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The Greek Poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi

Medieval Sufi masters where Islamic scholars who were well versed with the Koran and the Hadith and frequently quoted from these sources in their speech and writing. They were also imbued with early Islamic mysticism. Nevertheless, they were attacked by orthodox ulemas, accused of heresy and blasphemy, and even subjected to persecution and execution. This was perhaps due to alien ethnic origins of Sufism, with emphasis on love, harmony, and some elements of pantheism versus the rigidity of other orthodox Muslims. Arguments about the roots of Sufism in ancient Indo-Iranian religions (Zoroastrian/Vedanta) are well recorded are not relevant to the present discourse. On the other hand, the Greek influence, which came much later, is attested by Greek poetry of Rumi and his son, Sultan Valad.

As the Sufi orders developed, they deviated in many ways from the early Islamic mysticism. Sufi doctrine grew in several stages, enriched by contacts with Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, and even Buddhism. They were also influenced by Greek philosophy, especially the works of Aristotle, which reached them through Islamic philosophers like Avicenna (d. 1037) and Averroes (d. 1198). When Rumi and his movement were established in Konya, the city was still under the influence of Christianity, and the Greek language was common among communities around the city. Thus the Sufis could not avoid being influenced by the Greek culture and philosophy that were promoted by the Christians. The English orientalist, F.W. Haslucke, describes these situations and states that in a mosque in Konya, that was formerly the St.Amphilochius church, was a tomb that was beloved to be that of Plato and the Muslims in the city had reverence for it and even some considered Plato a prophet*. There are also indications that both the Sufi masters and Saljuq monarchs encourages harmony and friendship between the Sufis and Christians. Much later when the Ottoman Sultans ordered the persecution and massacre of Armenians, Sufis sheltered and saved the lives of some of them.

Under these circumstances, we can assume that Rumi and his son knew Greek and wrote the so-called Greek poems.

Both Rumi and his son Sultan Valad wrote their poetry and prose primarily in Persian but there are occasional writings, in the orders of frequency, in Arabic, Turkish, and Greek. The Greek verses are mixed with Persian and Arabic lines and Turkish words, and they are written in the Persian/Arabic alphabet! Sultan Valad has more Greek verses, as attested by the following count of the poems in his Rabab Nama.*

Persian: 7,745
Turkish: (Ottoman): 157
Arabic: 35
Greek: 22

The following is a translation of a poem by Rumi in Greek (Ghazal 2264). An earlier literal French translation of these poems with a few misreading and lacunae has been published.*
The Turkish scholar Abdulbaki Golpinarli has translated these poems into Turkish with the aid of a Greek scholar, Mir Miroghli.* The original poems are longer, with most of the lines in Persian.
For example Ode 2264 consists of 18 couplets in the Foruzanfar edition of Rumi's Divan of Shams. I am recording here the Greek lines and lines counting Greek phases. According to Miroghli, the Greek language used is that of the common folk in Anatolia at the
time of Rumi.

Were are you my master?
the dispenser of benevolence
and the moon-faced charmer?
I will say in Sarrazin who I am and who you are.
I came to you, friend
to be sacrificed for love,
and when I saw you
my desires were magnified.
If you give me a glass of wine, I'll be happy.
and if you abuse me, I'll be happy.
My lord, what you desire I desire
and I seek.
When I am drunk, listen to my babbling.
O Lord, help me in my chattering!
Where are you Chelabi*
Where are you?
Where are you, dear?
I have abandoned pride and principles,
console my heart!

-- from: "Rumi and the Sufi Tradition": Essays on the Mowlavi Order and Mysticism
By John A.Moyne, Global Publication- Binghamton University In association with Mazda Publishers, New York, 1998

* Haslucke (1929). This material is also quoted by Sa'id Nafisi in the introduction to Sultan Valad (1959).
* Sultan Valad (1980).
* Burgiere and Mantran (1952).
* Golpinarli (1951)
* Presumably refers to Husamuddin Chelebi, the companion of Rumi and the first leader of the Mowlavi Order after Rumi's death. Rumi dedicated his great Mathnawi to Chelebi.


Last updated: May 9, 2004