He lived at a time when Sufism was widely practiced and the problems of metaphysics were the subject of active speculation. He lived almost 100 years and was killed by the Mongol invaders. His tomb is located in Nishapur, Iran. Various anecdotes have been told about Attar’s death, including being captured by a Mongol. One day, a man came and offered a thousand silver coins to buy the goods of the Mongol. Attar told the Mongolian not to sell them at said price because it was not adequate. The Mongol accepted Attar’s words and did not sell them. Later, another man came and offered him a bag of straw. Attar advised the Mongol to sell them because that’s what they were worth. The Mongol soldier got angry and killed Attar to teach the people a lesson. Attar is one of the most mystical poets of Iran, whose work was nothing more than the philosophical inspiration of Rumi and many other mystical poets of Iran. Mevlana Rumi regarded Attar as the spirit.

Attar’s name comes from his profession. In fact, his father had an herbal shop and Attar was not only a doctor but also a poet. He accepted many patients a day in his store, where he prescribed herbal extracts and natural medicines that he studied alone in the store. Attar wrote 114 works, the same number of surahs from the holy book of the Qur’an. About 30 of his works are preserved.

Of the many works attributed to him, “The Language of Birds” is the most famous. Constructed according to an articulated dialogic structure that takes up the philosophical epistles of various ancient authors (Avicenna, Al Ghazali). Rather, the work is a wisdom book in which the allegory of the birds’ voyage shows, and sometimes reveals, its didactic intention. The birds, meeting in congress, decide to go in search of the king-bird Simurg (symbol of divinity). Finally, only thirty out of one hundred thousand manage to reach their destination after having crossed seven valleys through which the mystical path winds, a symbolic representation of the stages through which the soul, with a constant progression, reaches divine perfection. Simurg in this work is the mirror of those who came to his court: Attar’s exploration of the “sea”, that is, of the soul, was carried out in this way in the discovery of his identity.


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