Folio from a Khamsa or Quintet of Nizami. Over the heads of the couple appears an invocation to God—”Oh! Opener of Doors!”
Calligrapher: Sultan Muhammad Nur (c. 1472 - c. 1536). 16th century painting by Shaikh Zada. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts.
The love affair between the Iranian king Khusrau and noted beauty Shirin was written in the 12th century by legendary Persian poet Shaikh Niẓāmī Ganjavi (c. 1140 - 1202) in his Khamsa (Five Poems). Nizami in turn, based his narrative on a tale found in Shahnamah (Book of kings), the epic Persian literature by the poet Firdawsi (c. 940 - 1020).
Comparatively little is known of Shirin's origins but early Syriac chronicles suggest that she is from the Assyrian and Babylonia province of the Sasanian empire. In other accounts, Shirin is an Armenian princess and femme fatale. What is known is that Shirin is a Christian and she used her position as queen to support the Christian minority in Iran, though she had to do so discreetly.
So, after a long and protracted courtship with many twists, turns and missed connections, Shirin eventually consents to be Khusrau's wife and the couple live happily together for several years. However, Shiruyeh who is Khusrau's son by Maryam, is also in love with Shirin, and orders his father’s death. Rather than marry her stepson, Shirin takes her own life.