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Colonial America | Archaeology and The Ancient World | Literature and Poetry | Middle Eastern Studies | Philosophy, Ethics and Religion

Benjamin Franklin's Persian Parable

A lecture by Richard Jeffrey Newman

This talk traces the path by which a Muslim poem about religious tolerance, written by Sa'di of Shiraz in 13th century Iran, traveled across five centuries, four languages, and contact with three religious traditions to become the "Parable Against Persecution," one of Benjamin Franklin's most popular and widely anthologized works. (It was still appearing in anthologies as recently as the early 1900s.) Following this poem's path to America will lead us from 13th century Iran to the work of a 17th century French diplomat who believed his compatriots had something to learn from the Muslims; to a 17th century Dutch priest's attempt to soften the blow of anti-Semitism in the city of Hamburg; to the teachings of an important Church of England clergyman; as well as accusations of plagiarism against Franklin himself. In the process, we will also learn about Sa'di, one of Iran's most important writers, who is known world-wide for his literary merit, his wisdom, his commitment to social justice, his spirituality, and his humor. By the end of this talk, audiences will have been exposed to a cultural connection between Iran and the United States of which very few are aware, discovering a set of shared values that belies the antagonism these two nations display towards each other on the world's political stage.

This lecture is available from March 1, 2009 to June 30, 2015

Can be tailored to a high school audience

Professor Richard Jeffrey Newman

Associate Professor, Nassau Community College

Richard Jeffrey Newman is an essayist, poet and translator. Selections from Saadi's Gulistan, his first book, was published in 2004 by Global Scholarly Publications (GSP). Selections from Saadi's Bustan is forthcoming in 2006. His own book of poems, The Silence of Men, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press. He is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Nassau Community College

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