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In Praise of Khatuns: Gender-Fluid Panegyric in Ilkhanid and Post-Mongol Iran and Iraq
In Ilkhanid Shiraz and Kirman, and in post-Mongol Baghdad, several politically powerful Mongol and Turkic noblewomen (sing. khatun) patronised poets to pen elaborate Persian panegyrics in their praise. Sa‘di Shirazi (d. 1292) and Imami Hiravi (d. 1287) in the thirteenth century and Khvaju Kirmani (d. c. 1352), Jalal Yazdi (d. c. 1357), and Salman Savaji (d. 1376) in the fourteenth, crafted non-binary madihs in which they praised their khatun-patrons as manifestations of a regal androgyny that transcended rigid gender binaries. These khatuns, who either ruled independently or wielded formidable political force, are likened by the poets simultaneously to both masculine and feminine archetypes in ways unimaginable when eulogising their male counterparts. Drawing on a close reading of 20 panegyrics produced for leading khatuns circa 1250-1350, this paper will examine how, in these gender fluid texts, court panegyrists attempted a delicate reconciliation of the sexes through which they freely associated stereotypically kingly virtues with these khatuns, while celebrating their femininity unabashedly. The poets studied in this paper display little if any anxiety in their non-binary praise of powerful women, which suggests their mixed-sex courtly audiences saw no contradiction or tension in this literary transgression of rigid gender lines.
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