MOʾTAMEN, Zeyn-al-ʿĀbedin

MOʾTAMEN  (Ar. Moʾtaman), Zeyn-al-ʿĀbedin (b. Tehran, 13 Ḵordād 1293 Š./4 June 1914; d. Tehran, 2 Ābān 1384 Š./24 October 2005), teacher, writer, and scholar of Persian literature (FIGURE 1).

Moʾtamen was born into a family with a long literary tradition, traceable to Fatḥ-ʿAli Ḵan Kāšāni, better known by his nom de plume as Ṣabā (q.v.; d. 1823), the poet laureate (malek-al-šoʿarā) at the court of the Qajar Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah (q.v.; 1797-1834), and Mirzā Aḥmad Ḵān Kāšāni, known as Ṣaburi (d. 1812). A later generation included the poet, painter, and calligrapher Maḥmud Ḵān Ṣabā, (d. 1894). Moʾtamen’s grandfather, Mirzā Zeyn-al-ʿĀbedin Ḵān Donboli-Żarrābi (d. 1908), also known as Mirzā Zeyn-al-ʿĀbedin Ḵān Ḥakim, was among the earliest graduates of the Dār-al-Fonun School (q.v.) and later a respected physician at the court of Nāṣer al-Din Shah (r. 1848-1896), from whom, in 1885, he received the title Moʾtamen-al-Aṭebbāʾ.

Moʾtamen was first educated at the Aqdasiya School in Tehran, which was adjacent to his parental house. At fourth grade, he enrolled at the American College of Tehran (later renamed Alborz College) from which he graduated in 1936. In the same year he embarked on his forty-two-year teaching career at the American College of Tehran. Alongside teaching he also studied English at the American College of Tehran as well as at Dāneš-sarā-ye ʿĀli (Teachers Training College; see EDUCATION) and graduated from both in 1940. He further studied Persian literature at Tehran University, graduating in 1944 (Moʾtamen, 2001, pp. 4-5). Among his teachers of those years Moʾtamen was always particularly appreciative of Ṣādeq Reżā-zādeh Šafaq (ca. 1892–1971) and Badiʿ -al-Zamān Foruzānfar (1904-1970) (Moʾtamen, 2001, p. 5).

Moʾtamen was an effective teacher with a lasting impact on several generations of students at Alborz High School. He was noted for his even temper, and throughout his life he maintained a very high standard in his teaching with effortless ease (Gheissari, p. 83; Katouzian, pp. 452-54). He was briefly married and had no children. He spent time on his students, some of whom he regarded as members of his extended family. Throughout the years, his current and former pupils would regularly visit him at his home (a mid-Qajar period house built in 1883 by his grandfather Moʾtamen-al-Aṭebbāʾ) in the old Pāmenār district of Tehran or, more often, at his favorite haunt, the Café Nāderi on Nāderi Avenue.

Moʾtamen had a keen interest in Persian classical music and played the reed flute (nay). He was also an avid traveler, often going on tours his own. In his youth he covered extensive terrain in on foot, and in later years he used every opportunity to travel to different parts of the world. He had a large collection of photographs and slides, over 3,000 at his own estimation, all taken by himself in the course of his travels.

Moʾtamen authored and edited a number of works in prose and verse, including perhaps his best known work, Āšiāna-ye ʿoqāb (The eagle’s nest), a popular historical novel set in the early Saljuq period, depicting the life of Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ (ca. 1050s-1124) and the Ismāʿilis of Alamut. He began the novel in 1930, at the age sixteen, and completed it in 1936 (Moʾtamen, 1995, p. 11; idem, 2001, p. 6). Āšiāna-ye ʿoqāb appeared in print in 1934 as a serial in consecutive issues of the influential paper Šafaq-e sorḵ, prior to the paper’s closure in 1935 (Moʾtamen, 2001, p. 7; Ṣadr-Hāšemi, III, pp. 75-80). novel was later published as a book in 1936 and reprinted regularly thereafter (Moʾtamen, 2001, pp. 6-7).

