FRANCE xii(a). IRANIAN STUDIES IN FRANCE: OVERVIEW

FRANCE

xii(a). IRANIAN STUDIES IN FRANCE: OVERVIEW

From the origins to the end of the 19th century: The primacy of language studies. Until the end of the 18th century there were only a few limited sources of information on Persia available in France: Saʿdī’s Golestān through Latin and French translations; travelogues by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1676), Jean Thévenot (1674), and Jean Chardin (q.v.; 1686 and 1711), the latter containing one of the first copies of Sasanian inscriptions and the first copy of one of the Persepolis inscriptions of Darius (DPc, see Kent, Old Persian, p. 109); and finally through Greek and Latin accounts of the Ancient World. In literature and the arts in general, the image of Persia, as depicted in Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes (1721) and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera Zoroastre (1749), was basically a fictive one.

From the beginning of the Safavid era, there was some French influence within Persia itself, and particularly in Isfahan, thanks to the activities of Carmelite and Capuchin monks (see CAPUCHINS IN PERSIA and CARMELITES IN PERSIA) who established a hospice in Isfahan (Richard, 1986-87, pp. 27-8) where many French travelers and scholars stayed, but their knowledge of Persia did not filter back to France. Gabriel de Paris (ca. 1595-1641), the first prior of this hospice, was one of the most active pioneers of Persian culture and language in French in the seventeenth century, but his influence was limited to within Persia itself. Similarly, Raphaël du Mans (q.v.), interpreter at the Safavid court from about 1650 until his death in 1696, was a major source of information to travelers but had little direct impact on France where there was still no teaching of Persian and where only a handful of people had any scholarly knowledge of Persian language and literature. Dāwūd b. Saʿīd Eṣfahānī, a Catholic from Isfahan (1612-84), was the Persian translator at the court of Louis XIII and wrote several works which remain in manuscript, including a French-Persian-Turkish dictionary. His translation,in collaboration with Gilbert Gaulmin, of Anwār-e sohaylī (q.v.) as Le Livre des Lumières ou la Conduite des Roys, was printed in Paris in 1644 (Richard, 1986-87, p. 29). Ange de Saint Joseph (Joseph Labrosse, 1636-97) printed his famous Persian-Latin-Italian dictionary, Gazophylacium linguae Persarum triplici linguarum clavi …, in Amsterdam in 1684 (ed. and tr. M. Bastiaensen as Souvenirs de la Perse safavide et autres lieux de l’Orient, 1664-1678, Brussels, 1985). In the seventeenth century, Gilbert Gaumin (1585-1665), Claude Saumaise (1588-1653), and Claude Bérault (d. 1705), who later taught Syriac at Collège Royal, were among the first few French scholars with some knowledge of Persian. Another teacher at Collège Royal, Jean-François Pétis de la Croix (1653-1713), son of François Pétis de la Croix (1622-1695), Persian interpreter at the French court, had a good knowledge of Persian. He traveled in Persia (1674-1676) and was, along with his near contemporary Antoine Galland (1646-1715), one of the first translators of One Thousand and One Nights (see ALF LAYLA WA LAYLA) into French (Richard, 1986-87, pp. 30-31, 35-37). The great quest for oriental manuscripts which began in the seventeenth century (see H. Omont, Missions archéologiques françaises en Orient aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, 2 vols., Paris, 1902) should also be mentioned. Persian manuscripts began to be collected both by private collectors including cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin as well as, from 1667 onwards, by the Bibliothèque du Roi, the future Bibliothèque nationale (Richard, 1986-87, pp. 31-33). The most important single work to appear in France on Persian and oriental literature in the seventeenth century was the Bibliothèque orientale which was started by Barthélémy d’Herbelot de Molainville (q.v.) in 1697. This remained a basic work of reference for orientalists to the end of the nineteenth century (Torābi, 1992, p. 43).

The genuine beginning of Persian studies in France began with the foundation in Istanbul and Smyrna (Izmir) of a “School of languages for the young” (Écoles des jeunes de langues,translation of dil ōğlanı from Ottoman Turkish). Created at Colbert’s instigation on 18 November 1669 by a decree of the Council of Commerce, the school finally began its work in 1710. It trained translators for French consulates and was headed by Capuchin priests. At that early stage, the translators were to master only Ottoman Turkish, but after the expulsion of the Jesuits from France in 1762 and the merging of the École des jeunes des langues with the Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris in 1763, the teaching of Persian was finally introduced. The creation of the École spéciale des langues orientales (see below) after the Revolution did not entail the suppression of this establishment (which at one time was referred to as the Institut des boursiers du collège Égalité), but the school began to stagnate and became l’École des langues orientales annexed to the Collège royal de Louis-le-Grand between 1820 and 1868, before apparently disappearing altogether in 1893.

