Saadi, by name of Musharrif al-Din ibn Muṣlih al-Din, (born 1213, Shiraz, Iran—died Dec. 9, 1291, Shiraz), Persian poet, one of the greatest figures in classical Persian literature.
He lost his father, Muṣlih al-Din, in early childhood; later he was sent to study in Baghdad at the renowned Neẓamiyeh College, where he acquired the traditional learning of Islam. The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Persia led him to wander abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. He refers in his work to travels in India and Central Asia, but these cannot be confirmed. He claimed that he was held captive by the Franks and put to work in the trenches of the fortress of Tripoli (now in Lebanon); however, this story, like many of his other “autobiographical” anecdotes, is considered highly suspect. When he returned to his native Shiraz, he was middle-aged; he seems to have spent the rest of his life in Shiraz.
Saadi took his nom de plume from the name of a local atabeg (prince), Sad ibn Zangi. Saadi’s best-known works are the Boustan (1257; The Orchard) and the Golestan (1258; The Rose Garden). The Boustan is entirely in verse (epic meter) and consists of stories aptly illustrating the standard virtues recommended to Muslims (justice, liberality, modesty, contentment) as well as of reflections on the behavior of dervishes and their ecstatic practices. The Golestan is mainly in prose and contains stories and personal anecdotes. The text is interspersed with a variety of short poems, containing aphorisms, advice and humorous reflections. The morals preached in the Golestan border on expediency—e.g., a well-intended lie is admitted to be preferable to a seditious truth. Saadi demonstrates a profound awareness of the absurdity of human existence. The fate of those who depend on the changeable moods of kings is contrasted with the freedom of the dervishes.
For Western students the Boustan and Golestan have a special attraction; but Saadi is also remembered as a great panegyrist and lyricist and as the author of a number of masterly general odes portraying human experience and also of particular odes such as the lament on the fall of Baghdad after the Mongol invasion in 1258. His lyrics are to be found in Ghazaliyat (“Lyrics”) and his odes in Qaṣaed (“Odes”). Six prose treatises on various subjects are attributed to him; he is also known for a number of works in Arabic. The peculiar blend of human kindness and cynicism, humor, and resignation displayed in Saadi’s works, together with a tendency to avoid the hard dilemma, make him, the most widely admired writer in the world of Iranian culture.