In the writing of Āšiāna-ye ʿoqāb, Moʾtamen was admittedly influenced by his early readings of popular historical stories such as Amir-Araslān, and Eskandar-nāma. Under their influence, he had initially drafted a two-volume novel, entitled Malek Firuz ebn Iraj (or Malek Firuz-e Nāmdār) which he never published (Moʾtamen, 2001, p. 5; Ārianpur, III, p. 239, quoted from Ṣedāqat-Nežād). Certain European historical novelists such as Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) and Michel Zévaco (1860-1918), whose works―in particular Dumas’s Le Comte de Monte-Cristo and Les Trois Mousquetaires, and Zévaco’s Les Pardaillan―had already been translated into Persian, also had an impact on him. Inspired by these works, and prior to the writing of Āšiāna-ye ʿoqāb, he had also drafted Nāṣer Ḵān va pesaraš Manṣur Ḵān (or Afsāna-ye Nāṣer Ḵān), a story in five volumes about the period of the Constitutional Movement in Persia, which also remained unpublished (Moʾtamen, 2001, p. 6; Āriānpur, III, p. 239).

The Āšiāna-ye ʿoqāb has been criticized by some literary historians for its excessively prosaic style (Ārianpur, III, p. 240), while other scholars have regarded it as a significant contribution to the genre of historical novel, and a pioneer of that genre in modern Persian literature (Kubícková, 1968).

During the 1930s, Moʾtamen also collaborated with the weekly Omid, to which he contributed a series of essays with satirical title “Asrār-e ʿālam-e haparut” (Secrets of the world of illusions) portraying the life of drug addicts.

After Āšiāna-ye ʿoqāb he stopped writing fiction and from the early 1940s, turned to research on Persian literature. He wrote two critical volumes on classical Persian literature, Šeʿr o adab-e fārsi (1953), and Taḥavvol-e šeʿr-e fārsi (1960). He took a keen interest in the Indian Style (sabk-e hendi) in Persian poetry, which at the time went against the prevailing fashion of criticizing the style for being too ornate and opting for the less florid style of earlier eras (see BĀZGAŠT-E ADABI). In a way therefore, he anticipated the contemporary revaluation of styles. In this respect Moʾtamen was also a pioneer among modern scholars in introducing the works of Ṣāʾeb Tabrizi (ca. 1592-1676) his Golčin-e Ṣāʾeb (1941), and Goharhā-ye rāz az daryā-ye andiša-ye Ṣāʾeb (1985). He also wrote Bargi čand az daftar-e zendegi (limited edition, Tehran, 1965), containing a selection of his own poems and literary essays.

Moʾtamen is buried in the Behešt-e Zahrā Cemetery near Tehran in a plot specifically allotted to writers and artists. A memorial meeting was held in his honor on Sunday 30 October 2005 at the Alborz High School in Tehran.



Zeyn-al-ʿĀbedin Moʾtamen, “Alborz dar gozaštah va ḥāl” (Alborz, Past and Present), in Manučehr Ādamiyat, ed., Sada-nāma-ye Alborz, Tehran, 1975, pp. 260ff.; reprinted in Mir Asad-Allāh Musavi-Mākuʾi, ed., Dabirestān-e Alborz va šabāna-ruzi-ye ān (Alborz High School and its Boarding Section). Tehran, 1999, pp. 60-64.

Idem, Āšiāna-ye ʿoqāb: Ḥamāsa-ye tāriḵi o ensāni (The eagle’s nest: an historical and human epic), complete set in ten sections divided in two parts, Part One in four sections (Delirān-e šab, Buta-ye gol-e sorḵ, Šowhar-e ġayur, Zenda-be-gur), Part Two in six sections (Gerdāb-e zendehrud, Fadāʾiān-e Rudbār, Mādar-e divāna, Pas az dah sāl, Āḵarin yādgār, Ganj-e Qārun), 1st ed., Tehran, 1938-39.

Idem, Šʿer o adab-e fārsi (Studies in Persian poetry), Tehran, 1953; rev. ed., Tehran, 1985.

Idem, Taḥavvol-e šʿer-e fārsi (Evolution of Persian poetry), Tehran 1954; rev. ed., Tehran, 1993.

Idem, Goharhā-ye rāz az daryā-ye andiša-ye Ṣāʾeb (Gems from the ocean of Ṣāʾeb’s mind), Tehran, 1986.

Idem, Ašʿār-e bargozida-ye Ṣāʾeb-e Tabrizi (Selected poems of Ṣāʾeb of Tabriz), Tehran, 1941; 3rd ed., ed. Jaʿfar Āzmun, with an Introduction by Naṣr-Allāh Kāsemi, Tehran, 1956.

Idem, ed., Golčin-e Ṣāʾeb Tabrizi(Ṣāʾeb of Tabriz: A florilegium), calligraphy by ʿAli-Akbar Kāveh. Tehran, 1954. 