In the eighteenth century, Persian acquired the same academic status as Arabic and Turkish and several important works of Persian literature were translated. Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron (q.v.; 1731-1805) traveled throughout India for five years (1755-61); he learnt from the Parsee dastūrs (q.v.) what they knew of Avestan, procured from them a number of manuscripts, and undertook a translation of the Avesta which he finished in 1760. On his return to Paris, he enriched the Bibliothèque du Roi with the manuscripts he had brought back with him. He also published his translation of the Avesta, accompanied by several essays on the religion of the Parsees. His refusal to find anything anti-Christian in the Avesta disappointed the Encyclopedists, including Voltaire and Diderot who, having been eager to exploit his work as a polemical weapon against Christianity, gave it a poor reception (Schwab, 1934, p. 96).

The last years of the eighteenth century were marked by the establishment by the Convention, on 10 Germinal of year III (30 March 1795), of the École spéciale des langues orientales, based on an idea of the Orientalist Louis Langlès (1763-1824) and with the support of Joseph Lakanal. Known later as “Langues O,” this academic institution, housed at the Bibliothèque nationale until 1873, is still the main pillar of Oriental studies in France. Holders of the chair of Persian are listed in Table 1.

The three great languages of the Muslim East (alsana-ye ṯalāṯa: Arabic, Persian (associated at first with Malay), and Ottoman Turkish) were taught by several figures of great erudition (A. Bourgey, ed., Bicentenaire des Langues O, Paris, 1995). These included two eminent scholars who contributed greatly to the study of Persian literature: Antoine Isaac Sylvestre de Sacy (q.v.; 1758-1838) and Jules Mohl (q.v.; 1801-52).

Sylvestre de Sacy, translator of ʿAṭṭār and Jāmī, who also deciphered some Sasanian inscriptions, can be considered as the first master of modern Orientalism and Persian studies in France. He held his courses at the École des langues orientales in Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian from 1794 to 1796, before becoming its director (1824-38). He chaired the first session of the Société asiatique founded in 1821 (the Journal asiatique, began publication in 1823), and was, in 1806, the first holder of the chair of Persian language at Collège de France (est. 1529), thereby giving Persian studies a prominent position in French humanities. Many famous Orientalists were taught by him including Antoine-Léonard de Chézy (1774-1832), Pierre-Amédée Jaubert (1779-1847), Etienne Quatremère (1782-1832), and Joseph Garcin de Tassy (q.v.; 1794-1878).

Born in Stuttgart, Jules Mohl left for Paris in 1823, and later became a French citizen. In 1826 he undertook, by royal commission, his monumental edition and translation of the Šāh-nāma of Ferdowsī which was read and discussed by Victor Hugo, Jules Michelet, Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve and other literary figures who attended the famous literary salon of his wife Mary Clarke (Lesser, pp. 3, 118-22). In 1847, he became professor of Persian at Collège de France and succeeded Eugène Burnouf (q.v.; 1801-52), the famous scholar of the Avesta, as president of the Société Asiatique in 1852.

From 1870 to World War II: ancient history and philology. With the establishment of the Third Republic in France in 1871, Iranian studies entered a phase of detailed and wide-ranging research within a professional and institutional framework. The École des langues orientales (“nationale” as of 1914) finally acquired a comprehensive library thanks to the efforts of Charles Scheffer (q.v.; 1820-98), who became its director in 1869 and reshaped its organization. Scheffer was the holder of the chair of Persian at the École from 1857, and published numerous editions and translations of Persian classics and encouraged the Ministry of Public Instruction to support expeditions to the Orient to collect data and materials.

Following the travels of Flandin and Coste (q.v.) and the excavations in Susa (1884-85) by Marcel-Auguste Dieulafoy (q.v.; 1844-1920), Jacques de Morgan (q.v.; 1857-1924) was appointed in 1890 as head of the first comprehensive scientific study on Persia (Mission scientifique en Perse, 10 vols., Paris, 1895-1905). Meanwhile, the French government acquired the monopoly of archaeological excavations in Persia from Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah in 1894 and de Morgan established the French Archaeological Mission in Persia (1897). Later, in 1923, France obtained the monopoly of archaeological excavations in Afghanistan for a period of thirty years (see DÉLÉGATIONS ARCHÉOLOGIQUES FRANÇAISES). In Central Asia, the expedition of Paul Pelliot (q.v.; 1878-1945) to Xinjiang (1906-9) brought a rich collection of Sogdian texts back to Paris (see EXCAVATIONS iv).

