Nizamaddin Mir Alisher Navoi

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Navoi, Nizamaddin Mir Alisher


(Nizam al-Din Mir Ali Shir Navai). Born Feb. 9, 1441, in Herat; died there Jan. 3, 1501. Uzbek poet, thinker, and statesman.

Navoi was the son of the Timurid official Ghiyasiddin Kichkina, whose home was a meeting place for people in the arts, including poets. By the age of 15, Navoi had established his reputation as a poet, composing verses in two languages, Middle Asian Turki and Persian. He was educated in Herat, Mashhad (Meshed), and Samarkand.

In 1469, Navoi became the custodian of the royal seal during the reign of Sultan Husein Bayqara, ruler of Khorasan, who had been his fellow student at the madrasa. In 1472 he was appointed a vizier and received the title of emir. He was the patron of scholars, artists, musicians, poets, and calligraphers. Navoi also supervised the construction of a madrasa, a hospital, and bridges.

A confirmed humanist and opponent of medieval despotism and tyranny, Navoi exposed the abuses of the nobles and the self-interest of bribe-takers. He defended the people before the sultan and decided cases in favor of those who had been unjustly treated. Navoi’s progressive views caused displeasure at court.

In 1487, Navoi was sent to the remote province of Asterabad as its ruler. The failure of his hopes for the country’s political reconstruction and the establishment of peace in a state racked by the Timurids’ internal wars forced him to resign his position. After his return to Herat in 1488, Navoi devoted the rest of his life to literature.

Navoi’s literary legacy is great and multifaceted. It includes about 30 poetry collections, long narrative poems, prose works, and scholarly treatises, which provide a comprehensive picture of the intellectual life of 15th-century Middle Asia. He made use of the age-old literary traditions of the peoples of Middle Asia and the Near East.

Navoi’s Treasury of Thoughts is a miscellany of verse collected and arranged in chronological order by the poet himself in 1498 and 1499 into four divans (collections) corresponding to the four stages of Navoi’s age: The Wonders of Childhood, Youth’s Curiosities, The Wonders of Middle Age, and Exhortations of Old Age. This collection contains verse written in different lyric genres, especially the ghazal (more than 2,600). The ghazal was Navoi’s favorite genre, and his verses possess an astonishing internal unity. He also wrote Divan Fani, a collection of verses in Persian.

The apex of Navoi’s work is his famous Quintuplet, the subject of which was suggested by Jami. His Quintuplet comprises five poems: The Confusion of the Righteous (1483), Leyla and Mejnun (1484), Farhad and Shirin (written in 1484), Seven Planets (1484), and Iskander’s Wall (1485). In accordance with Eastern literary tradition, Navoi’s Quintuplet was a response (nazirah) to the Quintuplets of Nezami and the Indo-Iranian poet Amir Khusrau, who wrote in Persian. Although he made use of the story lines contained in their works and adopted certain formal features, Navoi gave a completely different ideological and literary interpretation of the subjects and story situations and treated the characters and events in a new way.

The first poem of the five-part cycle, The Confusion of the Righteous, consists of 64 chapters and is philosophical and publicistic in tone. It sheds light on the most essential questions of Navoi’s time. In this poem, he severely condemns the feudal internal wars, the cruelty of the nobles, the tyranny of the begs, and the hypocrisy and bigotry of the Muslim sheikhs and jurists. At the same time, he affirms the ideal of justice. The poem sets forth the principal features of Navoi’s world outlook, as well as his views on ethics and aesthetics.

Leyla and Mejnun is a poetic treatment of the ancient Arabic legend about the tragic love of the young Qäys for the beautiful Leyla. The humanistic enthusiasm, the emotional tension of the conflict, and the powerful effect on the reader were responsible for the poem’s enormous influence on many Eastern literatures and Uzbek folklore.

Färhad and Shirin is a romantic-heroic poem about the love of the hero Färhad for the Armenian beauty Shirin, who is claimed by the Iranian sheikh Khosrow. Navoi’s poem is distinguished from previous works on this theme: the main character in Navoi’s work is not Sheikh Khosrow but rather Färhad, the champion of truth and justice, whose heroic deeds are contrasted with the sheikh’s cowardice. Färhad became a household word that represented the social and aesthetic ideals of the people. In Färhad and Shirin, Navoi made use of devices from folk poetry and the folk heroic epos.

