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Unsex Me Here: Anvari and the Feminine Panegyric in the Saljuq Era
As the scant corpus available suggests, writing in praise of noblewomen was not customary practice among pre-Mongol court poets. In this regard, the sparse extant examples are all the more significant. Working chiefly at the court of Sultan Sanjar (d. 1157) in Nishapur, Anvari (d. c. 1186) penned several qasida-s in praise of Saljuq princesses, not all of whom can be identified with certainty. The powerful Safvat al-Din Maryam Khatun must have exerted considerable influence at court, as she is described by the poet as a discerning administrator and indispensable councilor, second only to the king. Extolled for her shrewd advice, sharp judgment, and magnanimity, she is ascribed Solomonic virtues and exalted in terms appropriate to the highest-ranking male rulers panegyrized by the poet. Glimpsed only through a limited set of discrete markers, including allusions to “chastity” (‘esmat) and the lack of reference to military prowess, however, Maryam Khatun’s gender remains highly elusive. As it appears through close reading and comparison with other panegyrics of men and women in his Divan, Anvari’s rhetoric of praise is, in fact, all but gender-blind. Instead, it can be said deliberately to erase gender difference in order, on the one hand, to promote a hyperbolic, if disembodied, notion of rulership; but also, as an apotropaic strategy to protect his female patron. As I will argue, Anvari’s practice in this regard set the standard for feminine panegyrics at least until the 13th century, as is reflected in Shams-e Qeys-e Razi’s normative compendium al-Mo‘jam.
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