Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī also known as Saadi of Shiraz, was one of the major Persian poets and literary men of the medieval period. He is not only famous in Persian-speaking countries, but has been quoted in western sources as well. He is recognized for the quality of his writings and for the depth of his social and moral thoughts. Saadi is widely recognized as one of the greatest poets of the classical literary tradition.
The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Persia led him to wander abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. He also refers in his work to travels in India and Central Asia. Saadi is very much like Marco Polo who traveled in the region from 1271 to 1294. There is a difference, however, between the two. While Marco Polo gravitated to the potentates and the good life, Saadi mingled with the ordinary survivors of the Mongol holocaust. He sat in remote teahouses late into the night and exchanged views with merchants, farmers, preachers, wayfarers, thieves, and Sufi mendicants. For twenty years or more, he continued the same schedule of preaching, advising, learning, honing his sermons, and polishing them into gems illuminating the wisdom and foibles of his people.
Saadi came back to Shiraz before 1257 CE / 655 AH (the year he finished composition of his Bustan). Saadi has mourned in his poetry the fall of Abbasid Caliphate and Baghdad’s destruction by Mongol invaders led by Hulagu in February 1258.
When he reappeared in his native Shiraz, he might have been in his late forties. Shiraz, under Atabak Abubakr Sa’d ibn Zangy (1231–60), the Salghurid ruler of Fars, was enjoying an era of relative tranquility. Saadi was not only welcomed to the city but was shown great respect by the ruler and held to be among the greats of the province. In response, Saadi took his nom de plume from the name of the local prince, Sa’d ibn Zangi. Some of Saadi’s most famous panegyrics were composed as a gesture of gratitude in praise of the ruling house and placed at the beginning of his Bustan. The remainder of Saadi’s life seems to have been spent in Shiraz.
Saʿdī took his nom de plume from the name of a local atabeg (prince), Saʿd ibn Zangī. Saʿdī’s best-known works are the Būstān (1257; The Orchard) and the Gulistān (1258; The Rose Garden). The Būstān is entirely in verse (epic metre) and consists of stories aptly illustrating the standard virtues recommended to Muslims (justice, liberality, modesty, contentment) as well as of reflections on the behaviour of dervishes and their ecstatic practices. The Gulistān is mainly in prose and contains stories and personal anecdotes. The text is interspersed with a variety of short poems, containing aphorisms, advice, and humorous reflections. The morals preached in the Gulistān border on expediency—e.g., a well-intended lie is admitted to be preferable to a seditious truth. Saʿdī demonstrates a profound awareness of the absurdity of human existence. The fate of those who depend on the changeable moods of kings is contrasted with the freedom of the dervishes.
Saadi’s prose style, described as “simple but impossible to imitate” flows quite naturally and effortlessly. Its simplicity, however, is grounded in a semantic web consisting of synonymy, homophony, and oxymoron buttressed by internal rhythm and external rhyme. Iranian authors over the years have failed to imitate its style in their own language, how can foreigners translate it into their own language, no matter what language?