Idem, Bargi čand az daftar-e zendegi (Some pages from the book of life), calligraphy by Mehdi Zarrin-Kelk,. limited 1st ed., Tehran, 1966.

Idem, “Goft-o-gu bā nevisanda-ye Āšiānah-ye ʿoqāb” (A conversation with the author of the Eagle’s Nest), Jahān-e ketāb, no. 2, November 1995, p. 11.

Idem, “moʿallemi ʿešq mivarzidam: Goft-o-gu bā Zeyn al-ʿĀbedin Moʾtamen” (I was in love with teaching: Conversation with Zeyn al-Ābedin Moʾtamen), in ʿAli-Aṣḡar Moḥammad-Ḵāni, Ḥasan Anušah, and Ali-Allāh Dorudiān, eds., Adabiyāt va falsafa, no. 48, October 2001, pp. 4-11.


Yaḥyā Ārianpur, Az Ṣabā tā Nimā, 3 vols., Tehran, 1995.

Boḵārā, Negāhi be zendegi va āṯār-e ostād Zeyn al-ʿĀbedin Moʾtamen (Boḵārā Magazine: Special issue on the life and works of Zeyn al-ʿĀbedin Moʾtamen), ed. ʿAli Dahbāši, vol. 7, no. 2, October-November 2004.

Alexandre Dumas, Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, tr. Moḥammad-Ṭāher Mirzā Eskandari as Kont do Mont Kristo, Tabriz, 1892; repr., Tehran, 1895, 1905, and 1939.

Idem, Les Trois Mousquetaires, tr. Moḥammad-Ṭāher Mirzā Eskandari as Seh-Tofangdār, 3 vols., Tehran, 1899.

Eskandar-nāma, Tehran, n.d.

Ali Gheissari, “In Memoriam: Zein al-Abedin Moʾtamen (Teacher, Writer and Critic),” Iranian Studies, 39/1, 2006, pp. 83-84.

Moḥammad-ʿAli Širāzi Naqib al-Mamālek, Kolliyāt-e haft jeldi-ye Amir Araslān ebn Malekšāh-e Rumi (A complete tome in seven parts on the story of Amir Araslān ebn Malekšāh-e Rumi), Tehran, n.d.; new edition with an introduction by Moḥammad Jaʿfar Maḥjub, Tehran, 1961.

Moḥammad Ḡolām, Romān-e tāriḵi: Seyr va naqd va taḥlil-e romān-hā-ye tāriḵi-ye fārsi, 1284-1332 (Historical novel: a critical review and analysis of Persian historical novels), Tehran, 2002.

Homa Katouzian, “Alborz and its Teachers,” Iranian Studies, 44/5, 2011, pp. 743-54.

Vera Kubícková, “Persian Literature of the 20th Century,” in Jan Rypka, History of Iranian Literature, ed. Karl Jahn, Dordrecht, 1968, pp. 417-28.

Franciszek Machalski, La littérature de l’Iran contemporain. La poésie persane: vol. 1: La poésie persane de l’époque du “réveil des Iraniens” jusqu’à coup d’état de Reḍā Ḵān (environ 1880-1921), Krakow, 1965; vol. 2: La poésie de l’époque de Reḍā Šāh Pahlavi 1921-1941, Krakow, 1967; vol. 3: La poésie persane après la seconde guerre mondiale, Cracow, 1980.

National Library and Archives of I.R. Iran, “Dargozašt-e Zeyn al-Abedin Moʾtamen, Ṣāʾeb šenās-e maʿruf” (The passing of Zeyn al-ʿĀbedin Moʾtamen, the famous expert on [the poet] Ṣāʾeb) formerly at (last viewed 10 October 2011). 

Omid Qanbari, Zendegi-nāma va ḵadamāt-e ʿelmi va farhangi-ye ostād Zeyn-al-ʿĀbedin Moʾtamen, 2nd. ed., Tehran, 2008.

Moḥammad Ṣadr-Hāšemi, Tāriḵ-e jarāʾed va majallāt-e Iran, 4 vols., 1st ed., Isfahan, 1948-52; repr., Isfahan, 1985.

Jamšid Ṣedāqatnejād, “Pāy-e ṣoḥbat-e Zeyn-al-ʿĀbedin Moʾtamen” (A conversation with Zeyn al-ʿĀbedin Moʾtamen), Rastāḵiz, Wednesday, 15 Dey 1355 Š./5 January 1977.

Michel Zévaco, Les Pardaillan, tr. Ḥasan Nāṣer as Pārdāyānhā, Tehran, 1934-36.

(Ali Gheissari)

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