The results of these collections and excavations were soon made available and left a strong imprint on the course of French Iranian studies, which became focused on ancient Iran, archaeology, linguistics, and classical literature. The contributions made by the outstanding scholars in this field, many of whom enjoyed an international academic reputation thanks to the range and depth of their contributions to linguistics, comparative philology and anthropology are described under their own entries and in a different section (see FRANCE xii[b]). They include James Darmesteter (1849-94), Antoine Meillet (1866-1936), Robert Gauthiot (1876-1916), Émile Benveniste (1902-76; qq.v.), and Georges Dumézil (1898-1986). In the field of classical Persian literature, Henri Massé (q.v.; 1886-1969), professor of Persian at the École national des langues orientales from 1927 to 1958, wrote on both Ferdowsī and Saʿdī. But his most significant contribution was his pioneering work on folklore: Croyances et coutumes persanes, suivies de contes et chansons populaires (q.v.; 2 vols., Paris, 1938).

Since World War II: new institutions and diversification. During the second half of the 20th century, studies in linguistics, ancient Iranian culture and religion, and classical Persian literature continued as before. New fields of research also began to be explored: in Islamic studies on Shiʿism, history of the Islamic period, modern literature, and the social sciences in Persia as well as in others regions of the Iranian world (Afghanistan, Central Asia, India).

The present institutional framework within which Iranian studies in France are carried out gradually came into being after the Second World War. In 1947, Louis Massignon (q.v.; 1883-1962) founded the Institut des études iraniennes (IEI), for research and post-graduate studies mainly on languages and literature, at the University of Paris (now Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris III). Its library collection was enriched by acquiring the private libraries and papers of Darmesteter, Massé, and Marijan Molé (q.v.; 1924-63), a Polish born and highly gifted specialist of the Zoroastrian religion, Sufi orders, and classical Persian literature. The profound influence of Massignon himself on oriental studies in general and his role in delineating a particularly Persian strain in the development of Islamic thought remains a matter of debate and controversy. He was succeeded by Émile Benveniste, who became director of the IEI in 1962 and inaugurated the series Travaux des l’Institut des études iraniennes with his own contribution, Titres et noms propres en iranien ancien (Paris, 1966). Following Jean de Menasce (1902-73) professor of ancient Iranian religions at the École pratique des hautes études (EPHE), the Institute was directed by Gilbert Lazard (b. 1920), a linguist, author of Grammaire du persan contemporain (Paris, 1957; tr. by S. A. Lyon as A Grammar of Contemporary Persian, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1992), and Dictionnaire persan-français, (Leiden, 1990). His teachings and works on Persian language and literature have had a very strong influence on the whole of Persian studies in France since 1960. His work covers many fields particularly early Persian language and literature (La langue des plus anciens monuments de la prose persane, Paris, 1963; Les premiers poètes persans, Paris, 2 vols., 1964). He has also translated several works by Ṣādeq Ḥedāyat, (q.v.) including Ḥājī Āqā, into French (Hâdji Aghâ, Paris, 1996). From 1952 to 1972 Lazard held the chair of Persian language at the École nationale des langues orientales vivantes. He was also professor at Sorbonne from 1966 and at EPHE as successor to Benveniste from 1971.

In 1972, a new journal, Studia Iranica, was founded under the editorship of Philippe Gignoux (b. 1931), professor of ancient Iranian religions at EPHE, and the famous historian Jean Aubin (see below). In the same year, the Institut d’études iraniennes joined the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) to create a research group chaired by Gilbert Lazard and entitled “Langues, littérature et culture iraniennes” to which most of French scholars working on classical Persian studies were affiliated.

