A Persian Love Poem from Jerusalem of the Middle Ages
11 March 2009
In time for Purim: a jug inscribed with a Persian love poem was recently discovered in excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Old City of Jerusalem. This is the first occurrence of such a vessel in Israel.
A fragment of a pottery vessel most likely created in Iran of the Middle Ages (12th-13th centuries CE) was discovered in an archaeological excavation directed by Dr. Rina Avner, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the Old City of Jerusalem, prior to construction by a private contractor.
The fragment is treated with a turquoise glaze and is adorned with floral patterns and a black inscription. While studying the artifact prior to publication, Rivka Cohen-Amin of the Israel Antiquities Authority discerned that the inscription on the neck of the vessel is written in Persian. The inscription consists of a line that was taken from a quatrain. The inscription, which was translated by Dr. Julia Rabanovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reads: "...was once the embrace of a lover that entreats..."
The phenomenon of a Persian pottery vessel inscribed with a poem is known elsewhere in the world; however, this is the first occurrence of such a vessel in Israel. The inscription will be published by Dr. Nitsan Amitai-Preiss of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, within the framework of the final excavation report.
According to Rivka Cohen-Amin the words are from the Rubaiyat, by the poet Omar Khayyam. Khayyam was an astronomer, mathematician and one of the most famous Persian poets of the Middle Ages.
The question of how the vessel came to be in Jerusalem is a mystery. Possibilities cited by the Antiquities Authority include that it was it brought to Jerusalem by merchants or that it could possibly have been a gift someone presented to a Jerusalemite of the time.
The following is the complete translation of the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam:
This clay pot like a lover once in heat; a lock of hair his senses did defeat.
The handle that has made the bottleneck its own seat was once the embrace of a lover that entreat