Seven Planets, the fourth poem of the cycle, consists of seven fantastic stories united by a common framework. The poem contains allegorical allusions that criticize Navoi’s milieu and the rulers of his time—the Timurids, Sultan Husein himself, and his courtiers. Iskander’s Wall is the concluding poem of the cycle. Its hero is the ideal just ruler, the highly moral sage Iskander.

Navoi’s A Quintuplet of Confused Men (1492) is devoted to Jami. Navoi wrote works that are important for the study of Uzbek and Persian-Tadzhik literature and their mutual influence. Such works include the anthology A Gathering of Refined Men (1491–92), which contains brief descriptions of the writers of his era, and The History of the Persian Emperors and The History of Prophets and Sages, which deal with the legendary and historical figures of Middle Asia and Persia and with Zoroastrian and Koranic mythology. Important questions of the theory of literature, especially of versification, are elucidated in Navoi’s treatise The Balance of Meters.

At the end of his life, Navoi wrote the allegorical poem The Language of the Birds (1499) and the philosophical and didactic work Beloved of Hearts (1500), which deals with the ideal human society. The works of Yusuf Balasaghuni and Gulistan (English translation, The Rose Garden) by Saadi are known to have influenced Navoi’s Beloved of Hearts. The principal ideas of the book are the condemnation of cruel, ignorant, and depraved emperors and the attempt to establish the stable, centralized authority of a just ruler at the head of a prosperous country. This was Navoi’s dream throughout his entire life. Although he was tragically aware of the impossibility of realizing his political ideals, he nevertheless believed in the final victory of this idealistic principle. The optimism and life-affirming strength of his works flowed from this belief.

Literary scholars of Navoi’s time considered the Turki language too coarse for poetry. In his treatise A Debate Between Two Languages (1499), Navoi theoretically substantiates the cultural and literary significance of the Old Uzbek language, which was called Turki. He influenced the development of Uzbek literature as well as the literatures of the Uighur, Turkmen, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Tatar, and other Turkic-speaking peoples.

Navoi’s world view and creative work are not devoid of ideological contradictions and social illusions. But the strength of Navoi’s works lies in his humanism and democratic tendencies and in his affirmation of man’s dignity and his right to happiness. Navoi’s works had great significance for the development of tendencies of progressive romanticism in Eastern literatures.

The brilliant figure of Navoi and the force of his poetry have provoked great interest among Orientalists. A special field of scholarly research—the study of Navoi—has come into being. Russian and Soviet scholars whose works on Navoi are well known include V. V. Bartol’d, E. E. Bertel’s, A. Sharafutdinov, Aibek, V. Zakhidov, I. Sultanov, A. N. Boldyrev, A. A. Semenov, A. Iu. Iakubovskii, Kh. Suleiman, A. Khaitmetov, A. Abdugafurov, and P. Shamsiev.

In the Uzbek SSR, much effort is being devoted to the preparation of scholarly and popular editions of Navoi’s works. His poems have been translated into many languages. Navoi’s manuscripts are preserved in the most important libraries of the world, including libraries in the USSR, England, Turkey, and Iran.


Äsärlär, vols. 1–15. Tashkent, 1963–68.
In Russian translation:
Stikhotvoreniia i poemy. Moscow, 1965.
Soch., vols. 1–10. Tashkent, 1968–70.


Bertel’s, E. E. Navoi: Opyt tvorcheskoi biografii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948.
Bertel’s, E. E. Izbr. trudy: Navoi i Dzhami. Moscow, 1965.
Boldyrev, A. N. “Persidskie perevody ’Madzhalis an-Nafais’ Navoi.” Uchenye zapiski LGU, 1952, series 128, issue 3.
Zakhidov, V. Mir idei i obrazov Alishera Navoi. Tashkent, 1961. Khaiitmetov, A. Tvorcheskii metod Navoi. Tashkent, 1965.
Äbdughäfurav, Ä . Nävaiy sätiräsi, vols. 1–2. Tashkent, 1966–72.
Sultan, I. Nävaiyning qälb däftäri. Tashkent, 1969.
Svidina, E. D. Alisher Navoi: Biobibliografiia (1917–66). Tashkent’, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.