Two Appearances in Maryland: A poetry reading from "The Silence Of Men" and "Translation as Plagiarism as Cultural Transmission: How Benjamin Franklin Helped Bring Classical Iranian Literature Into English"

I don’t know Maryland geography well at all, but if you are anywhere near either of the places where I will be appearing, it would be lovely to see you there.

Reading from The Silence Of Men

On Friday, May 15th, I will be reading from my book of poems The Silence Of Men at Coco’s Butter Cafe, which is located at 7361 Assateague Dr., Unit 1040, Columbia, MD 20794 (directions). From what I have been told, the cafe serves great chocolate and other desserts, great wine and lovely appetizers. Here’s the rest of the relevant information:

Doors Open/Open mic signup: 7 PM
Open Mic Begins: 8 PM
Feature Begins: around 9 PM
Cover: $10 general admission/$5 for open mic poets
This event is curated by Th3rd Avenue

Translation as Plagiarism as Cultural Transmission: How Benjamin Franklin Helped Bring Classical Iranian Literature Into American English

On Sunday, May 17, at a meeting of the Iranian-American Cultural Society of Maryland, I will be giving a talk and reading from my translations of two masterpieces by the 13th century Iranian poet Saadi, Gulistan and Bustan. At the center of my talk is the story of a plagiarism scandal involving Benjamin Franklin that resulted from publication of a story that he claimed was a chapter of Genesis, but which had actually been written by Saadi.

When: 1:30-3:00
Where: Towson University, 7800 York Building, Room 121, Towson, MD 21252
Information: (410) 258-6651

Admission is free.

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4 Responses to Two Appearances in Maryland: A poetry reading from "The Silence Of Men" and "Translation as Plagiarism as Cultural Transmission: How Benjamin Franklin Helped Bring Classical Iranian Literature Into English"

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    Could you expand on the last one? As it happens I have a particular personal interest in Benjamin Franklin.

  2. RonF,

    The explanation is rather long, unfortunately, and I don’t have that much time. (I will be publishing an article about it soon, though.) In brief: Franklin wrote a piece called something like A Parable Against Persecution, which, according to some sources, he had sewn into his copy of the Bible and which he would pass off as a chapter of Genesis when he wanted to make a point about the value and necessity of tolerance. The story involves Abraham offering hospitality to an old man, who does not pray with Abraham in Abraham’s way to Abraham’s god because he, the old man, is a Zoroastrian. (Which should have been a big clue to anyone who really knew their history that the story was not really part of Genesis.) Abraham kicks the old man out of his house, but then God comes and says, basically, “Look, I have kept this man alive for 100 years despite the fact that he doesn’t worship me. You couldn’t at least offer his some hospitality?” Then Abraham goes after the old man and there is a little bit about the consequences of Abraham’s actions.

    Franklin allowed this piece to be published by a guy named Lord Kames–you’ll forgive me Ron, but I don’t have my sources handy–and when it was published, a preacher by the name, I believe, of Jonathan Boucher, noticed that the story resembled almost precisely the story told by Jeremy Taylor, who was an important clergyman in England, at the conclusion of a book in which he, Taylor, wrote about the degree to which Christians should be able to tolerate people of other faiths without violating the tenets of Christianity. Boucher accused Franklin of plagiarism and people talked about the question of whether Franklin plagiarised Taylor well into the 1800s.

    Where classical Iranian literature comes in is here: The actual author of the story is Saadi. (You can read my translation of the original poem on my website. It’s the first sample poem on the page the link will take you to.) However, Taylor said he got the story from the Books of the Jews, and so there is a long literary detective story that details how it took a guy named Lord Teignmouth, who was a former governor general of India, first to verify that Saadi was the author of the story and to discover that Taylor’s probably source was a 17th century history of the Jews published in Holland (I believe; again, I don’t have all my sources here) but written in Latin. The story, attributed to “Sadus,” who is not identified by religion or nationality, is in the epistolary dedication to that book.

    It is unlikely that Franklin consciously plagiarized Taylor–though I have seen at least one source which claims that Franklin admitted by implication to having gotten the story from Taylor (a long analysis I don’t have time for here)–and more likely that he read the story there, forgot where he originally knew it from and then used it in his own way.

    When the article gets published, I will post a link here. Meanwhile, if you really want to know more, the most complete account that I have been able to find so far is in a book called A Grammar of the Persian Language (dammit, the author’s name escapes me). If you google the title, you should find it in Google Books, and I think you want the 1869 edition. I don’t have page numbers, but the author tells much of this story in, I believe, the appendix somewhere.

    Sorry for being so vague about some of this.

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    That’s cool. Interesting story. Thanks for writing it up!

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