The Introduction defines the main terms of the book: household anthology (majmua, muraqqa), adab, eroticism, love, and urbanity. It places the anthologizing of Isfahan within a critical genealogy of city reading to argue that urban practices related to seeing, reading, desiring, and writing were intimately related and mutually coconstitutive, thus informing both the lived experience of the city and its (re)assembly as household anthologies. A reader's guide to the anthologies outlines the unfolding of the narrative, which begins with the imperial Safavi project and moves to the urban media of household anthologies through eight resident authors who act as city guides.
Chapter 1 begins with Shah Abbas I's imperial building project of the square that transforms Isfahan into an urban image of paradise, modeling the experience of an ideal city as the epitome of beauty and desire. Spatially divided into four corners and regimented into clearly defined sections, the rectangular square was the page the shah authored as his anthology of the city. The ways in which he and the religious scholar Shaykh Bahai planned the built environment in and around the square, as well as the epigraphy the shaykh commissioned for the walls of the Friday Prayer Mosque, collectively reveal how monarch and shaykh wished their subjects to experience state-sponsored forms of urbanity. This chapter lays the groundwork for the making of Isfahan's homoerotic culture and its reception in anthologies.
Chapter 2 is a close reading of two resident anthologizers, a religious scholar and a painter, and considers the subjects of their collected words and images to show how these practices illuminate their encounter and experience of the city. The anthology of Shi'a cleric Aqa Husayn Khwansari (d. 1687) reveals shared texts that connected him with Isfahan's literary community. His curatorial choices allow us to hear tensions and ambivalences that nuance this religious scholar's public face. A reconstruction of the painter Muhammad Qasim's (d. 1660) dispersed portfolio assembles a patchwork of his life and shows the range of his clients' commissioned works. Muhammad Qasim created a collage of city life in Isfahan that reveals what the verbal archive conceals. The practices according to which these two migrants to the capital fashioned their urban selves guide my reading of their authorial voices and of their writing of Isfahan's habitus.
Chapter 3 mediates the opposing views of the imperial imaginary and the city of Isfahan as allegories of the spiritual journey to paradise. The cleric and poet Aqa Mansur Semnani (alive in 1656) visualized the city for his audience through the poetic form of the shahrashub, literally "city disturbance." This chapter focuses on how the effort to create ideological unity in Shah Abbas I's rebuilding of Isfahan could be unsettled by Aqa Mansur's work, preserved in anthologies, and considers the degree to which the imperial project was real, or lived, or successful. Deploying a new form of authority based on the vitality of embodied experiences, Aqa Mansur's literary experiment challenged the imperial vision, using ishq, love that is desiring, and irony to reimagine the city of power as the very symbol of transcendent authority.
Chapter 4 uncovers the archeology of sworn friendships in early modern Isfahan through the medium of epistolary practices. Friendship letters were respectable forms of social exchange collected across anthologies to model and memorialize social networks of voluntary kinship. Categorized by scribes and owners of anthologies as a genre, rasail-i ikhvaniyyat (fraternal letters), they were media by which to maintain social relations. This chapter analyzes the materiality and social dynamics of voluntary kinships as epistolary performances of male friendship; gifts of paintings to friends are read together with their accompanying letters to reflect on how Isfahan's urban culture transformed the grammar and aesthetics of male friendship. The most commonly assembled letters, in particular, those written by Nasira Hamadani (d. 1620), provide the means to explore the affective language and sentiments of verbal communication between friends in and outside Isfahan.
Chapter 5 wonders about women who have been excluded from the act of writing their own anthology to present a reading of gendered literacy and female friendship through an anthology collected in the library of the Urdubadi family of bureaucrats and poets. I argue that the anthology is a family archive, in which the sociology of the household where it was produced is rendered legible. The decisive role of a female family member, the Urdubadi widow, whose pilgrimage to Mecca is recorded in this anthology, divulges her love for a female companion who was forced to leave Isfahan because of rumors circulating about their friendship. An empathetic community comes into view, established through a ritual of sisterhood. A selection of Muhammad Qasim's paintings executed for a female clientele brings the visual into dialogue with the verbal, enhancing our understanding of the meanings of female friendships.
In the Conclusion, I draw on the analytical purchase of eroticism to provide a distinct vantage point onto the connections between urbanity, friendship, and spirituality. Adopting a different way of doing history in the field of early modern Persianate studies, I focus on a discrete moment in the story of Isfahan to think more broadly with historians of sexuality about the valences of erotic desires that bound together networks of friends living in previous centuries. Thinking sex with the early moderns compels me to see erasures that today silence passionate friendships and obscures the entangled history that love shared with eros and beauty. My history of Isfahan presents an early emergence of heteroerotic anxieties, provoked by the adab of urban love and Sufi homoerotic desire, that in the twentieth century were recuperated to make Iran modern.