Athir al-Din Akhsikati

Athir-i Akhsikati, Athir al-Din Akhsikati Abu al-Fazl Muhamamd b. Abi Tahir (fl. 12th century), a well-known poet with the nom de plume of Athir (‘Ether‘) and Athir-i Akhsikati (‘The Ether of Akhsikat’), and a distinguished figure in Persian belles-lettres and poetry, hailing from Akhsikat, a town in the district of Farghana in Transoxiana (present-day Tajikistan). Although in his poetry he signs himself ‘Athir’ or ‘Athir-i Akhsikati’, later biographers have recorded his name as Athir al-Din. In the eastern Iranian region in which he grew up he embarked on his poetical career. When the powerful, but beneficent Sultan Sanjar’s rule was swept away by the Ghuzz Turk invasion, unleashing a rash of upheavals in Khurasan,, Athir went west to Iraq. He entered the service of Rukn al-Din Arsalan b. Tughril, becoming his panegyrist when the latter, supported by the Atabak Ilduguz, acceded to the Seljuk sultanate of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. He also comosed eulogies to Ilduguz and his sons, Muhammad Jahan Pahlawan and Qizil Arsalan. Athir was in contact with some of the distinguished poets of his day, such as Mujir Baylaqani, Ashhari Nayshaburi, and Khaqani. Considering himself equal to Khaqani, he challenged him in satire, and the two ended up competing in lampooning compositions against each other. So sanguine was he to directly confront Khaqani that he made a point of setting out from Khurasan in the northeast of Iran to get to Shirwan in Azerbaijan to the northwest, attaching himself to the entourage of Arsalan b. Tughril en route. Ever combative, he left no stone unturned to lampoon Mujir, going so far as to slander him as the ‘brigand of the caravans’ of his poetry. He reportedly died in Khalkhal in 1167, 1174 or 1181, though the last two dates are more likely.

 Although he he was no match for Khaqani in composing qasidas and overstepped the bounds of fairness and taste in lampooning Khaqani, he still approaches him in the creation of excellent themes and brilliantly innovative compounds, as well as in his employment of scholarly ideas and his vast knowledge in providing new meanings. In line with his contemporaries, as abundantly evidenced in his qasidas, he is overindulgent in making a display of his knowledge. On the other hand, he has numerous qasidas of fine delicacy and ghazals with warm appeal. His major defect is that he is attached to semantic complexity, leading to turgidity of meaning. Athir al-Din has versified poems in most of the forms of Persian poetry, though he is most skillful in composing qasidas. In his poetry, he reflects skills in developing complex rhyming schemes and innovative compounds, in creating novel themes, in employing original tropes,, and in bringing to bear knowledge from many sciences. On the other hand, his tendency to be abstruse and use dry terminology and philosophical sophistry, even in his depictions of natural landscapes and representations of love, have led to difficulties in understanding the meaning of some of his verses, detracting from the fineness of appeal. In his poetry, particularly in his ghazals, he has been able to somewhat temper the ponderousness and pomp of the Khurasani genre with subtle simplicity of language, but his proneness to imitation has lumbered his high inspiration, reducing him to the level of a clever imitator of the likes of Anvari. His Divan was published in Tehran in 1958.

Asar-afarinan (1, 197); Tarikh-i adabiyat dar Iran (2, 707-715); Da'irat al-ma'arif-i farsi (1, 57); Da'irat al-ma'arif-i buzurg-i islami (6, 590-591).