In literary studies, Charles-Henri de Fouchécour (b. 1925), professor at the Langues O and the Sorbonne, has studied a wide range of topics in classical literature, and has published many articles on literary subjects and individual poets including Ḥāfeẓ and Ferdowsī. His comprehensive work, Moralia: les notions morales dans la littérature persane du 3e/9e au 7e/13e siècle (Paris, 1987), based on a wide ranging study of primary sources, is a pioneering and subtle analysis of the intertextual connections between literature and ethics through new perspectives and taxonomies. Research on medieval literature has also been carried out by Claude-Claire Kappler, particularly on Ḥāfeẓ and Rūmī, and by Marina Gaillard on popular prose literature (Le Livre de Samak-e ʿAyyar: structure et idéologie du roman persan médiéval, Paris, 1987). On modern literature, Christophe Bala (b. 1949), professor at the Langues O since 1985, has written on Persian contemporary novels and short stories (Aux sources de la nouvelle persane, Paris, 1983, in collaboration with Michel Cuypers; and La genèse du roman persan moderne, Tehran, 1998).

The history of arts and sciences in the Islamic period has been studied by several scholars in France. Yves Porter (b. 1957) has written on miniature paintings and the art of the book (Peinture et arts du livre, Paris, 1992; tr. by S. Butani as Painters, Paintings, and Books: An Essay on Indo-Persian Technical Literature, 12th-19th Centuries, New Delhi, 1994). A historian of medieval sciences, Živa Vesel, has written on medieval Persian encyclopædias (Les encyclopédies persanes: essai de typologie et de classification des sciences, Paris, 1986). The Persian historian Chahryar Adle (b. 1944) has edited and contributed to the proceedings of important seminars on art and archaeology as well as the social and cultural history of Tehran. He has also published several articles based on his field work on archaeological sites and monuments particularly relating to the medieval Islamic period in eastern Persia. Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani, a prolific writer on fine arts and art history in general, has written several valuable studies on the interaction between art and literature (Essai sur les rapports de l’esthétique littéraire et de l’esthétique plastique dans l’Iran pré-mongol, Paris, 1970). Another scholar with an interdisciplinary approach is Jean During (b. 1947), whose work is informed by his study of mystical and philosophical texts as well as a thorough knowledge of Persian music (with Z. Mirabdolbaghi and D. Safvat, Musique et mystique, Paris, 1989; tr. into Eng. with the collaboration of Manuchehr Anvar as The Art of Persian Music, Washington, D.C., 1991).

Historical studies of the Islamic period in Persia have never occupied a central place in French institutions, where they have always been overshadowed by the dominance of studies focused on the Arab world. Jean Aubin (1927-98), professor at the EPHE, was the most eminent French historian writing on Persian history. He established, with Jean Calmard (b. 1931), a separate research group joining EPHE with the CNRS called the Centre d’études islamiques et d’histoire comparée. In his wide-ranging and yet highly detailed articles (see bibliography by J. and J. Calmard, 1998), Aubin showed his mastery in using primary sources with a flair and sensitivity unequaled in contemporary Western historical research on Persia. Like Claude Cahen, he was a historian with a wide and rigorous training in different historical fields. Assisted by Jean Calmard, who contributed articles on nineteenth century social history and popular religious dramas (taʿzīya), Aubin published numerous studies in the journal Le monde iranien et l’islam (several issues from 1971 to 1994). In recent years there have been several seminars and conferences on Persian history from the Safavid period to the present (see, for example, J. Calmard, ed., Études safavides, Paris and Tehran, 1993). A new generation of historians has also emerged since 1990. Denise Aigle (b. 1943) at EPHE, has written on and edited important volumes on medieval hagiography and Moghul history (D. Aigle, ed., L’Iran face à domination mongole, Tehran, 1997). Maria Szuppe (b. 1960) has worked at the CNRS on the social and cultural history of central Asia in the 16th century (Entre Timourides, Uzbeks et Safavides, Paris, 1992).

French Iranian studies were also developed within Persia in the years following the Second World War. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, starting a new cultural initiative in the Middle East, asked Henry Corbin (q.v.; 1903-78) the famous specialist in the history of Iranian Islamic thought, to establish the Département d’iranologie de l’institut Français de Téhéran (1946). Corbin’s substantial contributions as writer, editor and translator of Persian philosophers, theologians, and mystics, and founder of the Bibliothèque iranienne, a series published by the same institute since 1949, are discussed under his entry as well as the entry on his monumental work, En Islam iranien. During the directorship of his successor, Charles-Henri de Fouchécour (1974-79), major changes took place at the Institute. The Département d’iranologie was given a wider scope and scholars from different disciplines including social sciences were encouraged to participate in its activities. The annual journal Abstracta Iranica,containing short critical reviews of current research on all aspects of Iranian studies was founded in 1978. This trend towards a wider coverage of social and human sciences in the Institute was further reinforced under the later directors of the Institute, Bernard Hourcade (1979-93), and Rémy Boucharlat (1993-98). In 1983, The Institute and the Délégation Archéologique Française en Iran were joined to create the Institut Français de Recherche en Iran (IFRI), which, because of the political situation in Persia remained closed until 1993, although the series “Bibliothèque iranienne,” and its translations into Persian continued to be published in Tehran.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, French archeologists and historians were engaged in excavations in Tajikistan (Rolland Besenval) and Uzbekistan (Frantz Grenet in Samarkand). Most of these scholars had been working before in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion of 1979. Also before the invasion, the CNRS had a permanent base in Kabul for geographical and geological research, headed by Daniel Balland. In 1992 the Institut français d’études en Asie Centrale (IFEAC), directed by Pierre Chuvin, was created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and several young scholars are now studying the Persian culture of this region.

Iranian studies are carried out in various institutions in Paris, but not in other cities. Only basic courses of Persian are taught at Lyon, Bordeaux (until 1997), Aix-en-Provence, and Strasbourg, where a group of researchers affiliated to the CNRS has been working since 1993 on Turkish and Persian history and culture. After Henry Corbin, the tradition of studies on Iranian Sufism and Shiʿism continued at the EPHE (in the section on religious sciences) with the participation of Guy Monnot and later Pierre Lory; Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, who has written on early Shiʿism (Le guide divin dans le shiʿisme originel, Paris, 1992; tr. by D. Streight as The Divine Guide in Early Shiʿism, Albany, N.Y., 1994); and Denise Aigle, whose work on hagiography and religious anthropology has already been mentioned. Some important scholars, however, work outside the university system, including Christian Jambet (b. 1949), an active proponent of Corbin’s thought (Henri Corbin, Paris, 1981) and a writer on Ismaʿili history and literature. The history and the activities of the Bibliothèque nationale also fall outside the scope of this article. However, mention must be made of the scholarly contributions of the present curator of Persian manuscripts, Francis Richard, who has made valuable studies on scholarly contacts between France and Persia and the role of the religious orders. His masterly biography and edition, Raphaël du Mans: missionaire en Perse au XIIe siècle (2 vols, Paris, 1995) is indispensable for the study of Safavid Persia. He has also embarked on a new catalogue of Persian manuscripts at the Bibliothèque national, the first volume of which has already appeared (Paris, 1989).

The Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (official name of Langues 0) was the basic institution for undergraduate teaching in Iranian languages. Besides Persian, Pashto (Daniel Septfonds, Le Dzadrani: un parler pashto du Patkya [Afghanistan], Paris, 1994) and Kurdish were also offered on the syllabus. Courses in Kurdish began in 1947, taught by Roger Lescot (Grammaire kurde: dialecte kurmandji, in collab. with Bédir Khan, Paris, 1970). In 1970 a permanent position in Kurdish was established which is at present occupied by Joyce Blau de Wangen (b. 1932), who has published several works on various Kurdish dialects. Another prolific writer on Kurdish studies, particularly in relation to folklore and literature is Mohammad Mokri, who also worked for many years at Paris.

The CNRS has played a major role in developing Persian studies since 1970. More than twenty five scholars working in various groups are employed by this state organization, which is responsible for the major part of the budget for research and publications and is able to put into practice long term projects and plans concerning oriental studies. In 1995, most of the groups of research on Persian and Iranian studies (ancient, classical, and contemporary, excluding archeology) affiliated with CNRS were joined into a new research team “Monde Iranien,” headed by Bernard Hourcade (b. 1946), consisting of approximately forty researchers, excluding a number of foreign associate scholars. All institutions dealing with Persian and Iranian studies in Paris (CNRS, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales, EPHE) contribute to this new team.

Last but not least, the Collège de France has been one of the bastions of Iranian studies since the beginning of the last century. In 1999, Jean Kellens taught Avestan studies; Michel Tardieu, history of religions (Manicheism); and Pierre Briant, author of an authoritative work on the history of the Achaemenids (Histoire de l’empire acheménide, Paris, 1996), the ancient history of Persia. This demonstrates the continuing prominence of Iranian studies in this most prestigious French academic institution.

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(Vincent Hachard and Bernard Hourcade)

Cite this article:

Vincent Hachard and Bernard Hourcade, “FRANCE xii(a). IRANIAN STUDIES IN FRANCE: OVERVIEW,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, X/2, pp. 162-167, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/france-xiia-iranian-studies-in-france-overview- (accessed on 30 December 2012).